Christian Education

for the Whole Person

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

      This page is an overview of Christian education for the whole person, for every aspect of life, for learning from nature and scripture.  Hopefully, it will help you participate more fully and effectively in the exciting adventure of learning and thinking, so you can better understand the fascinating world created by God, using minds given by God.
      There are three parts:  Learning and Thinking (Learning by Exploring, Learning from Others, Learning and Thinking, Problem Solving in Life), Motivations for Education (Are you involved in education? Making it Fun Immediately, and Making it Useful Eventually), and Christian Education (Bringing Glory to God in Our Thoughts and Actions).

      1. Learning and Thinking

      Learning by Exploring
      One way to learn about nature is to explore it yourself.  You can do this in many ways, using all of your senses.  You can explore near and far, by studying plants in your yard, birds in the park, and clouds in the sky, by looking out your car window and letting what you see inspire questions about the geology and biology, about the land and what's growing on it.  Exploring is fun at any age.  It is interesting and motivating for children, and also for adults who (as non-scientists, amateur scientists, or professional scientists) are continuing their explorations of nature.

      Learning from Others
      When you explore, you learn from your own experience.  But you can also learn from the experience of others, by letting them help you learn.  This happens when you read, listen, or watch what they have written, spoken, or filmed.  Learning from others is an easy way to learn a lot in a little time.

      Learning is an Active Process
      Learning is an active process that requires thinking.  When you learn by reading, for example, your thinking converts symbols on the page into ideas in your mind.  Every time you learn a new idea, you are actively constructing your own mental representations of the idea in a personally meaningful form.  And your new idea interacts with your old ideas, as you try to combine the new and old into a coherent system of ideas.
      The process of active reading is the theme when Virginia Voeks, in her book On Becoming an Educated Person, explains how to learn more and enjoy more while reading: "Start with an intent to make the very most you can from whatever you read.  Treat the author as you do your friends.  When talking with a friend, you listen attentively and eagerly.  You watch for contributions of value and are sensitive to them.  You actively respond to his ideas with ones of your own.  Together you build new syntheses."  When you're an active reader, eagerly searching for new ideas, you will find them, and reading becomes a stimulating adventure.
      You can read passively or you can make it an active adventure.  Some of the most effective teaching methods are designed to stimulate thinking, to replace boring passivity with exciting activity.  For example, members of a class can have a pro-and-con debate about the ideas in a book they are reading.  This activity encourages the mentally active reading that is recommended by Voeks.  But if you "internalize the action" you can always read with an active mind, whether or not your reading will be followed by an external debate.  You control the quality of your learning.
      We hope you'll read the rest of our website actively.  If you're eager to learn and you "listen attentively and eagerly" it can be a stimulating adventure for you, and you will be richly rewarded with understanding and enjoyment.

      Problem Solving in Life
      We're made for thinking, and it's exciting to use our minds skillfully.  We'll explore two ways to think: in design and science.
      Design is a way to solve problems.  In common language, a "problem" is usually bad.  But in design, a problem is an opportunity to make a difference, to make things better.  Whenever you are thinking about ways to increase the quality of life (or avoid a decrease in quality), you are actively involved in problem solving.
      In every area of life, creative thinking (to generate ideas) and critical thinking (to evaluate ideas) are essential.  These mutually supportive skills are combined in the problem-solving methods used in a wide range of design fields — such as engineering, architecture, medicine, music, art, literature, philosophy, history, law, business, athletics, and science — where the goal is to design a product, strategy, or theory.  In fact, design includes almost everything in life.
      If we define design as the process of designing products or strategies, and science as the designing of theories about nature, the main objective of design is to improve what is humanly constructed, while the main objective of science is to understand what is divinely constructed.

