Friday, January 29, 2010

Why Art Class?

A Christian School Art Teacher's Perspective

By Cheryl Funk
Christian School of York

Then Moses said to the Israelites, "See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts--to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers--all of them master craftsmen and designers.
--Exodus 35:30-35

Why art class? Fine arts have the unique ability to communicate visual beauty as well as instill life skills such as persistence, creativity, and expression, therefore developing the child as a whole. Research has shown that art classes encourage various types of contemplative skills such as visual-spatial, reflection, self-criticism, experimentation, and learning from mistakes. Even the Bible begins with creation in Genesis 1:1, inscribing, “In the beginning God created.” Core to our very existence is our Creator’s ability to envision and embody a new form for His creation.

Persistence is a critical skill for students to learn in today’s fast paced environment. Art projects are not finished in a single class period, but must be refined, maybe even for several weeks.

Creativity is an inextricable step in problem solving. Any vocation or profession today demands an individual’s ability to think critically and “outside the box” in order to excel. The traditional approach to a self-portrait would be simply to paint a likeness. Thinking “outside the box” opens many avenues with which to experiment. A self-portrait in mixed media collage involves giving the viewer insight into the individual’s personality. This occurs as personal items such as pictures, drawings, and memorabilia are used perhaps giving us more of a self-portrait than merely a likeness.

Expression of the student’s ideas, emotion, vision, and voice may also be displayed visually. Art students are encouraged to see their projects in relation to other subjects. Whether students create insects in clay, using correct anatomical construction, or create an African mask from the same natural materials the Africans used, they are challenged to think critically and across disciplines in order to apply the learning also taking place in subjects like science and social studies courses.

For students who are challenged in the fine arts there are educational benefits for actively participating in an Arts program. According to Americans for the Arts, students of art are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, write an award winning poem or essay, or enter a math or science fair.

In order to consider a student’s education complete, there must be a comprehensive and ordered study of the theory, techniques, and history of Art in societies. Some of the most enduring works are visual; the Parthenon, Sistine Chapel, or Michelangelo’s “David” are both visually enduring and symbolic to customs and religion in history.

Appreciation for external beauty is a reflection of God’s creative ability. Francis Schaeffer noted, “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God--not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

Schaeffer, Francis A. “Art and the Bible.” Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Learning to Discern: The Critical Importance of Personal Scriptural Literacy

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.
--2 Peter 2:1-3

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
--1 John 4:1-3

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness….
--2 Corinthians 11:13-15

Nearly 30 years ago, a young believer who had yet to develop a steady habit of Bible study began relying heavily on the radio ministry of one particular teacher to find comfort during stressful times, and to stay, by a fragile thread, in touch with the Word.

The young believer had known since his elementary school days about this teacher’s radio ministry, but began listening to him much more frequently during his college years. The teacher’s ability to retain scripture in memory was encyclopedic in scale. And all of his commentaries seemed soundly based on the crucial Bible-study principle of testing any interpretive conclusion by comparing scripture against scripture. An interpretation of one verse, in other words, must stand the test of interpretation in the context of every other verse of the Bible.

In some rare instances, the young believer felt just a tinge uncomfortable with what he was hearing, but the teacher’s assertions always seemed so soundly locked into a scriptural context that they appeared to be air tight.

His end-time teachings seemed more sensible and scripturally bound than any that the young believer had ever heard. The teacher was highly critical of those who would go so far as to predict the date of Christ’s return. He argued compellingly about the error of those who practice “newspaper eschatology” and incessantly try to link current events to scriptural prophecy to make the case that the Second Coming is just around the corner. And he frequently quoted Christ’s words in Matthew 24:36: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

But about eight years later a strange thing happened. The teacher suddenly announced that he now believed that The Church had entered The Final Tribulation. And he predicted a specific date, just a few years away, for Christ’s return. He published a book full of strange numerological analyses of scripture that, he claimed, validated all but indisputably his prediction.

The young believer, who by this time was out of college and well into his young adult working life, was bewildered, not knowing what to make of this odd turn by a leader he had respected so much for so long. The predicted date, of course, came and went—it has now been more than 15 years. And the whole turn of events was a contributing factor in a deep lapse in the young believer’s faith that lasted the better part of a decade.

While leaders play an indispensable role in the Body of Christ, stories like this, which appear to be all too frequent, illustrate clearly the danger to the individual Christian of relying too heavily on the teachings of other people and not becoming sufficiently immersed in direct, personal study of scripture.

There are two principle dangers that a person faces who relies too much on the teachings of others as a substitute for personal Bible study. At one level there is a danger of encountering leaders who, though they are truly saved and anointed by God as leaders, may at some point fall victim to their own human vulnerabilities and failings, compromising their ability to impart sound teaching to those who look to them for guidance.

