How the Bible Directs My View of Christian Higher Education

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This past semester, I took a course on higher education as part of a Ph.D. program I’m enrolled in at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. One of the assignments for the course required me to write a personal philosophy of teaching. As you might expect for an assignment like this, I was supposed to comment on such things as my instructional objectives and preferred methods of teaching. But beyond this, I also needed to indicate how the Bible informed my approach to the classroom. This was a valuable exercise for me, as it encouraged me to situate Christian education within the grand narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

The gospel of Jesus Christ carries a number of implications for my philosophy of teaching. In my paper, I identified ten of them. I wanted to share these implications with you, both to give you a sense for how I conceive of my role at Bethlehem College & Seminary and to encourage you that our school views our students not as mere data receptacles, but as men and women who participate in the cosmic drama of redemption.

Below is what I wrote, formatted as a numbered list. All biblical quotations are from the ESV:

  1. Since God created all things, every area of study—from theology to accounting to dentistry—finds its ultimate significance in relation to him. More specifically, all domains of knowledge center around the person and work of Jesus Christ. As a Christian educator, I confess with Paul that Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17).

  2. Because all things hold together in Christ, the disciplines of study ultimately cohere. As Duane Litfin has observed, “there is indeed a simplicity beyond the complex details of what [we are] studying, a simplicity which, if [we] can only discern it, will be found to center upon the person of Jesus Christ” (Conceiving the Christian College [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004], 71).

  3. Because God reveals himself through the creation, Christians can study all lawful subjects, fully expecting to learn more about God in the process. Like Solomon, we can seek wisdom from the Lord as we study trees, beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish (1 Kgs 4:23).

  4. Because we would not know creation’s full significance apart from Scripture, we must submit all of our learning to this sacred book. Creation and Scripture are mutually illuminating, but Scripture holds pride of place in the partnership.

  5. Since all human beings bear the image of God, and because “what can be known about God is plain to them . . . in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:19–20), it follows that all people, believing or unbelieving, can acquire some level of knowledge about the world. Christian students should, therefore, be willing to learn even from unbelieving authors, plundering truth from them as the Israelites plundered treasure from the Egyptians (Ex 3:22). (See Augustine, Confessions 7.9.15 and On Christian Teaching 2.40.60–2.42.63.)

  6. The presence of indwelling sin in our lives means that we must carry out our studies in conscious dependence on the Lord. Knowledge is not an unqualified good. It “puffs up” those who seek it for selfish ends (1 Cor 8:1). I am committed, therefore, to teaching with a view toward Christian discipleship and obedience. Warfield’s question to theological students is pertinent here: “Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?” (“The Spiritual Life of Theological Students,” in The Trials of Theology: Becoming a “Proven Worker” in a Dangerous Business, edited by Andrew J. B. Cameron and Brian S. Rosner [Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus, 2010], 51).

  7. Sin not only affects students; it also affects the authors they read. Students must therefore learn to be critical readers, weighing all truth claims against God’s self-revelation in Scripture and in creation.

  8. Because of the corporate nature of human existence, I make it my aim to expose students to the insights of men and women from different eras, cultures, beliefs, and life experiences. Such exposure, in a confessional academic setting, can deepen students’ commitment to Christ, correct their faulty assumptions, and train them to be attentive listeners.

  9. The brokenness of our world means that I intend to relate what students are learning to the needs of the world around them. In Wolterstorff’s words, “the curriculum of the Christian college must open itself up to humanity’s wounds” (“Teaching for Shalom: On the Goal of Christian Collegiate Education,” in Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education, edited by Clarence W. Joldersma and Gloria Goris Stronks [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004], 22).

  10. Finally, I am committed to regarding my students as fellow members of the body of Christ. I view my authority in the classroom not as a position to exploit for my own advantage but as a responsibility to steward for my students’ everlasting good. In this respect, Paul’s words to the Corinthians serve as my mission statement: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (2 Cor 1:24).

Partnering with you in this great work,

Johnathon Bowers

Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy

 

Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray that the summer break would be refreshing to our students, faculty, and staff.
  2. A number of our students will be working this summer to save for tuition next year. Pray that God would supply their needs.
  3. Pray that God would continue to provide for our institution financially, especially as we have just begun a new fiscal year.
  4. Chris Bruno and Brian Hanson are joining our faculty full-time this summer. Pray for them and their families as they transition to a new home. Ask God to help them adjust to their new surroundings and to fill them with hope as they look forward to a new season of life and ministry.