Practical Theology and Religious Education in a Pluralist Europe*
by John M Hull
British Journal of Religious Education Vol. 26, no. 1, March 2004, pp. 7-19
* I first discussed the following approach in Hull (1975, 43-52) and reformulated the main distinctions in a further revision published in German (Hull 2000a, 4-12). The present article is a further revision.
The relation between Christian practical theology and religious education is discussed from a contextual perspective, commencing with a number of distinctions between various teaching processes which are then applied to the teaching of religion. The implications for a Christian philosophy of education are considered, and it is suggested that the argument would also apply to relations between other religions and education in a pluralist Europe.
Like other issues in Christian practical theology, the question of religious education in an increasingly pluralist Europe should not be approached in the first place through an exposition of Christian or biblical principles, but through a study of the actual context in which education is taking place. If we seek to apply theological concepts before we have thoroughly analysed and understood the situation, we may find that our theologisation is premature. Instead of illuminating educational practice, we may make ourselves insensitive to its detailed characteristics, and may even find that theology may make a futile attempt to dominate and even oppress educational practice instead of becoming what it should be--the friendly and critical interpreter of education. This is why we must begin our enquiry with an examination of the processes of teaching itself, although we do this with a full realisation that our religious beliefs and faith commitments will already be informing our choice of significant starting points.
What is the General Meaning of Education?
Let us distinguish between a general sense of education which includes all the various processes of teaching, and a more specific concept of education, in which education refers to one process of teaching among many.
In the general sense, the education offered by a society consists of everything it deliberately teaches. Learning is a more comprehensive category than general education. We learn many things from our experience of life, but general education is an intentional activity. I may learn a good deal while I am in hospital, but the purpose of the hospital is to heal me, rather than to teach me. It is in recognition of this intentional character of education in general that we speak, by way of contrast, of the ‘hidden curriculum’: that is, the unintended learned outcomes of school life, which are the sum of the unwitting influences the school has on the pupil.
Teaching is the activity through which general education is transmitted, and once again we must distinguish between intended teaching, (the result of which is general education) and unintended teaching (best described as influence or example).
The Specific Processes of Teaching
If we examine teaching more closely, we will distinguish several processes, such as training, instructing, indoctrinating, socialising, and schooling. Since we are concerned with the nature of religious education, we should also distinguish such teaching processes as evangelising, catechising, and nurturing. As we analyse these processes, the implications of specific education, which is one of the teaching processes, for beliefs about God, the human being, and the nature of time will emerge. Of course, we are already in the hermeneutical circle, since the distinctions between the various kinds of teaching already suggest a certain conception of the human being. Our arrangement of these teaching processes prepares us to contrast nurture with evangelisation and instruction with indoctrination, and to leave a space for the process of education conceived more narrowly. In these distinctions, the nature of the person-to-person processes involved in teaching and learning already reveal the influence of certain attitudes to human relationships and human growth. It is like that in all questions that concern the relationship between theology and practice. Theology influences the selection of the terms by means of which we analyse our practice; from the analysis of practice we in turn derive theological insights. We are thus dealing with religion as critique, and also with a critique of religion. In that circle of interpretation we prepare for a mutual encounter between theology and educational practice, in both the general and the specific senses, in which each of the partners may undergo change.
In spite of the mutual influence of the two sides of the situation, the starting point remains significant. It makes a difference where we break into the circle and we will attempt this by means of a series of stipulative definitions or conceptual distinctions, which arise from differences in practice, and which in turn may be drawn inductively from various teaching contexts. Let us see where this method takes us.
