[Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from PIVOT: New Directions for Christian Education, a new book on challenges, trends, and insights on the future of Christian schools.]
From Augustine’s City of God to Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, scholarly works exploring the relationship of Christianity and the world around us have provided a wide array of theological and philosophical possibilities. Contemporary writers Andy Crouch, James Davidson Hunter, Rod Dreher, Makoto Fujimura, and others are giving carefully reasoned—and conflicting—approaches to living in this cultural moment. Christians are asked to consider any number of “options” for confronting our tech-saturated, sexuality-soaked culture. Since values and communication modes reboot about every five years, educators feel they are constantly twisting in societal winds.
The public views on issues ranging from sexuality and sexual identity to doctor-assisted suicide and embryonic stem cell research are shifting rapidly. Older conflicts focusing on race and gender are taking center stage again. The pages are turning quicker, and Christ-centered schools are finding it impossible to keep up with substantive cultural issues, let alone the constant flood of microtopics overwhelming their students.
Beyond the moral issues, the smothering presence of technology is redefining how we experience the world and interact with people in constantly new ways. For example, Axis’ always-insightful Culture Insider recently warned, “Technology continues to shape us, especially children, more and more by way of new digital assistants. As these devices continue to proliferate, they shape the way children view social interactions and blur the lines on how we should interact with real people.”
No single path is obvious for Christ-centered schools to guide and equip students and their families in this confusing matrix. But one thing is certain: they cannot keep silent and take no notice of culture’s influence.
Fulfilling the Mission
Christ-centered schools have a threefold mission: (1) providing students with a quality education; (2) informing and nurturing their faith; and (3) equipping them to biblically interact with the prevailing culture. The last of these is the most difficult. Following Christ means to lay bare one’s sin and open oneself up for deeper friendships and accountability. To effectively navigate culture, the Christ-centered school must intentionally promote a constant public dialogue about issues of faith and culture. The days are gone where Bible classes and chapel can adequately equip students and families to maintain their faith and substantively interact with the culture.
Sometimes, the Christ-centered school finds itself in a position of uncertainty when it comes to engaging societal issues. By sending their children to a school, parents cede some responsibility for their education, often without knowing the school’s approach to cultural engagement. Some parents may support a school’s head-on encounter with issues as long as they are age-appropriate and biblical. Other parents may want to have these conversations with their own children. The partnership between the Christ-centered school and parents must become intentionally proactive and collaborative. Clearly, Christians cannot ignore the cultural challenges raised against the values and teachings of the family and school. The culture is speaking to children about these issues. Parents and Christian leaders should be there first, speaking competently and compassionately about the points of contact and conflict, equipping their students to respond in Christ-honoring ways.
Basic Commitments for the Christ-Centered School
As a foundation for developing a healthy approach to cultural engagement, here are four suggestions for the Christ-centered school:
- The Christ-centered school must develop an environment of cultural engagement. While busy administrators and teachers have little discretionary time to study culture, the school can appoint a faculty or staff member to serve as a culture liaison to curate and disseminate the latest cultural topics to the school family. Several ministries, like the aforementioned Culture Insider from Axis, provide regular cultural analysis. By providing awareness, understanding, and discernment, the school can model Christ-like thinking and living to the school community. This may, in fact, be the most important practical equipping the school provides.
- The Christ-centered school must get parents informed and involved. The opportunity to equip and disciple whole families is unique to the school. The mutual reinforcement helps provide a more consistent learning and living environment for the student. Required special meetings, webinars, and other programs can provide important insights to busy and disconnected families.
- The Christ-centered school must prioritize the development of substantive friendships among students. Students encouraging and challenging one another can be the most effective influences on how they think and choose to live. When students care about each other’s spiritual growth and share mutual accountability, many of the horizontal social distractions to learning recede. A school may supplement their chapel or discipleship program to provide time and space for the development of these relationships.
- The Christ-centered school must provide opportunities for students to dialogue, ask questions, and express doubts in a safe environment. When students think they cannot express concerns and doubts about what is going on around them and within them, they may conclude that following Christ is irrelevant in the real world. Many interviews with former students who are no longer following Christ indicated the “closed-minded” environment of their school as a factor in their life choice.
School leaders and teachers can model both openness and confidence in the faith even when they don’t immediately have “all the answers.” It is good for students to see mature examples of “the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone” and “let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (2 Timothy 2:24; Colossians 4:6, NIV).
The question is no longer if the Christ-centered school should interact with the prevailing culture but how. Doing so with an informed, biblical, and graceful approach models the mature Christians schools hope their students will become.
Editor’s Note: This chapter continues on to look at three different cultural realities impacting students. Joel Gaines, an administrator at Delaware County Christian School, explores the challenges and blessings of intentional diversity in the Christ-centered school; Bill Brown gives practical suggestions for how schools can teach and mentor their faculty and students effectively to equip them to understand and talk about LGBTQ issues in a Christ-centered manner; and Dhugie Adams, social analyst for Axis, weighs in with sound insights on technology and the Christ-centered school. Visit PIVOT: New Directions for Christian Education for information on obtaining the full book.
Augustine, The City of God (English reprint version, New York: Random House, 1994).
Axis, www.axis.org, The Culture Insider, vol.3, Issue 10, March 10, 2017.
Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008).
Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Penguin, 2017).
Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2017).
James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row; 1951).
About the Author
Dr. William E. Brown led two Christian universities as president. He has written several books and more than 100 articles for journals, magazines, and encyclopedias. As the senior fellow for worldview and culture at the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, he directs the Colson Fellows Program, an international fellowship program. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.