False dualisms & peculiar people

In the first two posts of this series, we did our best to establish how Christian education is distinct in its approach to truth as well as its intended outcomes. Christian schools must first recognize these differences if they are to be faithful to their mission, but this is only the beginning. Redeeming education is no easy task and the result is something of an identity crisis for Christian schools who feel as if they must choose between either academic excellence or spiritual formation. When rightly understood as a redemptive tool in the economy of God, however, academic excellence becomes a mechanism by which the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord (Habakkuk 2:14). James K.A. Smith is a professor of Philosophy at Calvin College who describes the aim of Christian education as, “the formation of a peculiar people who desire the Kingdom of God and thus undertake their life’s expression of that desire” (You Are What You Love, 2016). The truth of this statement should resonate with Christian educators, as it succinctly articulates the most important difference between Christian education and other models. The notion of peculiar people is especially attractive for Christian schools, as it recognizes our new identity as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) whose citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20). What more could we desire for our graduates than to be sent out into the world as redemptive agents who seek to proclaim Christ with every aspect of their lives? And yet, this process of forming peculiar people requires a level of alignment between departments that few schools are able to achieve. Even with the built-in advantage of a shared worldview, the finer points of this “peculiar people” vision is far from a guarantee for Christian schools. There are few places where this is more evident than in the selection of curriculum where Christian schools often err in one of two directions that are equally problematic. Most schools fall victim to the sacred-secular divide that prompts us to integrate biblical truth into our curriculum rather than approach knowledge from a different starting point altogether. The result is either a secular curriculum book-ended with Bible verses or an academic program that makes room for biblical references at the expense of more “practical” details. Both approaches are informed by a false dualism that presents academic excellence and spiritual formation as mutually exclusive. This kind of “either-or” thinking sabotages even the most well-intended programs and eventually it feels as if we are being cheated at a game we never intended to play. Even the term “biblical integration” implies the reconciliation of two unlike things and therefore runs counter to statements like The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 34:10) and He is before all things and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

What if instead of separating biblical truth from secular truth, we approached all Truth as

that part of God’s economy that rightly connects us to reality?

What if the aim of Christian education was biblical worldview formation that resulted in

right thinking about the world around us?

What if that right thinking led to a peculiar way of living that testified to the nature and character of God?

These are the kinds of questions that led us to recently adopt a curricular framework called Teaching for Transformation. We’ll unpack the core practices of this initiative in future posts, but in the meantime we invite you to familiarize yourself with TfT by visiting their website. The novelty of this model is that it does not rely on any one curricular source, but instead invites students to actively participate in God’s redemptive work as they engage in truth seeking across the disciplines. Math, Science, Literature, and History are redeemed when they are used in harmony with God’s purposes. Our hope is that our students will not only find themselves at the top of these fields, but also participate in their redemption as all of creation eagerly awaits its final restoration.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected
it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and
obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. -Romans 8:20-21