To Change the World: Essay 3, Reflections, Part 5 (Children)

[This series of posts won't be a traditional book review. Rather, I'll summarize parts of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, and then I'll add my own thoughts. I may criticize the book here and there, but I don't have much to criticize.]

Near the end of Essay 2, Hunter writes,

What is wrong with [the neo-Anabaptist's] critique is that it doesn’t go far enough, for the moral life and everyday social practices of the church are also far too entwined with the prevailing normative assumptions of American culture. Courtship and marriage, the formation and education of children, the mutual relationships and obligations between the individual and community, vocation, leadership, consumption, leisure, “retirement” and use of the time in the final chapters of life — on these and other matters, Christianity has uncritically assimilated to the dominant ways of life in a manner dubious at the least.

What does faithful presence say about the “formation and education” of children? Well, Hunter doesn’t really say, but we can think about it.

First, obviously, we want to raise our children to be equipped and motivated to be faithfully present Christians. Therefore, parenting them for Jesus means much more than getting them dunked in the bapistry.

Second, secular schools aren’t going to help. In fact, they may well interfere.

Third, Christian schools may not help much either. Many are caught up in the Christian Right or even Left Behind dispensationalism. They are often very politicized, and rarely missional in their theology. Indeed, most Christian schools are specifically created to form parallel institutions to escape an ugly, anti-God world and so have no interest in engaging the world for the sake of God’s mission.

Here’s the question to ask the headmaster: How many of your graduates are now missionaries? How many are involved fulltime in caring for the poor, the needy, the disabled, the homeless, etc.? How many have gone into ministry as a career?

In many schools, the headmaster will know how many were accepted into Ivy League schools and how many received athletic scholarships, but few will have thought about how many graduates are involved fulltime in God’s mission — because most private schools see the schools as the mission — not preparation for mission.

None of this is to say that a school fails if a child goes to Harvard rather than the mission field. No, it’s just a question of mindset. Is the school about accomplishing the same things worldly schools do but with devos and stricter discipline? Or is it about the kingdom of God? And what the school emphasizes and the way they measure success will tell the tale.

In fact, I’d be thrilled if a private Christian school made a point to prepare its brightest kids to show the glory of God in Harvard or Yale — but few see Harvard or Yale as a mission field. It’s just a place to get trained for a good job in medicine or law. You see, in my experience, Christian private schools are all about preparation for worldly success — but with devos and Bible classes.

A truly Christian education would have as a serious theme the importance of submission, sacrifice, and service, not a solid bottom line and upper middle class lifestyle — and I’ve experienced very few private high schools that have a truly missional worldview, much less a faithful presence perspective.

In “faithful presence” terms, as we’ve covered, four important characteristics of Jesus are —

First, his power was derived from his complete intimacy with and submission to his Father. …

[Second is] his rejection of status and reputation and the privilege that accompanies them. …

[Third,] he endured [those degradations] willingly because of his love for fallen humanity and for his creation more broadly. ..

[Fourth] the social power exercised by Christ was the noncoercive way in which he dealt with those outside the community of faith.

* Do you as parents (and your Christian private school) encourage a personal discipline of Bible study, prayer, and other activities that develop a personal intimacy with God?  Or is the practical theology of the home (and school) rule-based, all about “don’ts” and not about a life lived for the sake of love of God?

* Do you as parents (and does your Christian school) revel in prestige and status or do you teach your children that true Christians may well be hated and despised for their Christianity? Are you willing for your children to be cast out of the “higher” social ranks because of their faith? Will you sacrifice baseball all-stars for the sake of a mission trip or Bible camp? Or do baseball and the big party always trump anything that involves church?

* Do you (and your Christian private school) teach your children to love the unlovable? If the school had no athletic team, would it be racially integrated? Would you pay more tuition so the school can give scholarships to the poor? Do your children make friends with social outcasts?  Do you (and the school) encourage works of compassion for the needy? Are these activities done in ways that involve personal contact? Or is it just a check in the mail?

* Do you (and your Christian private school) refuse to use power for your own benefit and yet always use power in service for the most needy? Or is the school all politics and power and infighting and selfishness? What do you (and your school) do to demonstrate and set an example of selflessness for your children?

These are, of course, really, really hard questions, but they are at the heart of being Christ-like. You see, it’s not a matter of adding short-term mission trips to the program for graduating seniors. It’s about developing a kind of heart that this secular culture (and most church cultures) don’t value.

Schools think they’re about educating for college. Parents figure the church is supposed to teach their kids Christianity. And both are sadly wrong. They are, of course, partly right, but if the parents (and the Christian schools) aren’t all about developing hearts for Jesus in serious, thoughtful, and deeply challenging ways, then our kids aren’t going to be the faithful sons and daughters of God we wish.

Oh, and I should add that all this is true regarding Sunday school classes, too, of course. Is the goal to teach morally uplifting Bible stories? Or to teach sacrificial living for the sake of God’s mission?

Is the story of David and Goliath about courage and faith or about the willingness to risk death for the sake of God’s kingdom? (It’s all of the above, of course, but do we teach the Christ-like nature of David or the same lessons you’d learn in a secular school, just with Biblical illustrations?) How was David like Jesus?

Is the story of Joseph about being strong and resisting temptation or about pursuing God’s mission even in a foreign land where you have no friends? (Again, all are true, but do we see how Joseph’s faith led to God’s kingdom because Joseph was willing to serve God — even to risk prison or death? Had he interpreted those dreams wrongly, what would have been his fate?) How was Joseph like Jesus?

You see, truly excellent Bible teaching — at all levels — is Jesus focused. It’s not just teaching virtues — as very important as that is. It’s about teaching our children to live as Jesus lived and to see the message of Jesus’ life in the rest of scripture. It’s a very different way of thinking.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
This entry was posted in To Change the World, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to To Change the World: Essay 3, Reflections, Part 5 (Children)

  1. Tom Forrester says:

    These are great examples of contrasts in thinking. The right kind of thinking comes only through diligently seeking God. If, in our heart, we seek such things and success, fulfillment, happiness, respect, etc, the result will be thinking that leads us (me) away from the path we should be on. I believe that if we are truly seeking Jesus Christ, He will reward by transforming our way of thinking to His. Then the direction He has for us becomes very clear. It would be interesting to hear how others ask, seek and knock.

  2. What jumps out to me is the idea that there are no exceptions to loving others the way Jesus loves us. Ever. There are simply none.

    As we live our lives, we (or at least I do, and I don't think I'm that unusual) rationalize that in this situation or that situation, our failure to love the way Jesus loved is okay, because of the situation.

    But there are no exceptions

  3. Jay Guin says:

    David,

    Exactly. Love is not a program found in a church building.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Tom,

    I entirely agree. And we will certainly be rewarded. But since our priorities will be changed, the kind of reward we can expect will also be changed.

  5. I believe that baseball all-stars is a mission field.

    What is "the big party?"

    As for Christian schools, in many parts of America today, the government schools do not teach reading, writing, math, science, history, etc. much at all. The Christian schools are created as a place where learning occurs. The missional aspects aren't strong, but having a place where learning occurs is pretty darn good.

    Something else bothers me a bit. I attend an upper middle class (economically) congregation. My impression of the congregation that Jay attends (I visited one wonderful Sunday) is that it is also upper middle class. I have also attended congregations where 90% of the members are poor – income less than $10,000 a year. members work long hours for little money, are under-educated (government schools), and are the downcast of their communities. I am not sure how the "caring for the poor" sermons go in those congregations. Thoughts?

Leave a Reply