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    kids making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

    Who Needs a Christian Bubble?

    Christian schools and communities are good but run the risk of becoming disconnected from their surroundings.

    By Sarah Reardon

    January 19, 2024
    • Rodney Johnson

      1 The Reconstruction of Christianity The passport stamp of approval in your life's journey. The book of the year is now on Amazon. You have to find the root of the truth to build the foundation upon first or you simply end up rising and repeating mistakes. It's to be educated in a simple yet logical truth of what the bible tells us in its overall design, it's the entirety of the conclusion. This is what is in my book that message given to me. This is just a hard copy of the message so we can also give it to others, or recall a message as the answer was always there.

    “We want to get out of the Christian bubble!” my voice joined my peers’ frequent complaint during middle school. My classmates and I felt that the cinderblock walls of the church building rented by our small, still-growing classical Christian school were restrictive to the point of repression. Our stiff plaid uniforms sparked loathing in us, just as the regular hymns and memory verse that rang throughout the school often kindled annoyance. We felt disconnected from the world outside the walls of our school – hence the term “Christian bubble.”

    These feelings of annoyance sprang from the immaturity that causes many teenagers in Christian homes to kick against the goads of their family’s rules and faith. Still, behind our juvenile complaints lurked a question which we were unable to formulate: How can Christian educational communities maintain a balanced sense of their presence “in” the world as they seek to be “not of” it (John 17:14–16)? To use Augustine’s metaphor, how can Christian communities balance their liminal position between the City of God and the City of Man?

    Though not a term of endearment, “bubble” is not an entirely inapt description of the classical Christian school subculture, for classical Christian education creates educational ecosystems distinct from the world. Yet, when functioning properly, Christian schools should not close themselves off to the world, cloistering away teachers and students: though distinct from the surrounding culture, a healthy Christian school does indeed engage with the world from the perspective of the wisdom of the centuries and from the locus of a Christ-centered community.

    kids making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

    Photograph by Frances Roberts / Alamy Stock Photo

    After attending a classical Christian school – and before teaching at one – I attended a Christian liberal arts college. There I discovered that Christian colleges, too, function as a sort of ecosystem separate from the predominating educational models of the modern world. Though far more open to modern commitments, ideas, and fields of study than classical Christian schools are, Christian colleges – especially of the liberal arts sort – by nature create an educational environment set off from higher education’s regnant atheism and instead rooted in Christian truth. They, too, create an environment that is “in” but not fully “of” the world.

    Christian educational communities arise from the communal nature of Christianity. As the Lutheran theologian Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, an influence on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes regarding Christ’s kingdom:

    It is not only in the future – it is already coming into being in the present. And it is present, for this faith is today shaping a community of men and women, a society in which people strengthen each other toward this goal. Without such a society, how is faith possible? The kingdom of God must be foreshadowed in a human society.

    Across time, Christians have sought to foreshadow the kingdom of God through creating societies that express its values. The Word of God has always drawn people around itself and bound those people together in relationship. Christ’s words to his early followers testify to this: he calls those who do his will his brothers and sisters. Embracing this language, the early Christians lived as a family. Just as God’s people in the Old Testament were a family, his people in the New Testament are a spiritual family.

    The Book of Acts especially describes how early believers practiced this familial faith: they centered their lives around corporate worship and the wisdom of God. Together, the Christian church embodied “an aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians. As Paul’s praise suggests, the early church sought in all things to live out the “fragrance” of their God corporately, and the church today ought to as well.

    It is this familial nature of Christianity that grounds the pursuit of Christian education. Because we are never merely individual Christians but are adopted by God the Father and carried into a new fellowship of brothers and sisters, all our endeavors are not individual but undertaken as members of God’s family, as parts of Christ’s body. Our faith is fundamentally relational, familial, communal. Because no part of our lives can be divorced from our Christian faith, no part of our lives can be entirely divorced from the family of believers. Why, then, wouldn’t we pursue a Christian education in a Christian community, one not separated from the familial wisdom and care of fellow Christians?

