Education as His Workmanship

» Posted by on Aug 3, 2011 in Blog, Mission-Type Stuff | Comments Off on Education as His Workmanship

One aspect of thinking big about education is thinking of it as the formation of a whole person.  There’s a lot to talk about on this, but at some point along these lines, our vision for it should connect to the big things we know God intends for individual persons and then intends for his people as a whole.  What happens to this people and its persons is the story of the world, and no learning makes sense outside of it.  As one way to consider how education fits within this big picture, we can refer to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, namely, to his discussion of the “equipping” or “perfecting” of the saints, and to our development to “mature manhood.”  This equipping is for the building up of the “household of God” that is being put together right now in history (ch. 2).  This is not just a project of God’s that we note in passing and think unrelated to something as powerfully formative as schooling.  The very reason that our children come into the world is for this “inheritance” (ch. 1), and so all of their learning must move them toward this end.  Our understanding of the all-encompassing “paideia” for children that Paul charges parents with in the last chapter (6:4)– and that we often emphasize in classical, Christian schooling– might be further strengthened if taken in this broader context of the letter.  Like the rest of God’s people, they are to grow up getting equipped for their right place in the great edifice of Christ and his saints.  Right education, whether formal or informal, brings us to its final purpose in this massive house made up of rocks, beams, windows and doorknobs that fit together just right, set upon the cornerstone of Jesus and foundation of the faithful before us (2:20).  As education is largely about knowledge, this house is built upon “the knowledge of the Son of God” (4:13).

This might at first sound like the business of the school is interfering with the business of the church or of the family.  But we should remember that the school is not the type of separate, God-ordained institution that the family and church are.  It functions as a service to these designated spheres, or as we’ve also suggested, an extension of these.  This is not to say that it must be formally tied a church, with the elders carrying the burden, but only that the vision and work of the school should at least somewhat carry with it the vision and work of equipping the saints.  And of course it follows that the closer it is tied to a healthy church or churches in some way or other, the better.  Maybe it is formal, maybe it isn’t.  But families and the churches that they make up should not be satisfied if their kids are not being reared (discipled) toward this scriptural vision, and so it makes sense that their schools would assist with it.

We’re not talking about deacon training for 5th graders, or schools’ having classes to determine what each kid’s place in the church will be.  We’re simply talking about the formation of the whole student, and always laboring with the end in view.  A student will naturally spend much of the schooling time on language skills, math, tying shoes, etc.– and we acknowledge the essential role these play in the formation of the whole person, and their intermediary benefits (students are not to just sit around and think lofty abstract thoughts about God and the church)– but through all of the learning, parents and teachers need to be figuring out where this kid will be going and what his place will be.  What this should look like in the school is of course no easy question.  But clearly, teachers should know their students extremely well, and schools would ideally keep classes small enough for this to happen.  It also goes back to working closely with parents, because parents know their kids best, and schools exist only to help them.  It again goes back to discipleship as well, and to the way that knowledge is best learned when embodied in a person.  Students become equipped as saints by other saints (teachers, parents, etc.).  These other saints are more “foundational” in the structure of God’s house, just as the prophets are yet more so (2:20), and they then show the young ones how things work in the house, and what their place could be.

What is this “equipping,” exactly?  We can think of it in Paul’s terms of the acquisition of individual gifts, and in relation to the broader category of “good works.”  In the formation of each student, God makes another kind of holy house.  It occurs through his appointed means of parents, and their appointed means of teachers, but it is God’s doing from start to finish (i.e. saved not by our works, but by God’s works; 2:8-9).  In Jesus, we are the Father’s “workmanship,” a careful construction of the master craftsman (v. 10).  He clarifies further that the purpose for which we have been constructed is  good works. These good works were “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 9).  This helps us remember what students are as we participate in their shaping.  They are a piece of handiwork made with an end use in view by the Maker, an end where they go and do certain things that he got ready for them before he made them.

What these “good works” look like is the building site of this household of God, or in the letter’s other image, the maturation of the body of Christ.  We might suggest that these works include whatever we do in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:17) and to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), anything that is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise (Phil 4:8).  In more direct connection to the “equipping,” good works might also include doing whatever it is we were made to do in the church (2:11), whether encouraging, shepherding, teaching, feeding, clothing, other kinds of giving, or even like Bezalel and Oholiab, artistry and making stuff look good.  Here’s where we get more specific about certain people being made to do certain things because they were constructed in such a way as to be good at doing those things.  And as we flow outward from this, our sphere of the church, we carry our gifts into the world.  In our communities and in our vocations, we do whatever we do to the glory of God, and thus continue to walk in good works.  Even if our jobs don’t always match up with what we’re good at doing in the church, the point is that we are each designed to do certain things better than other things and to do them better than other people.

What we encourage then is that schools train up young ones with this purpose in mind of finding out what they were “constructed” to do.  Isaac Watts called this part of a good education (see Brian Daigle’s article in the ACCS’s summer 2011 CLASSIS).  It is not about pitting this against the academic learning, or about making vocational schools or church officer classes, but rather about shaping whole persons/disciples, and about fitting the schooling within the bigger picture of the household of God (and regarding vocational work, the Christian conquest of the world).  And this is not to belittle the duty of all to walk in “good works” of one kind– in patience, peace, kindness, in feeding the hungry, or in caring for widows– but rather to expand on that and claim it all under that heading of GOOD WORKS.  In this expanded sense, good works become dentistry, farming, mothering, fathering, doctoring, lawyering, fixing cars, or scholarship.  And of course mainly it is about how these things are done.