A story about Jesus and education
The only story in the gospels about Jesus' boyhood has to do with education [Luke 2:41-52]. At the age of twelve, the threshold of adult life for a Jewish boy, he stayed behind in the temple "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions" [verse 46].
Here we see the importance in the educational process both of listening and questioning. Later in his ministry, Jesus disagreed with the teaching and interpretations of some of the temple teachers, but here we find him listening. Every thoughtful Christian today will disagree with various views, opinions and dogmas put forward in our mainly secular environment, even where these are generally or widely accepted. It is important to listen well and thoroughly to those with whom we may disagree, save where such listening may tend to evil, drawing us away from our walk with God.
How do we know when to listen and when to shut our ears, when to watch and when to shut our eyes? There is a moral element in education. Not all knowledge is good for us, any more than it was good for Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden [Genesis ch. 2, 3]. As we listen to and digest the words and thoughts of other people, we should try to discern whether each item is part of a healthy diet that God wants for us.
Dietary requirements vary at different ages and from person to person. Jesus may not have been able to cope with the temple teaching before he was twelve. Some foods make some people sick, while others eat them and they remain healthy, getting benefit from those same foods. We can learn from those with whom we disagree, and we can only learn if we listen. However, we should not listen, if listening to certain things makes us spiritually ill.
Jesus asked questions as well as listening. Asking questions can act like the digestive juices in breaking down what we hear, extracting the goodness and rejecting what is not helpful. Modern thought has asked many questions of the Christian tradition, and we have benefitted from those questions. Incorrect interpretations and inadequate applications of our biblical and historical heritage have been brought to light. As Christians, it is important that we also ask questions, not only of our own traditions but of secular and other viewpoints that surround us.
Jesus, in his ministry, asked many questions and sometimes it is as important to formulate a question as it is to try to answer it. Certainly, we will not know all the answers. Job says at the end of his ordeal, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know" [Job 42:3]. In both Christian and secular thought, there is a danger in not recognising our ability to misunderstand. Paul says our knowledge will always be partial [1 Cor. 13:9, 12]. We will sometimes get it wrong, sometimes substitute a partial area of knowledge or truth for the whole. So, like Jesus, we need to carry on asking questions.
Luke says of the boy Jesus in the temple, "Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and answers" [verse 47]. In the midst of his listening and questioning, Jesus possessed some 'understanding and answers', and we should not be content merely with questions. Some questions, like, "How long, O Lord?" [Habakkuk 1:2] have to be patient for answers over a long period, and some will not be answered in our lifetime. In faith, however, Christians believe there are some true answers, some true understanding. The content of those answers and that understanding may be as 'amazing' to us and to those who embrace non-Christian systems of thought, as the content of modern physics would have been to Newton.
E. Earle Ellis comments that the word "amazed" (in verse 47) was "intended not just as a tribute to Jesus' intelligence but as a witness to his relationship to God". The implication is that the Holy Spirit, as the giver of divine wisdom, was already at work in the life of the boy Jesus [see also verses 40 and 52]. This is made clearer in verse 49, when Jesus answers his parents' question with two questions of his own: "Why were you searching for me? ... Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" Here, Jesus' first recorded words show a consciousness of his relationship with his heavenly Father, and what is interesting for us is that he is conscious of this relationship in an educational context. Whether we are learning or being taught in a specifically religious or Christian context ("in my Father's house"), the consciousness of all our learning and education being brought into the relationship between us and our heavenly Father will help to safeguard our spiritual health as we listen and question.
Is 'my Father's house' just a safe haven for Christians from the problems of our world and the often inadequate answers proposed for dealing with them? Is it an educational ghetto? The importance of the temple (which Jesus called 'my Father's house') was that the presence of the holy, almighty, only true God was centred there. The incarnation of Jesus as "Immanuel, God with us" [Matthew 1:23] meant that the spiritual location of the temple, where God was, was shifting. The one true God was recognised as being present in a unique way in his Son, Jesus, and because of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is also present in an extended way in human beings who trust and obey Jesus. 'My Father's house' has become larger.
