Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cunha: Faith and education

By Wilson de Angelo Cunha
Feb. 3, 2018 at 12:08 a.m.

What does it mean to educate someone? This seemingly simple question will elicit a ferocious debate that ultimately will reveal, even if unintended, how someone thinks about the larger questions of life: What does it mean to be human? What is the purpose of life?

Today, we witness an ever-growing utilitarian perspective on the purpose of education and a misguided idea about the meaning of education. For many, to educate simply means to inform and train someone to perform a specific task in a specific field.

But from a faith perspective, an education will provide students with the broader framework from which — and within which — to engage God's creation and its God-given potentials.

I believe a Christian education finds its framework in the story of the triune God and his involvement with his creation.

The divine story, as it is witnessed in the unified narrative of the Scriptures, is the only meaningful story that makes sense of who we are.

One of my favorite courses to teach at LeTourneau University is our entry level course on the Bible as a single narrative. This course tracks the development of the narrative from the Old Testament to the New and also discusses how that story bears witness to God's mission in the world and how it calls us to participate in that mission.

Students are challenged to critically rethink their identity and their personal stories in the light of Scripture's metanarrative about God's involvement with his creation. This wider framework is needed for a number of reasons.

First, this wider framework addresses the important questions of life from a larger perspective. As George Marsden writes in an article for Christian Scholar's Review, it becomes a corrective to an essentially "fragmented culture."

Second, it plays a countercultural role to other stories that constantly seek to win the hearts and minds of our students. As scholar Arthur Herman writes, the chief characteristic of our Western story is that it is unable to provide humans with a "… basis for a lasting identity." He writes that such a view results in "a wildly vacillating self-esteem" that "drifts from one unsatisfying outlet to the next with the click of a mouse or a thumb-flick of an Xbox."

To solve this human identity crisis, we often turn to consumerism. The good news here is that consumerism has a positive side as it reveals a certain "spiritual disposition." The scholar William T. Cavanaugh puts it like this: "(Consumerism) trains us to transcend the material world." The question, therefore, becomes one of cultivating the right kinds of desires.

This leads to my third point: a Christian education will guide students in cultivating the right desires. Cavanaugh agrees that to do so, "humans need a community of virtue in which to learn to desire rightly."

A Christian education should model for students what it means to live the story of God and to desire his Kingdom — not only intellectually but also in its practices and service.

Helping students see their life stories, rethink their identity and approach their fields of study in the light of God's story gives meaning to a Christian education.

- Wilson de Angelo Cunha is an associate professor of theology in the School of Theology and Vocation at LeTourneau University. He has a bachelor's of degree in theology from JMC Presbyterian Theological Seminary in São Paulo, Brazil, a master's of theology in Old Testament from Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a doctorate in Old Testament from Leiden University in the Netherlands. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and has served as a pastor in Brazil and the Netherlands and as an elder in Longview.



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