In A Theology for Christian Education, James Estep and Michael Anthony provide a core understanding of education in the church. Their point is summarized by a quote from the classic Creative Bible Teaching by Larry Richards:
Education is based upon an assumption that what is learned in the classroom can and should be applied outside the classroom. By definition, learning requries that the student be able to meaningfully transfer a concept from one setting to another. But the transfer of truth is not automatic. Effective teachers know this. They know that there is a difference between parroting answers and transferring those facts into life scenarios. (Richards, p. 113, in Estep, p. 22)
But I wonder if something is missing? When I listen to so many good, valuable, and informative exegetical sermons and teachers these days, what I think I’m picking up on is a tendency to convey information for changed lives, alone. While certainly better than the therapeutic sermons and writings of so many like Charles Stanley, these seem only a half-step better. They seem spiritually therapeutic rather than only relationally therapeutic. They help us fix our character, and that’s good. But it seems not enough.
I came up in Conservative Baptist circles. That’s “conservative” as in the association of local churches, not political philosophy. Their concern was evangelism and when they practiced it they were, as I recall, effective. To teach evangelism means that we are challenging the listener to go beyond character therapy and enter the world of redemption. And in that venue we automatically confront the question of the distinctiveness and exclusivity of the claims of Christ. And that will often be followed by persecution — sometimes as small as a loss of relationships or job, or as challenging as social exclusion. Rarely in the US is it physical, though our brothers and sisters may other locations do suffer for this same cause.
This type of education leads to action. That is the motivation that sits behind my recent spate of seemingly rash or hostile posts. What good is education if the ends are merely principles? If we are equipping, then to what end are we equipping? Are we providing a saw without a table, a driver without a fastener, or a socket without a ratchet? This is a teleological matter.
If the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever — that is the end. But we are not at the end. We are working toward the end. We are on the path. And this path includes something other than the ease of the American lifestyle. It means missions, crossing ethnic and other social boundaries, and taking the message of redemption to those without Christ. A full Christian education is a call to action. It means initiating efforts and letting the Spirit direct as He wills.
Evangelicalism, it seems, is often content within its four walls. Sometimes I wonder if we have developed our own type of “double separation”. But instead of having the outgoing defensive posture of the “fundamental” groups that set themselves against all perceived error, it seems that evangelicals simply keep quite and operate within the sphere of a “Christian” world view that keeps us happy in our cozy fellowships.
You may well disagree with this assessment. To that I will ask: When was the last time you heard a sermon, or sat in your adult Sunday School class and heard a challenge to go to the mission field? Or to set up a home Bible study? Or to build relationships at work and set up a breakfast or lunch-time Bible study? Or to consider going to a Christian college or seminary to be a better teacher? If you have heard such in recent weeks, then I suspect that you are in the minority among evangelicals.
The Gospel not only changes lives. It spurs us to action. At lest that is its intent. If it does not, maybe we are not all-in with our faith.
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. 12 We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (II Cor. 5:11-15)