According to John [ch. 14, verse 2], Jesus comforts his disciples in assuring them that, "In my Father's house are many rooms", the reference here being to heaven. A little further on, Jesus answers Thomas's question about the way, by proclaiming, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me" [verse 6]. This latter claim sticks in the gullet of many people today who would prefer to recognise various different ways to God (if indeed there is a god in the Christian sense). But the claim of Jesus' unique position and authority in relation to God is a major and distinctive part of the Christian tradition, even though it is contrary to our prevalent post-modern culture and becoming politically incorrect.
According to Matthew [ch. 28, verse 18], after Jesus' resurrection, he told his disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." If (as the New Testament witnesses) Jesus has been given all authority and is enthroned at God's right hand [Hebrews 1:3], then 'my Father's house' has expanded potentially to include the whole universe. Where does that leave education? Will education be able to find a room in my Father's house? According to John 14:6, only by acknowledging the authority of Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.
Confronting secularism in higher education
Obviously, the secular view of education is different, and would not see the need to acknowledge any authority outside of human reason or experience, the perceived benefit of a community or of mankind or the environment as a whole, or perhaps the desires of an individual or a small group. None of these criteria are wrong in themselves in certain circumstances, so there is a considerable overlap between secular and Christian or other faith-based viewpoints. David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, notes in a lecture about the future of that university, that its statement of core values (published in November 2001) fails to mention religion. He pleads that the space occupied by religion in the university over many centuries should not be left empty, and argues for "a collegiality to which both those who are wisely religious and those who are wisely secular are encouraged to contribute".
What we have seen of the significance of listening and questioning shows that those who hold a secular viewpoint and those who hold to Christian or other faith-based viewpoints should not retreat from good contact and communication with each other to lob cannonballs (or today's more devastating weapons) across fields that are empty of understanding. It is important, as Ford argues, that there are many institutions and other places where people of different fundamental viewpoints live, work and communicate with each other, respect each other's differences and come to recognise and appreciate the common links between them, not least their common humanity. We should remember that we can learn much from those with whom we disagree, whether or not we alter our fundamental viewpoint.
Michael Green has written that, in comparison with the church in south-east Asia, our Christianity in the Western church is subnormal. Among his reasons are that, "We are deeply trapped in the secularist presuppositions of our society. The Christian mind has almost disappeared." While Christians need to respect, listen to, question and learn from people holding a secular viewpoint, as well as people of other faiths, if Christianity is to remain distinctive and true to itself and to its Lord, it also needs to counter some of the arguments of secularism and where appropriate the views of other faith communities.
What is the relevance of this to education, and indeed to 'higher education'? Basic education given to children is without doubt more important, because of its extent and the nature of its benefit, than higher (or further) education. By the latter, I mean the education of adults after leaving school, either at universities or colleges or through other channels that may be more closely related to ordinary life and work. While the relationship of Christianity to basic education is a very worthwhile area of study, I am confining my thoughts to its relationship with higher education. One of the significant features of higher education, is its effect on the mindset of generations, as teachers and leaders in different fields of work, culture and the community are influenced by the implicit and explicit views which are propagated through higher education as well as through television, newspapers, the arts and other media.
If we are to seek to refashion a Christian mind in today's world, we cannot ignore higher education, or leave it to its predominately secular presuppositions. We need to have many institutions and other places where people of different religions and none can meet, interact and work together on the large number of matters where difference in fundamental viewpoints is irrelevant. As Christians, we also need some institutions or places of meeting where a specifically Christian viewpoint can be explored, reflected upon and applied to the various areas of life and thought.
In the 1940's, Douglas Johnson ('DJ') and others founded Tyndale House in Cambridge and the Tyndale Fellowship, with the aim of recovering biblical evangelical scholarship. John Stott calls DJ "one of the unsung heroes of the Christian Church in this country." Stott continues, "DJ's vision was right, and must be further expanded. We shall never capture the church for the truth of the gospel unless and until we can re-establish biblical scholarship, hold (and not lose) the best theological minds of every generation, and overthrow the enemies of the gospel by confronting them at their own level of scholarship."
