Archived Voice Articles

Christian curriculum and instruction?

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Why would we need to have Christians teaching those courses? After all, they’re just curriculum.” The head of a Christian college was referring to the on-line courses that his institution had recently begun. He was responding to a question about what faith requirements his college had for instructors in extension programs. The response of this Christian executive was straightforward. In his opinion, on-line courses are simply curriculum and have nothing to do with being Christian.

Contrast that with the e-mail a Dordt College freshman sent to his parents about six weeks after classes began this fall. According to his grateful parents, his assessment of his Dordt College education went like this. “At Dordt College, Reformed biblical perspective is not just a slogan; it’s a reality–in the curriculum, in the classroom, and especially in the lives of the professors.”

Both colleges believe that the character of the professor does make a difference. My colleague who heads the innovative online Christian college recognizes that need in the face-to-face environment of the college classroom; his university also insists that all professors in the classroom be confessing believers. He agrees that if students are to take full advantage of the mentoring relationships that a residential college provides, those mentors need to hold the same fundamental convictions that, presumably, Christian students share and want to develop.

But the two approaches differ sharply. My colleague’s presumption that Christian faith has nothing to do with the content of the course curriculum and with the instruction that accompanies it is a strong contrast to the pervasive faith described by the Dordt College freshman. The student would likely have felt shortchanged by the notion that a Christian college is defined solely by the Christian character of its residential faculty.

And I would agree. If there is a sovereign God who made all things, then any curriculum also ought to reflect that fundamental reality. We need to show explicitly in our curriculum that what we are studying is the handiwork of the God who deserves to be acknowledged and honored for the glories that we are discovering in his creation.

Similarly, it seems self evident to me that if there is a Lord whose hand has governed all things and guided the course of this world’s development ever since the beginning, then any curriculum designed to analyze and track that development of human culture and history also ought to recognize the purpose and goals toward which he is leading it.

I hope I’m not being naďve in thinking that somehow the curricular efforts of any Christian educational institution ought to be geared toward serving the redemptive purposes of the Savior to whom Christian students have pledged their allegiance and for whose service they are being educated and trained.

Some would argue that in a very mathematical subject like accounting, the basic curricular challenge is to learn bookkeeping practices and financial standards. But anyone who thinks that the study of accounting is religiously neutral must have missed the headlines about Enron, Global Crossing, and WorldCom.

Most of us would agree that Christian discipleship is truly a 24/7 obligation. Personally, I find it puzzling to think that any subject, whether internet or campus based, wouldn’t be taught better by a mature fellow believer than it would be by someone who doesn’t care about shaping a life of discipleship in the lives of her or his students–or even possibly considers it his or her educational responsibility to undercut such commitments.

I don’t like to be overly critical of my Christian colleagues. I’m well aware that Jesus spoke clearly about taking telephone poles out of our own eyes before we try to take slivers out of the eyes of our neighbors. And I know our college has plenty of faults of its own.

Still, in this Jubilee Year at Dordt College, I really am grateful that a freshman just joining our college in its 50th year can recognize that this is a place where Jesus Christ truly is recognized as Lord of all–our curriculum, instruction, and personal lives alike. Because, just as we have proclaimed in our college motto ever since our founding, only then will God alone receive all the glory.