What Makes Christian Education Distinct

Secular education seeks to make more successful and intelligent people. The Christian educator aspires to nothing less than the transformation of a believer into the image of Christ.
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I am convinced that Christian education, my field of ministry, is one of the highest of all callings. I've also become convinced that Christian educators need to keep reminding themselves of the unique role of Christian education.

All around us we see status given to secular education. Children spend the bulk of their childhood in it. School board elections can become the focus of the entire community. Universities are the center of society's greatest research and most profound discoveries. The media constantly seek the opinions of university professors.

Amid all that, pastors and Christian educators are likely to feel like second-class educators, people who "merely" teach the Christian faith, while "real" educators are out there shaping the world.

Nothing could be further from the truth. So periodically, I like to remind myself and other Christian educators about the difference between secular education and our calling.

A Higher Perspective

In Christian education we deal with the transcendent. Secular education deals only with the human. Christian education discusses the eternal, secular education the here and now. In particular, there are four areas where this is evident.

• A means of revelation. Reason, the main staple of secular education, can go a long way, even in a Christian setting. It can assimilate and integrate and see the implications of what God reveals. But in our night drive into understanding, revelation is the headlights and reason the wheels; revelation helps us see the way that reason must follow.
Without revelation the most important things in life are missed: without revelation, you cannot reason your way to the resurrection. Without revelation you cannot reason your way to the Trinity. Without revelation, you cannot reason your way to sacrificial love.
So, the Christian educator, being an instrument of revelation, is privileged to witness some remarkable moments.
As a hobby, I observe operations. Once a surgeon friend invited me to watch a stapedectomy, a microsurgical procedure on the three small bones of the inner ear, enabling a deaf person to hear. Since the surgery is not painful, the patient needs only a local anesthetic.
At one point in the operation, my friend said, "Howie, I'm going to join these bones now. As I do, I'll keep talking, and you watch this guy's face." The moment he connected those tiny bones, the patient's eyes opened wide. Tears of joy started pouring down his cheeks, and I wiped them with gauze.
That's what revelation is like. As I talk, the Holy Spirit joins the bones, imparts the insight. And when it happens, I can see it on my hearers' faces. Their eyes open; their minds are animated. Their lives are changed.
• Concerned first with God. Secular education assumes that human observations and interpretations are the basis of reality. Christian education assumes that since God is the Creator and Sovereign of all, he alone is the interpreter of all. All things serve him and are sustained by him. He guides history. Thus the very foundation of knowledge is different for the Christian educator.
The effect is dramatic, as telling as the difference between astronomy studied from a sun-centered versus earth-centered theory of the solar system. God-centered education puts all history into the right perspective; it brings meaning to literature, respect and sanctity to life, standards and authority to decisions about social problems, and direction to philosophy.
• Concerned with things that last. Christian education has the authority to speak about more than this visible world, the world that is passing away. Secular education can focus on business and money, matter and molecules, people and issues, but the Christian educator can move beyond to the soul, the human spirit, life after death, the kingdom of God, the return of Christ, the final judgment—things that last.
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