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Connecting “Christian” and “Education”

By Joseph Sunde

Hav­ing spent my entire edu­ca­tion in pri­vate Chris­t­ian schools, I’ve always had a nat­ur­al appre­ci­a­tion for the val­ue of Chris­t­ian edu­ca­tion. I was unde­ni­ably trans­formed by the expe­ri­ence, root­ed and ground­ed in a way I wouldn’t have been oth­er­wise. Thus, when it came to my own kids, I always assumed the deci­sion for school­ing would be pret­ty sim­ple.

By the time that deci­sion came, how­ev­er, I had a range of new ques­tions. I won­dered whether there was some­thing more to “Chris­t­ian edu­ca­tion” than what I, myself, had expe­ri­enced. Although the schools of my upbring­ing were filled with the light and love of Christ, the under­ly­ing phi­los­o­phy and approach often mir­rored the trends of pro­gres­sive edu­ca­tion: lots of test­ing, stodgy text­books, and an over-reliance on data dis­sem­i­na­tion.

Sure­ly these Chris­t­ian schools brought a range of unique ben­e­fits and bless­ings — fre­quent prayer, chapel ser­vices, Bible class­es, and a basic spir­i­tu­al and moral frame­work — but the cul­ti­va­tion of the soul and spir­it often felt sep­a­rate or detached from the life of the mind. There was plen­ty of talk about the impor­tance of “char­ac­ter” and “val­ues,” or about God’s incred­i­ble design for all of cre­ation, but at a deep­er lev­el, there lacked a con­nec­tive tis­sue between this and that —  an inte­grat­ed frame­work for more ful­ly imag­in­ing, under­stand­ing, and pur­su­ing God’s big­ger pic­ture.

Hav­ing grown famil­iar with a range of Chris­t­ian thinkers from my own spon­ta­neous study, from C.S. Lewis to Fran­cis Scha­ef­fer to G.K. Chester­ton to Abra­ham Kuyper, I had begun to sense what such a frame­work might look like. “No sin­gle piece of our men­tal world is to be her­met­i­cal­ly sealed off from the rest,” writes Kuyper, “and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human exis­tence over which Christ, who is Sov­er­eign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

I won­dered: If this is tru­ly the case, how might Christ fol­low­ers more ful­ly cul­ti­vate the spir­it, soul, and body? Once we grab hold of the Scrip­tures and adjust our moral vision, how might we pro­ceed to explore God’s big­ger sto­ry for stew­ard­ship and dis­ci­ple­ship across dis­ci­plines, whether math, sci­ence, lan­guage, his­to­ry, or the arts? How might we apply it across cul­tur­al spheres, whether in fam­i­ly or busi­ness, edu­ca­tion or pol­i­tics? How might we learn to more read­i­ly embrace and dis­cern the good, the true, and the beau­ti­ful?

In our ear­ly years as par­ents, those ques­tions con­tin­ued to dance around in our heads. When some friends intro­duced us to the clas­si­cal Chris­t­ian move­ment, we real­ized we were not alone, and from there, the dots began to con­nect rather quick­ly.

Like many, I began with Dorothy Say­ers’ “The Lost Tools of Learn­ing.” I began to absorb the his­to­ry and val­ues of the clas­si­cal method, fur­ther open­ing my eyes to the unin­ten­tion­al neglect of so many edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions, pub­lic and pri­vate alike. I dug deep­er into the Triv­i­um and the types of cur­ricu­lum and source mate­r­i­al clas­si­cal schools rely on. I grew more and more con­vinced by Say­ers’ cri­tique of pro­gres­sive edu­ca­tion in gen­er­al, and the civ­i­liza­tion­al cost of sim­ply shrug­ging (at worst) or offer­ing mere spir­i­tu­al frost­ing (at best).

Hav­ing long assumed our kids would end up at a Chris­t­ian school, then, the cri­te­ria sud­den­ly grew a bit more com­plex. Deter­min­ing what kind of Chris­t­ian school we pre­ferred was no longer just a debate about geog­ra­phy, staff, facil­i­ties, or denom­i­na­tion­al posi­tions and pri­or­i­ties. We began to focus our atten­tion on the under­ly­ing edu­ca­tion­al philoso­phies, observ­ing how each con­nect­ed “Chris­t­ian” with “edu­ca­tion,” and whether or how close­ly the two were har­mo­nized, in turn.

After an extend­ed search that involved vis­its and dis­cus­sions with near­ly a dozen Chris­t­ian schools across the Twin Cities, Agape Christi Acad­e­my emerged as hav­ing the clear­est call­ing and com­mit­ment to those pri­or­i­ties.

In the almost two years since we start­ed, we’ve seen our chil­dren grow and flour­ish in so many ways, both in their per­son­al faith and faith­ful­ness, as well as in their knowl­edge and curios­i­ty about God’s cre­ation. We’ve seen their eyes open to the real­i­ty that all truth is God’s truth, and we’ve seen the fruit of friend­ships with oth­er fam­i­lies who share our com­mit­ment to explor­ing and rest­ing in that same sweet mys­tery.

I am con­tin­u­ous­ly blessed and encour­aged by the con­sis­tent focus on Scrip­ture and spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion — the build­ing blocks of most Chris­t­ian schools. But I am also so incred­i­bly encour­aged by the focus on whole-life dis­ci­ple­ship, on teach­ing meth­ods that tru­ly dis­ci­ple and address the whole of the human per­son, and on an approach to Chris­t­ian edu­ca­tion that glo­ri­fies God far beyond the con­fines of a Bible class or chapel ser­vice.

- Joseph Sunde

Joseph is the father of two Agape Christi stu­dents, cur­rent­ly in first grade and kinder­garten.

For fur­ther read­ing on the points men­tioned in this post, he rec­om­mends the fol­low­ing:

Lov­ing the Hunt: Kuyper on Schol­ar­ship and Stew­ard­ship

to grope for light in much that is dark and to hunt and dig where no one has gone before”

Abra­ham Kuyper’s Advice for the New School Year

Ancient Future Edu­ca­tion

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