Teaching a Christian Philosophy
William Pinkston, Jr., M.Ed.
Philosophy is a big, frightening word with several meanings. The idea of teaching one daunts even the best teachers. But teaching a Christian philosophy is what Christian education is all about.
Actually a philosophy is the substance of what one believes which affects what he does. It may be as simple as one believing that a bridge will not hold him and thus not crossing the bridge, or as complex and far reaching as basing one's life on the belief that there is no hell or Righteous Judge. A philosophy can be taught, but it is not as easy as teaching math facts or spelling words. Consider this three-step process in teaching a philosophy which parallels how God teaches us.
First one must state the belief or principle. God clearly did this as He gave His people the Law and other Scriptural teachings. From "Thou shalt not steal," to "Love one another," the teachings as well as the rewards for obedience and punishments for disobedience are clear.
Next one must teach the belief or principle by examples. The Scripture contains abundant and varied examples which teach the applications of the principles it sets forth. Examples which teach a philosophy may be historical or hypothetical, realistic or allegorical, fanciful or factual, but they must be abundant and take as many approaches as possible.
For example: "Thou shalt not steal" should be illustrated with straightforward examples (like stories about shoplifting) as well as with examples and explanations of embezzlement, lying to qualify for a "free gift," and not working when paid to work. Examples and explanations of how the Scriptural principles apply fill a good Christian curriculum.
This, however, produces only a head knowledge of the principles. Just as one may know the principles behind Communism or Buddhism and practice neither as his philosophy, so a child can grow up in a Christian home and graduate from a Christian school and not have a working Christian philosophy. The writer of Hebrews says that people he was writing to "have a need that one teach (them) again...the first principles of God; and ... have need of milk and not of strong meat." The Scripture then tells why: "But strong meat belongeth to them ... who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (5:12,14).
This is the final step in teaching philosophy: experience with and use of the belief. One may have eaten enough food energy to run a marathon, but if he has not exercised, he will not have the needed muscle. One can know all the principles and not have the experience needed to be able to apply and the strength needed to be able to use them in his life.
God's plan for a Christian's life includes testings, trials, and temptations. God never gives more than we can bear, but each one strengthens us for the next one. We grow spiritually as God causes us to use our "spiritual muscles" to serve Him. This kind of experience is not a usual classroom activity. The problem comes when the home and school not only fail to offer the opportunity for spiritual exercise but also refuse to allow it.
Many well-meaning parents, churches, and schools set up extensive rules and codes of expected behavior and then equate obedience with goodness and spiritual strength. Salvation is not by our works, and spiritual growth is not merely obedience to a parent's or school's rules. It is by turning from sin and yielding to God that we grow spiritually. Yielding to parental or school rules may be the first step in developing a Christian philosophy, but if it is the only step a person takes, he will be a "milk drinker" no matter what his age. To come of age one needs to decide what is right or wrong and then act upon his decision. In other words, according to the maturity level (and frequently with guidance - not edict) some decisions need to be made by the individual.
Just as God uses different "lesson plans" for each of us, so what best helps one child develop a Christian philosophy may not do for the next. Sooner or later, however, they will make decisions and act upon them. The decision can either be the ones we design and allow, or their decision-making skills may have to be developed when we can no longer help and guide them.
This is not a cry in favor of "Permissive Elementary" of "Rule-less Academy" where students make all their own decisions and live by the consequences. God gives clear rules and states punishments and rewards for abiding by those rules. Parents and schools should likewise have clear rules and guidelines for behavior. But God's plan for the growth of a Christian philosophy is decision-making and actions.
When we give children a moment-by-moment set of expected behaviors, we are not training godly young people; we are force-feeding milk. We should not be surprised when they rebel against the diet or when they lack the strength to stand in life's battles.
Reprinted from Balance, a publication of the School of Education, Bob Jones University. Used with permission of Bob Jones University. Please write BJU Press, for permission to reproduce this article.