Theological foundations for Christian education and social change

Christian education needs a concrete theological grounding. The theological foundation is the primary basis for doing Christian education. It shapes the purpose, nature and content of education. A sound theological foundation is required to develop a holistic education in the church. Education draws insights from biblical studies, church histories and theology in order to have a firm foundation as well as to integrate it in education process in a balanced way.

Howard Grimes described three important points of theology to Christian education. First, the church has a faith to communicate, and this faith must be stated theologically. Second, theology affects our understanding of the process of teaching. Third, theology affects the methodology of teaching.[1]

Theology informs the life we live under God by providing structures for thinking, feeling, and acting with respect to what is known about God in the community of faith in the past, present, and future. Hence, the education process should be rooted firmly in sound theology. Four important points under theological foundations are considered.

a. Theology of community

The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that living in a community is the fundamental nature of God. God in three persons- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one in essence. They are one and united.  Leonardo Boff expressed this Trinitarian divine community, thus:

Trinitarian existed in unity…. Trinitarian coexist from all eternity. Three are united and are therefore one sole God. The divine unity is communitarian because each Person is in communion with the other two. In the beginning, is the communion of the three Unique Ones.[2]

The Tri-Personal God signifies the Divine Community. God exists because he is a union of persons- a Divine communion or community of persons united through love. This affirms the idea that living in a community is the fundamental nature of all living beings including God himself. Since God in three persons have eternal communion among themselves, and so we are called to be in communion. Second, God exists in a relationship. This indicates that God is a relational being.[3]

It gives a picture of God who lives in unity with others. Thirdly, the divine Trinity participated in creation. God has a divine purpose in creation, that is, God loves the world (Jn. 3:16), and to have a continuing personal and intimate commitment to the world.[4] God made the world and continues to work in it. God is still in the process of making, sustaining, and renewing creation through Jesus Christ, along with the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.[5] This trinity gives us the picture that we are called to maintain relationships of communion with all, in giving and receiving, and together building of rich and open shared life, one that respects differences and does well to all.

Creation projects community

The community was God’s purpose for creation.[6] As Grenz expressed,

The world exists in order to participate in the life of the social Trinity. Just as the triune God is the eternal fellowship of the Trinitarian members, so also God’s purpose for creation is that the world participates in the community.[7]

Humans are created to have communion with God, one another, and with others. The divine image is a shared, corporate reality. This divine image is fully present in community.[8] At the same time, humans are relational beings and this relationship develops only in the community not in an isolated place. Hence, the essence of the community is the divine purpose in creation. This is the communion- the koinonia- for which we are created.[9]

It is for this reason that the Holy Trinity, the Divine Community of Persons, is for us human persons a prototype for life in relationship and communion with others. To be in communion is to be ‘in life’. To be alive is to be alive in God. Human persons are created in God’s own image for communion with God, for it is God who creates and sustains them in life by the power of his Word and his Spirit.[10] God created a global world, rather than provincial terms with diverse people and cultures. God created a community of diverse persons- women and men, from a myriad of cultures, races, and languages. Human existence is from the beginning a being-in-relationship.[11]

God intended a wonderful diversity in creation, the diversity of peoples, tongues, and nations must figure in God’s good purposes. The fact that ethnic relationships are the ground for human identity expresses something very important about human existence: it is invariably corporate and communal.[12]  In creating human persons, God intends that they reflect in their human and created way this relational existence.

Trinity reflects the diversity of creation, provides ample grounds for valuing human diversity. Our existence is communal.[13] Community is the deepest and most foundational reality that exists. This community aspect is an important foundation for Christian education, that is, Christian education takes place in the community.

b. Theology of human hood

The creation account in Genesis placed humans in a special relationship with the Creator. Humans are created as persons.  God created the persons with body-soul union alive in God’s spirit. So this earth person reflects that our human life is a sharing life in the very life of God.[14] This signifies that each human being is a unique person with dignity and rights. Creating in the Divine image (imago Dei) implies that all human beings have innate rights to what is needed to become fully alive persons.[15]

Freedom and rights are inalienable to human beings.  Persons are agent-subject and in the process of becoming, knowing, and creating.[16] Thus, human life is in the process of becoming and capable of lifelong growth into the fullness of life. Creating in God’s image indicates that humans represent God on earth.[17]  Yet, humans are absolutely dependent upon God for their existence.

