February 16, 2013

Being a Christ-centred teacher: What it means (to me)

Apologia, etc.
Being a Christ-centred teacher: What it means (to me)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
[The following article appeared in the Providence University College publication, Eye Witness Vol. 5, No. 1 (Winter 2013),pp. 12-14.]

Words of caution

What does it mean (to me) to be a Christ-centred teacher?  I have parenthetically added “to me” to the question because I wish to acknowledge that I am still a student of teaching and still learning to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  Also, I wish to admit that my knowledge in these areas (and in general) is fallible, non-exhaustive, and prone to bias.  With these caveats in mind, I will set out what I take to be three salient features of a Christ-centred teacher.

Salient feature 1
“See to it, then, that the light within you isn’t darkness.” (Luke 11:35)

First, to be a Christ-centred teacher is to be Christ-centred: it is to have accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not someone or something else.  Truth has intrinsic value, so truth concerning Jesus’ identity is important here.

Scandalous as this may seem, Jesus is somehow the very God of the universe come to earth as a human being—Jesus is God in the flesh, God with us.  Contrast this with the views of Islam (Jesus is merely a prophet, not God), Jehovah’s Witnesses (Jesus is the Archangel Michael, not God), and theological liberalism (Jesus was merely a good man, not God).  Or contrast this with the New Age (I am God).  To be Christ-centred is to confess that Jesus is Lord—to believe that Jesus is God (God the Son).

Significantly, the belief that Jesus is God, if true, is an objective truth in two senses. It’s an objective truth in the sense that it has to do with ultimate reality: Jesus is the Truth, i.e., Jesus is the ultimate metaphysical reality—God—who is personal and faithful.  Also, it’s an objective truth in the sense that it is a real relation between what is believed (a proposition) and what the belief is about (reality), and this correspondence, when it holds, holds whether it's believed by me and others or not. My belief that Jesus is God, if it’s true, matches or appropriately corresponds with the reality that Jesus is God, and reality (not my sincerity, faith, or conviction) makes my belief true.

Also, the objective truth that Jesus is God can be known subjectively (personally), albeit fallibly and non-exhaustively, whether that knowledge is gotten by reading historical reports, by hearing a preacher, by having a spiritual intuition, or by whatever means or combination of means God might use. The clearest source of this knowledge comes from the reports of those who saw and lived with Jesus (as recorded in the New Testament), reports clarified and confirmed by the church's creeds and traditions, reports promulgated by ministers of the Gospel.

A hugely important part of this objective truth, which we also learn from the reports of those who saw and lived with Jesus, is that the God-man Jesus was killed and then resurrected bodily, thereby somehow reconciling a sinful world to a Holy God.  By faith we accept the truth of Jesus’ work on the cross.

A Christ-centred teacher, then, is a teacher who accepts that Jesus—not anything or anyone else—truly is Lord.

Salient feature 2

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)  “Many will say to me…‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7: 22-23)

Second, to be a Christ-centred teacher is not merely to give intellectual assent to the proposition that Jesus is Lord is true but it is also to follow him.  Surrender to Christ presupposes truth about Jesus and knowledge of this truth plus action in accordance with this knowledge.  We are to be transformed by his Word having its—God’s—way with us, and thereby we are known by God.

We are to be doers of the Word.  We are to do works of love and mercy and justice which are in accordance with and directed by our knowledge of him and his will for us (knowledge given to us in the moral fabric of the creation, in conscience, and most clearly in Scripture).  Such works are for the benefit of our neighbours—humanity—and such works involve all the activities that human beings can do: business, science, medicine, aviation, theatre, construction, literature, farming, music making, parenting, skating, counselling, cooking, tailoring, preaching—and teaching.

Salient feature 3

“[Do not be] always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)

Third, being a Christ-centred teacher is to engage in works of love and mercy and justice via teaching.  Significantly, if Jesus is our model for teaching, then teaching presupposes the reality of truth (in the previously described two objective senses), the reality of being able to know truth (to varying degrees), and the reality of being able to communicate knowledge of truth (fallibly and non-exhaustively).