But much more dangerous are the truly apostate leaders who clearly are in our presence: the “deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ,” diverting the unsaved from the true gospel and throwing off track the spiritual lives of Christians who, though saved, have not sufficiently developed the spiritual discipline of discernment.

Developing the skill to study the scriptures for oneself, under the ultimate guidance of the Holy Spirit—who, unlike human leaders, can never fail us—is the only reliable way to learn to discern. And one of the best ways to develop this discipline is to start, at a very young age, a structured habit of daily Bible study in a Christian educational setting.

A purposeful Bible-study habit that begins in childhood is much more likely to carry over into young adulthood, when faith is likely to be put to the most challenging tests. With a sound foundation in scripture and an intimacy with the Holy Spirit, the ability to discern that one is hearing a false teaching becomes almost instinctive. Even before you analyze the words, you get a sense that it just “feels wrong.” As a Christian who has learned to discern, you are much more able to “guard your heart” (Proverbs 4:23).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Teaching Biblical Perspectives on Money and Finance

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud …
--2 Timothy 3:1-2

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
--Luke 12:27-31

A severe, global economic crisis is the kind of event that can test the faith of a believer, especially one who has been directly affected by the crisis. But it is also an event that can enrich our lives as believers by bringing about a reexamination of our priorities and our perspective on our relationship with God as the sole provider of all of our needs, and with one another as the Body of Christ.

In affluent times, well-meaning believers can sometimes stray too far into the worldly emphasis on money, self-reliance, and prosperity. A Christian who is prospering can slip into the trap of feeling that financial success is the deserved result of his or her own hard work, intelligence, talent, business savvy, or other internal traits.

He or she can then begin to lose sight of the fact that those gifts have not been earned but rather are blessings from God. In Proverbs 30:8-9, we read, “… give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'” It is also easy to forget that it is ultimately God’s blessing, rather than human effort, that allows our application of our gifts to be successful.

One of the illusions shattered by a financial crisis of this magnitude is the belief that we control our own destinies. The crisis has taught us that even those who have always worked hard, “played by the rules,” and “done everything right” by worldly standards can stumble or fall, due to factors entirely out of their own control.

When we as Christians find ourselves in this kind of situation, the crisis can create an opportunity to draw closer to God and realize that it has been He, all along, who has provided for us, and that He will continue to do so—even if it is not according to the smooth, easy, pattern of “hard work will always bring prosperity” in which the world tempts us to place our trust.

While God often richly blesses the material lives of believers, He does not promise an easy or prosperous life on earth to those who are saved. He doesn’t promise everything we want, but He does promise us everything we truly need during our time on earth.

But God’s righteous vision of what we truly need does not always match man’s vision. In Luke 12:27-31, Christ tells us that the faithful should look at God’s provision for our needs according to the model of how the needs of the lilies and the grass of the field are provided for: one day at a time, and not as a result of our own efforts.

Does this mean that believers shouldn’t work to provide for their physical needs? Of course not, because we are told in Genesis 3:17 that “through painful toil you will eat of the earth.” Hard work is man’s destiny until the ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s victory in the new creation. But when we look at this in the context of Luke 12:27-31, we know that it is only through God’s blessings that any fruit results from our labor.

So we as believers, being “in the world but not of the world,” are not to make the mistake of over-reliance on human efforts and human institutions, which will always fall short. And in the Christian classroom, students can benefit from the enrichment of this perspective on financial booms and busts, in addition to the same kind of study of the workings of social and economic processes that takes place in the secular classroom.

In Christian schools, students have the opportunity to learn about and even participate in the direct role that we as the Body of Christ can play in response to an economic crisis. Together, Matthew 25:31-46 and Romans 12:20 make our mandate clear to demonstrate the love of Christ by assisting those who are in material need, whether they are believers or unbelievers. And as stewards of God’s resources, we are also responsible for doing what we can to ensure that our churches and Christian institutions are able to fulfill their missions through a time of crisis.

The concept of stewardship figures prominently in a spiritual perspective on economic events, since some of the factors underlying the financial crisis have implications for the question of how wisely, as individuals and as a society, we have been managing the resources with which God has blessed us.

But the secular classroom leaves these all-important spiritual issues out of the discussion. The most important lessons on man’s relationship to money, in the context of his relationship to God, goes untaught.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Helping Students Discover and Develop their Spiritual Gifts

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
--Romans 12:6-8

What would life be like for a person who, from birth, was perfectly able to walk but didn’t know it until adulthood, and therefore never made any effort during childhood to learn to walk? Obviously, it would be very difficult for such a person to achieve his or her full potential in life.

The example is extreme and improbable. Yet it’s a simple, effective illustration of what happens to Christians who are delayed in discovering their spiritual gifts or in learning how to apply their God-given abilities in a spiritual context.

