The Tension in Christian Learning

So, if you haven’t gathered by my recent quotes and by the books in my sidebar, I’m heavily researching the integration of faith and learning. Since end-of-term crunch time does not leave me much time for posting, I will instead subject you all to quotes I find interesting. The following quote is from Arthur F. Holme’s The Idea of a Christian College. It persuasively argues that a Christian college is not about indoctrination.

A frequent idea people have of the Christian college has been captured in the label “defender of the faith.” Though defending the faith was certainly an apostolic responsibility, it is hard to extend it to all of the educational task, all of art and science or all of campus life. Yet a defensive mentality is still common among pastors and parents; many suppose that the Christian college exists to protect young people against sin and heresy in other institutions. The idea therefore is not so much to educate as to indoctrinate, to provide a safe environment plus all the answers to all the problems posed by all the critics of orthodoxy and virtue.

This is an idea, I say–more a caricature than a reality. The trouble with it is that there often are no ready-made answers, new problems arise constantly, and the critics are perplexingly creative. The student who is simply conditioned to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli is at a loss when he confronts novel situations, as he will in a changing society undergoing a knowledge explosion. He needs a disciplined understanding of his heritage plus creativity, logical rigor and self-critical honesty, far more than he needs prepackaged sets of questions and answers. The mistake in cloistering young people to keep them from sin and heresy, as evangelicals—of all people—should realize, is that these things come ultimately not from the environment but out of the heart And while every parent feels protective toward her youngsters, overprotectiveness can stifle faith and hope and love, and trigger opposite excesses of thought and conduct. (4-5)

I think that especially the part about the need to think critically in a rapidly changing society is right on the money. Our pat answers will not answer the new questions that tomorrow will bring.

5 responses to “The Tension in Christian Learning”

  1. Brilliant.

    Reminds me of your last post where in the comments you said the biggest problem with, especially, conservative Christians is that they don’t know how to think.

    I especially like his comment about having a self-critique impulse. I think that’s a good way of describing practical humility.

  2. I’m recalling something about the Scholastics… Wikipedia will tell me. Ahh, here it is.

    They wanted to synthesize medieval philosophy with theology – the science of the day with faith.

    I have found the process painful and shattering but life-giving all at the same time.

  3. Tony: Yeah, this is a great book. Lots of people call it a “classic” in faith education circles, even if it isn’t that old.

    Cam: The Scholastic approach is certainly one with appeal, although it can certainly be argued that they weren’t critical enough of Aristotle. But the vision to look at life as one integrated whole is incredibly alluring; a vision without false dichotomies like faith vs. reason or revelation vs. rationality.

    And you’re right on the painful and shattering bit. Elsewhere, Holmes says that anyone who asks “what can I do with it?” (education, that is) is asking the wrong question. The right question (assuming an integrative vision, of course) is, “what will it do to me?”

  4. Thanks. Art Holmes and Francis Schaeffer were among the first to promote the importance of being thinking Christians, which sadly in some evangelical circles is getting harder and harder to do.

  5. Greg: thanks for the comment. I hope that things change, but it appears that, at least for the moment, you’re right.

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