Christ-centred teachers should note that metaphysics (what is real) should not be confused with epistemology (theory of knowledge/ how we know).  That is, the reality of truth should not be confused with evidence or tests for truth.  As mentioned, Truth (with a capital T) is Jesus, the metaphysical ultimate reality (which is, in wholeness, triune).  But, as mentioned too, truth (with a lower case t) can also be understood as a correspondence relation: truth is a real relation—a metaphysical relation—between a proposition and what is real.  (Note: Stories can be a means of delivering propositions in such a way as to also provide a taste or subjective experience of the alleged reality to which the propositions, if true, purport to refer.)  On the other hand, evidence or tests which allow us to think we’ve discovered truth consist of observations in our experience, coherence with an established belief system or discipline, and/or practical usefulness—these have to do with epistemology, the knowing of truth.  Observations, coherence, and usefulness are indications of truth, not truth per se.

Indications of truth can be discerned by individuals, but they are better discerned with the help of the community of truth-seekers.  As a community we engage each other and the world in a dialogue of discovery whereby knowledge of truth is discerned (fallibly and non-exhaustively) and truth is our common master.

At this juncture, we should note that absolute certainty is not required nor is it possible (it’s possible for God, but not for humans); rather, mere reasonable belief often constitutes knowledge (which can be held with humble confidence instead of absolute certainty).  The objective truth that I am taller than my wife Carla is easily known by Carla and me and anyone who has met us (I’m 6’3.5”tall, Carla is 5’ tall).  To be sure, we don’t know exactly how much taller I am, i.e., we don’t know the exact number of micro-millimeters our height difference amounts to, but that’s beside the point.  The proposition that Hendrik is taller than Carla by at least 12 inches is an objective truth that we can know with confidence, while acknowledging that we don't have God-like knowledge.

Significantly, the above-described propositional knowledge is not limited to the merely physical realm.  Propositional knowledge can also include whatever is real in the realms of the abstract (e.g., the truth that, for any right triangle where c is the length of the hypotenuse and where a and b are lengths of the other two sides, a2 + b2 = c2), the realm of the moral (e.g., the truth that torture for fun is evil), and, with God’s help, the realm of the spiritual (e.g., that God exists, that God is a trinity).  Such knowledge may be achieved with the help of the knowledge-of-truth-seeking disciplines: e.g., the sciences, history, ethics, theology.

Besides propositional knowledge, there is also knowledge by acquaintance (a.k.a. "simple seeing").  We can have a direct awareness of reality when our faculties of perception are operating properly in contexts for which they are designed.  Such awareness includes the deliverances not only of our five senses but also introspection, rational insight, moral insight, plus the personal witness of the Holy Spirit.  Such awareness serves as a basis for further knowledge, constructed by further observations coupled with imagination and reasoning.  Also, knowledge by acquaintance allows us to test our concepts about reality by comparing the concepts with reality.

Another type of knowledge is know-how.  Know-how includes the skills of a craft or discipline, plus the practical skill—wisdom—of living life well, faithfully, and pleasing to God.

Finally, in the pursuit of knowledge of truth and the communication of knowledge of truth, Christ-centred teachers should also distinguish between psychological objectivity and rational objectivity, according to philosopher J. P. Moreland.  Psychological objectivity involves a lack of subjective involvement, a lack of commitment, a detachment from reality.  Such objectivity, if possible, seems appropriate only when there is no investigation or no interest, and thus should not be a part of an education that encourages students to make a subjective commitment to seek and embrace whatever is true, excellent, praiseworthy, and good.  Rational objectivity, on the other hand, acknowledges our subjective involvement as appropriate—we are, after all, subjective beings—and it calls us to exercise those epistemological virtues by which we discern objective truth (regarding what is real).  How?  By calling us to honesty, by calling us to take into account positive evidence and negative evidence, by calling us to reason carefully, by calling us to acknowledge and limit the intrusions of personal and cultural bias (as much as humanly possible), and by calling us to respect the true and good insights arising from our communities of investigation (i.e., the various academic and scientific disciplines).

Of course, much more can and should be said about what it means to be a Christ-centred teacher, but these three salient features—the acceptance of the truth that Jesus is Lord, the actual doing as Jesus would have us do, and the teaching of truth that can be known and communicated as knowledge of truth—seem (to me) to be foundational.

Hendrik van der Breggen, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Providence University College

No comments: