Back when I taught in a classroom, I was fond of telling my students, "Whenever you learn something that is true that you did not know before, you become more like God."
If God's mind is omniscient and He knows everything about everything, then learning is the process of having our minds formed to be more like His. Even a person who rejects God unwittingly reflects the imago Dei that an unbeliever retains when he learns something true. How does that work and what does it mean for education?
I had a professor who often quoted, "All truth is God's truth." One of the implications he drew from that idea is that God reveals Himself to us through the study of natural revelation (the world around us) as well as by the study of special revelation (scripture). If we restrict our pursuit of the knowledge of God to the study of only one type of revelation, we limit our understanding of His nature. There is a lot to learned about God through the study of arts and sciences, history and language. While these ideas are not necessary for our salvation, they are a real benefit to our sanctification; that is, the process of growing to be more like God. The broader and truer understanding we have of the world, the better we understand God's role and our role within it.
So there must be a spiritual aspect to all learning. We ask new teachers to our school to read Parker Palmer's To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. There he writes,
Where conventional education deals with abstract and impersonal facts and theories, an education shaped by Christian spirituality draws us toward incarnate and personal truth. In this education we come to know the world not simply as an objectified system of empirical objects in logical connection with each other, but as an organic body of personal relations and responses, a living and evolving community of creativity and compassion. Education of this sort means more than teaching the facts and learning the reasons so we can manipulate life toward our ends. It means being drawn into personal responsiveness and accountability to each other and the world of which we are a part.
In other words, developing a Christian worldview is more than simply memorizing a set of facts, or even being able to analyze and apply them in higher levels of thinking. Without question, it includes those things but a student's learning should also be framed within the transcendent, flowing from a personal encounter with the Creator behind those ideas.
This may sound complex, and certainly there is a depth to it. However, even the youngest of students can experience this type of learning. A second grader discovering the vastness of outer space might have her first brush with the divine concept of God's infinitude and transcendence above even the vastness they find in space. A fourth grader reading Old Yeller has the opportunity to wrestle with themes of self-sacrifice, pain, and where God fits into these things. A high school student creating an art portfolio will need to establish criteria for beauty and consider what God's nature says about aesthetics. The opportunities for spiritual growth within an academic curriculum are endless.
The Christian student is a whole person, not simply a soul. Christ's redemptive act within the student encompasses the totality of his being--heart, soul, body, and mind. As our minds engage in the process of becoming more like Christ's and as we are able to think about the entirety of our experiences from His perspective, our sanctification becomes more complete.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of a series exploring the worth of Christian education. Make sure to check out the first three topics in this series...