Connecting “Christian” and “Education”

By Joseph Sunde

Having spent my entire education in private Christian schools, I’ve always had a natural appreciation for the value of Christian education. I was undeniably transformed by the experience, rooted and grounded in a way I wouldn’t have been otherwise. Thus, when it came to my own kids, I always assumed the decision for schooling would be pretty simple.

By the time that decision came, however, I had a range of new questions. I wondered whether there was something more to “Christian education” than what I, myself, had experienced. Although the schools of my upbringing were filled with the light and love of Christ, the underlying philosophy and approach often mirrored the trends of progressive education: lots of testing, stodgy textbooks, and an over-reliance on data dissemination.

Surely these Christian schools brought a range of unique benefits and blessings — frequent prayer, chapel services, Bible classes, and a basic spiritual and moral framework — but the cultivation of the soul and spirit often felt separate or detached from the life of the mind. There was plenty of talk about the importance of “character” and “values,” or about God’s incredible design for all of creation, but at a deeper level, there lacked a connective tissue between this and that —  an integrated framework for more fully imagining, understanding, and pursuing God’s bigger picture.

Having grown familiar with a range of Christian thinkers from my own spontaneous study, from C.S. Lewis to Francis Schaeffer to G.K. Chesterton to Abraham Kuyper, I had begun to sense what such a framework might look like. “No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest,” writes Kuyper, “and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

I wondered: If this is truly the case, how might Christ followers more fully cultivate the spirit, soul, and body? Once we grab hold of the Scriptures and adjust our moral vision, how might we proceed to explore God’s bigger story for stewardship and discipleship across disciplines, whether math, science, language, history, or the arts? How might we apply it across cultural spheres, whether in family or business, education or politics? How might we learn to more readily embrace and discern the good, the true, and the beautiful?

In our early years as parents, those questions continued to dance around in our heads. When some friends introduced us to the classical Christian movement, we realized we were not alone, and from there, the dots began to connect rather quickly.

Like many, I began with Dorothy Sayers’ “The Lost Tools of Learning.” I began to absorb the history and values of the classical method, further opening my eyes to the unintentional neglect of so many educational institutions, public and private alike. I dug deeper into the Trivium and the types of curriculum and source material classical schools rely on. I grew more and more convinced by Sayers’ critique of progressive education in general, and the civilizational cost of simply shrugging (at worst) or offering mere spiritual frosting (at best).

Having long assumed our kids would end up at a Christian school, then, the criteria suddenly grew a bit more complex. Determining what kind of Christian school we preferred was no longer just a debate about geography, staff, facilities, or denominational positions and priorities. We began to focus our attention on the underlying educational philosophies, observing how each connected “Christian” with “education,” and whether or how closely the two were harmonized, in turn.

After an extended search that involved visits and discussions with nearly a dozen Christian schools across the Twin Cities, Agape Christi Academy emerged as having the clearest calling and commitment to those priorities.

In the almost two years since we started, we’ve seen our children grow and flourish in so many ways, both in their personal faith and faithfulness, as well as in their knowledge and curiosity about God’s creation. We’ve seen their eyes open to the reality that all truth is God’s truth, and we’ve seen the fruit of friendships with other families who share our commitment to exploring and resting in that same sweet mystery.

I am continuously blessed and encouraged by the consistent focus on Scripture and spiritual formation — the building blocks of most Christian schools. But I am also so incredibly encouraged by the focus on whole-life discipleship, on teaching methods that truly disciple and address the whole of the human person, and on an approach to Christian education that glorifies God far beyond the confines of a Bible class or chapel service.

– Joseph Sunde

Joseph is the father of two Agape Christi students, currently in first grade and kindergarten.

For further reading on the points mentioned in this post, he recommends the following:

Loving the Hunt: Kuyper on Scholarship and Stewardship

“to grope for light in much that is dark and to hunt and dig where no one has gone before”

Abraham Kuyper’s Advice for the New School Year

Ancient Future Education