Posted by: Kenn Hermann | March 2, 2006

Confessions of Faith Do Not Belong in the Classroom

“Being a Christian Student” #2

Do I have your attention now?

Based on my experience as a Christian professor that stretches over 3 decades in both public and private universities, I offer the following as important guidelines for appropriate and winsome behavior for Christian students.

First and foremost, Don’t substitute your confession of faith in Christ for academic rigor.

When students have discovered that I was a Christian in one of my public university courses, they frequently have become emboldened to express their faith in class and in written work. On the one hand, It is always a pleasure to meet young Christian students who are eager to let others know in Whom they trust. On the other hand, this approach often misunderstands the meaning of their confession of faith and its implications for academic life, and may very well subvert their well-intentioned desires to bear witness.

Confessions of faith don’t belong in the classroom.
Yes, you heard me: confessions of faith don’t belong in the classroom. This goes for all confessions of faith, whether the feminist, Goth, Republican, technophile, Materialist, atheist, Free Market Capitalist, — or Christian. The focus of an American History course, for example, is on gaining a deep and broad understanding of the major themes and issues that have shaped the American nation. All insights, perspectives, and resources are focused on those issues, not on students’ faith commitments. Think about it: how do professors and students know we are Christians? By how many times we tell them we are? Think about it in this way: How does a wife know that her husband loves her? By how many times he tells her? (well . . . perhaps a few times would be nice.) If the clothes needed to be washed, the floors vacuumed, and children bathed, would the wife be satisfied with the husband saying, “honey, I love you so much” after each request to help? At some point, wouldn’t she, out of sheer exasperation and exhaustion, blurt out: I’ve heard enough of your professions of love. They make me sick. Just get to work!” (a loose paraphrase of Isa. 1)

The same applies to Christian students in the classroom. Don’t tell me (or any professor) that you are a Christian over and over: show me by the depth of your understanding and the clarity of your writing. Too many times Christian students have turned in sloppy term papers with a brief note appended to the end declaring that they are Christians. Don’t tell me that you trust Jesus as your Saviour after turning in an ill-conceived and executed essay. Too many times Christian students preface a remark in class discussion with: “well, I’m a Christian . . .” and then continue with something that is either irrelevant or shows little understanding of the issue under discussion.

The implications of confessions of faith do belong in the classroom.
That applies to the implications of all faiths, whether feminist, technophile, Goth, Republican, Materialist, atheist, Free Market Capitalist, — or Christian. (Please notice that these are real faiths.) Classroom discussion and essays are the places where Christian students can show how their broader Christian perspective has integrally shaped their understanding of the issues in the course. If you believe in “God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” tell me and the class what that means for understanding the contours of the American Revolution — or nuclear physics. As a Christian professor, I welcome, even demand, all students, whatever their profession of faith, to work out their faith in fear and trembling through dialogue and writing. I do not mark students down for their faith — that’s not the purpose of the classroom. I do mark them down for failing to show what their faith implies for understanding the current topic. E.g., I have received very good essays from thoughtful feminists who have shown the ramifications of their feminist faith for understanding a course topic — and very poor essays from Christians on Puritanism.

Confessions of faith should be the last thing uncovered rather than the first thing uttered in the classroom.
Everyone lives their life on the basis of some faith that shapes the core of their being and perspective on reality; everyone has a worldview. It is thus impossible, as well as ill-advised, to pretend that this is not true in the classroom. As students are pressed harder and harder to explain and justify their view of a particular issue, they may finally reply with the alleged words of Martin Luther: here I stand, I can do no other. It may very well be, for example, that when pressed to justify her view of current social policy a Christian student will fall back on confessing that this is what the prophets compel her to believe and do. In that case, her confession of faith comes at the end of the discussion, not its beginning — and totally appropriate. The same would be true for my technophile students who finally say, “well, I just believe that we will find some new technology to solve the world’s hunger problems.” When this point is reached, by all means be bold in declaring your faith in Christ.

Don’t confuse your confession of faith with the many false gods and prejudices that fight for your allegiance.
Glib confessions of faith can often mask the real sources of our views and perspectives. How many times do we discover to our chagrin and shame that it is not our confession of faith in Christ that shapes us after all, but something else altogether? I have heard many students over the years declare that they believe such and such about an issue because they are a Christian, when it becomes painfully clear, as they proceed, that their views are shaped more by social convention, their sheltered middle class existence, consumer habits, or parental political persuasions than they are by their allegiance to Christ. Don’t violate the second commendment by throughtlessly throwing around your profession of faith in Christ at every occasion.

Don’t substitute a season of prayer for a season of intense study.
The Psalmist implores the Lord’s people to search diligently and tirelessly for wisdom. (See Proverbs 2)The Apostle Paul urges us to pray without ceasing, not pray without studying. The Lord answers the prayers of the faithful student by actively working through their studying.

Perhaps this is enough to chew on for now. Besides I have to get back to my ‘real’ professorial duties . . . . Lots more to say here, so stay tuned.

Yes, I know, there are lots of don’ts here. I promise that I will make it up with plenty of do’s in the future.

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