A Christian Philosophy of Education


What exists or what is real?  What can humans know?  What is of value?  Ontology, epistemology, and axiology form the anchor points for human meaning.  From these three distinct yet overlapping domains, arise two further questions: 1) What is the goal of human maturity—the model of a fully developed human?  2) How do educators draw students toward these ends?  Anthropology and andragogy build upon the first three to formulate one’s philosophy of education.

What exists?  What is real?

Ontology encompasses Sire’s (1976/1988, p. 18) first and second questions, “What is prime reality—the really real?” and “What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?”  The current author is a committed Christian theist, in complete agreement with Sire’s summary:  1) “God is infinite and personal (Triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good” (p. 26).  2) “God created the cosmos ex nihilo to operate with a uniformity of natural causes in an open system” (p. 28).  3) “Human beings are created in the image of God and thus possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, morality, gregariousness and creativity” (p. 30).  4) “Human beings can know both the world around them and God himself because God has built into them the capacity to do so and because he takes an active role in communicating with them” (p. 33).  5) “Human beings were created good, but through the Fall the image of God became defaced, though not so ruined as not to be capable of restoration; through the work of Christ God redeemed humanity and began the process of restoring people to goodness, though any given person may choose to reject that redemption” (p. 36).  6) “For each person death is either the gate to life with God and his people or the gate to eternal separation from the only thing that will ultimately fulfill human aspirations” (p. 39).  7) “Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good (holy and loving)” (p. 40).  8) “History is linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity” (p.41).

Every element of Christian theism must influence the practice of education, although not every connection can be traced in this paper.  Ultimate reality governs epistemology, axiology, anthropology, and andragogy.  Properly understood, Christian theism is arguably an adequate theory of everything (Sire, 1976/1988).

What can humans know?

Sire (1976/1988, p. 18) asked, “Why is it possible to know anything at all?”  For the human mind to introspect and accurately articulate its own machinations can seem preposterous.  If Skinner’s description of human behavior as no more than a sophisticated response to stimuli is itself a response to stimuli, it is not a theory worthy of investigation, but rather a mindless ejaculation.  If human thought means no more than conformity to function in a social environment, then it is only herd instinct and not true thought.  Piaget’s physical knowledge seems easy to define in physiological terms, but the concept itself is more than physiological—it takes on the nature of logical-mathematical knowledge.  In fact, Piaget’s whole construct requires the mind to go beyond each type of knowledge to a greater frame of reference containing all the types.  Meditating on interactive, social knowledge or on symbolic representation requires a mind that is able to hold those abstract concepts and turn them slowly to contemplate further insight—something governed far more by patterns of careful thought than by complex biochemistry.  Beyond this, somehow most humans experience a direct awareness of a self “that is having those experiences and that unites them into one field of consciousness” (Moreland & Craig, 2003, p. 293).  The mind seems almost greater than itself.

What can humans know, and can they know that they know it?  Are the human cognitive faculties reliable, and on what basis can humans claim that reliability?  As a naturalist and an evolutionist, Darwin confessed,

With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?  (Darwin, 2010).

Driscoll (1994/2005, p. 269) remarks, “Evolutionary psychology rests on the assumption that the psychology of behavior is well informed by evolutionary biology” and then cites Cosmides’ assertion that “understanding the process that designed the human mind will advance the discovery of its architecture” (Cosmides, Tooby, & Barkow, 1992, p. 3).  Remarkably, in the ten pages of their article, Cosmides, Tooby, and Barkow use some form of the word “design” 53 times, some form of “select” 25 times, “structure” 16 times, “architecture” 6 times, and a sprinkling of other terms normally associated with planning by an intelligent agent!  Nevertheless they remind the reader that Darwin “wanted to explain how complex functional design could emerge in species spontaneously, without the intervention of an intelligent artificer, such as a divine creator.”  Then they confidently assert, “The logic of his argument seems inescapable” (pp. 8-9).  Cosmides and the Center for Evolutionary Psychology of the University of California, Santa Barbara, have built up an impressive array of studies to explain how the evolutionary process has—without a designer—produced a functional human mind, and they offer their works freely online at http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/publist.htm.