    Abraham Kuyper famously said that “there’s not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not exclaim, ‘Mine!’” Because the truth of Christ extends to every realm of life, our everyday endeavors in school, work, and leisure may either reflect Christ’s lordship or deflect it. All teaching operates from a certain view of who is Lord and of what is good – Christian teaching recognizes Christ as Lord. As classical Christian education leaders such as Christopher Perrin highlight, modern secular education directs children to value jobs, credentials, and consumption. These values align with what Paul terms the “wisdom of the world.” But a Christian education by necessity teaches children to value the wisdom of God. Perrin writes:

    The ancient Christians saw that Jesus Christ must have preeminence in the academy as in all of life. In an age when so many Christians have facilely neglected the life of the mind and adopted the agenda and outlook from secular institutions, we are seeking to recover an outlook that honors Christ as Lord of every discipline, subject, and institution.

    Students who pursue such an education will receive the wisdom of God not in isolation but from Christian community – from older brothers and sisters still present, as well as those who have gone before.

    Yet as the church puts these principles of Christian living into practice by creating places for students to be educated as family members in Christ, we must take care to avoid creating schools and communities that are disconnected from their earthly reality. Christian educational communities should not seek to leave the world entirely but rather to redeem it.

    Christ himself tasks his followers with seeking the well-being and salvation of their neighbors. In John 17, he says that his people “are not of the world, just as I am not of the world,” but he also prays to his Father that “as you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This prayer accords with the principles of the Great Commission: he has sent his people to go disciple the peoples of the earth, beginning where they are and working outward. Likewise, Christ teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that Christians must “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” As Christ’s own metaphors suggest, bearing his light is not fulfilled by individual evangelism but by the church as a whole acting as salt and light, as a “city on a hill.” Peter Leithart puts it this way: “The church acts as salt by living together as a people. The church is light insofar as it is an organized polity, a polis, a city on the hill that cannot be hidden.” The church, instead of hiding her “light under a bushel,” corporately radiates Christ.

    Intentional Christian communities such as the Bruderhof image this communal witness well, as I saw when I stayed with the Fox Hill Bruderhof several summers ago. Though the members of the Bruderhof live in distinct community set apart from the values and practices of the world, they love and serve their neighbors and are known in the local area for their kindness. They regularly invite locals – as well as interested folk from around the world – to spend time with them, sharing meals and songs and the daily work of their community. The people of the Bruderhof do not hide their light but, like a city on a hill, beam into their surroundings and beyond.

    Christian schools likewise should be known as cities on a hill in their localities. This is, perhaps, one area where many Christian schools can grow: we ought not only draw in our neighbors for open houses, hoping for new students to boost next year’s enrollment. We ought also to show genuine interest in the lives and well-being of our neighbors.

    Several examples of such genuine care come to mind from the classical Christian school I attended growing up. Our school’s music teacher maintained a concern for the elderly in a local nursing home. Whether as a part of mandatory music class or as a member of the choir, we students sang at the nursing home at least twice a year. After singing, we spent time visiting with those who lived at the nursing home and hearing their stories. I cherish memories of the home’s warmly lit main room, full of Christmas decorations and bright faces.

    Beyond visiting local homes or shelters, community service days are another easy way to live as a city on a hill, and young men and women certainly will learn from a day spent raking leaves, picking up trash, building sheds, or serving soup. As I grew up, my school’s administration organized several school-wide service events, though these service events often had the upkeep of the school building and property, rather than outreach, as their primary focus. Other efforts, however, focused outward, beyond the walls of the school: a few high school students started a service club. The club and its mission had such an appeal that most of the ninth- through twelfth-grade students became involved in it. Service Club revolved around a monthly project – sometimes as simple as collecting cans and shelf-stable food for local food pantries. At other times, students gathered to help clean graveyards and lay wreaths for the holidays.

