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10.09.2021

Education Sunday: A Word in Season?

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 Cooling

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.

Comments

  1. Trevor, how very refreshing to hear – thank you for how beautifully you have presented this issue. I’m a bit of a Stuart Murray fan (Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World; Church After Christendom etc) who asks the question ‘What right do we have to impose our worldview/beliefs on others any more in our, literally, post-Christendom Britain’. Of course he’s not encouraging either withdrawal or combat – often the most obvious two polar choices – but, like you, proposing a third way of personal engagement with real people and issues in a way that is both Christlike and points to Christ. Apologies – not trying to trumpet my own thoughts here but thought if others are interested they might find Stuart Murray really interesting and helpful reading in the midst of our struggles to work all this out in the real world. Thanks so much again for your timely and thoughtful reflection.

    By Kate  -  10 Sep 2021
    • Thank you Kate. I do worry about what I see as an increasing tendency amongst Christians to see our primary duty in debates about education as being to emulate a secular, culture war, political response rather than a Gospel-based, Beattitudinal response. Thank you for pointing us to Stuart Murray’ work.

      By Trevor  -  10 Sep 2021
  2. Interested in your comments on how to resolve the problem.

    By Mrs Jill Kingscott  -  10 Sep 2021
    • That’s a big question Jill, but an important one.

      The first thing I might say is not to regard this as a problem. Rather I suggest we see this challenge as a mission opportunity. A problem is a situation we try to resolve so it no longer exists. A challenge is a situation we try and meet and make the best of. Attitude makes a big difference to our response.

      Then I think I would advise that we keep a careful watch on our attitude. In particular, in whatever we do and say are we primarily trying to win an argument or primarily trying to live by the Beatitudes? I know from personal experience how easy it is to lapse into a political way of thinking that sees winning arguments as our primary calling.

      Finally, I would recommend that we learn from good missionary practice which seeks to find the best way of being faithfully Christian in the context that God has placed us. That’s where the LICC triple listening strategy is a great resource because it lays it out in a clear, four-step way of working. But it Is challenging work that takes a lifetime of learning.

      I hope that helps Jill, but it is rather a short answer to a big question!

      By Trevor  -  13 Sep 2021

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