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Aug  2015 05
Christian Education or Training?

In regarding to behaving as a Christian, I may be overeducated and under trained.

When I finished my PhD and became an educator, I was taught “Training is for animals. Education is for humans.” This dichotomy puts repetition, consistency, developing habits, keeping form, and the like on one side—and theory, knowledge, ideas, critical thinking, asking “why,” and imagination on the other side.

The denigration of training also may weaken the possibility of Christian behaviors actually taking hold in ourselves and our communities.

Recently, I listened to two books by Eric Greitens, Resilience and The Heart and the Fist. Greitens is a Duke and Oxford educated Rhodes Scholar, champion boxer, and humanitarian who studied relief work in Bosnia and Rwanda. After witnessing the total failure of the international community to save a single life in the Rwandan genocide, he joined the Navy and became a SEAL.

Now he runs a foundation that helps veterans recover a sense of challenge and purpose after their military service ends. Greitens is as adept discussing classical virtues and educational theory as he is skilled at what to do when surrounded by enemy forces.

As one who experienced both the best of higher education and the most intense training the human mind and body can stand, he argues that training gets downplayed in the academy. I agree. Knowing what to do and being able to do what is good and right, at will, are two very different forms of “knowing.”

When I fail to do any of the following, is the failure due mostly to lack of knowledge or to insufficient training?

  • Love.
  • Forgive those who hurt me.
  • Return love for hate.
  • Be angry when I should rather than when it suits my prejudices.
  • Check my impulse to buy.
  • Love my neighbor as myself.
  • Render to Caesar only those things that belong to Caesar.
  • Seek first the reign of God.
  • Be not anxious.
  • Receive and offer grace.
  • Work for justice for all.
  • Love my enemies.
  • Resist coveting what I do not have.
  • Repent when I acted wrongly.
  • Pray.
  • Give generously.

Now, a failure on any one of these, you might reply, is due to sin, to broken right relationship, to a distorting turn inward, to incomplete conversion. I won’t argue the point. And I will grant that the content of love is not self-evident; education is necessary and can change how I understand what it means to be loving.

But certainly, through coached practice or another form of training, one can increase one’s ability to love, forgive, limit acquisitiveness, lower anxiety, attend to my neighbor, pray, and give.

Grace makes the practice possible but does not substitute for the courage and work necessary to transmute practice into habit and disposition.

Maybe I am pointing to a dynamic which is similar to the one that troubled the author of the book of James: too much “hearing” only that does not translate into doing.

Most of us who do not eat, exercise, or rest as well as we know we should will not change our behaviors by reading one more book, going to another seminar, or listening to a TED talk. We know more than we do. Whatever else we may need to change our behaviors, we lack a training program to which we are committed.

Look again at that list of Christian behaviors above. I wonder how Christian education in congregations would look different if we focused more on training—training to love, to attend, to give, to forgive, to do justice and to love kindness. I assume there would be less sitting and listening and more engaging and practicing.

I wonder how seminary education would look different if we focused more on training. Look one more time at that list of Christian behaviors above.

How do we need to prepare ourselves, as leaders, to foster the kinds of communities that consistently act in those ways?

I think, for example, of a class I teach on church administration. I introduce students to topics and knowledge bases on a range of administrative subjects, from conflict to communications and from stewardship to systems thinking.

But given the structural limitations of the course, we don’t have time to practice conflict management or any other behavior. Some education, yes, but not much training.

Most students love their biblical and theological work, as well as classes in spirituality. But when the pressure of “Sunday comes every week” hits home, and the funerals are frequent, and the days are interrupted by crises big and small, and the congregation is evidencing the culture’s deep differences, and your family is wondering where you are, and you are beginning to lose perspective, you need all the training you can get to make good use of your education and to behave according to the way of Jesus.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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