Tyndale House and the Tyndale Fellowship have been influential in the areas of biblical and theological studies, which are vital for the health of the church. A similar work may be helpful in other areas of higher education, to seek a Christian mind and so play a part in influencing a generation. A number of individuals (including John Stott) and institutions (such as the L'Abri Fellowship, The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity and the Jubilee Centre) are already involved very effectively in this work, but the need is vast, and God's call to be a messenger of Good News in higher education (as in all other areas of life and among all groups of people) may still be heard.
Possible areas to seek a Christian mind
What would be the shape and purpose of an institution, fellowship or community (let us call it 'Institution X' or 'InstX'), which may well be one of a number of such institutions, fellowships or communities, that sought to bring the truth of Christ into various areas of higher education, with a mission statement like 'seeking a Christian mind in today's world'? I should first like to indicate some possible areas of study that it may be helpful for an InstX to encourage or become involved in (granted that in most if not all of these areas, Christians are already at work, studying, praying and communicating Christian truth):
1. Business management, with the eventual possibility facilitating an MBA course based on Christian principles. As an example of one theory of contemporary business management, the idea of aiming for 'maximum profits' is likely to be harmful, allowing no room for kindness. Proverbs [11:16] says, "A kind-hearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth".
2. Religious education in schools, which may still too often be an opportunity missed for the gospel, even though it is not appropriate to evangelise or proselytise in any direct way. If there were more inspired teachers, who know and appreciate what must be taught as part of a recognised curriculum, but who also know how to teach about God and Jesus in a stimulating and sensitive manner (given the multi-faith and secular context), and who see this as a calling from God, that could change the perception of many young people about the Christian gospel.
3. Medical ethics, relating to areas such as telling the truth to patients who are believed to have only a short time to live. Here a failure in truth-telling may sometimes lead to the recommendation of inappropriate treatments and the deprivation of any opportunity to prepare for a 'good death' in spiritual and relational terms. Oncologists, radiotherapists and palliative care professionals are the experts in this area, and such questions could be progressed through Christians involved in the hospice movement or through the Christian Medical Fellowship.
4. Relationship with other faiths, where, for example (following on from point 3), some speak of the benefit of a Buddhist way of death, which is more contemplative than the Western way. It will be helpful to examine other faiths sympathetically and critically, while holding to the pre-eminence of Christ. For this we need experts in the study of other faiths who are also committed to Christ. One example of where this is happening is the Centre for Islamic Studies at the London School of Theology (formerly London Bible College).
5. Christian involvement in counselling and various kinds of psychotherapy. While many Christians benefit from these and some are involved as counsellors or therapists, there is also a gulf between the viewpoint of some therapists and that of biblical Christianity. The distinctions include the reality of an God who can act in a therapeutic situation, the value of prayer, and whether (as in The Pilgrim's Progress) a burden may be released at the Cross or whether burdens (such as hurts in the past) need to be removed bit by bit over a lengthy period. The last two alternatives are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
6.Relationship of science to God. If there is a God, then science cannot be supreme. God gave us rational minds so we can expect that what we can find out with our rational minds fits into God's order of the universe. Much depends on how we understand God and how we understand science, a matter in both cases of interpretation (hermeneutics). Science is not a closed system and our lives are not closed systems. We need to live with some uncertainty - we cannot tie up all the loose ends. This a huge area, where many Christians have been involved in thinking, writing and teaching (recent examples being John Polkinghorne, Denis Alexander and John Lennox).
7. Politics, government and law, studying for example the increase over recent years of regulations, and the need for these (the Lawyers Christian Fellowship could no doubt contribute to this). Has this increase become necessary in part because of a decline in a shared value system based on Christian principles, including the ten commandments in the Old Testament and Jesus' synthesis of these into his twofold commandment to love God and love our neighbour?