Though the creation account in Genesis places humans in a special relationship with the Creator, this relationship is mainly for responsibilities that the creature is given to do in creation.[18] Humans are within the natural order of creation. This was being misinterpreted and placed humans between God and nature.[19] The image of God implies equal partners of both men and women.

The humans, male and female, find their ultimate roots in the Trinitarian mystery. God is beyond gender and so the Trinity-God is both male and female, we as men and women can be its image and likeness.[20]  There is no distinction between men and women but all are equal. Trinity exists in relational and so humans are relational, interrelated, and interconnected. The image clearly underlines the relationships into which the human creature is introduced.

Image of God includes the relationships with God, people, and the earth, and the way those relationships are enacted in our communal life. We are related to God and neighbor and the whole of creation. The image points to the place and role of the human partner in the ongoing creative purposes.[21] Our very personhood renders us responsible.

As persons we are responsible to live with integrity to our own best selves, caring for the neighbor, to care for creation, and for the common good for all. Image of God is for agent. They are called to work together with God on a common task of shaping the world into a vehicle that suits God’s purposes of glorifying divinity.

c. Wholeness

A good God created the whole good world. Creation has a wholeness, shalom- well-being, harmony, and justice.[22] God is the Lord of all creation. God created the world of the interrelatedness of humans, nature, and the whole of creations. The purpose of creation is to bring justice and wholeness in all the created order. If God is Trinity of Persons, the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then the creative principle sustaining the unity of all groups, in society and in the churches, ought to be communion among all participants, that is, loving convergence and brotherly and sisterly consensus.[23]

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Jesus made the message of the reign of God, the center of his preaching. Reign does not mean a territory over which the king has dominion. Reign is the Father’s way of acting by which he continually liberates creation from evil, sin, disease, division, and death, and established love, kinship, and life. If we violate human nature, if we trample on the rights of the person, if we show contempt for the poor, we destroy all routes giving access to the God-of-life and communion.[24]

(d) Ecclesiology- Church as a faith Community

The church is a corporate community of believers. The word ‘church’ is derived from the Greek word ekklesia and the Hebrew word qahal, which denote an actual assembly rather than a congregation.[25]  Originally it meant an assembly of free citizens summoned by the crier. The Christian ekklesia is not just any gathering of people; it is the congregation of the faithful in Jesus Christ.[26]

Theologically, the Christian church is the sum total of all believers in Christ irrespective of denominational churches.[27] It is an inclusive community of all believers without geographical, racial, or organizational bounds. It is composed of families, races, tribes, sexes, and linguistic groups. It is a corporate community and so there is no place for individualism. The church is a redemptive community, a living and growing organism centred in Christ who is the head of the body. The Church is holy in the sense that it consists of the company of the faithful, dedicated wholly to the service of God. Its authority is derived from God.[28]

The incarnation of Jesus resulted in a new community and a new order.[29] Jesus transformed relations among human beings, reconstructed our human systems. The natural boundaries of nationality, gender, age, economic status must no longer be divisive (Gal 3:26-27), but a community of loving and caring.  Being in a community with God means revolutionary rethinking in the arena of mutuality. Jesus touched all the systems of relations. Jesus came proclaiming a Gospel that has at its very essence relationships. Leonardo Boff stated:

Jesus’ whole preaching may be seen as an effort to awaken the strength of these community aspects. In the horizontal dimension, Jesus called human beings to mutual respect, generosity, a communion of sisters and brothers, and simplicity in relationships. Vertically he sought to open the human being to a sincere filial relationship with God, to the artlessness of simple prayer, and to generous love for God.[30]

The church is the context within which Christian learning takes place. To be the church is to be in reconciled relationship, inactive fellowship and to live in interdependence with others. The church as a social community reflects the social reality of the Trinity.[31] The organic nature of the church may be understood better from Paul’s analogies: Church as “the body of Christ” and the church as “the people of God”.

