Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Christian Philosophy of Education

As a Christian philosophy professor, my aim is to lead students into a deeper understanding of truth through the pursuit of critical thinking about the things that matter most. This should be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17), who is the Revealer of truth—through both special and general revelation—and the only source of true wisdom (Proverbs 8; James 1:1-18). Moreover, God has endowed us with reasoning capacities as part of our being made in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28). Although some Christians wrongly fear philosophy in toto, the intellectual discipline of philosophy can and should serve as a means to love God with all of our minds, as Jesus commanded (Matthew 22:37-40; see also Isaiah 1:18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Jesus himself evidenced philosophical prowess in how he reasoned with his interlocutors and in the depth, profundity, and consistency of his own worldview. (On this, see my book "On Jesus.")

I propose that the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and the ability to do so with some intellectual facility. By “philosophical matters” I mean the enduring questions of life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy (primarily ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics). Not all Christians can be philosophers, but all should think philosophically (i.e., critically and carefully) about their own worldview and how it relates to the intellectual challenges they face from other worldviews. To this end, I teach philosophy as a Christian.

Christians can come to better appreciate their own biblical worldview by grappling with the perennial questions raised in the history of philosophy, as well as the questions raised today in the marketplace of ideas. Just as the Apostle Paul understood the culture and philosophy of the ancient Greeks (Acts 17:16-34), Christians should be able to articulate a Christian perspective in the face of alien and often hostile ideas (Colossians 2:8-9; Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15-16).

As Alvin Plantinga argued over twenty years ago in his pivotal essay in "Faith and Philosophy," “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Christian philosophers should also philosophize within their worldview commitments and puzzle out issues that may not always seem directly germane for unbelievers. This is part of the task of building up the Body of Christ through teaching (Titus 2:7-8: James 3:1-2). It is exciting and heartening to note that in the last twenty-five years Christian philosophers have been coming into their own in this regard.

Christian philosophers have also been challenging unbelieving philosophical perspectives, as is evidenced by their testimonies in Philosophers Who Believe and God and the Philosophers and by the philosophical arguments advanced in journals such as "Philosophia Christi" and "Faith and Philosophy." I often engage in this endeavor through my published articles and public lectures and debates.

The logical rigor of philosophy provides an essential analytical tool for the integration of a Christian worldview with every intellectual discipline, whether in the sciences or the humanities. The principles of logical analysis are necessary in every field, and philosophy helps sharpen our intellectual discernment in areas such as biology, physics, chemistry, history, psychology, and sociology.

My philosophy of pedagogy focuses on the engagement of key texts in and out of the classroom. The professor should lead a dialogue on matters philosophical by clarifying the material, asking pointed questions, and eliciting sound reasoning from his or her students. The professor should also exemplify and call his or her students to intellectual virtue—habits of the mind such as intellectual patience, rectitude, humility, studiousness, and courage. (On this see Jay Wood, "Epistemology: Developing Intellectual Virtue"; and James Sire, "Habits of the Mind.")

I attempt to do this through lecturing (with plenty of room for students’ comments), as well as through role-playing, small group discussions, and student presentations in smaller classes. Following Mortimer Adler’s advice from "How to Speak, How to Listen," I endeavor to speak just a bit over students’ heads, so that they can reach up and grab it. I hope never to insult the intelligence of a student (or anyone else). Concerning testing, I believe that essays and papers best fit the subject matter of philosophy, as opposed to multiple-choice or true/false tests. Students need to master the basic facts, but also need to be able to express their ideas clearly and convincingly in writing (and speaking). To that end, I carefully comment on student’s papers, desiring that they learn from the assignments and not simply receive a letter grade. In the smaller classes, I allow students to rewrite papers for a higher grade. Smaller classes are also amenable to directed discussions, rather than a strictly lecture-oriented approach.

Having written on the philosophy of technology as it relates to education (see "The Soul in Cyberspace"), I aim to use technology in an intentional and careful way. I was the first professor at Denver Seminary to create a fully functional web page for a class taught on campus, but I want never to diminish the critical importance of face-to-face interaction and dialogue in teaching philosophy. Web pages and emails help direct students in various ways—and link them to other sources—but there is no substitute for philosophical discussion (with all its splendid serendipity) in real time (see Romans 1:11, 2 John 12, and 3 John 13 on the important of face-to-face ministry).

As a philosophy professor who follows Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the Flock, I am a shepherd of souls, intent on bringing people into a deeper immersion in the Truth for the sake of the world, the church, and the glory of God.


Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Os in on the money here, as usual. But it is Os Guinness, not Guiness. I recommend Sire's "Habits of the Mind."

Richard W. Symonds said...

CEM Joad (1891-1953) would have made a great Christian Philosopher :

http://gatwickcity.phpbb3now.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=1013&p=15682&hilit=christmas+lecturettes#p15682 (Essayette 6)

Sadly, CEMJ died of cancer aged 61 - just after he wrote "The Recovery of Belief - A Restatement of Christian Philosophy" (Faber & Faber 1952)

Richard W. Symonds said...
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