Training, Instruction, and the Specific Meaning of Education
Training involves a process of repetition, often based upon imitation, whereby a skill is acquired. Through training, one achieves a particular technique, an ability specific to a given task and involving an invariable sequence of operations or manipulations. The character of training is clear when we remember that we speak of training animals but not of specifically educating them. Human beings can be both trained and educated, but other animals can only be trained. The difference between training and specific education is that an educated person understands the principles upon which the skills are based. The specifically educated person has a cognitive perspective which frees him or her from the mechanical obedience to the sequence of manipulations. A child can be trained to spell, but only an educated person understands the principles of orthography, phonetics, or philology. Perhaps a person could be trained in the principles of orthography or phonetics, but that would mean that the principles were acquired in a rather mechanical way, without the sense of freedom, evaluation, perspective, and criticism that are features of the specifically educated person in any field of action or enquiry.
Instruction is what you tell people when you are training them. Instruction is the verbal counterpart of training. Like the training it encourages, instruction moves forward step by step, in an orderly sequence, such that a curriculum of instruction has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The training is complete when the skill can be performed. The instruction is complete when the course is ended. If training is skill-centred, and instruction is content-centred, then education (in the narrow, specific sense) is person-centred.
This helps us to understand why training and instruction, having a beginning, a middle, and an end, are bounded by time, while specific education is boundless. The task of specific education is the formation of personhood, and this task is never ending. To live is to learn, and insofar as we are teachers and educators, we may say that the process of specific education is an important contribution to learning to be a person.
This does not mean that the processes of training, instructing, and educating are incompatible, or that they necessarily exclude each other. Indeed, we may say that they require and presuppose each other. It has been said that the mansion of learning is entered through the doorway of training, and it is true that there are many situations where without fundamental skills, further growth through specific education is difficult if not impossible. Without the acquired skill of speaking, I would find it more difficult to learn from your teaching, and without keyboard skills, the whole world of learning available from the Internet would be less accessible. We continually develop new sets of skills, in which we have been instructed, and upon these expanding frameworks develop further our personhood, thus growing through specific education. Of course, these teaching and learning processes are not the only means of human growth. Persons are formed in freedom and love, and not only by skills, instruction, and education.
Indoctrination and Specific Education: Opposites
I hope by now it is clear that whenever I refer to education in the context of distinct teaching processes, to education as one process among several such processes, the reference is to specific education. I will therefore no longer speak of specific education but will take it for granted that the meaning is clear from the context.
The concept of indoctrination includes content, intention, and result. The content of indoctrination is doctrines. One can socialise a person into correct table manners but one cannot indoctrinate the person into them. Table manners are customs, not doctrines. A doctrine is a proposition, an expression of values or beliefs, usually relating to an ideological system which is controversial in the surrounding society. The intention of the indoctrinator is to disguise the controversial status of the doctrine from the learner by presenting the doctrine as though it were a fact. This is done with the further intention of securing from the learner an irrational commitment to the truth of the controversial doctrine. This does not necessarily mean that the doctrine itself or the ideology of which it is a part is irrational; it does mean that the grounds upon which the indoctrinated person believes the doctrine are irrational. One can be educated about an ideology, instructed in it, or indoctrinated into it.
It is possible for an attempt at indoctrination to fail. For an act of indoctrination to be successful requires not only that the content is appropriate, and that the intention is to form an irrational commitment to the doctrine, but that this intention should succeed. The indoctrinator denies freedom to the person; the educator enhances the critical freedom of the learner.
The Teaching Processes and Time
We may gain a clearer idea of the differences between the processes we are considering if we relate them to time. The indoctrinator intends to secure the transmission of the doctrines in a form which tolerates no change or development. The indoctrinator seeks to re-duplicate his or her beliefs in the learner. The learner is not encouraged to become his or her own person, but to become the incarnation of the indoctrinator. So the indoctrinator frustrates not only the development of the person but the development of the future.
If we accept the modal character of time (Hartshorne 1964, 271), then there is a qualitative difference between past and future. The past cannot be changed but the future does not yet exist. The past is actual; the future is possible. When the indoctrinator tries to extend the past into a completely predictable future, an attempt is made to make the future exactly like the past. The indoctrinator may thus be thought of as one who tries to abolish the future.
