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Christian Education: No Man is an Island

by Brian Nixon

By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – May 12, 2015) — I have a confession: I’m a glutton for knowledge. And, yes, I know Solomon’s adage: “much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12b). But Solomon also challenged us to seek wisdom more than silver and gold (Proverbs 2:4). True, I am a little weary—at times—of the work that goes into learning, but I can’t help it; too many things fascinate me. So I continue to learn, study, and attend schools to acquire even more of that elusive thing called wisdom.

When I look back over my formal education, I can think of several standout moments.

While working towards my AA in Liberal Studies at Ohlone College, I had the privilege of studying under the Prior for Thomas Merton. Professor Joseph Steinke taught ethics and philosophy. But he did so much more than just teach. He gave advice and listened. Professor Steinke ended up giving me some books that Merton gave to him. I cherish the books today as a continual gift, though not always agreeing with the contents.

Seminary VisionWhile working towards my BA in Liberal Studies at Cal State University, Stanislaus, I was honored to study under several marvelous instructors in various fields. Three that made the greatest impact on me were Dr. Ronald VanderMolen (a fine Christian individual) who taught history of the Renaissance and Reformation, Dr. Robert Danzinger who taught music history, and Dr. Hope Werness who taught art history.

My graduate days have many standouts, too many to name in full. I was honored to study with many fine professors. But a few are worth mentioning. While working towards my teaching credential and MA, Dr. RC Sproul (attending Ligonier conferences for CE credit) and Dr. John Warwick Montgomery (at that time at Trinity Seminary) had a great impact on me. Dr. Peter Riola who introduced me to the Oxford Graduate School (where I ended up as a D.Phil Fellow) was another, teaching me the motto of “work, study, and pray.” And more recently, I’ve enrolled in the Masters of Theology program at Veritas Evangelical Seminary. Here I’m honored to learn from the likes of Dr. Norman Geisler and noted archeologist, Dr. Steven Collins.

I told you, a glutton.

But there’s something I hope you notice in these memories. All the education I’ve listed involve people—teachers, more specifically. Teachers and learning go hand in hand. If you don’t believe me, just look at the Master Teacher–Student, Jesus. In Luke 2:46 we learn a few things about Jesus the student: He listened to His teachers, He sat among them, and He asked them questions. Simply put, Jesus was engaged with His teachers. And then as an adult Jesus displayed the magnificent qualities of a teacher par-excellence, the finest the world has witnessed.

Teachers can help the pill of learning go down smoothly or with tangs of sour aftertaste. Teachers can make a difference in the pursuit of wisdom, helping people assimilate knowledge, while inspiring the student towards greater insight into various fields of inquiry, developing an inquisitive mind and, hopefully, a compassionate soul.

In the new book by Paul R. House, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision (Crossway2015), he makes the case, using Bonhoeffer’s vision for education, that teachers and students should have a close relationship, one marked by discipleship and life together.

Concerning this, House writes, “…education, and all fully Christian ministries, to the New Testament’s incarnation principle of the body of Christ, which fits the Old Testament presentation of all sort of education as a face-to-face intergenerational enterprise. This, I believe that a biblical theology of pastoral formation makes face-to-face community-based seminary education a priority, not a preference.”

Think House’s statement through: face-to-face interaction with teachers is a priority. This means that the student should be interacting with the teacher as Jesus did with his teachers: listening, asking questions, and being with them.

In the modern educational world of on-line and modular classes, this is becoming harder and harder to do. I, for one, am not knocking distant learning. It’s a great thing. I’ve benefitted from it. But at some point having face-to-face interaction with a teacher is a profound experience, bringing humanity to the learning process, signifying something greater than just information: that of life-learning together.

PaideiaAnd here’s where House’s point is made clear: education is best accomplished by doing it together. This fits well with the historical understanding of the Greek term paideia. In a book by Dr. Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, he shows that the term paidieia was a life-long pursuit to shape the whole person: body, mind, and soul. Later, Christians picked up on this concept. The Apostle Paul uses the word in his letter to the Ephesians, asking fathers to “paideia in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Modern scholars usually translate this as “train,” “nurture,” or “admonish.” But paideia is more than just teaching. Paideia is comprehensive, taking into consideration the total well being of the student. This is where House’s idea of Christian education fits in well: learning together—on the grammar, secondary, or seminary level—is a microcosm of the church—a caring community concerned with the whole person. By learning together—to know—we are able to grow and go together.

To quote the famous pastor-poet, John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Donne’s point? We’re in this thing called life together—so let’s do it with one another. And what is true with life is true for the pursuit of wisdom and formal education. Pursue wisdom passionately, but remember to do it with others, passing along what you gained, granting a better life to those around you by leading them towards glimpses of the good life found in Christ.

To read more about education and the Christian life, click here: http://www.sloppynoodle.com/wp/pursuing-freedom-through-education/

For more information about Veritas Evangelical Seminary, click here: http://www.ves.edu/

To learn more about Oxford Graduate School, click here: http://www.ogs.edu/web/

Photo captions: 1) Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision by Paul R. House. 2) Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture.

About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, minister, and family man. You may contact him at www.briannixon.com or https://twitter.com/BnixNews

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