In Paul’s image of the Church, the church as the body of Christ places equal stress on both the personal and communal aspects of life. In the body of Christ, each individual is valued, cherished, needed, and has a unique function. We need to emphasis this personal and communal dimension in the church. This community includes people of diverse racial, ethnic, national, and political identities.[32]

Our fragmented world needs to see that a community of diverse persons can live in reconciled relationships with one another because they live in reconciled relationship with God. In the midst of a divided world, the church must find ways to bridge the differences as the “people of God.” The church has the spiritual power and biblical mandate to transcend all other political realities.

The existence of the church is not for its own sake, but to be a sacrament of the reign of God in the world. The reign of God in the Bible is profoundly a social symbol or, perhaps more accurately, a spiritual symbol that demands a social engagement and responsibilities of its members.[33]

This requires the Christian community to work in the world for God’s intentions of holiness and justice, love and compassion, peace and fullness of life for all, and the integrity of God’s creation. The existence of the church is to serve the world, to participate with Christ in the extension of His kingdom. The church is also a community of corporate social agents called to bear witness individually and corporately in word and deed to God’s intention for human life, that is, to be a radical community for others, a countercultural community.


References

[1] Howard Grimes, “Theological Foundations for Christian Education”, in Marvin J. Taylor, ed. An Introduction to Christian Education (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966), 32-33.

[2] Leonardo Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, Trans. 2000), 3.

[3] Constance J. Tarasar, “Orthodox Theology and Religious Education”, in R. C. Miller (ed.), Theologies of Religious Education ( Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press, 1995), 87.

[4] William A. Dryness, The Earth is God’s: A Theology of American Culture (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1997), 30, 36-37.

[5] Dryness, The Earth, is God’s, 16.

[6] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 147.

[7] Grenz, Theology for the Community, 147.

[8] Grenz, Theology for the Community, 231.

[9] Tarasar, Orthodox Theology, 89.

[10] Tarasar, Orthodox Theology.  91.

[11] Dryness, The Earth is God’s, 95.

[12] Dryness, The Earth is God’s,  95.

[13] Dryness, The Earth is God’s,  99.

[14] Susanne Johnson, “Education in the Image of God”, in Jack L. Seymour & Donald E. Miller (eds.), Theological Approaches to Christian Education (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 129-130.

[15] Thomas H. Groome, Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent (ThomasMore: RCL Company, 1998), 77, 81.

[16] Groome, Educating for Life, 83.

[17] Bradley C. Hanson, Introduction to Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), p. 83.

[18] Dryness, The Earth is God’s, 39.

[19] R. C. Miller, “Ecological Theology and Religious Education”, in Theologies of Religious Education, 342.

[20] Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community, 55.

[21] William A Dryness, The Earth Is God’s, 39-40.

[22] David Ng, “Holy People in a Holy Creation”, in Norma H. Thompson (ed.), Religious Pluralism and Religious Education (Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press, 1988), 133.

[23] Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community, 9.

[24] Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community, 19, 44.

[25] Edmund P. Clowney, The Church (U.K: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995), 30-31.

[26] Cully, The Dynamics,  36-37.

[27] Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 132.

[28] Kenneth O. Gangel, “What Christian Education is”, in Robert E. Clark, Lin Johnson Allyn K (eds), Christian Education Foundations for the Future (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991).

[29] Julia . Gorman, A Community that is Christian: A Handbook on Small Groups (Victor Book, 1993), 42.

[30] Leonardo Boff, Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvented the Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1986), 7.

[31] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 108.

[32] Gelder,  The Essence of the Church, 109.

[33] Groome, Educating for Life,  178.