Renewing Your Mind

More threatening to classical Christian schools than “political correctness” is “cultural correctness,” the widely disseminated moral and religious assumptions that are often embedded in Christian parents and students, even those who are likely to come to classical Christian schools. What is “cultural correctness,” and how does it operate to undermine Christian institutions? How should we grapple with it?

Bob Benne

Robert Benne is the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion Emeritus and a research associate in the Religion and Philosophy Department of Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. He teaches Christian ethics for the online Lutheran Institute for Theology. In 1982, he founded the Roanoke College Center for Religion and Society, which was named in his honor in 2013. Prior to that, he was the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion and Chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department at Roanoke College for 18 years, as well as Professor of Church and Society at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago for 17 years. He is a native of Nebraska, a graduate of Midland University and has graduate degrees from the University of Chicago. He has lectured and written widely on the relationship between Christianity and culture. Titles include Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics and Keeping the Soul in Christian Higher Education – A History of Roanoke College. He has been married to Joanna Carson Benne for 58 years and they have four children and eight grandchildren.

Student Spiritual Formation

What does it mean to truly be a Christian school? Eric explores the challenges of spiritual formation within a school setting and offers some modest suggestions for implementation.

Eric Cook

Eric Cook is the Headmaster at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, Texas. He is from Lexington, Kentucky where he received his B.A. in Secondary Social Studies Education from Transylvania University. Eric taught history, civics, philosophy, and psychology for ve years in two different public schools. He received his M.A. in Instructional Leadership from Northern Kentucky University and served as an assistant principal at a large middle school in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2006, Eric became the Middle and Upper School Head at Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia before becoming Headmaster at Covenant in 2009. He has served on the SCL board for three years. Eric is married to his beautiful wife, Liz. They have six children: Haydon, Olivia, Grant, Cole, William, and Lincoln.

Spiritual Formation and Liberal Arts Learning

Having taught linguistic philosophy and anthropology I am aware that good communication is dependent on the shared understanding of words and concepts. For example, as I read a number of issues of The Journal of the Society of Classical Learning, I became aware of extremely negative attitudes toward “post-modernism.” I happen to be very positive and hopeful about the possibilities of a post-modern era, but I also know that there are very different understandings of the concept.

I believe that history can be understood by defining it in terms of eras and transitional periods. When the middle ages, the age of faith, were coming to a close, a transition period (the Renaissance and Reformation) turned into the birth of a new era, the age of reason which became known as modernity. Some of us believe that the value of modernity has reached its theological and moral limits. The 20th and 21st centuries appear to be a transitional period out of which a new era will emerge. We call that new age “post modernity,” an age much more friendly to faith and the spiritual life.

During the age of modernity, relativism became normative among intellectuals. My desire is to free us from believing that in terms of beliefs anything goes, to embracing a genuine respect of our differences and an understanding that in our differences we are stronger. I believe truth is found in holding together, in a healthy tension, counter opposites (e.g., Jesus is fully human and fully divine). Truth is believing that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. There is the truth, but it would be a denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in God’s continuing revelation for any of us to be certain we know what it is.

Too many have turned education into debate and the desire to be right rather than dialogue and the desire to seek after truth. Relativism is not a virtue, but neither is absolutism. The intellectual way of thinking and knowing founded on reason and logic needs to be complemented by the intuitive way of thinking and knowing founded on the arts and the imagination. It is not enough to teach the history of art or music. We must teach every student to paint and play an instrument.

It is good to remember that while classic and classical are related, classic is a judgment that defines something’s value, while classical
is more a reference to an ancient culture and its understandings, ways, and artifacts. Nothing is of greater value simply because it is ancient any more than because it is new. The classical age also was more diverse than we sometimes imagine. The church East and West has been divided for years between the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Philosophy and reason can not replace theology and revelation.

One last comment. As early church fathers put it, “Christians are made not born,” and when asked how, they pointed to three processes: formation or the participation in and practice of
the Christian life of faith; education or critical reflection on our lives in the light of the Gospel; and instruction/training or the acquisition of knowledge and skills fundamental to the Christian life. It is not enough for a Christian school to offer courses in religion. It needs to critically look at its total curriculum to discover what it is really teaching. My observation is that spectator sports in school are more important than physical health and lifelong exercise; that the value of competition is ahead of cooperation; that individualism is more important than community.

