A Window To God: Christian Education as Transformation

Israel, a treasured people, a holy nation, and a royal priesthood (Ex. 19:1-6)), was supposed to be a witness to God in the world as a suffering servant of the Lord (Isa. 40-55). Peter’s vision of the church’s mission is similar (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Paul echoes the servant songs of Isaiah when he justifies the mission to the gentiles and says, “I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles….” (Acts 13:47). The great commission of Jesus Christ to the early church by implication calls all generations to fulfill this mission by making disciples of all ethnic groups. A disciple’s lifestyle is a Christian lifestyle. However, what is a Christian lifestyle? What approach to education encourages a Christian lifestyle? And, what makes education Christian? Before we turn to answer these questions, we need to understand important terms like Christian education, lifestyle, socialisation, and transformation and their implications for approaches to education and lifestyles.

Christian Education

I grew up with the understanding of Christian education as religious instruction – we, children, were told stories from the Bible and that was about it. Christianity around us was “cultural Christianity”; the meaning and implications of Christianity were vague. During the days of my youth the emphasis was on spiritual development, an individualistic understanding of Christian education. Little thought was given to relate the story of Scripture and our stories to bring meaning to our lives and work. If there was a mention of transformation it was individualistic; the greater work of God, the transformation of all areas of human action were not discussed. In young adulthood, I was exposed to the liberation approach to Christian education with an emphasis on justice. How the values of love, shared power in the service of people, and freedom were connected to justice was not clear. In 1993/94, my teacher, James E. Loder of Princeton Theological Seminary, brought a deeper understanding of what Christian education needs to be. He brought clarity to what transformation is, how transformation takes place in the relationship between the Divine and the human, and how it impacts all areas of human action — nature, person, society, and culture. In this scheme of things, the values of love, shared power in the service of people, freedom, and justice are foundational for the transformed life.

Christian education seeks to develop persons whose lives and ministries (understood individually and in community) are patterned after the Divine-human Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. So, Christian education seeks to be transformational of all fields of human action. Jesus Christ was transformational in word and deed. He disrupted the people’s understanding of God while he simultaneously disclosed God and God’s order of love. Parables are a case in point. James E Loder said,

“Transformation is the patterned process whereby within any given framework of knowledge or experience, a hidden order of meaning emerges with the power to redefine and/or reconstruct the original frame of reference.” Transformation is different from socialisation. While socialisation seeks to maintain equilibrium and the status quo, transformation disrupts the status quo to reorder reality, disclose the hidden orders and bring deep change. Both transformation and socialisation are at work in all the fields of human action. For education to be Christian, transformation needs to be the dominant force.

Christian education intentionally encourages transformation to be the dominant force in the transformation-socialisation relationality (when two polar opposites are so constituted that they are in a differentiated unity, then it is called a relationality). The transforming power of the Holy Spirit moves us toward deep change, gives us a new identity and re-creates every aspect of human action, patterned after the Divine-human Jesus Christ. When transformation is the dominant force, “…the Holy Spirit works within conflict to disclose new insights, releasing the creative energy of the human spirit, and firing us back into the world as bearers of a redeemed creation,” says Loder. Thus, Christian education encourages a Christian lifestyle.

Christian Lifestyle

Lifestyle is not the latest fashion or fad; it is the energy of a lifetime that one puts into a way of thinking, feeling, and acting in the world. A Christian lifestyle is characterised by: (i) sacrificial and inclusive love given with integrity (the cross), (ii) fellowship in the Spirit demonstrated in shared power in the service of people (feet washing and Eucharist), (iii) freedom (external and internal) to freely follow God (the Word leads one into the Imageless, Spiritual Presence), and (iv) justice (the needs of people are met). The Christian lifestyle also encourages more complex ways of thinking.

It goes beyond the either-or wayof thinking to paradoxical and relational thinking. These ways of thinking are influenced by the Chalcedonian understanding of Jesus Christ – one person, fully Divine and fully human (a paradox) – and a Trinitarian understanding of God, where three persons are one as a relational reality. (James Clark Maxwell saw the electro-magnetic field as a relational reality; the church is a relational reality where oneno more talks in terms of “I” but“We”). To understand the Christian lifestyle one needs to understand other lifestyles that arise out of socialisation, with their destructive dimensions and distortions.

Education As Socialisation

Loder identified four distinct lifestyles that emerge out of socialisation and diverse cultural contexts. Let us first discuss the four approaches to education, captured in metaphors, which encourage four distinct lifestyles in today’s world that arise out of socialisation. Later we will look at transformation and the lifestyles that emerge out of it.

In the machine metaphor of production, the curriculum is a means of production, the student, the raw material, and the teacher a highly skilled technician.

This approach correlates with the authoritarian lifestyle, as it encourages repression of the student’s thinking and feelings, and submission to the teacher. The approach is high on discipline and low on freedom.

The authoritarian lifestyle is preoccupied with power, control, and strength. This lifestyle arises from fear of losing control.  The self-destructive dimension of such a lifestyle is the rigid repression of one’s thinking, feelings, and actions. Rigid roles are developed and difficulty is experienced in breaking out of it in order to be humanely present to the other. In this lifestyle, power is distorted.

Without authority, anarchy will result. So, the challenge is how does one exercise authority leadership with a human face without becoming authoritarian?  How can parents and teachers exercise authority that is needed lest children grow up with a sense of lawlessness?  The authoritarian needs to be helped to get in touch with himself/herself, develop “own” thinking, and live with openness to “others” without the fear of losing control. Perfect love casts out fear and especially authoritarians need reassurance of unconditional love and see power in the service of people.

