Teaching for Transformation: The Goal of Christian Education

Posted on Posted in Education, Faith, Theology

In my last post I announced my plan to reframe the metanarrative of scripture in order to help our congregation gain a fresh lens for experiencing scripture and the world around us. In beginning that endeavor, I believe a few introductory matters need to be covered in order to make the journey more enjoyable and easier to navigate. In essence, if this were a road trip, we would want to pack certain tools that help us get from point A to point B: a GPS, an itinerary, a toolbox in case of breakdowns, etc. The point is, it would be foolhardy to make a cross-country road trip without preparations, how much more a whirlwind tour of the Word of God.

While one could spend weeks, no less months, digging deep into introductory matters, for the sake of time only a few essential tools will be covered in preparing for our journey. And before you think that the best tools have to be complicated, let me stop you. Quite often in life the best tools are ones that help us to focus on or gain a grasp of the things we already know and are right before our very eyes. So what tools or questions help us to do this?

Three questions in the realm of Christian Education need to be answered to effectively make this journey (and two of them are not complicated questions). The first is a matter of purpose: What is the goal or purpose of our learning? The second is a matter of method: How does God go about shaping us and is there a model we can follow? The third is a matter of scope: What areas of life should our learning effect?

Question #1: What is the goal or purpose of our learning?

To think that God doesn’t have an overall purpose in his unfolding drama of history would be just nonsensical. So why do we so often just jump into the scriptures without this lens of purpose? My point exactly. Anyway, to tackle this first question, three passages will suffice to move us to our conclusion: Deut. 6:4-9; Matt. 22:37-40; 1 Tim. 1:5. From the garden on the first pages of scripture to the city on the last pages, God instructs his people and of course, it is with a purpose in mind. Why the command not to eat the fruit? Why the law? Why the sermon on the Mount? While the individual questions each have a nuanced answer, as each passage above will show, there is a common thread, a core purpose for God’s instruction. The answer is love. No surprises there, right? But not just any love; rather it is the love that originates from God. This is the agape love pastor’s preach on during weddings and what is probably best termed covenant love. It is a love that is vertical, to love the Lord God with all that we are, and horizontal, to love our neighbor as ourself.

The Shema of Deuteronomy 6 gives us some insights as well on the nature of this covenant love. God tells the Israelites in v. 6, that “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts,” and in v. 7, “Impress them on your children.” And how are these commands to be “on their hearts” and “impressed” (literally repeated or engraved) upon their children? Repetition, repetition, repetition…but with a purpose, that their hearts would be molded so that they could love. This is what is continually meant by the circumcision of the heart, the softening of the heart, the writing on the heart.

Jesus gives this purpose focus when he is asked about the “great commandment.” Of course his answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (vertical). This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (horizontal)” (Matt. 22:37-39). In adding in v. 40, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,” he is qualifying his statement as the Telos, the purposeful end, to which God’s drama is headed. Paul, in summarizing it to its most basic element, tells us likewise in 1 Timothy 1:5, “Now the goal (telos) of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” Notice how it comes out of a transformed life, a reshaped heart.

So God is shaping and molding our hearts like clay on the potter’s wheel so that we can love. This is the goal; but it is also part of the ultimate goal, as the reframed metanarrative will reveal, to point to Christ as instruments of God’s glory. Jesus is the manifestation of love par excellence, as 1 John 3:16 attests, and we are to become like him, to be conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29), to be a picture of Jesus in our actions and words. In doing so, the gospel is extended with the offer of reconciliation to God, to be reconnected and continue the cycle of reflecting Christ to the world.

Question #2: How does God go about shaping us and is there a model we can follow?

This second question is a little bit more difficult than the first. We know that God does reshape hearts and transform lives, but how does he do it? And is it done through tangible means or is it more immaterial as our theologizing and theorizing of ethereal matters has led many of us to believe?

While I by no means deny that there are immaterial matters that are used in the outworking of God’s purposes, I take a strong stand against those who in borderline gnostic fashion, propagate a theology in which God’s actions and spiritual formation has become completely existential and ethereal. To do so does great damage to the scriptures and to God’s very character as the one who created a physical creation, no less physical humanity, and particularly the physical humanity Jesus himself took on in the incarnation. End rant.

