Monday, June 04, 2007

Defining Christian Education

The challenge in considering contemporary education strategies in Christian faith communities is to define Christian education. Rodney McKean from Azusa Pacific University challenged the usage of the words, “Christian education” when he quoted the graffiti, “Christian education is neither.” What the graffiti implied is that Christian education is neither Christian nor is it education. When used as an adjective, the word “Christian” mean many things to many people. Describing something as Christian does not mean it has to be associated to a church; neither because it is focused on the Bible or theological content; does not equate the United States of America; associated with puritan social values nor western culture. In fact, McKean writes, “In turn, much of what passes for Christian education is merely a condensation of classical western thought and institutional structures with Bible content or orthodox theology (which was also developed and written with a Western world view)”.

What then is the proper definition of Christian education? According to McKean, in the Middle Eastern culture, a person’s name is related to his ancestry and character. “Christ-ian” will mean “son of Christ” and so will have the character of Christ. Education means a learning process is taking place. Learning lead to growth and liberation as learners takes ownership of what they are learning, develop co-explorer relationships with each other, and develop problem solving skills in their daily life. Therefore Christian education means a learning process towards growth and liberation done in the character of Christ.

Robert Pazmino, Valeria Stone Professor of Christian Education at Andover Newton Theological School, surveys the numerous definitions of Christian education and found that these definitions form a continuum.

At one end is formal education which is schooling, “characterised by classroom sessions, learning agendas, teacher directed methodologies, and required courses of study” to informal education at the other end where learning focus is “on acquiring skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values growing out of student interactions with experiences or environment.” Informal education occurs spontaneous in daily living. Somewhere in between is nonformal education which includes intentional educating where there is some structured teaching by teachers to socialisation where the community becomes the teacher. Gary Newton notes “nonformal education relates to deliberate educational strategies based on meeting people’s needs outside of the formal schooling model. Since it tends to be highly functional, change orientated, and learner-driven, nonformal education is a versatile educational approach.”

Pazmino offers the following definition:

Christian education is the deliberate, systematic, and sustained divine and human efforts to share or appropriate the knowledge, values, attitudes, skills, sensibilities, and behaviors that comprise or are consistent with the Christian faith. It fosters the change, renewal, and reformation of persons, groups, and structures by the power of the Holy Spirit to conform to the revealed will of God as expressed in the Scriptures and pre-eminently in the person of Jesus Christ, as well as any outcomes of that effort.

In this definition, Pazmino intentionally placed his definition of Christian education in the centre of the continuum. It is more than schooling but less than socialisation. It allows room for community instruction, and for self-instruction. It is also Trinitarian in its theological emphasis.

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