on christian education

[from the perspective of a professor of higher Christian education…] Students need to understand and take distance from the social forces that might pull them away from struggling for shalom. They need to understand society’s dynamic interaction of forces such as capitalism, contractualism, nationalism, and individualism, away from the “standard American” dream. We need to teach them how to cope with intransigent and unjust social structures, showing them how not to give up hope, how to pray ‘your kingdom come,’ how to keep discontent alive when all else seems futile. And they need to learn how to delight in the traces of shalom already present in the world. They need to experience communities that are safe and inclusive, that have an ethos of compassion. We need to cultivate dispositions to act for justice, to view society from the messianic light, to have a passion for shalom. We need to help our students acquire an adequate cognitive framework about issues of social justice, through group dialogue, discussion, and challenging assignments.

In general, Wolterstorff’s vision of shalom as a guide for Christian higher education adds a challenging voice to current discussions and practices. It is a voice that asks us to engage not only in culture but also in society, not only in preserving our Christian heritage but also in going beyond it. It challenges Christian academics to not be satisfied talking to other Christian academics but to include participating in conversations in their academic disciplines more generally, both tot learn and to contribute. His is a pluralist view of education contextualized by a critique of capitalism from a ‘worldsystems’ viewpoint and a postmodern perspectivalist understanding of knowledge. It is a view of the student as a responsible agent (one that requires moral formation through reason giving, modelling discipline and developing empathy) and of academic scholarship as a social practice. The call of shalom precludes withdrawal from the world and society into the safety of a homogenous Christian community, but instead asks Christian institutions of higher education to become voices for social justice and human flourishing. Engaging in Christian higher education is educating for shalom.

– Clarence Joldersma, an introduction to Nicolas Wolterstorff’s Educating for Shalom

on scholarship

During the next few weeks, a part-time task of mine is to let ‘scholarship’ and ‘the Christian life’ duke it out in my head as I prepare a final reflection assignment a course I’ve been taking at Regent, called ‘The Christian Mind.’ Here is a brief introduction to both sides (although there’s more than two sides to an argument, let’s be honest):

Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close.

– my man Shane Claiborne, prominent social activist, advocating for nonviolence and moving as close as possible to the poor and marginalized

Man’s shalom [whole, complete state of peace], according to the witness of the Old Testament prophets, includes justice for the widow and the orphan. It includes as well the love between parents and children, and delight in green pastures and flowing brooks. Does it also include theoretical knowledge – the understanding of man, the universe, and God that scholarship can give us?

[…] Of course human fulfillment does not consist exclusively of knowledge. And of course there is more to comprehension and understanding than the theorist provides us with. […] Yet I want to say that a theoretical comprehension of ourselves and of the reality in the midst of which we live – of its unifying structure and its explanatory principles – is a component in the shalom God meant for us. Where knowledge is absent, life is withered.

– Nicholas Wolterstorff, American philosopher and  Noah Porter Emeritus Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale University