When people talk about Christian education, many people think about the archetypal Bible-basher. Someone who attacks you with Scripture.
This is tragic.
In my view Christian education should be about wisdom, discernment and understanding the brutal stories that ruin countless lives. Consider this.
I have met Christians who have no problem with rat worshippers. “Who are we to say they’re wrong!” they murmur. Indeed they seem bemused and puzzled by this rodent religion. They seem unable to connect the biblical story to this strange way of life. It’s almost as if the Bible has been hermetically sealed off from the world in which we live. Paul’s passionate attack on idolatry in Romans chapter 1 is muffled and muted.
I have encountered Christians who fail to see a problem with ‘following your heart’. They lap up films like Legally Blond without any critical discernment at all. Sometimes I bump into Christians who have no understanding about commodification and its powerful connection to the aggressive, materialist way of life. Thomas Hobbes would be smiling!
Occasionally I meet Christians who want to learn Mandarin for purely financial gain. They seem to be uncritical of consumerism as a faith. Learning a foreign language has nothing to do with loving your neighbour.
Today in Britain there is very little interest in Christian education. Let’s get clear about what it isn’t (in our view). It isn’t Bible bashing. It isn’t cliché city time. It isn’t embarrassing, awkward and cringe-inducing. It isn’t explicit and aggressive. Delete from your mind the image of the sanctimonious and earnest holy Joe who brings God into every nook and cranny of every possible conversation. “I’ve just bought some cheese. Praise the Lord!”
Christian education in its best sense doesn’t pin you down and insist on Christian commitment. This kind of pedagogy is not like a spotty bully smothering you with his bad breath as he holds your arms behind your back. In its best sense Christian education is implicit, indirect, invitational and winsome. And Christian education is not just for Christian schools, or just for teaching and learning in Christian contexts. Christian education works in non-Christian contexts as well, even when explicitly Christian teaching (reference to the Bible, Jesus etc.) is not permitted.
Consider a cheeky spiel about Brian the fly. Brian, the handsome bluebottle was riding his bike to work. Unfortunately he had to get off his cycle when he got a puncture So what are flies? Are they gods? Are they prisons for souls? Are they just commodities? Were they made by the Father for the Son?” This series of speech acts could easily become a lesson or an assembly. An educational experience that challenges without irritating or offending.
You could develop intriguing spiels about human trafficking. Ludwig “Tarzan” Fainberg, a convicted trafficker, once said, “You can buy a woman for $10,000 and make your money back in a week if she is pretty and young. Then everything else is profit.” Point out that Tarzan is a faithful disciple of Thomas Hobbes. Unleash some probing questions. Should Tarzan follow his heart? Is he just a machine who has no free will? Are his victims just worthless commodities? Is he dead in his sins?
Unleash cheeky, entertaining and imaginative speech acts about mafia hit-men. Jimmy ‘the weasel’ Fratianno was a born again man of honour who strangled people for a living. Check him out on YouTube if you don’t know his story. Should Jimmy follow his instincts? Is he just a chemical robot who has no free will? Should he consult his horoscope more often? Should he leave the mafia and become a fireman?
Bob Lavelle was a banker who loved God and neighbour but suffered at the hands of cyber thieves. Should bankers worship the money god? Should bankers be true to themselves? Should bankers hire fortune tellers to help them maximise their profits? Can bankers learn from Bob?
Unleash speech acts about electricity and faith!
Shot putter Olga believes in the power of electricity to transform humans into superheroes. Is Electricity a saviour? Should we rejoice and be glad that electricity can make us moral giants? Is electricity a demon of darkness or an angel of light? Can electricity help to heat your home? Have you ever had an electric shock and lived to tell the tale?
Notice that these narratives and questions can be delivered in any educational context. Nobody can complain because there is no preaching going on. There is no proclamation. There is no epistemic arrogance. Rather there is an invitation to think about different interpretations of the world. A challenge to imagine a different world. An overture to reflect on secular, pagan, and Christian visions of life.
When we help people to discern the many deadly cul de sacs that life throws up, Christian and non-Christian people often enjoy this unique educational experience. People want to know about the nasty, bullying narratives that mug people on a daily basis.
Folk want to know about George Cadbury, Susie Hart, Pastor Pete and Bob Lavelle. They are thirsting to hear narratives about friendly crocodiles, thoughtful elephants, kind-hearted rats and ravenous cannibals. Through these narrative people can find bridges both to God’s Word and His grace. Through these stories people can unearth biblical wisdom in gentle and non-threatening ways.
So what is wisdom? In its deepest sense wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7 and Revelation 14:7). Wisdom trains us to discern idolatrous ways of death and delight in faithful, fruitful ways of life. Christian education in its best sense, opens people up to life, wisdom, shalom, flourishing, laughter and the Word made Flesh.