The above seven examples of areas where there appears to be a continuing need of study based on Christian principles were not the product of prolonged reflection on my part, but were fairly random topics that occurred to me (or in a couple of cases, my wife) over a period of a year or so. While I believe they are all areas where Christian thinking and involvement is important, in some cases these topics may be well covered by other people and institutions. There will certainly be other areas which occur to the reader and other Christians as being appropriate for study with a view to developing a Christian mind in those areas. One of the roles of an InstX would be to encourage and facilitate study in areas where less work has been done. There need be no desire to duplicate what is already being done effectively by other people and institutions, although it may well be of mutual benefit to have fellowship with others who are seeking to submit different areas of life and thought to the lordship of Christ.
How a Christian institution might operate How might an InstX operate?
Here are some preliminary ideas:
a. Christians working in different areas of higher education, thought and practice (and others interested in those areas) could meet for consultations and conferences to share the elements in which they considered the truth of Christ and the Bible should be brought into relation with their particular subject.
b. An InstX could encourage and facilitate such meetings and a network of Christians interested in particular areas, trying to link up those whose work is likely to be of help to others in that field.
c. An InstX would seek to encourage some scholars and others working in biblical and theological studies and ethics to meet with experts in other fields of study to help to provide insights on how it may be appropriate to apply biblical truth to the various fields of study. With this assistance, it must be primarily for the experts in each field, the scientists, historians, geographers, linguists, mathematicians, philosophers, economists, sociologists, psychologists, lawyers and others to seek a Christian mind in those areas.
d. Those who have made progress in the field could then together teach seminars to those beginning work or otherwise interested in that area.
e. Leaders in the various areas of study may be encouraged by their contact and fellowship with other Christians to make advances in their particular field which are based implicitly on Christian principles and which may be recognised widely by secular as well as Christian experts as taking the subject further.
f. By writing and teaching, those who have been encouraged to seek a Christian mind together, could become part of a movement propagating a Christian viewpoint (whether implicit or explicit) in their respective areas of study, which by God's grace may encourage and support Christians, witness to non-Christians and bring glory to Christ.
Other facets of a Christian institution
We have now looked at some possible areas of study that an InstX could encourage or facilitate and some preliminary ideas about how an InstX might operate. It will be helpful now to consider other facets of an InstX seeking to relate Christianity to higher education under the following headings:
(1) Foundations: we are under the lordship and authority of Christ, depending on the love and provision of our heavenly Father, and seeking wisdom and guidance given through the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is 'the Truth' [John 14:6] so we can know and understand truth in relationship to him. Jesus also said in his prayer in John 17:17, "your word is truth", and "your word" must include a reference to the scriptures [compare John 10:35, "the Scripture cannot be broken"]. The Bible, properly interpreted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (who is himself called "the Spirit of Truth" in John 14:17), should be one of the main constituents of the foundations of an InstX.
According to Geraint Fielder, "The evangelical claims no inherent superior knowledge over others; what he claims is that he has found the place to look for truth - God's revelation. If he does not search hard for it there, he, too, gets it wrong." Mark Noll, author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, has said that he does not think there is any future for Christian thinking from people who do not have an implicit, thorough trust in the truthfulness of the Bible. (2) Attitude: at his enthronement service as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams based his sermon on verses from Matthew ch. 11, including the words of Jesus, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children" [verse 25]. The archbishop spoke of the importance of the poor and of gratitude and joy being the foundations for ministry.
Paul states that "in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him" [1 Cor. 1:21]. Human wisdom or cleverness will not by itself bring people to know God. All people, whatever their intellectual gifts and educational opportunities, need to humble themselves before God and accept Christ's sacrifice on the cross for us. John Piper comments that "human wisdom nullifies the meaning of the cross of Christ and God's wisdom upholds the meaning of the cross".
