Christian Education and the Argument

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If a biblical worldview is the shared distinctive of all Christian schools, regardless of other distinctives unique to a particular school, then it makes sense for Christian schools to spend time thinking about what that looks like. Even in schools where worldview integration is more aspirational, schools generally are aiming for instruction that reflects the notion of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. However, a presupposition that is more foundational than worldview integration is one’s view of truth and implication on worldview. It is interesting to think about the idea of truth claims presented by Christianity and the role Christian schools play in equipping students to both understand and articulate these claims. The growing understanding of these skills provides new opportunities for Christian schools to successfully communicate this as a distinctive.

In order to make this claim effectively, we have to acknowledge that other Christian institutions may be at a loss in regards to dealing with this need. Let’s consider truisms about the 21st century evangelical church—particularly those in their teens and 20s:

  • Less knowledgeable about specific scripture texts
  • Less knowledgeable about doctrine
  • Unable to articulate a biblical word view
  • Unwilling to argue for a truth claim made in scripture

These four truisms show correlations with each other. Certainly unwillingness can often be related to the lack of knowledge of particular doctrines. The short list above can be looked at as a progression of sorts—beginning with a lack of knowledge of specific texts and ending with the unwillingness to apply truth claims of scripture to individual lives and behavior or ways of thinking and evaluating. However, the larger connection seems to be that only with a solid knowledge and integrated way of looking at facts can one have the ability to effectively argue.

Truth claims beg an argument that depth and breadth of knowledge are required for successful polemic.  Polemic is a verbal or written attack on an idea or a proponent of an idea. It is more than just an argument for something, but rather an argument against something. Modern notions of the polemicist often include descriptors like “controversial” or “diatribe.”  I find there is a value of polemic in education in the following two ways:  1) it recognizes the arguments against one’s own position and 2) it recognizes that there is usually something at stake in which side wins an argument. When Christian educators effectively teach with these realities in mind they can bring profound value in accomplishing the schools mission. 

It is important to recognize that there is a big difference between learning facts about an idea and learning how to use those facts to correct errors against an idea. Education ought to prepare us to recognize errors and make corrections—in math as well as in philosophy. The ability to argue demonstrates success in synthesizing the various elements of an argument and thus demonstrates understanding. It is also important to understand that truth claims matter and the ability to vigorously defend truth is an essential part of education. As a result, one’s willingness to defend a truth claim demonstrates how much one thinks those claims matter.

Christian education needs to make the case that students are taught in this matter and demonstrate what that means for academic excellence. This element is of great significance because the desire should be to prepare students to make coherent arguments for truth in the church and society at large. The reality is that this need comes at a time when our students are less willing than ever to make a case for truth when society’s unanimity around ideas changes rapidly. When one looks at the trends and developments within society regarding the ideas around sexuality, life issues and ethics, as examples, sometimes just making a certain argument can violate the listener’s sensibilities. The fact is that the making of some arguments, causes someone else’s supposed equally valid view to be challenged. There is this supposed preference for arguments that are in favor of something rather than against—even if the arguments against are powerful.

Christian school educators, leaders, and parents, it seems worthwhile to ask how our educational approach has either contributed to or failed to prepare for these trends. In other words, have we failed to equip students to engage society with significant arguments and then able to withstand the same forceful response? Has the inability to effectively articulate the argument contributed to our inability to withstand criticism on the other?

In thinking about this subject, consider the following questions: 

  1. Has the decline of the polemic resulted in an overly sensitive generation of graduates? 
  2. Are Christian school graduates even more likely to avoid the polemic because of weak notions within evangelicalism around truth?

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