Consider two final exams I used at Duke that are examples of my understanding of a Christian education in the classical tradition: First, what is the one question, stated clearly and fully, that you are now asking that you were not asking at the beginning of this course? Then state how over the next year you intend to search for its answer.

Second, in the groups of five to which I have assigned you, agree on a subject related to this course, then write a paper together on that subject and create a piece of art related to it. Then evaluate each other on your contribution to the product and the process of this project.

I look forward to meeting you at your society’s conference in June. I long to meet you and discuss with you the important question of the spiritual life and spiritual formation.

Shoes Matter

Thirteen year old girls don’t take women seriously who wear ugly shoes.” At least that was the argument I gave my husband when he commented on the sudden increase in my shoe collection shortly after I started teaching middle school literature. While I’m not above stretching a bit to justify a great pair of heels, I was only half-kidding in this particular instance.

I, like many of the writers in this edition, find the concept of “spiritual formation” a bit difficult to nail down. If we’re talking about the desire in all of our hearts to see our students mature into, instead of away from, Christ while simultaneously sharpening the minds with which they serve him, then I offer yet another question or two to contemplate. What is drawing them away from Christ? And are we presenting a compelling alternative?

As much as we would like our students to pick their role models based on logical analysis filtered through biblical standards, we know they don’t. In fact not many of us do. Take a good look at what kids today find attractive, cool and worthy of imitation and then take an equally objective look at what the church, and our Christian schools by extension, offer instead. I see two primary alternatives. There are the churches where the worship team’s jeans are just as faded, music is just as loud and videos just as slick as those on MTV. The unspoken message is that Jesus is cool and Christians can be too. At the opposite extreme, are the churches that seem proudly, even aggressively uncool, unmodern, and suspicious of anyone who isn’t equally so.

I see very few healthy, appealing role models for young women today inside the church or out. It’s one thing to tell a young teenager that the appearance and behavior of the latest wild child pop star are unhealthy, unbiblical and inappropriate. It’s entirely another to make sure she has an alternative that she just might want to emulate. Every time I step on campus, I am aware that I, like every teacher or administrator, have the opportunity to offer one potential alternative. I have an opportunity to present womanhood as the high calling that my own strong, educated, elegant, Christ-centered, southern mother demonstrated for me.

Stilettos aren’t the cure-all of course. I pray that my students will occasionally see in me a woman who enjoys sharpening her mind as much as her wardrobe and whose standards and expectations are just as high as her heels. Most of all, I want them to see that femininity, intellectual capacity, attractiveness, and joyful Christianity are not mutually exclusive and are all unearned gifts from God. Just maybe a few of my students might want to follow in my well-shod footsteps.

Conversion is the Key

Like every concerned parent, pastor, or educator, I look at the dropout rates of young people who leave their faith in college, never to return to the Church again, and I wonder how best to stem the tide. I take little comfort in telling myself that schools rank low in the “influence index,” or that spiritual outcomes are not the primary objectives of our typical student profile. I actually take more comfort in embracing a dose of realism—life is tough; pray hard—and I pursue a few basic objectives.

First, I have made a mantra out of telling parents and faculty that our school does not compartmentalize matters of faith. My goal is for spirituality to be pervasive, natural, and uncontrived. As an Anglican parish school, we have Morning Prayer for our students and courses in religion, but matters of faith are not confined to those venues.

Second, I advocate teaching the Bible as the Bible. Long ago I threw out all Grammar School curriculums in this area. I told my teachers to take the Scripture and to do something novel: read it with your students, outline it, make lists of the details, memorize it, and learn chapter content. Forget about curriculums that seek to make a life- application each step along the way, and don’t moralize. I have to trust that the Holy Spirit will do that at some point, but our goal at school will be to do something I don’t think most churches do very well, which is to master the text.

Third, I try to succeed with students where they are. We set ourselves up for failure if we seek to make students the next participants in the culture war. They have their own wars to fight right now, and spiritual formation occurs when they learn spiritual disciplines applied to their problems in the present. Learning faithfulness in the present will help them to be faithful when the future becomes the present. In other words, if our goal is simply to produce students who are future cultural change agents, we may overemphasize ideas, positions, and apologetic methods, and overlook the conversion that they must experience themselves.