On the other hand, Plantinga (1994, p. 13) demonstrates that together naturalism and evolution (as it is currently conceived) are “ultimately undefeated defeaters” of the idea that human cognitive faculties are reliable.  The evolutionary process alone is insufficient to produce mental faculties that are oriented to truth; it may even be insufficient to produce mental faculties that are simply functional.  Anderson (2005, p. 49) says Van Til joins Plantinga in arguing “if knowledge then God,” that is, “the existence of God is in some weighty sense a precondition of human knowledge.”  If, and only if, there is an Intelligent Creator who designed the human mind to know truth reliably, then humans can establish a sufficient basis for trusting their minds.  Otherwise, one cannot escape Darwin’s “horrid doubt.”  Van Til concludes, “Naturalistic epistemology flourishes best in the garden of supernaturalistic metaphysics.  Naturalistic epistemology conjoined with naturalistic metaphysics leads via evolution to skepticism or to violation of canons of rationality; conjoined with theism it does not” (as cited in Anderson, 2005, pp. 49-50).

The naturalistic evolutionary thinker finds himself trapped, not so much by the thought processes of other people, but by his own thinking.  He is searching for Archimedes’ lever, a fulcrum, and a place on which to stand, but he is left dangling in outer space with his feet planted on nothing, not even certain there is a lever in his hand!  How can he trust the conclusions of his own mind if it has been assembled by mindless forces?

Christian epistemology stands upon the confidence that an Intelligent Creator designed the human mind to work reliably (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15-25).  The Christian can employ eclectic applications from all three of the major epistemologies: objectivism, pragmatism, and interpretivism (Driscoll, 2005, pp. 13-15).  The Christian must address truth as facts known through the senses, truth as principles discerned by the mind, truth as trust (troth, compare Palmer’s emphasis on a person’s relationship to the truth [1983/1993, p. 69]), and truth as order.  Christian epistemology, however, also acknowledges that distortion has been introduced into the human mind (Genesis 3:1-24).  Moroney (2000, p. 35-42) proposes a model to exhibit the factors that distort human thinking.  Distortion occurs in relation to the objects of knowledge: more so when contemplating God and moral truths, somewhat less when interpreting other humans, and still less when studying the impersonal data of the universe.  This distortion is also affected by the individual differences in the knowers, contextual differences according to the communities in which the knowers participate, and differences influenced by the salvific relationship between the knower and God.  Moroney also documents the pervasive human tendency to “self-serving cognitive distortion” (pp. 90-97), making oneself appear better than one really is (see Romans 12:3).  The Christian endeavors to introduce corrective measures for these noetic distortions.

With the foundation of an Intelligent Creator who formed the human mind and the caution that the human mind is now subject to distortion, the Christian is ready to consider the empirical facts in the universe; the objective, observable behaviors of humans; the cognitive capacities of the human mind and its sophisticated schemata; the tortuous paths of human motivation and self-discipline; the complexities of diverse communities, each with their intricacies; and the human yen for ultimate meaning—for God Himself!  The Christian humbles himself a) to worship his Creator (Exodus 20:2-7, Matthew 4:10) and thankfully acknowledge that even one’s ability to think comes from God (Psalm 139:14); b) to relate lovingly and respectfully to his fellow-humans (Leviticus 19:8); and c) to steward the environment (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 8:6-8).  While secular thinkers may regard the Christian faith as inhibiting academic inquiry, the Christian realizes that only if there is an Ultimate Mind can there be a basis for finite minds.

The Christian further plights his troth in a self-revealing God who built “His creative logos (word)” into the universe (Carpenter, 1983, p. 175) and who constructed the human mind to think “God’s thoughts after Him” so humans can learn about God and His Word, about human nature, and about the universe.  The Christian’s confidence in the inspiration and the inerrancy of the Bible is grounded in evidences (both internal and external to the text itself) as well as in the personal experience of individual believers who have found the Bible to produce “fruits of righteousness” in their lives (Matthew 7:16-20, Galatians 5:22-23, James 3:18).  Consequently, the Bible provides the integrative center for all learning (Byrne, 1961; Gaebelein, 1954/1979; Pazmiño, 1997/2001, p. 68).

