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Opinion - More towards a holistic-liberative approach to Christian education

2021-10-22  Reverend Jan Scholtz

Opinion - More towards a holistic-liberative approach to Christian education
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Christian education is the people of God acting to reach out with the Gospel (i.e. “disciple all nations” Matthews 25:18-20) and to nurture one another by the power of the Spirit through Word and Sacrament (Col 3:16). 

Therefore, the aim of the Ministry of Christian Education is twofold: to proclaim the Gospel so that the Spirit will call people into a disciple relationship with Jesus Christ, and to live out the example of Jesus as a teacher – sharing the good news of Christ with those in the faith community so that the Spirit can build up those who are already among Jesus’ followers.

This twofold mission is not an individual endeavour. Education, since it sees the community in action, happens as the faithful. This includes to 

participate with one another around the Word and Sacrament, come to know the will of God through an encounter with the Word, join Christ’s suffering through solidarity with those who suffer, and share the mutual council, support and prayers of the faith community.

Traditionally, in the Christian community, Christian education has focussed specifically on nurturing disciples – on enriching and strengthening the faith life of those who have come into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. 

As the Church moves “… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up of the body of Christ, they help disciples move toward…” The knowledge of the Son of God, maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:12-13)

In Colossians 3:16, Paul presents a vision of Christian Education in action: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God”. 

Through the indwelling of the Word and the sharing that happens among the believers around the Word, the member of the body of Christ are enriched by the Gospel as they apply its meaning to everyday life.

The holistic approach to education starts with the connection that the entire person is created and redeemed by God. The whole person is then involved in discipleship that seeks to live out a response of faith.

For this reason, Christian education encounters persons intellectually, physically, socially and spiritually. True holistic education is not satisfied with a mere increase in knowledge. 

It does not seek simple assent. It unites the whole person into an encounter with the Word so that the Spirit, beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviours can transform. Holistic education: happens in the community it is participating in; it is life-long and inclusive of all age groups and persons. It is rooted in the Bible.

The Church must proclaim an understanding of Christian Education, which is at the same time holistic and liberative. The liberative approach to Christian education arises from justice concerns impelled by the love of God that all live in harmony. 

Injustice and oppression abound much of this injustice is rooted in the systems and structure fostered by commercial and political powers. 

Liberative education seeks to help Christians to develop the skill of critical thinking in a way that addresses the ethical and social issues surrounding injustice. 

The goal of this critical thinking is to help learners perceive, reflect and act upon justice issues as a response to their faith, based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Liberation education features include: inquiry transformation, teacher-learner partnership, community dialogical participatory and the Bible, and the “here and now” of human living. While both approaches are valid and bring elements to Christian education, the holistic and liberative approaches to education are not competitive. 

Certainly, these approaches arise out of people’s experiences, but rather than choosing between them, today’s Christian educators tend to blend some of the elements of these approaches as they continue to expand the theory (holistic) and practice (liberative) of Christian education.

The two approaches share many common assumptions and perspectives. 

For example, the approaches share the elements both are grounded in the Christian community, emphasises the participatory-dialogue nature of learning, and both redefine the teacher-learner relationship into a shared and mutually appropriate action. It also seeks to engage learners of all ages and conditions. 

Both see the Bible as a source of the liberating or empowering message and the content for Christian education, and stress that the Scriptures must be contextualised so that the liberating message of the Gospel can be realised in any given situation.

In conclusion, as the holistic and liberative approaches to learning continue to permeate Christian education, our understanding of education grows the approaches proclaim; for example, that learning happens in many ways: by teaching, by participating, and by shared experiences. The understanding fosters a variety of learning opportunities and activities in the local churches. This integrated approach celebrates the power of the Gospel in worship, learning and fellowship, as it unites and strengthens the priesthood of all believers for a common activity in the world.

2021-10-22  Reverend Jan Scholtz

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