Character Education and Jesus
When I was in graduate school, I conducted research at a non-sectarian private school. This school had a stellar reputation. One of my friends from church sent her children there, and over lunch one day she encouraged me to apply for a job at the school. When I told her that I really desired to work at a Christian school, she looked at me and asked, "Why? There are so many great schools out there, why would you limit yourself?" I replied, "That's a fair question -- there are a lot of great schools, and I'm glad there are Christians who feel called to serve in public education and in non-sectarian private schools. But, for me, I personally feel called to promote Christian worldview." She asked, "What's Christian worldview?" Realizing the magnitude of her question and a lack of time, I gave her an example --- She mentioned that her son was currently reading Beowulf. I told her that I loved teaching Beowulf, especially in a Christian school, because I had the freedom to not merely mention that Beowulf is a Christ-figure, but expound upon the ways in which Beowulf's character mirrors the character of Christ. She replied, "Oh, the teachers can't do that at my son's school. They can talk about character, but they can't talk about Jesus."
Is it possible to talk about character without talking about Jesus?
Of course, the Greeks talked about character before the time of Jesus. Meno asked Socrates if virtue can be taught, Socrates replied, "What is virtue?" If you take the time to read Plato's entire dialogue, you'll discover that Socrates never defines virtue, but rather suggests that it cannot be known. Aristotle, on the other hand, lists the specific character traits of a virtuous person, but he doesn't explain how one becomes virtuous.
Even after Jesus came into the world, philosophers continued to develop ethical views apart from Christ. Nietzsche postulates, "that which is done out of love is beyond good and evil." In other words, if our motivation is pure, we are free to do as we please. Nietzsche disagreed with his predecessor, Immanuel Kant, who believed that we are always capable of choosing to do what is right in every situation.
No offense to Immanuel Kant, but his theory of the categorical imperative does not motivate me to be kind to someone who has been a jerk.
What does motivate us to be kind? What does character education have to do with Jesus?
The other day, I had a conversation with someone who questioned why a particular child, who is admittedly a little rough around the edges, was admitted to CCS. I explained that I was holding the student accountable for his actions. The person replied, "Rules don't change people." I said, "You're right, rules don't change people ---- the Holy Spirit does."
Rules are not the means of change. If God doesn't use rules to change us and make us more like Jesus, what does He use?
Last year, an 8th grade student had his heart set on attending a particular high school, but he didn't get accepted. I reached out to him saying, "I'm sorry. I've been there. But this setback doesn't thwart God's plan for you. When the circumstances in my life don't make sense, I trust that God is infinitely wise and infinitely good. I encourage you to do the same --- don't look at your circumstances, look at your Savior."
I don't like seeing children get hurt, but what if tears and broken hearts, disappointment and shattered dreams, conflict and struggles are the very things God uses to draw children to Himself and make them more like Jesus?
The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism is, "What is my only comfort in life and in death?" The answer: "That I am not my own, but I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."
A bad grade, not getting a particular part in a play, not getting accepted to a prestigious high school, these are not the worst things that could happen to your child. What is? The worst thing that could happen is for them to seek comfort and put their hope in anything other than Jesus. The worst thing that could happen is for your children to grow up to be self-centered, self-seeking, and self-righteous, lacking in godly character.
I'm not antinomian. Rules are important. We have them; we enforce them. But rules do not make people virtuous! If we believe that our children will be safe and turn out o.k. if they just follow the rules, then we've put false hope in rules. If rules had that much power, we wouldn't need Christ.
Socrates couldn't define virtue, but Jesus defined it every day He lived on earth as He perfectly obeyed the law and lived a righteous life in our place. Aristotle couldn't articulate how one becomes righteous, Jesus gives us His righteousness and makes us more and more like Him. Nietzsche believed our motivations were pure. Jesus shows us our impurity and reveals the idols in our hearts to which we desperately cling. Kant believed we could perfectly keep the law, Jesus shows us our inability to keep the law and our desperate need of Him.
What does character education have to do with Jesus? Everything! Sending your child to CCS is not a guarantee that your child will never sin or be sinned against, but it is a guarantee that we will shepherd their heart and point them to Christ as we endeavor to help them grow in godly character.