Each of the three major epistemologies (Driscoll, 2005, pp. 13-15) offers specific insights but none of them covers the whole realm of knowledge.  In agreement with objectivism, the Christian believes there is independent reality, external to the knower, but it is created and unified in its diversity by the Triune God (Van Til as cited in Warren, 2007).  The order the Christian finds in the universe is not manufactured, as Kant imagined, by the human mind (as cited in Moreland & Craig, 2003, p. 177), but is established by an organizing, self-revealing Creator (Psalm 19) who taught man to classify the creation right from the start (Genesis 1 – 2).  With the pragmatist, the Christian agrees that truth must “work” or produce “fruit”—appropriate results (Matthew 3:8; 7:16), but the empirical and the temporal are only a small part of reality.  After this life “under the sun,” comes an evaluation of everything before God (Ecclesiastes 9:11; 12:14).  In agreement with the interpretivist, the Christian recognizes that individuals “construct” their own understanding of the truth and even that communities build collective constructions of truth, but the Christian never compromises the firm conviction that truth is objectively real, established and known by God, regardless of whether any other mind ever discovers it.  The Christian epistemology encompasses the whole range of knowledge: factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive (Anderson et al., 2001, pp. 38-62).

What is of value?

Sire (1976/1988, p. 18) queried, “How do we know what is right and wrong?” and “What is the meaning of human history?”  What is to be valued?  In fact, what is the source of all value?  Since philosophical meaning is the organization of what is valued, what is the center of all meaning?  Just as God is the basis for all knowing, God is also the basis for all valuing.  Christian theism, summarized above, moves from the character of God, to the teaching of His law (Hebrew, torah, instruction) so that humans, made in the image of God, will be enabled to live out His character in their diverse settings.  Right and wrong for the Christian are not arbitrarily chosen, but are reflective of the character of God.  Klimes (1973, p. 33) remarked, “The fundamental concept of theism is the existence of a Being who is both the supreme Value and the Source of all finite existence.”  Moreland and Craig (2003, p. 495) argue, “If God does not exist, then it is plausible to think that there are no objective moral values . . . no moral duties and . . . no moral accountability.”

This moral valuing, that comes so naturally that even atheists try to preserve it (Cline, 2010), is foundational in education.  It drives the choice of objectives, of method, of content, and of activity as well as interactivity.  It shapes the anthropology—the model of what a human being really is and the goal toward which maturity is directed.  If the priority is evolutionary survival, then the survival of the fittest will govern the education and the culture.  If the first consideration is that humans get along in a community, then the focus will be on the nature of social functions.  But what kind of relationships?  Family?  Social?  Political?  Global?  Marital?  Spiritual?  If the primary value of a human is that he or she is made “in the image of God,” then the education will be modeled to enable the students to ascend into patterns that reflect the divine nature—Christlikeness.

Klimes (1973, p. 36) laid out a framework that was very similar to Pazmiño (1997/2001) from metaphysics, through epistemology, axiology, and ethics, then on to the specific aims in education.  Moreland and Craig (2003, p. 534) remarked, “As a being worthy of worship, God is singularly appropriate to serve as the ultimate standard of value.”  For the Christian, worship cannot be divorced from education.  Popularly this can be expressed as “the full head of wheat bows.”  From ultimate value grounded in Deity, the Christian takes up lesser values of fellow human beings (whether individually or collectively) and of the material universe around him or her.  The hermeneutic of worth proceeds to rank many other detailed values because “he that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).  Thus all values are spiritually grounded, and Pazmiño (1997/2001, pp. 102-103) asserts that Heubner’s categories can serve the Christian educator.  “First, technical valuing . . . emphasizes control and efficiency. . . .  Second, political valuing . . . emphasizes power and legitimation. . . .  Third, scientific valuing . . . can be reformed to focus on knowing God as the basis for better knowing God’s creation. . . .  Fourth, aesthetic valuing . . . addresses concerns for freedom, creativity, and beauty. . . .  Fifth, ethical valuing . . . can be reformed in education to encourage persons to consider and actualize responsible actions” (italics in original).  All truth and all valuing belong to God.

How do humans grow?

Sire (1976/1988, p. 18) questions, “What is a human being?” and “What happens to a person at death?”  The former question seeks understanding of human nature itself, but the second question also reflects upon ontology and axiology.  Since the current author is specifically engaged in the education of undergraduates in a Bible college, this paper will focus on the growth specific to the college years.

