Last week we talked about how everything has changed for us in terms of how we see the world, how the modern lens that we’ve developed as westerners over the past 500 years gives us a very different way of seeing God, life, and the world around us than the original readers of Scripture.
Except for the fact that everything really hasn’t changed; only the way we see it has. God is God, Creation is Creation, the cosmos is the cosmos, and enchantment is enchantment. The only difference is whether we have eyes to see reality as it really is.
We have to develop the eyes to see the world as God sees it, a world very different from our modern, secular lens, because our vision has dimmed with the distortions of this modern age. We still live in the water, breathing it as we must, but we realize there’s an incredible other world and reality out there waiting to be explored and understood. And, realizing that we’re not fish after all, but amphibians, created for both, to enjoy and to flourish within.
Christian education is the process of learning to breathe the air, expand our vision, and explore this other realm we’ve been given. So, how is the Christian perspective different from the modern world around us; that view, quite frankly, that has to be taught in other schools, because they are legally required to do so separated from religion? (I discussed these ideas in a book recently published by Rowman and Littlefield called Religious Liberty and Education: A Case Study of Yeshivas v. New York).
First, a Christian perspective allows for the reality of what philosopher Charles Taylor calls an “enchanted” realm, populated with angelic beings, spirits, demons, and moral forces beyond ourselves. While others would describe these forces as “magical” or “supernatural,” in the sense of “pretend,” or “figments of the imagination,” in the Christian view, they are no less real than other, separate forms of creation, like mammals, fish, and heavenly bodies.
In the Christian view these beings are part of reality, impacting and influencing life on earth and how we all relate to each other. God, of course, is the ultimate being over the supernatural realm, the Creator of everything. As we discussed last week, the God of the Bible is not a deistic God, one who simply sets the world and the unseen realms in motion and steps away, detached and set apart from his creation. Instead, as the Apostle Paul says to the Romans at the Areophagus, “in (God) we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28. We say God is sovereign, meaning, He actively reigns: God not only creates, but sustains. He holds the universe and the atoms together, moment by moment. He is intensely active in his creation, acting and interacting within it. Our hearts beat and our lungs breathe because of His continuous, ongoing command that they do so.
This perspective of God as sovereign has implications on the Christian view of the most important areas of life: our identity, truth, nature, the universe, and meaning (things that normally give us a headache to think about, but which impact everything we do). From a Christian viewpoint, humans are externally-referenced beings. This means that who they are is defined by what God says about who they are, how they are made for each other, and how they are to interrelate and deal one with another, all because He made them.
Christians also see God as unchanging in His purposes, His plans, His design, and His intentions. Therefore, according to the Christian perspective, human identity in the image of God is relatively fixed and not subject to change. Truth, and what it means to be true, is also rooted in God’s nature and character. Therefore, like God, truth is absolute, not subject to change, not fully known, and in many cases, unknowable and mysterious.
A non-Christian, secular perspective is naturalistic, rooted in nature rather than God. From that perspective (coming from the long philosophical Western tradition we discussed last week) humans are primarily self-referenced beings. This view holds that we attach our own meaning to reality (rather than God revealing it to us). Therefore, we define who we are, rather than God. We are what we say about ourselves. Because humans constantly change their plans, intentions, and purposes, our identities are also subject to change. According to this view, truth is also subject to individual definition and perception. Because individuals may perceive reality differently, truth is not fixed, but relative.
All of this is why Christians and modern non-Christians (or those Christians not operating from a Christian lens) so often talk at cross-purposes about things like absolute truth and identity issues, whether sexual or otherwise. It’s no wonder how we cannot understand how the other can’t see what we see; we simply have completely different perspectives from about the nature of identity and truth. We’re operating from different mental models, and are unaware that the other has a different model.
These same cross-purposes arise in the area of science and the universe. Given the Christian perspective that God is a sovereign God, who has the freedom to act and does act upon his creation whenever and however He desires, Christians see creation as an open system that God can act upon at any time. Creation is not, as the famous metaphor indicates, a watch. Or, if it is, the watch still has its back removed, and the Watchmaker is always at work, constantly turning the dials and gears. A naturalistic perspective is one of nature as a closed system, meaning highly-complex, but confined within the system itself. Nothing happens outside the system, and nothing, like God, acts upon it. The universe is a sealed box, and there is nothing outside the box.
There are also very different perspectives on meaning, how we make sense of the world around us. In a naturalistic world, humans build meaning within themselves from observing and perceiving the world around them. Because observing and measuring the world around us through our senses is the key to the ultimate source of meaning from this perspective, science is the most important way of knowing anything about life. This is why science reigns supreme in our culture, and why people try to create a false dichotomy between science, which is seen as objective and impartial, and religion, which is seen as subjective and, in many cases, imaginary.
From a Christian perspective, meaning and understanding is found in revelation: God reveals truth to humans, not only through the Scriptures, but through his creation. When humans “discover” something, it is because it is in the timing of the active will of God to reveal it to them. Creation is full of meaning, even not yet discovered by humans, still waiting to be revealed. Revelation is progressive, meaning that humans know more about creation at this point in time than at any previous point, and we will know still more tomorrow.
Science and technology are also important ways of knowing in the Christian perspective, helping humans understand more about God’s creation. But, they are not the only ways of knowing: Aesthetics (perceiving and understanding beauty), ethics (what is good and right), logic, and faith are also important ways of knowing about creation, and all reveal deeper truths about God’s nature and character. Science is important, but neither superior nor inferior to these other ways of knowing things. It is just one way of knowing. Thus, the Christian worldview is more expansive, a broader perspective.
This is why the “debate” between science and faith is one that is really without meaning, and one Christians should not allow themselves to be drawn into, at least on those terms. Because, from a Christian perspective, asking whether science or faith is true is like asking whether math or history is the correct way to discern truth or reality. That question depends completely on what it is you are studying, the questions you’re asking. They’re both ways of knowing; they’re not ultimate truth in themselves. God is ultimate truth.
Those who profess a Christian faith have all been profoundly impacted by Western culture over the past 500 years. We are all creatures of reform and the Enlightenment. We are all, to one degree or another, secular, because we live in the current age.
But, we also have to war against what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” the modern impulse to believe that the advance of science and technology makes us intellectually superior to those who came before us, in this case, the original hearers and readers of God’s Word. A Christian perspective argues for the idea of “both/and”–taking those biblical perspectives of our ancestors, combined with what we’ve learned and what God has revealed to us to be good, noble, and true in the 2000 years since then, and building our vision for God’s calling upon us as His people and His church based upon all.
This vision is what Christian education seeks to accomplish, and why it is so very different from anything like it. Other forms of education can’t teach these things; they’re not legally or missionally able. Christian education is not primarily about friendships, academics, or freedom, as important as all those things are. It’s first and foremost about a completely different vision of life, one springing from the mind of God, revealed to man.
Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org