Finally, I think conversion is a better way to think about the whole process. Christian experience is not one, but a series of conversions or “turnings” or “re-turnings.” All of us had to learn how to hold our faith as we moved through different experiences in life. We had to re-negotiate ourselves against the Dogmatics we learned at home and in Sunday School. Each time we passed from one stage to the next, whether it was from high school to college, or from college to young adulthood, or into marriage or middle age, we had to undergo a new “conversion” of sorts. We had to move up to the next level, and our faith had to be relevant and vital.

In this way of thinking, a crisis of faith at any level is a crisis of conversion. Jesus said to Peter that “Satan has desired to have you, but I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus certainly wasn’t referring to a first-time embrace of faith on Peter’s part, but to an on-going and thoroughgoing navigation through a crisis of faith. These transitions can be successfully made when students find the support and encouragement in the people of God at each step in the process. In the K-12 student context, I think that means that we have to be present-oriented and focus on the challenges that students face right now.

Intellectus et Virtus

One of the most helpful ways to tackle the question of “spiritual formation” is to step back and ask very basic questions like, “What is the goal of education?” “What kind of person are we trying to form?” If we answer them well, the answers might help us to think through how all learning and studying ultimately serves a certain goal: the formation of a certain kind of person.

Educators tend to be idealists and dreamers. Many of us find ourselves drawn into independent schools, I suspect, because we want something for our children that we did not receive, and we want to experience a different type of education ourselves. There is something very compelling and attractive about being associated with a school that has a grand vision and that is actually accomplishing that vision, even partially.

Many Christian school leaders have been approached by parents concerned that the school’s curriculum or emphases are not “practical” enough, or that the school does not place enough emphasis on “spiritual formation.” This is a dicey question to which to respond. If one says that “spiritual formation” is not a key emphasis then one seems very, well, unspiritual. But if one says that math, English, literature, and science are all peripheral, and that the “real” goal is spiritual formation, one is falling into a different kind of error—where math, English, literature, and science have no ultimate relation to the mission of a school!

Probably the wiser path to follow is to try and tease out the unique way in which a school engages in “spiritual formation.” We may need to steal back the language of “spiritual formation” and think through what such a task looks like in a school setting. I have a hunch that when parents call for “spiritual formation” they are seeking a kind of direct Bible teaching time, prayer time, moral exhortation time, etc. And all of these are entirely appropriate.

As we have tried to hammer out a vision of Christian schooling in the classical tradition at Augustine School, we have tried to constantly ask the question, “To what end?” One of the strengths of an older understanding of education was that the key issue was often one of personal formation. As Christians wrestled with this, they o en construed education in terms of shaping a person who 1) could live a wise and virtuous life in the present, and 2) was being prepared for his or her ultimate destiny—the vision of God.

With that sort of goal in mind, we should ask how any aspect of our school or curriculum helps us form the kind of student we desire. Thus, we might point out that the simple practices of reading a book or translating a Latin sentence are character-forming activities (among other things, patience and fortitude are encouraged!). Having to engage in a debate and think on one’s feet is a wonderful “person-forming” exercise where a student is being trained to think and speak well under pressure. In short, everything we do in our schools should be person-forming endeavors. And when our larger goal is person formation, in the sense of molding students into being the people they are called by God to be, we are already engaged in “spiritual formation” of a certain type.

At the same time, if one of our goals is to develop students who can think “Christianly” about all disciplines, and can bring a Christian perspective to bear on all things, more must be said. Given the nature and shape of modern culture, I believe that we are shirking our duty if we think our students will just naturally make certain theological connections as they study and learn math, English, literature, science, etc. They need many prompts to begin to see the various connections and links-connections and links that are subtly and not so subtly denied by the dominant culture. That is, if we want our students to see the unity of all truth under God, we need to intentionally help our students to see these connections, and—in a fragmented culture that has such a dominant influence—this requires some basic teaching about God, man, and the world.

That means teaching and grounding in the basics of Scripture and theology. In short, if we want our students to really see the unity of all truth under God, in every discipline, we have to work with extra diligence, because we know that we are working upstream amidst a culture that so often discourages a coherent and united understanding of reality.