Henderson (1983, p. 837) declared, “Every instructional system may be described as an attempt to shape its learners into the image of its own anthropology.”  For the Christian, the model and the chief exponent of that model is Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:3).  Many great thinkers have contributed to the understanding of human maturation, but none has equaled Jesus.  After receiving three years of teaching and modeling from Jesus and then after many years of ministry in Jesus’ name, the Apostle John reflected, “He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).

Jesus knows human nature in exhaustive depth, a) because He made all things (John 1:3), b) because He has observed and related to millions of humans through every imaginable situation (for example, throughout Exodus as the Angel of the Covenant; see 1 Corinthians 10:4), and c) because He Himself became incarnate—fully human (John 1:14, Luke 2:52, Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15).  Romans 8:29 further affirms that the purpose of God is for all Christians to be “conformed to the image of his Son,” and likewise Ephesians 4:13 explains that the purpose of Christian ministry is to bring Christians “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Colossians 1:28 adds, “That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”  Christ is the model toward which Christians are to be growing, and “the church is the school for Christlikeness—being like Christ in character and in service” (Henderson, 1983, p. 856).

Chambers claimed Christ is the norm of redeemed human nature.  He explained, “We have not to study and understand ourselves; but to understand the manifestation in us of the life of the Son of God. . . .  He mirrors what the human race will be like on the basis of Redemption—a perfect oneness between God and man” (Chambers, 2000, pp. 1061, 1063).  Only in Christ can we learn what human nature truly should be, and Christlikeness is the goal of Christian education.  The Bible college serves the Church as a specialized part of this ministry, providing advanced general education, Bible/theology education, character formation, and ministry preparation, all at the collegiate level.

Fowler’s stages of faith offer a developmental construct that can be modified for the Bible college setting, although some scholars object that what Fowler describes is not really Christian (Avery, 1992; Dykstra, 1986; Heywood, 2008).  The stages delineate “ways of being in faith,” (Fowler, 1984/2000, p. 40) beginning with the infant’s Primal Faith (actually a pre-stage) that is formed of impressions and pre-images of dependency and trustworthiness.  The small child (ages 2-6) intuitively senses perceptions and feelings (Stage 1, Intuitive-Projective).  When he or she begins school, the child enters Piaget’s concrete operational stage of thinking and Fowler’s Mythic-Literal Faith (Stage 2).  Around age 13, the blossoming adolescent synthesizes the beliefs and values of his or her faith crowd and takes to his or her bosom a Synthetic-Conventional Faith (Stage 3), tacitly held, but not yet objectified in order to analyze it (Fowler, 1986, pp. 28-31).  Fowler discovered that many people remain in this mode for the rest of their lives, but the faith of others develops into the splashing of an adolescent feverishly pushing away from the dock of the familiar toward an ideal that he or she cannot yet conceive but that beckons through a deep, unspoken yearning (Parks, 2000, p. 75).  Eventually, the young voyager may choose, individually and reflectively, to set his or her heart upon what is personally perceived as Ultimate Reality (Fernhout, 1986, p. 69; Fowler, 1981/1995, p. 11; Parks, 2000, p. 24)—a personally chosen, critically considered, Individuative/Reflective faith (Stage 4).  Later in life, a few will journey on to Fowler’s Stage 5, Paradoxical/Consolidative.

Holcomb (2004, pp. 112, 130) found that 32% of first-year college students in a sample from six member schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities were in Stage 2 and that 64% were in Stage 3, with a mere 4% of entering students in Stage 3.5 (an additional stage distinguished by Parks [2000, pp. 57-59, 61-62]).  Furthermore, 69% of the college seniors were still in Stage 2 or 3 when they graduated from college.  Similarly, Bible college freshmen probably enter as Stage 2 or 3 and graduate at Stage 3.  The Bible college leaders should be taking students who are in Stage 2 or 3 and helping them move toward Stage 4, also laying a foundation that can support at least some in their move toward Stage 5 later in life.