Intellectual gifts are to be valued (like other varieties of gifts) as coming from God, and they may when rightly used bring great benefit to many people, and bring glory to God. To refashion a Christian mind in various areas, those with high intellectual gifts can be used greatly, and intellectual rigour is required. John Stott speaks of the 'best minds' being needed. It is also important to appreciate those of lesser intellectual gifts or educational opportunities, who may also be involved in an InstX, and whose service to Christ and to others may be of equal or greater value. It is important for our work to be done in an attitude of humility and gratitude to God, and humility and respect towards others, as we thank God for each other's gifts.
(3) Aims: we have spoken of the primary purpose of an InstX to seek to bring the truth of Christ into various areas of higher education. We are to be encouraged to worship, serve and love God with our minds as well as with other part of our beings. The vertical axis of our relation to God will involve us in worship, obedience, faith, repentance and prayer, as we seek God's grace and wisdom in our studying and communication of God's truth.
On the horizontal axis, of our relationship with other people, Christians and non-Christians, individuals and institutions, we should aim for love, humility and service, as we bring the situation and needs of others (Christians and non-Christians) to God in prayer and seek to witness to his truth and love. "How beautiful ... are the feet of those who bring good news" [Isaiah 52:7]. Seeking to bring the good news of Christ's truth into areas of higher education will be hard work and may cause sore feet! Following the example of Jesus, who washed his disciples' feet the night before his crucifixion, we should wash one another's feet so that they again become beautiful feet, bringing the good news to others! We wash people's feet by our love and service and our teaching of the truth that is in Jesus.
(4) Structure: any InstX is likely to start small, like a small seed from which something larger can grow. Many seeds may be planted and one cannot tell at the outset which will grow well into large plants or trees.
Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, spoke in May 2003 of the "medieval concept" of the university as a community of scholars, and said that this can be only a very limited justification for the state to fund the apparatus of universities. Tom Utley, commented in The Daily Telegraph that he did not see what was particularly medieval about the concept, remarking that the fact that the wheel is a "stone-age" concept does not make it out of date today!
While we need not be too concerned to begin with about funding (particularly government funding) any InstX would need to have as its core a small community or fellowship of 'scholars' or other people who are concerned to submit particular areas of study to the lordship of Christ. Unlike in medieval times, it would not be necessary for such scholars and others to live together in one place as communication can now take place by other means, such as the internet and other media, supplemented by occasional meetings.
An InstX would therefore not need to begin life, fully formed as an organization in need of substantial funding and premises, as one can appreciate the danger in proliferating organizations which may be a waste of time and money. Let the seeds sprout up, and let us see to what extent God will make them grow [1 Cor 1:6, 7].
Clifford Hill has initiated a group called Clapham Connections, which aims to form a new Clapham sect for the 21st century, modelled on the group that met with Wilberforce two hundred years ago, whose objective was 'to make goodness fashionable'. His 'Mission and Strategy' paper speaks of the privatisation of religion as being one strand of the process of secularisation, which we are experiencing in the western world. An InstX would be seeking to reverse that trend by bringing Christian truth into the public arena of higher education.
Such Christian truth however does not need always to be presented explicitly, but rather implicitly. C.S. Lewis considered that, rather than books about Christianity, it is more convincing for the non-believer if, when anyone buys a beginner's guide to something, it is written by a Christian.
With regard to structures, Clifford Hill believes that we cannot return to the medieval situation where the church was in control of social institutions, and considers that new forms of Christian community will need to be discovered. He speaks of a movement for 'Community Transformation', cultural change rather than structural change. An InstX would therefore not seek (or be able) to control, but rather to encourage and facilitate. It may by God's grace be part of a movement involving many people and organizations as the Holy Spirit seeks to bring Christ into the heart of higher education. Over the last ten or fifteen years, we have been able to praise God as we have seen the growth of a movement ministering to and supporting Christians in the workplace.
Many changes are being discussed at the present time in relation to the structures of higher education, both from Christian and secular viewpoints. The structure of an InstX would therefore need to be flexible.