    Once, we helped a local Christian charity organize clothing for clothing drives: a group of around thirty high school students came early that Saturday morning to help the charity’s elderly team members work through boxes upon boxes. We stayed for hours, picking through boxes of donuts in between those of clothes, laughing and singing hymns as we worked.

    As students grow more mature, they – even more than administration –can take initiative in acting as a city on a hill. Individual teachers, too, can often have more sway over creating a school culture of service than administrators can, being more directly involved in the everyday life of their schools.

    Of course, there are also leaders of Christian schools who are integrated into the life of their school, and I have known and worked under several. Such active administrators can shape the culture of their school profoundly. But when Christian schools prioritize growth and advancement, as is so easy to do, administration grows absent.

    As with a family or any other community, positive influence comes from active involvement, not absence. An absent father cannot have the sway in his children’s life that a steadfast, present one can. Similarly, an absent administrator – in spite of his ability to create rules and alter the school budget – cannot effect the change that a beloved teacher or a respected student can. Those who are most actively involved in the life of a school are those who can most thoroughly affect its culture. Administrators may care that their school serves its community, but if students and teachers do not share a concern that the school serve its community, it will lead nowhere. On the other hand, if students, teachers, and their families act in the interest of their school’s surroundings, such action will have an impact on the school’s culture.

    In the end, if a Christian school is to be a city on a hill, its efforts must be unified. If administrators want their schools to truly display Christ’s light in the world, they must first be active in the everyday lives of their school, and then they will be able to encourage the efforts of their students to live as befits a city on a hill. Leaders, teachers, students, and parents at any Christian school must all be involved, to some degree, in the work of corporate witness to which Christ has called his people.

    Our calling to be a city on a hill is not the only reason to avoid Christian communal bubbles, however. We must not seek to draw away from the world because we cannot do so. As long as we wait for the full realization of the heavenly kingdom, we still wrestle against the sin of this world. Thus, to seek escape from the world is to deny our own nature as not-yet-fully-sanctified sinners.

    Christian schools – and all Christian communities – must welcome our human lot: we are frail and needy. We are dependent creatures who still sin, and no withdrawal from the world will rid us of our natural frailty. Even as we are agents and citizens of the City of God, constructing our communities among the cities of men, we cannot forget that we are not yet in the City of God but remain here in the earthly realm. If we try to shake off our share in this world and its sin, the pressures and pains brought by sin will only become starker and sharper to us.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” writes the apostle John. And yet, John continues: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The virtue of humility is not limited to a Christian’s involvement in the church but must extend to all of life. Thus Christian schools should cultivate the same attitude of humility and spirit of confession that scripture commands for members of the church.

    As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together, we must regard the weight of our own sin as very heavy even while being quick to forgive our brothers and sisters. Speaking of Paul’s consideration of himself as the “chief of sinners,” Bonhoeffer holds that “those who would serve others in the community must descend all the way down to this depth of humility. How could I possibly serve other persons in unfeigned humility if their sins appear to me to be seriously worse than my own?” We must see ourselves as the worst sinners – the most surprising recipients of grace – to live together and learn together in a way that truly upholds and mirrors God’s grace.

    We can avoid Christian bubbles, then, not only by retaining a sense of our purpose as lights to the world but also by retaining a sense of our own lingering darkness apart from the grace of Christ. Ultimately, our Christian communities must be rooted not in allegiance to particular Christian groups or institutions but to Jesus Christ and the church universal, the church across time, which was formed by him and will be united to him at the end of time.

    As we seek to honor Christ’s lordship and live as the family of the church in every realm of life, we would do well to remember Martin Luther’s last words. As Luther lay dying, a friend asked Luther if he stood firm at death. Luther gave a decided “Yes,” and then allegedly said, “We are beggars. This is true.”

    Indeed. If we are to be educated in a truly Christian way, we must learn this truth and live it out.

    Contributed By SarahReardon Sarah Reardon

    Sarah Reardon (formerly Soltis) teaches at a classical Christian school. Her writing has appeared in First Things, Public Discourse, Front Porch Republic, and elsewhere.

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