Parks identifies three dimensions within the faith system: a) forms of knowing, b) forms of dependence, and c) forms of community (2000, p. 91).  The college student has already worked through the early stages of adolescence.  His or her form of knowing has advanced from uncritically accepting the word of outside authorities, moved away from that authority-bound structure, and sauntered toward the awareness that there are multiple perspectives to be considered.  Parks (2000, p. 57) asserts that this develops into an “unqualified relativism” but also acknowledges that this relativism is difficult to sustain.  The adolescent begins including the self as an adjudicator among competing truth claims.  He or she seeks resolution, some kind of commitment, even in the absence of the earlier simplistic certainty; however, the journey to a mature, adult commitment is much more complex.  The transition in form of knowing is significant, but it is only part of the development.

The adolescent has begun and continues to experience a change in form of dependence, from depending uncritically upon others to “counterdependence”—pushing away from the authorities that had earlier defined knowledge for him or her—and toward inner-dependence (Parks, 2000, p. 75).  This move often begins through the sponsorship of an influential thinker who legitimates thinking differently than the adolescent had been accustomed to think.  Parks explains that this is not the same as independence: “other sources of authority may still hold credible power, but now one can also recognize and value the authority of one’s own voice.” This eventuates in a “fragile inner-dependence,” not in the sense of being weak, but being “full of promise, yet vulnerable,” like a young plant (Parks, 2000, pp. 75-82).  Mature adult faith requires a confident inner-dependence and ultimately an inter-dependence with others, but these usually come much later.

The college student further experiences a change in form of community, an expansion of the circle of people contributing to the conversation about meaning.  That circle expands from the face-to-face faith crowd that happened to surround the early adolescent (parents, teachers, religious leaders, and peers) toward a self-selected group, chosen by the values the person is beginning to espouse.  Because the forms of knowing, dependence, and community are inter-related, a change in any one of them induces transformation in the others and, ultimately, in the overall way one holds his or her faith.

The Bible college strives to develop a form of knowing that engages personal reflection on Christian truth, using well-developed critical thinking skills, balanced by well-formed confidence in the revealed truth of the Bible.  The form of dependence should encourage awareness of one’s personal thoughts, balanced with the thoughts of other Christians (through interpersonal relationships, through Christian speakers, and through Christian writings) and even the thoughts of non-Christians, all submitted to Biblical truth.  The form of community should emphasize accountability and fellowship with other Christians, friendships with non-Christians, and appreciation for the whole human family.

A Bible college based on the Methodist heritage (such as the one where the author serves) should target Christlikeness, discipled by the small-group techniques and the vigorous Christian service familiar to the early Methodists, enhanced by the cognitive disciplines of higher education, and inspired by the warm-hearted experience of a personal assurance of salvation.  Academically, the college should teach the entire knowledge dimension: factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive (Anderson et al., 2001, pp. 45-62) and employ the entire cognitive process dimension: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating (Anderson et al., 2001, pp. 66 – 88).

Christian education must be cognitive because Christian truth is propositional.  Christian education must be social, bringing the student into community with the body of Christ, encouraging healthy human relationships, and helping each learn to take his or her place and to offer his or her distinctive service to others.  Christian education must also be spiritual, based on a personal experience of regeneration and progress in the renewing of one’s nature, described biblically as sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3).  All of the elements must come together in a life that is manifestly Christian.  Palmer (1983/1993, p. 14), remarked that for the Christian, “truth is not a concept that ‘works’ but an incarnation that lives.”  The endpoint targeted by Christian education is “every man [and woman] perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28), but Bible college usually specializes in a particular transition in students’ lives.

Driscoll (2005, p. 9) laid out three components in a learning theory: the results, the means, and the inputs.  Anthropology delineates the desired results for Christian education, epistemology describes the inputs as the Christian understands them, and andragogy displays the means the Christian instructor will utilize to bring about the results.

How do educators draw students toward maturity?

The Christian teacher inculcates (Deuteronomy 6:7, see also Isaiah 28:10, “line upon line”), educates (drawing out, see Proverbs 22:6) and enables students to construct their own understanding of truth (Matthew 18:12, “how think ye . . . ?”).  Behaviorism offers explanations for habituating observable behaviors.  The Christian educator can make use of reinforcement—both positive and negative—to cue appropriate behavior, but the manipulation and condescension that pervade Walden Two (1948, pp. 245-250) and the arrogance with which Skinner’s protagonist culminates his utopian dream have no place in the Christian order.  Christian teachers educate fellow humans, made in the image of God, and the teachers remember that they are “workers together” with God (Greek, συνεργοι, synergizers, 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1).  The more mature the students grow, the less useful behavioristic inducements appear.  The Christian teacher is after something deeper: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind . . . .  [and] thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).