So we see that while the instructor measures time (the beginning, the middle and the end), and the indoctrinator abolishes time (the future shall be exactly as the past), the educator helps the pupil to achieve fulfilment, or to develop with time. The educator is aware of the timing of personal development. Thus the educator is concerned with Kairos; the instructor with Chronos; and the indoctrinator with Chaos: the chaos, the stagnation, the distortion of complete rigidity.
Socialisation and Schooling
Socialisation is the process whereby a person grows into the customs and mores of the society, the process being complete when the behaviour of the socialised person is indistinguishable from that of the majority of the members of the surrounding society. The finishing point, the point in time, for the conclusion of socialisation is thus determined by society. Socialisation is concerned with the customs and manners that are the common property of the society, whereas the indoctrinator is concerned with controversial ideological content. The socialised person is embedded in society, whereas the indoctrinated person is embedded in the doctrines. The institutional process for securing socialisation is schooling.
Evangelising, Catechising, Nurturing
The processes of teaching and learning that we have discussed so far are full of implications for the nature of the person, freedom, and time. Nevertheless, they are not specifically religious processes. As we come closer in our discussion to explicit theological motifs, it is appropriate for us to include some consideration of a number of explicitly religious teaching and learning processes.
Evangelising is the presentation of religious faith so as to persuade or convert, whereas catechising and nurturing are processes intended to deepen the faith commitment of believers. Evangelism is directed at outsiders; catechising and nurture, at insiders. If the borderline between outsiders and insiders is blurred or uncertain, then the distinction between evangelism on the one hand, and catechising and nurturing on the other, also becomes uncertain. Evangelisation differs from indoctrination in that it is not by nature intended to produce irrational commitment. On the contrary, the evangelist hopes to secure the free and voluntary commitment of the listeners. Certainly, the evangelist may use methods of emotional pressure and repetition that bring his or her techniques close to those of the indoctrinator, but this does not affect the fact that conceptually, the processes are distinguishable. The evangelist proclaims in order to persuade; the indoctrinator disguises in order to subvert.
Catechising and nurturing are both processes intended to deepen faith. Whereas the evangelist speaks from faith to unbelief, the nurturer and catechist speak from faith to faith.
Catechesis tends to be used today within the Catholic tradition (Durka 1995), while nurture is more typical of the Protestant churches (Bushnell 1975; 1979; Green 1996). Catechesis suggests a kind of religious instruction, whereas nurture is a metaphor based on growth. We must distinguish the general sense in which parents nurture their children from the more specific religious sense we have in mind here. One may nurture the general religious potential of a child; one may also nurture the child within a particular religious tradition. Thus we may speak of Christian nurture, Islamic nurture and so on, although the word itself is from the Christian tradition.
Whereas the intention of education is to develop the personhood of the pupil, to promote the humanisation process, the intention of the Christian nurturer (or catechist) is to christianise the person. There is a sense in which the Christian faith has as its ultimate intention the achievement of true humanity, and in that sense there may be little difference between education and Christian nurture. However, in the reality of pluralistic modernity, where Christianity is conceived of as a religious belief system in distinction from other similar or perhaps dissimilar belief systems, a sharp distinction must be made between Christian nurture and education, because even if the ultimate purpose of the Christian faith is to humanise the pupil, the instrument of that humanisation is the Christian faith, whereas in a pluralist society it is necessary to recognise that there may be other instruments of humanisation. In addition, the models of humanisation springing from various religions may themselves vary somewhat.
Religion in Teaching and Learning
We have now distinguished several processes of teaching and learning, all of which have implications for the nature of the person and the nature of time. All of the processes are implicitly religious by nature, insofar as they imply values, commitments, and beliefs, and in some of them the religious orientation is explicit. We must now realise that religion can be linked with any of these processes in an explicit way, so that we may speak not only of training but of religious training, not merely of instruction but of religious instruction. Similarly, we may speak of religious indoctrination, religious socialisation, religious schooling and so on. To speak of religious evangelisation and religious catechising would be a pleonism, since these processes are already explicitly religious, but we certainly can speak of religious nurture, since nurture can be used in a general and nonreligious sense, as we have seen.