In the organism or growth metaphor the curriculum is the greenhouse, students, the plants and the teacher, the wise and patient gardener. Each student, like a plant, is nurtured to grow according to her/his potential. There is a blossoming of students as a result of appreciation by the teacher for the student’s “doing” (results) rather than the “being” of the student. This approach correlates with the achievement-oriented lifestyle that encourages obsession with goals, as the emphasis is on working for rewards.

The achievement-oriented person longs for the recognition that comes from achievement. S/he lacks a sense of ascriptive worth, that is, one is valued simply because one is (for example, one is not loved because one has achieved high marks in exams or has a good job). S/he performs tasks to earn someone’s love. On the positive side s/he is purposeful, organised and plans ahead. On the negative side s/he might be tense, domineering, and cruel. The self-destructive dimension of the achievement-oriented lifestyle lies in the need for winning at any cost; they are unable to love unless there is a reward for such action. In this lifestyle, love is distorted.

Do we need to take achievement out of life? Certainly not! The challenge, then, is how one takes obsession out of achievement. Parents and teachers need to help students to be achievement-oriented without the obsession for success to earn one’s sense of worth by providing opportunities to experience inclusive, sacrificial and unconditional love, given with integrity.

The metaphor of travel encourages creativity through freedom; the curriculum is the route the students travel under the guidance of an experienced companion, the teacher. Each traveller is affected differently by such a journey. The variability of experiences and responses are applauded. No effort is made to affect the traveller in a specific way but great effort is put into plotting a rich, fascinating and memorable journey. This approach encourages freedom at the cost of guidance and discipline, and indirectly deters identity formation, and results in a perpetual identity crisis.

The word “protean” comes from the name of the Greek god Proteus who continually changed his shape and nature from wild boar to lion, to fire, to blood – all to avoid his proper function, which was to prophesy. Thus, the word “protean” describes a perpetual identity crisis, the self in process, and a sense of rootlessness.

The person lacks inner stability and is in a constant shift in personal and professional identity. There is a poor development of conscience as children grow up without clear boundaries between generations and limits to their social conduct and behaviour. In this lifestyle freedom is distorted.

How can parents and teachers raise children while respecting their individual thinking, feeling and actions (freedom) and yet drawing clear boundaries for social behaviour and conduct? The challenge is how can one allow for freedom and at the same time provide guidance and nurture? One needs to strike a balance between freedom and guidance to enable identity formation through discovery of their gifts.

In the banking metaphor, the curriculum, designed by experts, are like deposits in the students’ banks. The students passively receive them and meaninglessly withdraw the deposits during the examinations, only to be certified to receive further deposits. This model correlates with the oppressed lifestyle, as the students are not encouraged to do critical reflection and to create and recreate their lived world, resulting in the inability to name reality and take imaginative steps to emancipate self and others from oppression.

The core characteristics of the oppressed are low self-esteem and unrealistic dreams and aspirations. This situation causes anxiety, over cautiousness, and an apologetic manner because of a vague sense that their goals are unrealistic.

The self-destructive dimensions of such a lifestyle are the lack of consciousness of oppression and oppressed state; inability to imagine ways out of problem situations; and lack of responsibility for one’s life, by not taking initiative for liberation. In this lifestyle, justice is distorted.

Christian Education as Transformative

Transformational education, captured in metaphors, gives rise to liberation and the Christian lifestyles.

In the lock-and-key metaphor, the curriculum designed by student-teachers and teacher-students arises from concrete, historical situations. The curriculum is developed on the lines of problem-posing education. It thrives on dialogue between student-teachers and teacher-students that discovers causes for oppressed people being in fetters and the keys that will help unlock these fetters. This model co-relates with the emergence from oppression to freedom and responsible participation in history.

The destructive dimension of a lifestyle liberated from oppression is the possibility of consuming anger, not knowing how to deal with perpetrators of injustice and evil in a non-violent fashion. Anger is self-destructive. Anger and revenge against the perpetrators of injustice make liberated persons inhumane and adversely affect society economically and socially, seen in liberation movements in history and most recently in Zimbabwe in contrast to South Africa that has taken a path of reconciliation. In this lifestyle, forgiveness is distorted. Liberation is only a first step toward transformation.

The iconic or window metaphor encourages students to experience an encounter with God in and through the study of scripture, sacred literature, and nature. Conflicts are embraced, indwelt, and imagination is encouraged in the way the lesson is planned, based on how the human spirit resolves problems, which follows the Divine Spirit’s pattern, moving from chaos to order (Gen. 1:1-2:4a). Thereby the concern of the lock-and-key model for problem posing is incorporated into the lesson plan. The bestowal of gracious insights by God is anticipated but their exact nature is not determined. The Holy Spirit guides the learning outcome.

The iconic or window model recognises that God’s self-disclosure is congruent with God’s past self-revelations. This approach correlates with the transformed lifestyle, which is manifested in sacrificial and inclusive love given with integrity, fellowship in the Spirit, peace with justice, freedom, and the search for ultimate intelligibility, which transforms knowledge into wisdom. The encounter with God leads to the possibility of transformation of nature, persons, societies, and cultures as seen in the book of Acts.


In the iconic or window metaphor, the Word of God is a window to encounter God. As the approach incorporates the lock-and-key metaphor grounded in concrete historical situations, Word and life create opportunities for God and the human lived-world to be in relationship. With an emphasis on nurture for all (drawing positively on the garden metaphor), and on a balance between freedom and guidance/discipline (drawing positively on the travel and machine metaphors) students can be steered to encounter God and work out implications for their lives and society. Christian education needs to happen in Sunday schools, youth fellowships, and Bible studies for discipleship.


The India Sunday School Union (ISSU) has developed its Windows to Encounter curriculum and teacher training around transformational Christian education. For more information, please visit www.issuho.org.

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