Cognitive information processing offers insight into the ways the human mind grasps and stores ideas.  The black box that behaviorism ignored (Driscoll, 2005, p. 33) becomes the center of attention.  The starting point is still sensory input, but the understanding of mental processes enables the teacher to plan the instruction to greater advantage and to help the student understand his or her own learning (metacognition) and take charge of the process (self-regulation).  Schema learning advances to display graphically models of how the mind organizes and re-organizes the concepts (networks and hierarchies).  Ausubel’s reception learning emphasizes receiving instruction presented in finished format.  Discovery learning focuses on the learner seeking to organize new information and to integrate the data with existing knowledge.  Ausubel presses the instructor to make sure new knowledge is meaningfully connected to what the learner already knows.  This all squares very well with the Christian’s understanding of the human mind, as formatted in such a way that objective truth is sometimes recognized intuitively (Psalm 19:3) and that new knowledge can be checked against previous learning (compare the Bereans in Acts 17:10).  The learner then adjusts the schemata through accretion (learning new data), tuning (adjusting inadequacies in former schema), or restructuring (developing an entirely new schema) (Driscoll, 2005, pp. 135-146).  As Proverbs 14:6 puts it, “Knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.”  The teachings in Exodus through Deuteronomy are an ancient example of learning basic categories and then classifying knowledge as it relates to each of them (Anderson’s processes of understanding and analyzing, 2001, pp. 71-73, 79-83).

Scripturally, the Christian teacher is entrusted with knowledge to transmit.  For example, Ezekiel 44:23 urges, “They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the profane.”  The Christian teacher also enables the students to discover knowledge for themselves and to organize and integrate everything they know.

Situated cognition and the theories of Bruner and Vygotsky turn the attention to the social context of knowledge.  While the Christian resists the denial of objective truth that often accompanies these theories, the understanding of social context echoes Proverbs 13:20, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise” and 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”  When God warned the Israelis in Exodus 23:2, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil,” He was teaching them to observe unchanging moral standards even in the face of overwhelming social pressure.  Absolute truth should trump the social context.

Piaget’s stages give snapshots of the equilibrated comfort zones along the path of development.  The Christian teacher has at times to comfort the discomforted and to discomfort the comfortable.  Jesus debunked wrong thinking, stood against sinful resistance, and pointed out the way of truth.  Often the first part of growth is dissatisfaction.

Bruner’s “medium questions” (as cited in Driscoll, 2005, p. 231) and Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” (as cited in Driscoll, 2005, p. 253) alert the instructor to plan learning that is just ahead of the learner.  In the same spirit of matching instruction to the learners, the apostle Paul wrote, “To the weak became I as weak” (1 Corinthians 9:22) and “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect [mature]” (1 Corinthians 2:6).  The Christian teacher is constantly assessing (formatively) in order to adjust the education to the individuals, the collaborative group, and the class as a whole.

Constructivism contributes the insight that humans learn by actively assembling their own understanding of how things are; however, as an epistemology, it is in conflict with the Christian worldview because it denies objective truth.  Nevertheless, Christ found constructivist methods very useful.  He was a master at taking the unpredictability of a large crowd, even the antagonism of His bitterest enemies (Driscoll’s “complex, realistic, and relevant environments,” 2005, p. 393), and transforming them into moments of discovery.  His classroom was the open field, the marketplace, the crowded street, the temple courts.  He did not hammer each person’s conclusions into conformity.  His open-ended parables and his unanswered questions teased the people to continue the conversations.  He never told whether the elder brother of the prodigal relented; He only showed us the heart of the father.  He did not run after the rich, young ruler; He just muttered how difficult it is for people who trust in riches to trust in God.  Scholars are still unwrapping His meaning.  His teaching was purposeful, yet unsystematic, so when the Evangelists recorded His story, they wrote the way He lived.  Mark painted the fast-moving “straightforward” energy.  John recalled innumerable incidents and insights (John 20:30-31), but he selected those he believed would enable his readers to come to know Christ.  Jesus did everything in alignment with His mission, but He left the truth more thematic than systematic.  He was such a master of the minutia that everything contributed to His mission.  In a similar ministry of outstanding management of detail, John Wesley testified he was “always in haste, never in a hurry” (as cited in (Henderson, 1997, p. 109).

