One of the advantages of living in a free society is that parents have multiple options for how they can educate their children, including enrolling them in religious education. Christian education is unique in that teachers can integrate faith and learning in the classroom to unlock academic disciplines from mere materialistic or rational concerns to direct interdependence and collaboration with the providential work of the Triune God in his plan to redeem the entire cosmos.
In light this fact, if any student graduates from a Christian school, at either the secondary or the university level, and cannot answer the following questions I argue that the school is failing. These four questions wed the goal of the Christian life — namely, to glorify God — with our day-to-day lives in a way that expands the scope of how we think about vocation.
1. What is God’s story?
That is, what is God doing in his world? What is his mission? Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, explains the scope of the God’s mission and story this way: “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.” Theodore G. Stylianopoulos observes that God’s story comes as “the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin and death are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the eschatological glorification of the whole cosmos.” Because the entire creation has been drawn into the mutiny of the human race, (Rom 8:19-24) redemption must involve the entire creation, as Michael Williams argues.
2. Why are God’s people important to that story?
Everything in creation matters to God and every person matters to God because they bear his image. In the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, his people, in union with Christ, play a vital role in seeing that the cosmos brings glory to God (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:23) in all areas of life. God has chosen, on purpose, to use his people as important means of fulfilling his goals for the the world. Salvation history begins and ends with creation, so God calls a people to himself, saves them, heals them, sanctifies them, and empowers them with the Holy Spirit so that they can properly collaborate with God here and now. Isaiah says that God’s people “will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (Isaiah 61:4). Jesus tells his disciples,
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:13-16)
3. Who are you in God’s eyes?
It is critical that emerging adults in the church are aware that they are made in the image and likeness of God, and are therefore called to be full participants, with the rest of God’s people in his mission, to reconcile all things to Himself through Christ. God gives his people the capacity to act in subordinate ways as co-creators with him.
Verna Nona Harrison argues that humans were designed to unite their wills with God’s will so that together with God we can do good and creative things. We have been given minds which include reason and cognition: the intellect perceives the material world through the senses and organizes and evaluates these perceptions. We have been given royal status, charged to be stewards over the whole creation. Moreover, humans have been given the capacity to use the arts to disclose beauty that is ultimately from God and to exercise practical creativity in crafts, agriculture, manufacturing and technology, skills that enable the world’s economy. Harrison observes that economic exchange and business enables humans to share with one another while producing the things that we need, and science shows us the patterns and systems of God’s world that point to his character as sustainer, planner, designer and so on. All of these facets point to our royal humanity. Salvation frees us to practice virtues like self-control, courage, love, mercy and justice in the application of God’s design for humanity.
4. What’s your role in God’s story?
What is your salvation for? This particular answer comes in two parts: (1) We have a broad, all-encompassing role to be holy, virtuous, and Godly people (1 Peter 1:15-16; Phil 4:8) and (2) We have a narrow role that will play itself out in our various vocations as family members, marketplace leaders, and the like in civil society. It is in the second part where graduating students may still be in a journey of discovery — and that is exciting. Young adults, then, continue to need sages and guides to help them navigate this aspect of their vocation well into their 20s and 30s. What really matters, however, is that young adults understand that their vocation does more than provide compensation to pay bills. Vocation is collaboration with God, often in ways that we may never see, in his ongoing work in the creation.
This list does not mean that young adults who are products of secular educational systems cannot answer these questions well. But unless those individuals have had the benefit of quality catechesis, at home or from the church, my experience has been that they tend to bifurcate faith from work instead of integrating them. These are the types of questions that explain why parents opt out of other public and private school opportunities — and these are questions that make that choice worth it in the long run.