We need Hugh of St. Victor’s insight from his Didascalicon: “Learn everything; you will see afterwards that nothing is superfluous.” We study and learn many things, trusting that we live in a world created, ordered, and governed by a good God, and that, ultimately, God might show us, over time, the unity and beauty of His world. He might show us how “nothing is superfluous.” Insight and wisdom take time, and schools, at their best, provide a place for them and some of that time.

Only Obedience is Real

When I was a youth pastor, I had what many would call a demanding and teaching-based ministry, so all this talk of spiritual formation reminds me of similar discussions I used to have with parents. They wanted the youth group to be less like school. Now, as the leader of a school, the parents want the school to be more like youth group. This leads me to think that “spiritual formation” is not
a concern specific to Christian schools, but a trend within American Christianity.

While a youth pastor, I found myself dreaming of a time when I would not have to defend demanding discipleship or serious training of the mind, so when I took the opportunity to lead a classical Christian high school, I thought the time had arrived. Surely, I thought, these will be people who “get it.” As we all know, however, this is not necessarily the case. It seems that many of our parents still traffic in a form of latent Gnosticism: there is “real” life and there is “spiritual” life, and education is not a part of the latter.

So I find myself having to dust off the arguments and advice I used with parents in the church when they had concerns that their students weren’t “growing spiritually.”

1.It seems the city of Corinth had plenty of “spiritual” people in the church, but Paul thought it necessary to educate them: “Now concerning spiritual things, brothers, I don’t want you to be ignorant.” (1 Cor. 12:1) Paul even had to “make known”to them that saying “Jesus is accursed” wasn’t a Spirit-led endeavor. It seems that spiritual formation in the New Testament involved a great deal of instruction.

2. If instruction is spiritual formation, then some might counter that it only concerns “church” stuff and thus, the instruction that is happening in most classes at school isn’t really helping spiritual formation. I counter that Jesus claims to be “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) If this is indeed so, that Jesus is the truth, then what we do with the truth, we do with Jesus. Learning to recognize truth, to admire truth, to defend truth, and to follow truth thus seems a highly spiritual endeavor.

3. Many might concede these two, but when all is done, the retort may follow, “Yes, but I don’t see that it’s real to the students.” By “it” they mean Christianity and by “real” they mean…well, what do they mean? Whatever it is they mean, there is a dominant view out there that seems to argue that “making it real” happens through spiritual formation.

Which brings us back to where we started. When it comes right down to it, perhaps we should admit that Jesus never talked about spiritual formation. He did, however, talk much about obedience. In fact, he said that the measure of how real this stuff is to a person is his or her obedience: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) It seems obedience trumps spirituality, or, perhaps, obedience is spirituality. If that is true, here’s the rub: obedience is an act of the will and cannot be conjured or cajoled, whether in school or a youth group. We cannot “spiritually form” students because we cannot force obedience. What we can do, however, is to educate properly so students are better equipped to obey. Knowing the world accurately conceivably helps them to act obediently and correctly within it. And maybe then we can break down the American Christian Gnosticism that motivates the concern in the first place.

There is no “spiritual” life alongside “real” life. Spiritual life is real life lived in obedience to Jesus Christ.

The Effect of Transparent Examples

Nuance. My gut tells me this is an important word in this discussion. Our role in teenagers’ spiritual lives is not primarily one as authority, but as example. That was not the case when they were younger. We adults – educators and parents alike – tend to fall back on direct influence. I think teenagers by nature are absorbing our perspectives indirectly. If we don’t grasp this, we will give undue attention to matters that may only be arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship, while not heeding the importance of the course we’ve charted.

I think the idea of nuance is important, because, on the one hand, I cannot help but disagree that spiritual formation is not our prime objective. At the same time, I cannot help but agree that if we treat it directly—over and above our academic objectives—any apparent short term gains will lead to long term failures in both academic and spiritual formation.

I say that spiritual formation is prime, because, paraphrasing Paul, if we produce brilliant academic students who don’t care for the gospel, we’ve produced obnoxious bells and nothing more. How not to do this perhaps is the substance of this discussion, given that the secular drift of academia happened in places once committed to the gospel as truth and light.

But I have to agree with the side of the discussion that wonders whether direct engagement with the subject will likely only happen at the expense of our academic mission. How many Christian schools with a strong spiritual reputation also have a strong academic reputation? It’s a shorter list than the alternative.