The rhizome, “a tangle of tubers with no apparent beginning or end,” “limitless in possibility and therefore indescribable at a global level” (Driscoll, 2005, pp. 388-389) pictures the partial and temporary nature of human knowledge.  1 Corinthians 13:12 explains, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face,” in one bold expression traversing from time into eternity.  The knowledgeable Christian teacher keeps all of this in view.

Following the example of the Master Teacher, Jesus, the Christian educator endeavors to make broad use of the whole range of human experiences.  Dale’s “cone of experience” provides a graphic spread from direct experiences (doing), through demonstrations and exhibits (observing), and up to abstract presentations (symbolizing) (as adapted in Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, pp. 92-94).  The Bible college must stretch across the whole range.  Lectures and assigned reading are amplified through field observations and internships, taking the students into “direct purposeful experiences” (p. 93).  Mentoring can stretch to both extremes of the cone; it is integral to preparing students in and for ministry.

In Model for Making Disciples, Henderson (1997) admires John Wesley’s educational genius.  The function of the Methodist society (50 or more people, meeting weekly, including all Methodists and attendees in a specific area) was cognitive.  A speaker presented or read a prepared message, but the emphasis was ethical and practical instruction, so that these could have been called “schools for holy living” (pp. 83 – 90).  The function of the class meeting was behavioral.  Ten to 12 people, including both sexes, met weekly for testimony, “interpersonal dynamics,” and “the alteration of behavior” (p. 96).  The function of the band was affective.  A smaller group, separated by sex, age, and marital status, aimed at “ruthless honesty and frank openness, in which its members sought to improve their attitudes, emotions, feelings, intentions, and affections” (p. 112).  Unfortunately, the bands never achieved the widespread use for which Wesley had hoped.  In addition to these three groupings were the select societies (for training) and the penitent bands (for rehabilitation of backsliders).  Wesley believed, and Henderson (1997) and Watson (2007) both agree that this organization of people for spiritual growth was the secret of the Methodist revivals.  The Bible college should make use of Wesley’s example.

Some Christians have resisted the methods of higher education because Jesus never assigned his disciples to write a paper or to read anything; however, they all read from the sacred scrolls in the synagogue, something every Jewish man was eligible to do, and Jesus knew the scrolls well enough to move directly to the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah and to the precise verse He wanted.  Reading, writing, speaking, and thinking are woven throughout the entire Bible, and the Apostle Paul urged Timothy to give attention to reading (1 Timothy 4:13).

The distinctive contribution of the Bible college to the ministry of the church is higher education, with a) cognitive development intensified by college-level studies in the Bible as well as in general education, b) obedience strengthened by the overall discipline of the college, c) coursework in ministry, and d) Christian service requirements.  Higher education should help students to transition through upper adolescence (advancing in Piaget’s formal operation and critical thinking, progressing in Kohlberg’s moral development, and moving into Fowler’s fourth stage of faith with a foundation for continued development after graduation.


Ontology (what exists) spreads out the whole realm of reality from the Ultimate and eternal to the particular and momentary, including for the Christian both the natural and the supernatural.  Epistemology (what can be known) investigates the grasp that is possible to the human mind (both to the teacher and to the student) through experience, reason, and revelation.  Axiology (what is to be valued) organizes the priorities that should govern life and should therefore guide education.  Anthropology (how humans mature) fleshes out the process of human growth and the journey all humans are to pursue.  Andragogy (how educators draw learners toward maturity) delineates the variety of strategies the educator may employ to empower students in their quest.

Truth begins with God; knowledge begins with God; value begins with God.  Christ incarnated what it means to be God, exemplified what it is truly to live the human life, modeled what it is to disciple learners, and shoved the apostles into leadership that, under the Holy Spirit, birthed the church against which the gates of Hell shall never prevail (Matthew 16:18).  To the Christian belong “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), as well as all the growth of human development (Luke 2:52), and all the means of drawing others into the life more abundant (John 10:10).


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