Since religion has to do with worship and mission, the general character of the human response to the Ultimate and to each other, there seems little scope for religious training. On the other hand, we have seen that training may be the gateway to personal growth, and so we may think of training in meditation or in prayer as an example of the role of religious training.
Religious instruction may suggest an authoritative, teacher-directed, one-way process whereby a body of information or knowledge is passed from the ones who know it to the learner, who does not know it. Nevertheless, there is nothing, in principle, wrong with instruction, or wrong about religious instruction. The moral quality of training and instruction depends upon the content. If children are instructed in a tribalistic and prejudiced form of religious faith, that would be a misuse of instruction; but if they were instructed in the basic beliefs of, let us say, the Eastern Orthodox church, that would be a normal and efficient form of teaching. As was said earlier, not all person-centred, freedom-enhancing education needs to be separated completely from other forms of teaching, and in judging the adequacy of religious instruction we would need to survey the total repertoire of teaching processes used. If religious instruction is open to questioning, discussion, and criticism, and if the instructor is ready to learn, acknowledging the exploratory character of the instruction itself, then instruction would indeed be a partner of education. On the other hand, if the instruction is dogmatic, if questions are discouraged, if the authority and total competence of the teacher is asserted, then we have something like Paulo Freire's "banking" concept of education, which under extreme circumstances may come close to indoctrination (Freire 1972, 57).
If religion is conceived of as mere transmission, an initiation into conformism and passive acceptance, then we could describe the process as a kind of religious socialisation, the school being the agent. Once again, the process of person-centred education should not be contrasted too harshly with religious socialisation. It has often been observed that socialisation into religious awareness and sensitivity is an important part of religious family upbringing, and children who have been denied this fundamental socialisation, and may be surrounded by the values of the money-mad society, may become so alienated from religion that it may prove difficult to help them to appreciate the value of religion later in life. On the other hand, if religious teaching consisted in nothing but socialisation, if it never rose above mere transmission of conventional practice and belief, if the prophetic element in teaching were entirely missing, it is hard to see how a young person could ever identify with religious faith with any passion, integrity, or creativity.
The Nature of Religious Education
Having gone around the circle of our vocabulary of learning and teaching, we are left with the character of religious education, in the distinct and specific sense. What is religious education as compared to religious training, religious instruction, religious socialisation, religious nurture and so on?
The process of religious education is whatever we have attributed to the concept of specific education itself when the content is religion. In other words, insofar as education is a process of maturing persons into critical openness, a process of learning the main purpose of which is to make further learning possible, then religious education would be the same process, the content being religion. After all, specific education must always have some content or other. You cannot just encourage a critical awareness of interdependent living, spiritual solidarity with others, and a commitment to further learning in a vacuum of content. Although the process of instruction is particularly emphatic in its content-centred nature, every process of teaching has its content.
There is, however, a difference in the ethical relationship between the process and the content in the case of training, instruction, socialisation, evangelisation and so on, on the one hand, and indoctrination and education, on the other. In the case of the former group of processes, the ethical character of the process depends upon the content. It is good to evangelise people with the beliefs and values of a noble, life-enhancing faith, but it is bad to evangelise people into the doctrines and values of nationalism, tribalism, or religionism (Hull 2000b, 75-85). The processes themselves are neutral.
However, in the case of education and indoctrination, which are located at opposite and contrasting poles of the conceptual circle, the processes themselves are charged with ethical content. Of course, if you must indoctrinate, it is better to indoctrinate with the doctrine of a God of love than with the doctrine of a God of vengeance and hatred. However, even to indoctrinate belief in a God of love is a contradiction in terms, and is harmful to the growth of the student. Love can only exist in freedom, and the whole point of the indoctrination process is to deprive the pupil of freedom through a process of dogmatic deception.