The allusion to schools as the new Campus Crusade strikes me, not only because I have a long history with Young Life, but because, properly considered, I think there is some wisdom there. The strength of their influence, in my experience, has been less in either’s teaching, which is in both cases simplified, evangelical theology, and more in the space both create structurally for voluntary relational role models. It is true that it is the ‘individuals’ within these organizations who influence lives. But that’s something we can value in our schools without sacrificing academic substance.

We could run our schools—and teach Calculus, Homer, and the Canons of Rhetoric—in an effective manner either personally or impersonally. In fact, bright students could teach themselves without us. What we bring to our students as classical or liberal arts educators is not only the ability to make the complex intelligible, but that we do so in a human way, thus humanizing both our subjects and our students. This is a Christian endeavor. What we provide on a spiritual level that para-church relationships do not is a confidence in the intellectual integrity of our beliefs. When students are taught by teachers they regard as both brilliant minds and examples of faith, they become equipped with two tools against secular sophistry: their own intellect sharpened, and the knowledge that intellects even sharper than their own have waded through the challenges to the biblical perspective of reality.

They will not see us as the la er, unless we, in natural and non-programmatic ways, reveal that to them. I qualify how we should do it, because if it is not genuine and personal—and no two teachers could do it in the same way—our students will treat us as authorities (hopefully respectfully), but not necessarily as examples—which is what would make us relevant.

Students’ days of basing their faith in the gospel (as text and as truth) on the authority of others will give way to the need to base faith on the authority of reason and personal commitment—as it should. If we want to influence them, that is how we should engage them.

Regarding the anxiety that we are not “getting to their hearts,” I cannot resist suggesting that it is an overwrought fear, akin to wondering, when a tadpole is halfway to adulthood, whether it really is a frog since it still has a tail. Every generation of youth are apparently uniquely in danger (including us when we were young), providing substance to Bruce Cockburn’s delicious lyric, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

If we take seriously the fact that teenagers are newly meta-cognitive, newly (and overly) self- conscious, innately protective of their new-found autonomy from adults, and at the same, time lousy managers of their emotions, we would expect, and thus be nonplussed by their flat effect when we adults overtly try to engage them in personal, spiritual matters.

If we were not so impatient for them to appear as “fully formed adults,” when they are not yet developmentally so, and instead attended to the consistent but transient face of adolescent spirituality, I think we would sleep better at night.

Confirmation and Transformation

Whenever I ponder the question of whether Christian schools make “spiritual formation” a mission objective, I reflect on my own childhood education, which included fourth through seventh grade in a parochial school. These years happened also to be my first four as a young convert to Christianity.

The pastor taught our confirmation class each day, introducing concepts like eternal security, salvation, and baptism in a traditional denominational context. Concurrently, I was also active in another church in town. Unwittingly, the confirmation class pastor played a huge role in my spiritual formation, not because of the weight of material I memorized for him, but because many of his claims ran counter to what I was hearing in church. This conflict fed my spiritual formation as I tirelessly pursued the truth. My classmates were eventually confirmed, but sadly not transformed. Their experience lacked the tension that catalyzed my growth. For them, the indoctrination was drudgery—even perhaps, a necessary evil.

I share this personal anecdote to emphasize that young children can think deeply about spiritual truths, but also to challenge our Christian schools to be places where students are safely guided
to the truth rather than places where teaching is reduced to simply telling the truth and assessing students for recall or understanding. Knowing truth and experiencing a transformation in the heart because of truth are two different things. If we want our students to personally embrace the fact that God loves them, it won’t be achieved through indoctrination. Instead, we need to find ways to encourage students to wrestle with truth – even if it means that they go home from a lesson in conflict or confusion.

As a school administrator, rather than making “spiritual formation” an objective of our mission, I would prefer to make “the opportunity for spiritual formation” a critical objective. This is not simply playing with words. My hope in creating these opportunities is that God will do a work in our students as they interface with the truths of scripture, as they interact with godly teachers, or as they wrestle with tensions and confusion that may crop up during a lesson. We need to offer the opportunities for students to develop in their spiritual formation, and we need to guard against all that hinders. In so doing, we need to recognize that any spiritual formation—any meaningful transformation of the heart—is the work of the Spirit of God.