While Jesus the truth is "the same yesterday and today and for ever" [Hebrews 13:8], he was also a messenger of good news [Luke 4:18], so in some senses truth may be seen as a messenger, and not only as a static concept. So an InstX may in part be mission orientated, along similar lines as Robert Banks has written in Reenvisaging Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models. There is a need for higher education to be related to everyday life, with the opportunities for thought and reflection to be put into practice.
(5) Final purpose: Paul writes that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" [Col. 2:3]. Earlier in the same letter, he says of Christ, "all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" [Col. 1:16, 17]. Because Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation as well as Lord of his church, much that can be studied in the natural order by scientific observation and rational reflection, will produce the same results and the same true knowledge, whether or not one studies from a Christian or secular viewpoint. That is why there is so much common currency in education and higher education, but this does not deny the lordship of Christ.
John Piper writes, "The task of all Christian scholarship - not just biblical studies - is to study reality as a manifestation of God's glory, to speak and write about it with accuracy, and to savor the beauty of God in it. ... The purpose of all education ... is to display the glory of God." So our final purpose is that "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" [Hab. 2:14]. We know that that will not take place in any full sense before Jesus comes to this earth again in glory, but in the meantime, for the honour of Christ, we would with Paul seek to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" [2 Cor. 11:5].
Like Paul, we should not depend on worldly weapons, nor should we seek to control or take to ourselves the authority that belongs to Christ, but we should be willing to argue for Christ to be enthroned in the arena of higher education. It should not be a matter of whether Christian thinking is permitted to have a role in higher education, but whether higher education can find a room in "my Father's house".
We must not forget that our Lord Jesus Christ is not only the Lord over all things, and the Christ, anointed and gifted by the Spirit and bestowing gifts on us, but he is Jesus who came to "save his people from their sins" [Matthew 1:21]. We all need that salvation, and in the light of the cross of Jesus, our human pride (a common accompaniment to higher education) cannot stand before God. As Isaac Watts wrote:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
The concerns of higher education could be described as "the whole realm of nature", if we include humanity within that. Isaac Watts' concluding verse shows the insignificance of all of that compared with the love, sacrifice and glory of Jesus:
Were the whole realm of Nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!
 The Gospel of Luke (London: Oliphants, 1966; rev. ed., 1974), p. 86.
 ‘Knowledge, Meaning and the World's Great Challenges: Reinventing Cambridge University in the Twenty-First Century - The Gomes Lecture 2003' Emmanuel College Magazine lxxxv (Cambridge, 2002-03), pp. 38-63, at p. 59.
 Adventure of Faith: Reflections on Fifty Years of Christian Service (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), p. 372.
 Quoted from ‘Tyndale House', Christian Arena (Sept. 1992) in T. Dudley-Smith, John Stott: The Making of a Leader (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999), p. 187.
 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (Part 1 first published 1678; London and Glasgow: Collins, 1953), pp. 52-53.
 Lord of the Years (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), p. 234.
 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).
 Quoted from ‘Scandal? A Forum on the Evangelical Mind', Christianity Today 39, no. 9 (14 August 1995), p. 23, in John Piper, The Pleasures of God (rev. & exp. ed.; Tain, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2001), p. 297.
 Op. Cit., p. 275.
 See quotation on p. 9 above.
 Letter to the Editor from Charles Clarke, The Daily Telegraph (10 May 2003).
 Article in same edition of The Daily Telegraph (10 May 2003).
 (Privately circulated by Clapham Connections, Moggerhanger Park. Park Road, Moggerhanger, Beds. MK44 3RW: August 2003) p. 2. See also website at www.claphamconnections.co.uk.
 I owe this reference to Dr John Lennox speaking at a conference at Sopron, Hungary in 2003.
 Art. cit., p. 4.
 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).
 Op. cit., pp. 298-299.
 This hymn is included in most collections, e.g. Songs of Fellowship (Eastbourne: Kingsway, 1991). No. 596.