What distinguishes the Christian teacher from the secularistic teacher? Is it the fact that they have believed Christ to be their Lord and Savior? Is it that they regularly attend worship services? When they become an active part of the church? Is it possible for a teacher to do all of the above, yet remain a secularistic teacher? Could one, who has not been regenerated, be a Christian teacher?
These are no small questions for the Christian administrator. What qualifies one to be a Christian teacher? This issue serves as a watershed. If wrong on this account, the Christian school will be wrong all the way through. And, the outcome of the school will be vastly different from what was intended.
Philosophy of Didactics
The first issue to be resolved is the goal of Christian instruction. Once again, we need not resolve this issue in a vacuum. There have been many Christian educators that have wrestled with this issue throughout history.
Some have contended that the purpose of Christian education is to lead students to knowledge of God. If this is the clear agenda, then the Christian school should have evangelists and theologians at all levels of the faculty. Or, each teacher should have comprehensive training in these disciplines, and they should approach their respective fields of knowledge from that vantage point and with that objective in mind.
Automatically, this would exclude any teacher who would aspire to Christian education that would be incapable of displaying this. So, it would seem unlikely that an unregenerate teacher would qualify for this post.
Most would acknowledge that the knowledge of God is to be a priority in Christian education. However, it is not encompassing enough. For instance, has the Christian school done enough for the student if they have knowledge of God but cannot balance their checkbook? Most would say, they have fallen short. Further pressing the point, has the school thoroughly educated the student if they have knowledge of God, can balance their checkbook, but are inadequately prepared to pursue their respective vocations and callings. Most, again, would say that the Christian school has failed.
But, where does the education end? Given the limitations of time and resources, what must be included in education to be considered, “Christian.” Furthermore, what may be left out? Most would agree that a saving knowledge of Christ is the priority and foundation, but where is the stopping point by which the school can say that they have provided a thoroughly Christian education?
To prepare the student as a Christian adult, a significant number of skills must be learned and incorporated. First and foremost, they should have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, whereby the student is able to give evidence of genuine faith. Next, they should have a working knowledge of God’s attributes (dogmatics).
They should have acquired a Christian worldview. Consequently, they should be able to challenge the modern presuppositions that are in the marketplace of ideas (apologetics). They should be given the training necessary to accurately interpret scripture for themselves (hermeneutics). And, they should be able to apply the scripture, as well as reason from it (ethics). Furthermore, they should have acquired a liberal arts education sufficient to be able to pursue their respective vocations or callings.
However, having arrived at a common acceptance as to what are the purposes of Christian education, there remain large differences in how this is to be actualized in the school. Even when it comes to the vital issue of conversion, there have been many divergent views. Many orthodox Calvinist’s of the early-1800s believed that the child should be taught their depravity. Hoping that a day would arrive, whereby they might respond to the grace of God.
However, in 1861 Horace Bushnell (1979), pastor of North Church in Hartford, Connecticut published a landmark work, entitled Discourses on Christian Nurture. In it, Bushnell held that conversion was a process. And, children were to be brought up to not even remember the day when they were saved. He taught,
“And this is the very idea of Christian education, that it begins with nurture or cultivation. And the intention is that Christian life and spirit of the parents shall flow into the mind of the child, to blend with his incipient and half-formed exercises; that they shall thus beget their own good within him, their thoughts, opinion, faith and love, which are to become a little more, and yet a little more, his own separate exercise, but still the same in character.” (Bushnell, 1979, p. 30)
This raised a major furor in Calvinistic New England. Many traditionalists held that Bushnell was being presumptuous regarding God’s election. Others believed that he underestimated the depravity of man. While some accused him of not using God’s law as a necessary tutor which would lead a person to Christ. This illustrates the fact that views can differ sharply even from the same basic theological orientation.
Yet, if conversion is the cornerstone of righteous instruction, then a person’s belief about this issue is no small matter. Countless events in church history have taught that there are some issues that are so critical, so essential to the student’s wellbeing, so near to the nature of God and His salvation, that they must be treated with the utmost reverence. They should not be diluted, nor compromised, and should be jealously safeguarded throughout the Christian school. Conversion has historically fallen into this category.
Unfortunately, this can be taken to extremes. At times, churches and schools contend for relatively minor issues. Sometimes, they have split over the most picayune things. For example, they have divided over modes of baptism, church polity, and forms of dress. Though these issues do not determine a person’s eternal destiny, nor defame the nature of Christ, they are relegated to the essential.
