Modern or Postmodern Christian School?

Many Christian schools claim to provide a “Christian” education, but what does this mean? Modernity divided life into sacred and secular realms; can we bring them together again?

How deep does your personal or your school’s Christianity go? Is faith just a private matter to make people feel good about themselves? Is it a “private” view of reality that is meaningful for your community but that you believe is irrelevant to others who believe differently? Is it an expression of compassion and concern that stands apart from the dry rigor of academics, business, politics, and other “secular” endeavors? Though these views all hold elements of truth, I hope your Christianity goes farther and deeper.

One of the most destructive ideas of western history was the separation of faith from “secular” life. This occurred most prominently during the mid and late modern periods beginning around 1850. Industrialism and modernization, driven by an explosion of scientific discovery, was changing the western world so quickly that long stable philosophic and cultural reference points were cast into doubt. Were the ways of the past relevant to a modernizing world? Discovery not only changed the technological world, but it challenged religious beliefs. Darwin’s
Origin of Species questioned the need of God, and the modern university was based upon “positivistic” reason - nothing was to be assumed true unless it could be confirmed by our senses - God was out.

Karl Marx, in his1848
Manifesto of the Communist Party, expressed well the fast paced uncertainty of the day: “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” Though Marx pronounced the irrelevance of old ways, he announced his new way with a certainty that has been dispelled by further experience. Whereas life and society had previously been viewed as a unified whole, modernity made faith a “private” matter of mere “subjective belief.” The public world became the world of rational thought, science, and human progress.

Late modern thinkers tended to believe that social problems were caused by the rigid thinking of religiously grounded individuals and cultures. They believe that by promoting secular scientific problem solving (to be taught in the public schools), society would meet the problems of the day and flourish… Problem was: humanity wasn’t quite so good and rational. Two world wars, labor unrest, the threat of communism, racial prejudices, and social problems irresponsive to the tools of science ended the optimism of modernity and re-opened reflection on the wisdom of the past.

Unexpectedly, scientific progress had not dispelled belief about God, nor was social life necessarily better than in earlier generations. Though postmodernity questioned the veracity of any particular faith, it re-opened the door to unify faith and life. It acknowledged that science cannot be the source of truth in all areas of life and that everyone lives by a set of beliefs that cannot be proven. *** However, for most Christians, having lived in a world where faith was privatized for over a century, the process of re-connecting faith with every other area of life has been slow and difficult. We are taking baby steps, but we have a long way to go. As an example, one local Christian school has the mission statement, “We offer a traditional education in a Christian environment.” Essentially, they provide a secular education while they treat one another as Christians. We must go farther. The facts, values, and principles of the Bible are foundational to economics, politics, art, history, school culture, and even teaching methodology. We need philosophic thinkers, yet the number of those who specialize in the humanities has been declining since the 1970’s.

As the Body of Christ, we are charged to “disciple the nations.” This means to teach them how to live, not just to win individuals to salvation. God’s goodness is revealed not just through his forgiveness, but through is wisdom. We must move past modernity and re-establish Christ as Lord over all - not just our private lives.
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