What Kind of Religion?
Different religions, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say different forms or traditions within every religion, will find themselves at ease with one or the other of these teaching and learning processes. There may be religions with a substantial commitment to ritual, a great deal of whose teaching will involve training. There may be religions or traditions within a religion that place an emphasis upon the authoritative transmission of their teachings. These may tend to adopt an instructional approach. There may even be some religions, which the sociologists might regard as representative of the cult or sect variety, which prefer to isolate their members from the outside world, to expose them to uninterrupted teaching, denying them sleep, requiring memorisation and repetition, then suddenly changing the atmosphere into one of warmth and support and so on. Many people might describe such techniques as being indoctrinatory. It also seems likely that there will be some religions, or some people within religions, who will regard it as their overriding responsibility to persuade their students to convert to their own faith. These are the teachers whom I have described elsewhere as being convergent rather than divergent teachers (Hull 1986, 175-85). Rather than regarding religion as an instrument toward the goal of education, such people will regard education as the instrument toward conversion or commitment to the faith that is the content of the teaching. However, it is not really education that is being used as the instrument, for in the hands of such religionists education has been turned into evangelisation, instruction, or even indoctrination.
This brings us directly to the theological question. Is there some characteristic within the personality or cognitive structure of the believing teacher, or perhaps some element within the nature of the religious tradition itself, which can be regarded as generating the various approaches we have indicated? We may respond to this question by considering the implications of each of the teaching and learning processes for the image and concept of God. We have already seen that the teaching and learning processes imply certain beliefs about the nature of being human and different views about the relationship between the teaching processes and time. Now we can discuss a similar layer of implications, which have to do with God.
The God whose nature is expressed mainly by training may be a magical God, for whom the performance of repetitive manipulations is in itself satisfying and, from the point of view of the obedient practitioner, efficacious. The God whose nature is best expressed through the process of instruction may be the authoritarian God who has nothing to learn but is the all-competent, all-knowing teacher. The God behind the process of indoctrination may also be the authoritarian God. When we say that God is an authority or has authority we have in mind certain criteria of experience, knowledge, compassion, and so on by which the authority of God may be recognised as legitimate. The authoritarian personality recognises no criteria other than the word and the will of the one that speaks. ‘It is so because I say it’.
If we ask about God as understood within Christian faith, and how such a one might be expressed through the processes of Christian evangelism, instruction, nurture and catechesis, we will have to speak of the many forms that the Christian faith may take. Christian faith is expressed through a family of closely related religions.
The God of Christian evangelism, Christian catechetics, and Christian nurture may be thought of as an exclusively Christian God, a God who is thoroughly embedded within the Christian faith, does not usually acknowledge any salvific authenticity in any other faith and may also have a convergent view of the future. This God, who is really the instructional God, may become the tribal deity of the Christians.
Christian faith, however, may approach education in the specific sense, as we have described it without trying to turn education into evangelism, nurture, instruction and so on. This would be a Christian faith prepared to accept an instrumental role in the service of the person a Christian faith that maintains it was made for human beings, not that human beings were made for it, a Christian faith willing to take up the basin and the towel and be a servant.
The God that corresponds to the education process in the specific sense is the One who goes on learning. This is the God who rejoices in the ever-expanding novelty of the world, the partner of the world’s experience, the participator in human learning, the One in whom freedom, love, and enquiry are grounded (Hull 1985, 220-35). This is the God of the Protestant principle, although it is not at all necessary to suggest that the Protestant Christian faith has a unique claim upon such a God and upon such an educational process. The God who knows how to teach because knowing how to learn is characteristic of Protestantism but not exclusive to Christian faith, let alone exclusive to this kind of Christian faith.
