Christian Education in the 21st Century

Ss Athanasius, Cyril & Ignatius

This is the 8th and final blog in this series which began with The Goals of Teaching in the Early Church.  The immediately preceding blog is St. John Chrysostom (C).

By looking at some of the patristic writers we can glean a few ideas or ideals which they held concerning Christian education. Christianity came into a world which was on the verge of great change and Christianity itself was to be a catalyst to that change. The religious world view was about to shift from what has been described by historians of religion as an archaic perspective to an historic one. This followed the axial period of religious development which had occurred some 500 years before the birth of Christ. This shift in perspective is not unlike the one in which (at least according to some interpreters of culture) we are currently experiencing (the shift from what has been termed the modern world view to what is being called post-modern is for some the new axial age). The early Christians were able to distinguish a theology of education with specific goals and methods which were different from that of the pagan world which surrounded them.    This is something which we must continue to do today in the changing world in which we live.

The Patristic period resisted a mass approach to education, rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Instead they emphasized the need to shape the educational endeavor to the individual needs and capabilities of their varied students.    Though their methodology focused on holiness and wisdom (a practical and practiced approach to Christian education), the bottom line goal was to know God.  A good amount of the training was practical, experiential, taught in the forum of a few disciples learning from their Master (even when it was children learning from their Christian parents).  Learning from example, imitation of the Lord and of the Saints, role modeling, and learning virtuous living from the lives of the saints (story telling), were all used to help attain the goal.

The task for Orthodox religious educators today remains discerning what are the methods, goals and underlying theology which we need as we face the Twenty-First Century. What can we learn from the early centuries of Christianity which will help us in our current situation? This means not simply imitating their methods but gaining the wisdom to know which methods to use today at the appropriate times, and also determining when creative solutions are called for.

This blog is based upon an article I wrote in 1998 which itself consisted of a few excerpts from a much longer paper I wrote on Christian education years earlier.  I hope in the near future to be able to “translate” this longer manuscript into a blog series.  Blog bytes are more digestible to most than long articles.  Bullet points might be even more acceptable to a greater number of people but I haven’t learned Power Point to be able to reduce all information to that level.

The Economy: Could it get worse?

The economy is stalled, Obama’s approval ratings are sagging.  The Gallup organization is wondering whether it is going to have to use negative numbers to measure Congress’s approval ratings.

Could things get worse?

As the Pessimist says, “Things are never so bad as they can’t get worse.”

This Labor Day, I’ve labored to find some humor in our sad state of affairs.

So time for a comic moment of relief, and since we can’t blame him for conditions any more (or so political wisdom says), here is a quote from memory lane.  Just to remind us of where we were and why we’re here, a quote from President G W Bush, 24 February 2001:

“My plan reduces the national debt, and fast.  So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we’re going to run out of debt to retire.”

I guess that was just politically speaking – a little spin for the party faithful.

But maybe there is yet hope!    Maybe his plan hasn’t fully taken effect yet – I think Congress has kept the Bush tax cuts.  Maybe this is the year they’ll reduce the debt.

And just to add a little more humor, 3 days after promising to reduce the debt on 27 Februrary 2001 GW gave us this Bushism:

“My pan plays down an unprecedented amount of our national debt.”

Ah, those were the days and we thought they’d never end.  Playing down the national debt became a political pastime in America.  Now we are paying for all that pleasure.

So, if the economy has got you down, lighten up a bit, the politicians are promising they will fix it.

Happy Labor Day!