Our school caters to Christian students and non-Christian students alike, and we recognize that non-Christian students will not experience spiritual formation without first becoming new creatures through Christ. When we graduate a student who has not become a Christian, despite the intense biblical literacy and integration that characterizes our curriculum, though, our mission has not failed. This is because our mission as a school is limited to what we can do as Christian educators. We can plant, we can water, we can toil in the vineyard, but God gives the increase if He wills and when He wills.

Filling the Theological Gap

Let’s not give short shrift to the role of theological study in spiritual formation. This has always been an indispensable ingredient in the church’s recipe for healthy Christians. When we turn our eyes to the example of those who came before, I will argue that historically theological instruction played a much more prominent role than it does now. Christian schools ought to ll the gap left by our churches in
this area.

To start with, I take spiritual formation to mean “having a healthy Christian life.” For most of Christian history, it was believed that growing to spiritual health primarily occurred in the church. In the Reformation, this view still pertained, but the Eucharist no longer was understood to have the same spiritual value as the preaching of the word. Exploring this shift helps us to answer the question of how to do spiritual formation.

The Reformation theologians fundamentally taught that God’s central and complete gift to us, through Jesus Christ in the Spirit, was Himself. As the Westminster Catechism famously states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” God bestows Himself on us, so healthy Christianity means realizing more and more fully the consequences of that profound gift.

“But,” it might be objected, “surely the Reformation intended to decrease the significance of the institutional Church in light of this gift. How can the Church’s role diminish and yet remain the primary place in which believers are sanctified?”

This objection is only voiced on the other side of the triumph of individualism in the modern and post-modern period, and it would strike the mainstream Reformers and their Protestant heirs as strangely misguided. The Church—and the family as an extension of it—should continue to be the focus of the believer’s spiritual formation. It is in the church that we more deeply come to understand the divine self-disclosure through the preaching of the word, worship, the sacraments, and fellowship. Remember that individual “quiet time” is a relatively recent phenomenon. We should surely pray and read the Scriptures on our own, but such practices do not dislodge the local church, our primary community, as the source of our spiritual formation.

One of the practices that has traditionally been a crucial part of church life—Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox—was catechization and the recitation of creeds in the church service. In addition, sermons tended much more toward what we would now call “abstract” theology (the nature of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, etc.) and derived moral exhortation from it. All of these factors compounded reveal that the Church highly values theological teaching as an important means of sanctification.

Theology is the contemplation of who God is. Churches affirmed the creeds each Sunday and expected everyone to go through a catechism class in order to learn about God’s character, illustrated especially through the dramatic narrative of His saving work. If sanctification means more deeply grasping God’s gift of Himself to us in salvation, leading to forming our characters as we learn to live in His kingdom, then what better way to achieve this goal than learning theology?

Many of us think of theology as dry and boring. When properly understood as engagement with the loving God of the universe Himself and taught by someone who loves God and can communicate this passion, it will be anything but dull.

For a host of reasons, which I need not rehearse, our contemporary churches have mostly neglected the teaching of theology. If Sunday School (for adults and children) is failing to give God’s people what they need in terms of theological confessions, creeds, and catechisms, then this is a void into which the Christian school must step. Classical schools are especially well poised to fill this gap since they often already have faculty capable of dynamically teaching these things. The ethos of our schools is take knowledge per se and the past seriously.

I grant that this has not traditionally been the role of the school. However, the Christian school exists for the sake of the church; its task is to educate the next generation of members of the body of Christ.

Let me offer some brief suggestions about how theological teaching should be done. In the lower grades, students should memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the doxology, the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s creed, along with a denominational confession if the school has one. Memorization should be accompanied with age-appropriate instruction regarding the meaning of these items. In the upper grades, students ought to take time in Bible class or chapel services to work through the meaning of the creeds, which is best accomplished through a catechism. Presbyterian schools will choose the Westminster Catechism, while more broadly Evangelical schools can affirm nearly everything in the oft-overlooked and underestimated Heidelberg Catechism.

I will admit: it is tough to sell this to parents as a solution to the demand for “spiritual formation.” Teaching theology is not the only way to accomplish this, of course, and it will be essential to integrate service to the community, corporate and private prayer, modeling by faculty and staff of a well-formed spiritual life, and the relevant practices I am sure other responders in this issue suggest.

Whether in the school, church, or home, though, let us do well by our students to see them as God’s beloved children who need to be nurtured in his life-giving truth. Let us study theology.