The expression 'Christian Education'
The expression 'Christian Education' seems to mean at least three things. First, Christian education sometimes means that process of teaching and learning the content of which is made up of Christianity. It would be clearer if this was referred to as Christian studies, and in this sense, the study of Christianity forms part of every religious education programme in Britain and in most European countries. It would be possible to study nothing but Christianity, although a wide-ranging religious education would normally include studies of other religions alongside the study of Christianity.
Second, 'Christian Education' may refer to that process of teaching and learning the content of which is Christianity and which has as its purpose the fostering or deepening of the Christian faith of the students. It will be clear from the discussion in this article that I would generally speaking prefer to describe this as Christian nurture, although it would be pedantic to insist upon this. However, this is probably the most widespread use of the expression. When people in the Christian churches speak of their Christian education departments, they normally have in mind the attempt, whether through churches or church-related schools, to transmit the Christian faith in the context of belief and commitment. It is increasingly common today to find that various Christian denominations also provide material suitable for inclusion within Christian studies.
There is nothing in the argument of this article to suggest that Christian nurture should be regarded as an unethical activity (subject to the conditions discussed) or to suggest that it is in some way inferior to the other processes. On the contrary, I have claimed that the process of nurture itself is ethically neutral, and its status depends upon what it is that you are nurturing. Far from its being unethical, I believe that it is a calling of every Christian family and of every Christian school and church to offer influence or programmes that will nurture children and young people from Christian backgrounds into a deeper and firmer faith. The same would be true for Jewish nurture, Islamic nurture, and so on, if teachers within these traditions should choose to use the word ‘nurture’ for these activities. However, to maintain the ethical character of these specifically religious processes, it is necessary that narrow, tribalistic forms of religion are replaced so that the religions themselves emerge from their competitive relationships into a situation of mutual nurture, becoming partners in humanisation.
The third meaning of the expression 'Christian Education' is that education which flows from or is compatible with or is justified by the Christian faith. This is the sense in which I have spoken of a specific educational process which can be contrasted with the other processes. I am suggesting that Christian faith can not only generate and justify processes of Christian nurture, catechetics and evangelism-'Acclaim the truth of which is self-evident'-but that Christian faith can generate and justify an understanding of an educational process which is not intended to create, deepen, or foster Christian faith and commitment. It is possible for Christian faith to extend beyond concerns for its own transmission and become the partner of an education concerned with the growth into maturity of persons, whether they adopt Christian faith or not. Whether any other religion could, or would want to, make such distinctions remains a possibility but is not the subject of this discussion.
Christian Education in this final sense refers to a Christian philosophy or theology of education. This is to be distinguished from a theology of Christian nurture, or a Christian theology of Christian instruction. All of these are important tasks of practical theology, but they are distinguishable. It is upon this distinction that the viability of a Christian approach to religious education in a pluralist society must rest.
Is the Relation between Christian Faith and Educational Theory and Practice Necessary or is it Sufficient?
This distinction between necessary and sufficient relations between theology and educational philosophy yields a number of possible situations.
First, Christian faith might be necessary but not sufficient as a basis for education. This would mean that no philosophy of education would be complete without an element provided by Christian theology, but that that theological element could not stand alone. It would need to be complemented by contributions from other disciplines, such as psychology, curriculum theory, and so on. It might be the case that Islam could also provide for a basis of education, and that this contribution was as necessary, in a multi-faith Europe, as that provided by Christian theology. Both Islam and Christian contributions might thus be necessary, but neither would be sufficient.
A second possible position would be that Christian theology would be sufficient as a basis for a philosophy of education but not necessary. That would mean that everything required by a complete philosophy of education could be drawn from the Christian faith, and that the same might be said of other religions and ideologies. In this situation, a Christian philosophy of education would be a viable and legitimate option alongside other philosophies of education. Christian faith could, so to speak, go it alone, but so, perhaps, could others.
