Nicholas P. Wolterstorff has written a provocative and engaging book that is both a corrective and a significant source of instruction. While Wolterstorff addresses some of the critical issues facing modern Christian schools, the work, divided into four parts and sixteen chapters, focuses on the problems and potential of the Christian academy. Collectively the chapters show Wolterstorff’s evolution as a philosopher, teacher, visionary, and advocate for Christian pedagogy. He argues that the fate of Christian educations rests in the extent to which the Christian community is willing and prepared to live in Shalom.
The future of the Christian academy relies, in part, on the commitment of the Christian intelligentsia in communion with obedient disciples of Christ. Wolterstorff examines the principles of learning and how these methods should be implemented in a Christian atmosphere. In order for a Christian school to determine methods for successful teaching and learning the institution must first address the matter of curriculum: a reflection of approved decisions regarding instructional priorities and emphases.
“If we would teach at all,” insists Wolterstorff, “we must perforce prefer that our fellow human beings know certain things rather than others. ” Through communication and mutual respect, the Christian school must educate students and sustain the loyalty and support of parents who believe that their basic religious ideology is being transmitted to their children. As “an agent of education,” the school must attract and retain competent staff while inspiring the unwavering support of parents and other constituents.
The success of Christian schools is contingent upon the existence of a vibrant and vigilant Christian community. The church and its followers are called upon to proclaim the gospel, to act in love and service, to show in their own lives evidence of their new lives in Jesus Christ. They must serve and educate the whole people, old and new members. Wolterstorff insists that the Christian academy must be “a discipleship-training school.
” Christians should be participants while behaving as critical thinking disciples, evaluating every aspect but holding fast to the “critical dimension” of social involvement in the material world. The Christian life operates between isolation and accommodation, yet is not independent of either. Christian living should exemplify an existence devoted to faith in a personal God requiring disciples to bear “witness to the world” for his name’s sake. The Christian education must prepare students for a life in the kingdom.
At the same time, individuals who have the responsibility of teaching must make certain that they mirror the gospel of Christ and meet the needs of the students. In order to shape tendencies through action the Christian educator must reward and reprimand positive and negative behaviors, respectively. The Christian school must also be a loving community guided by affection and esteem for teachers who possess a combination of academic competence and proper decorum.
Christian education is a “god-centered” education that should lead children to a life of Shalom and faith in God through “obedience” and a “chastened” attitude. Shalom is about experiencing enjoyment in one’s relationships. It means to have pleasure and to be at peace with nature, others, and self. While it seeks “harmonious” existence, it also demands justice in the context of an ethical and responsible community. One must identify a calling and engage in “witness-bearing” by sharing their personal experiences, trials, tribulations, and the joys of their journey toward Shalom.