Now, I will propose a model, which has been adapted from what I believe is a good model for which much of learning happens. Having been in the field of experiential education for going on seven years now, I have become intimately acquainted with Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning (see Kolb’s “Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development” for in-depth understanding) and I believe at least conceptually that it gets at the heart of how learning takes place.

All learning begins with concrete experience (CE) or even experience from our past that provokes a present experience. From this experience, or encounter as I would call it, we are provoked to reflectively observe (RO) what happened during the encounter or what happened to us through the encounter. From these observations, sometime even unconsciously, we begin to form meaning or abstract conceptualization (AC) to the encounter. And from this we form a concept or theory of how we will actively experiment (AE) with this experience or matter in the future, of which the cycle begins again. See below for visual.

In integrating this model with a biblical perspective, I have taken key core concepts from a biblical theology of the Metanarrative, which I will be teaching on in coming weeks, and have reframed Kolb’s terminology. And then, like systematic theology builds a hedge around the way one understands any given passage, the Metanarrative itself hedges itself around the process in guiding one’s understanding of each new encounter. Let me illustrate below:

The cycle begins with an encounter of God’s glory (1). I will be writing more in depth on this concept soon, but in short, God’s glory is the divine manifestation that declares God and his character, that it is manifested and experienced in history, and is meant to impress upon humanity, concerning who God is. As we encounter this glory, whether through his creation, culture, his Word, his people, and especially Jesus himself, our proper response is to recognize God as the glory’s source (2) (the first aspect of glorification), and our impression provokes confession. As we confess God as the source of the glory encountered, and draw nearer to him, the renewing of our mind begins (3) (as Rom. 12 says) and so God transforms us and our thinking toward him. As a result, through this reshaping of the heart, we begin to conform to the image of Christ (4) by reflecting him to the world, i.e. glorying God through our behavior and lives (the second aspect of glorification). And this is most effectively done through an understanding of God’s unfolding drama of history and being able to locate ourselves within it, both looking backward down the corridor of time and pointing forward to Christ, his coming, and his glorious Kingdom.

Question #3: What areas of life should our learning effect?

In answering the first two questions, this third question becomes quite rhetorical. If God really is seeking to impress upon us who he is through these encounters in every sphere of life, so that we are shaped, that our hearts, minds, and behaviors of expression are transformed, then the answer is indeed: in every area of life. For too long the Church, while in good intensions, has obliviously become dualistic, relegating tangible or even common aspects of life as inferior in God’s eyes. In misunderstanding Paul’s contrast of “flesh and spirit,” many have forgotten the cries of Genesis 1, “and it was good.” While sin has ravaged all of life, both the material and the immaterial, God still most frequently impresses upon our lives through the very things we take in through our five senses, which are by nature material.

As we experience life, whether a breathtaking sunset, the life giving words of a fellow believer, or an encounter with the living God through his Word, each encounter speaks to us. It reveals to us new knowledge to be gained and points us to its origin. In doing so, it is an active invitation to come and experience more. And when God beckons us through these encounters of glory, it comes with a promise; that if you draw near, no area of your life will go untouched. To consent to the invitation is to allow God to place you upon the potter’s wheel, to have his hands work away all the rough edges and form you into the vessel you were born to be.

Conclusion: Let the Journey Begin

Equipped with these tools, this triphonic voice, that guides us into the scriptures (and in fact all of life), we can now navigate the grand drama of God, and while hopefully gaining a better knowledge of God, the history of his people, and an understanding of doctrine, our true assessment of success is rather a matter of transformation. Are we truly encountering the living God through his Word? Are we drawing close to him and letting him reshape our hearts and understanding? Do our lives speak of God and point others to Jesus? This is our plumb line, our true north. This Christotelic lens, as I prefer to call it, seeks to put Jesus on display as we pursue our original vocation, to participate in God’s work of filling the earth with his glory.

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