Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lesslie Newbigin on Education

My favorite theologian, Lesslie Newbigin, on education:

In any discussion on the nature of society and of our vision for it, education must have a central place. Societies exist, cohere and flourish in so far as they embody a reasonably coherent understanding of existence within which they can make sense of their personal lives. Education, the its broadest sense, is the initiation of new members of society into this tradition. In contemporary British society the tradition into which young people are initiated in school and college is the set of assumptions which have controlled Western society since the Enlightenment. In a minority of homes – Christian, Islamic, Jewish and others – children are initiated into other traditions. In so far as these are at odds with the tradition into which children are initiated in school and college, they obviously fight a losing battle. Even in homes where the parents are committed Christians, it is hard, to the point of impossibility, for children to sustain belief in the meta-narrative of the Bible over against that understanding of the meta-narrative – the picture of the origins and development of nature, of human society as a whole – which is being offered to them at school. It is possible to maintain the telling of the biblical story in the privacy of home and church, but in so far as this story contradicts the meta-narrative of the schools, young people are placed in an impossible situation. The question ‘which is the true story?’ must ultimately be faced.

For the sake of the well-being of civil society as a whole, I believe that Christians have a duty to share with those who hold other beliefs, whether religious or secular, to create a public educational system which will train future citizens to live in mutual respect and mutual responsibility while acknowledging their differences in fundamental belief…But this pluralism cannot be sustained if one of these belief systems, namely ‘secular humanism,’ uses its present hegemony to exclude from the curriculum of public education the belief system which is embodied in the Bible. It is only the gospel which enables us to affirm both that the Sovereign Lord of all has made his will and purpose known in Jesus Christ for the whole of our life, private and public, and yet at the same time, not in spite of this but because of this, to affirm that God has ordained a space in which disbelief can have the freedom to flourish.


  1. The question ‘which is the true story?’ must ultimately be faced.

  2. I agree - but that's a confrontational question, one that most schools would rather avoid.