Connecting with Culture
It’s been said that culture is ‘what we make of the world’, but what does that look like as Christians? How can we begin conversations about what’s goin...
Two days to go until Education Sunday, when churches celebrate Christian involvement in schools (of all sorts), colleges and universities. Churches Together in England, the organisers, have set the theme – A word in season (Isaiah 50:4).
Historically, Christians have had a shaping role in education. But there is a growing recognition that the pervading ethos and culture is increasingly influenced by ideas, attitudes, and ideologies that do not resonate with the Christian message. Issues of sexuality and gender and of religious education are but two recent examples where controversy has broken out. How should we respond? What should a word in season in education sound like?
For some of us, education is a spiritual battleground. Amongst the enemies are secularist ideologies and gender politics. Our response is the advocacy of traditional Christianity and the return of its predominant influence in the education system. This attitude is inspired by a vision of the rightful occupation of the promised land. Words in season are the weapons to be deployed, usually in politics and the media. The goal is the marginalisation of the enemy’s ideological influence.
For others of us, education is the site for discerning service, a place where God calls us to be co-workers in his kingdom building (1 Corinthians 3:9). Like the exiles in Babylon, this is the arena where we seek the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7). Words in season are tools for building a common good, where Christian-inspired approaches promote the flourishing of all in classrooms – irrespective of religious identity or none – in curriculum construction, and in pastoral work.
Of course, this is a false binary. Advocating a distinctive Christian vision and serving the needs of others should be two sides of the same coin. But we have a choice as to our predominant modus operandi when we engage with education. Will our words in season be heard as shrill and perceived as concerned with establishing our dominance? Or will they be heard as loving and perceived as constructive peace-making? Will others experience our words as swords or ploughshares (Micah 4:3)?
The defence of the Christian faith in education is an important ministry. But how we defend the faith is even more important. Should we adopt the increasingly influential culture-wars approach? Or should we model something different? I suggest that a combination of the Beatitudes and triple listening represent a more authentically Christian model for the way that we offer our words in season.
Trevor is Emeritus Professor of Christian Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. His report Doing God in Education, is published by the Bible Society Think Tank Theos.