A third position would be the very strong one in which the relationship between Christian theology and educational theory would be both necessary and sufficient. This would be the exclusivist position, in which there could be no basis for education other than the Christian faith, and no rival to the Christian faith in providing this basis. This is the least plausible of the four positions, since it refuses to acknowledge plurality and would maintain an absolute control over education. Moreover, the necessary and sufficient position would return us to the Europe of Christendom. It would thus be unrealistic in the light of the conditions in Europe and the world today. In addition, such a position could not acknowledge the work of atheists, humanists, and other non-religious people in education, nor would there be any possibility of partnership with people from other religions.
The fourth and final possibility would be that the relationship between Christian theology and education would be neither sufficient nor necessary, but partial and possible. This is the position that seems best to me. It means that the Christian faith can not claim sufficiency in the attempt to provide a basis for contemporary education in Europe. Christian theology can make a contribution alongside other contributions. Christian theology needs not only the support of the social science disciplines but support from the insights and beliefs of the other participating religions in modern Europe. Moreover, even this shared and partial contribution remains only a strong possibility. Europe has come of age. It is possible to have a philosophy and practice of education that does not explicitly draw upon Christian theology or upon any religious approach. Proof of this can be found by browsing the contents pages of current journals of education and by perusing the shelves of any good educational library in Europe. Such a secular philosophy of education may not be the most desirable, but it is at least possible, plausible, and viable.
On the other hand, we must not underrate the significance of the claim that Christian theology can make a possibly legitimate contribution. If there is a possibility, it is a Christian duty and calling to actualise it. Christian theology is not rendered irrelevant and illegitimate in this discussion. Christian faith is still on the European chessboard. It does not control the play but at least it is not relegated to the box of captured pieces. Christian faith remains a player.
The 'partial and possible' position may seem a modest one, and so it is. Christian faith, both theoretically and practically, is in the marketplace of educational ideas in modern Europe. It must hope to earn a place not for some a priori truth it possesses, nor on the basis of some privileged position in European history, but because of the evident value and relevance of its contributions. These offer a benefit to Christian faith in enabling the churches to formulate a theology that respects education, and to education in providing much-needed support for its humanistic ideals (Hull 1997). The logic of this argument may apply to Islam, just as it does to both Christian and Jewish faith.
It may seem strange that one should offer a discussion of Christian theology and religious education in a pluralist Europe without referring to the Bible. One of the reasons why there is little obvious connection between the New Testament and education today is the centrality of the concept of salvation in the New Testament. Insofar as salvation is a metaphysical reality that concerns our ultimate destiny, before God and after death, education in modern Europe is not concerned with salvation. If we teach in the light of eternity, it is because human personhood is not complete within the empirical lifespan, and not because we believe that education can offer salvation in the next life. A more appropriate biblical metaphor to describe the role of education would be that of 'flourishing'.
Grace Jantzen (1998, 156-70) remarks that the concept of flourishing occurs frequently in the Hebrew Bible (Hos 14:3-7; Prov 14:11; Ps 92:12), but is less frequent in the New Testament. In addition to the ideas of fullness and abundance (Jantzen 1998, 158), one thinks of auxano, to grow. Examples are the parable of the mustard seed: 'When it is grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree' (Mt 13:32). In other words, it flourishes. John the Baptist as a child 'grew and became strong in spirit' (Lk 1:80). The child flourished. Other relevant New Testament expressions occur in Acts 7:17 and 12:24. There are various other terms in the New testament that suggest flourishing, such as being fruitful (Col 1:10).
One of the purposes of education is that individuals and communities should flourish, should grow strong and be fruitful, should be creatively at home in a beautiful and restored environment, in which human life and nature can together be renewed. When we ask about the contribution of Christian faith to education in modern Europe, we must ask what stops our children and our young people from flourishing. It is poverty, ethnic and racial tension and hostility, lack of community, and above all, the ethos created by the money-mad society. Those who live for money will live stunted and selfish lives, but those who live for others in human solidarity will flourish like the tree that is planted beside the living waters. The role of the Christian churches in Europe is not to control education, not to domesticate it or to turn it into something it cannot and should not be, but to enable it to flourish.
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