So, the question arises in the Christian school, how does one “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” and yet allow for compassion, tolerance, and differing points of view? Can both a liberal and conservative serve on the same faculty to the benefit of the student? Can an Arminian and Calvinist both teach from their theological slant, and serve the students best interests? What viewpoints contribute toward healthy diversity or balance, and which contribute to the erosion of sound Christian education? These are vital questions. For the Christian school must neither lend itself to “straining gnats,” nor “swallowing camels.”
And, this is a primary issue that concerns Christian teachers themselves. What things in the school are the non-negotiables? And, what is the teacher’s non-negotiables? Are the two compatible? This is vital in terms of compatibility between the school and the teacher, as well as the teacher and the student.
The litmus of non-negotiability rests on the infallibility of scripture (inerrancy), the Christ-event (kerygma), and essentials for regeneration (soteriology). This would ensure a common locus of authority, source of salvation, and means thereof. Secondly, the most historically recognized confessions should be ascribed to, like; the Athanasian Creed, Nicene Creed, Constantinople, Ephesus and Apostles Creed. Issues outside of these are peripheral. They do not contain the dire consequences that the aforementioned do.
It should be noted that both students as well as teachers are in modes of change and progress. There are levels of alienation from the gospel, as well as levels of maturity having believed the gospel.
Consequently, the teacher should present truth to the student so as to address their particular needs. The Engel’s Scale has become instrumental in revealing the different points. The Christian teacher should be competent to challenge a student’s presuppositions or minister Christian truth in a relevant manner, wherever the student is located on the scale.
It is critical that the teacher becomes aware of the modern dichotomy and how it has influenced the modern mind. Regardless of where the student is located on the Engel’s Scale, they will struggle with the influences of the modern age. As such, it is incumbent upon the teacher to train their students to reason along the lines of inspired reason. And, each Christian teacher should contend for a locus of authority that is beyond the individual’s existential experience (sola Scriptura).
Personal Qualities of the Educator
The qualities that are incumbent upon the Christian teacher spell out the acronym A-B-C. This represents Abilities, Burden, and Character. These ideal qualities should be aspired to by each teacher.
First, the Christian teacher should have the abilities necessary to fulfill their post. They should be competent in refuting the modern dichotomy. And, they should be able to attack these presuppositions by inspired reason. They should demonstrate an ability to communicate Christian truth in their discipline. They should work diligently to keep up with the most current scholarship in their respective fields. And, they should demonstrate any talents necessary to fulfill their teaching responsibilities.
The Christian teacher is to become accomplished in research-based, best instructional practices. The accomplished teacher draws on his or her knowledge of the subject matter to establish goals and facilitate student learning within and across the disciplines comprised in the curriculum. They select, adapt, create, and use rich and varied resources to enhance learning. They have knowledge of child development, understand student needs, and foster the student’s knowledge, skill, interests, and aspirations.
The accomplished teacher employs a variety of assessment methods to obtain useful information about student learning and development and to assist students in reflecting on their own progress. The teacher requires students to confront, explore, and understand important challenging concepts, topics, and issues in purposeful ways. They use a variety of approaches to help students build knowledge and strengthen understanding.
The accomplished teacher establishes a caring, stimulating, inclusive, and safe community for learning where students take intellectual risks and work independently and collaboratively. The teacher fosters the student’s self-awareness, self-esteem, character, civic responsibility, and respect for diverse individuals and groups. The teacher employs regular self-analysis, evaluation, and ways to strengthen the effectiveness and quality of his or her own progress. They work collaboratively with colleagues to achieve common goals for the education of their students. They work with families, in a partnership, to achieve common goals for the education of their children.
Second, the Christian teacher should have the burden to teach. The term “burden” is used to convey the idea of calling. They should be aware that God has called them into this vocation. Christian teaching is not a job, but a ministry. As such, the Scripture and the Holy Spirit should lead the teacher in the location, and direction of their calling.
Third, the Christian teacher should possess character. This is the trait for which all other qualifications rely. If a teacher lacks character, all other gifts and graces will fall into disrepute. And, they will eventually disgrace the Lord, their school, as well as the profession as a whole.
Bushnell, H. (1979), Christian Nurture. reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, p. 30.