Nothing that God does is without purpose. So any special ability that God has given us has an intended use within the Body of Christ. But the adult Christian who lacks adequate understanding or development of his or her spiritual gifts is hindered in the fulfillment of God's purpose for his or her life, just as the physical potential is hindered of the hypothetical adult who is just beginning to learn to walk.

While home and church life provide important environments in which young people can begin to explore and develop their spiritual gifts, the Christian school experience provides additional opportunities for them to consider how their God-given abilities could be applied for God’s purposes.

In a Christian school, everything from biology courses to basketball games takes place in a spiritual context. Experiences in school can also be opportunities to discover potential gifts for:

  • Teaching, through classroom discussions and written assignments
  • Leadership, through serving as a team captain
  • Praise and worship, through courses or extracurricular activities in music or performing arts
These are just a few of many possible examples. Secular educational environments also provide students with the opportunity to explore natural skills that may point to their spiritual gifts, but the openly spiritual context of the Christian school environment can accelerate discovery of their spiritual application. This, in turn, can give students, as they move on from school and into adulthood, a stronger sense of God’s purpose for their lives and of how they will fulfill it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Post for Technorati Verification


Monday, January 11, 2010

Spiritual Warfare for Students

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
--Ephesians 6:13

In Ephesians 6:13, Paul writes that “our [emphasis added] struggle … is against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Note the use of the word our: to whom does our refer? Since this passage appears in a letter to the Church at Ephesus, it seems self-evident that our must refer to the community of believers. And this concept is important to understanding the place of spiritual warfare in the life of the believer.

It can be argued that most of the evil work that Satan and his minions do here on earth is not directed toward the unsaved, who by definition are already under his dominion, already following “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2).

Of what use would it be, therefore, for the enemy to direct spiritual attack toward the unsaved? It seems clear from passages concerning spiritual warfare that spiritual attack is an experience primarily of the saved. The enemy of our soul tries to make the lives of believers miserable, creating tensions within marriages and families, conflict between parents and children, splits within churches, setbacks for ministries just as they begin to flourish, and so on—all in an effort to tarnish the example that the Body of Christ presents to an unbelieving world.

The educational environment is no exception. We live in an age where, in public schools and secular universities, relativism rules. School prayer is illegal, in the name of separation of church and state. Displaying a nativity scene is forbidden—and yet, oddly enough, Halloween observances are encouraged. Teaching evolution is mandated, yet efforts to present intelligent design as an alternative are either silenced or, even worse, ridiculed.

The longer they spend in secular settings, the greater the challenges Christian students encounter to the tenets that Christian parents and churches strive to instill. While Christian education isn’t the only way—and should never be the sole means—of equipping students for the challenges to their faith and spiritual attacks they will inevitably face, it can be an important resource in developing a solid, scriptural foundation.

Disciplined, daily, guided Bible study in an academic setting from elementary school through 12th grade—not to mention an overall academic environment that encourages application of scriptural principles to all fields of study—is an immense help in developing a spiritually renewed, biblically thinking mind. Help during youth in developing a grounding in scripture gives students a special advantage in fulfilling the command to “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…” (Ephesians 6:14). It’s an advantage that stays with them for a lifetime.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Preparing Students for Secular Colleges and Universities

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility--young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.
--Daniel 1:3-4

One of the myths about Christian education that we dealt with in an earlier post was that Christian schools are appropriate for preparing students for Bible colleges but not secular colleges and universities.

As we indicated in our response to that myth, this couldn’t be further from the truth, especially in the case of institutions like Christian School of York that have a rigorous college preparatory program and are accredited by both Christian and secular organizations.

There is also a deep scriptural foundation for the idea that it is good for those who have had an intensive religious education to go on to be educated in the learning of a secular society in which they are, if you will, “in the culture but not of the culture.”

Furthermore, there is demonstration in scripture that the background of religious education can serve believers well when they undertake secular learning. The story of Daniel and his friends is a salient example. Their strong grounding in Jewish teachings put them in a position in which they drew the attention of the King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, which selected them to be educated in “the language and literature of the Babylonians.”

Daniel and his companions eventually attained high positions, and in the early stages of their relationship with the king’s court the fact that they stood their ground on the issue of observing Jewish law became a source of admiration. And although their steadfastness ultimately led to persecution, the persecution became an opportunity for them to minister to the Babylonians about the power of the God of Israel.

The Daniel story is an excellent model for how a quality Christian education in our time can leave the student well prepared to succeed in secular universities and professions, while also preparing them to minister to nonbelievers by standing out as examples of diligence in work, faithfulness to moral principles, and obedience to God’s commands.

As in the case of Daniel and his friends, the experience of the Christian school graduate moving on to secular higher education and work comes with both privileges and responsibilities. But those responsibilities are what make the experience so enriching to one’s walk with Christ.