      Design includes almost everything in life, so you can find many ways to enjoy the excitement of design thinking, to experience the satisfaction of solving a problem and achieving a practical goal.  Since the beginning of human history, people have been designing strategies for better living, and designing products to carry out these strategies more effectively.  For example, strategies for getting food (by hunting and farming) were more effective when using products (spears and plows).  Design continues to be useful in the modern world.
      Science is also useful, in two ways.  First, the understanding gained by science is often used by designers when they develop new products or strategies.  The technological results of "applied science" are familiar.  Second, science can help us fulfill a deep human need, because it is one way to search for answers when, inspired by our curiosity, we ask questions about what, how, and why.  Most of us want to know the truth, so an intrinsically appealing goal is the design of scientific theories that are true, that correctly describe what is happening now and what has happened in the past.
      Creativity and Logic:  How do scientists combine these thinking skills in their efforts to understand?  The simplicity of using "reality checks" in scientific method is summarized in an introduction to the logic of science.
      Curiosity and Delight:  In our search for truth in nature, we are motivated by curiosity and a desire to solve mysteries.  Two scientists who played key roles in solving an important scientific mystery, in 25 years of shared work, exchange letters to express their shared delight:  One writes, "I am reading your paper in the way a curious child eagerly listens to the solution of a riddle with which he has struggled for a long time, and I rejoice over the beauties that my eye discovers."  The other responds by agreeing that "everything resolves itself with unbelievable simplicity and unbelievable beauty, everything turns out exactly as one would wish, in a perfectly straightforward manner, all by itself and without forcing."  They struggled with a problem, solved it, and were thrilled.  It's fun to think and learn!
      Why would a scientist — while reading about a new idea (*) — "rejoice over the beauties that his eye discovers"?  Find out in the joy of science.
      * Scientists enjoy the fascinating world of ideas, and they also enjoy the magnificent beauty of our world in the sky and sea, rivers and mountains, forests and meadows, plants and animals.

      You can also learn about the joy of design — WHY it includes almost everything you do (because when you make a decision in any area of life, you're designing a strategy to help you achieve your goals for life), HOW you can find a variety of ways to enjoy the excitement of design thinking, WHAT are the similarities and differences between design and science, and WHY we should teach design before science (because design makes a connection with the past and future of students) — in other pages, beginning with An Introduction to Design.

2. Motivations for Education

      Are you involved in education?
      Why should you care about education, about the process of teaching and learning?  If you're thinking "I'm not a teacher" or "I'm not a student," your definitions of teaching and learning are too narrow.  You are a teacher of others whenever you help them learn.  And everyone is learning from life.  If you're wise you'll take responsibility for your own education, for the quality of your own learning and thinking, in school and outside school, now and in the future.  In self-education, you (as teacher) are deciding how to most effectively educate yourself (as student).
      Most ideas about learning and teaching are useful in a variety of settings, for education in the home (which is important for every family, whether children are in public, private, or home school), in a church class, in a private school or public school, or outside school in lifelong education at any age, young or old.
      This page ends with the main goal of Christian education — developing the motivation and ability to glorify God in our thoughts and actions — that should be a "deep desire of the heart" for every Christian.  But we'll begin with a simpler goal, just having fun.

      Immediate Motivation: Make it Fun

      One of the most important things a teacher can do is to motivate students so they want to learn, so they think learning is fun and useful.  Usually, it's best to begin with fun.
      For children, a good way to have fun while learning about nature is to explore.  And it's easy.  You can find things to explore by just looking around your house and yard, on walks in your neighborhood, or in local parks.  Be aware of what's happening in nature — blooming plants, interesting clouds, beautiful sunset, awesome thunderstorm, mysterious fog, moon eclipse, meteor shower,... — and take advantage of natural opportunities.  Wake up early, watch the world turn from dark to light, and visit a place where birds are singing.  Take time to notice trees budding in spring, thriving in summer, turning colors in autumn, gleaming with snow in winter.  During a trip, you can watch the constantly changing land shapes and plant life, you can look for places to stop and explore, and maybe you can escape the glow of city lights and see the Milky Way plus millions of other stars.  Find ways to use all your senses, to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.
      When two or more explore together, part of the fun is relational.  To help a child develop a love for learning, you don't have to be an expert who is providing technical information.  Just be there to share the experience and encourage, and occasionally call attention to interesting details.  Rachel Carson, in The Sense of Wonder, explains that the main goal is motivation, not information: "A sharing of adventures in the world of nature... is based on having fun together rather than teaching,... just going through the woods in the spirit of two friends on an expedition of exciting discovery."  The beneficial results of enthusiastically sharing adventure and conversation can last a lifetime.  "A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. ... If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder... he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." (quotes are from The Sense of Wonder (1956) by Rachel Carson, pages 10, 18, 42, 45)   And the wonder is enhanced for a Judeo-Christian believer because of our love for God, who created the world we are joyfully exploring.

      We can also explore using second-hand experience, by letting others help us learn from what they have learned.  Children of all ages can do this alone or with you.  Share an adventure in the world of ideas.  Read a book together, listen to a tape, or watch an educational film, and then talk about it.
      If explorations have stimulated interest in a topic, a curious child will want to learn more about it.  If watching clouds and thunderstorms leads to questions, learn more about weather in a book, film, or website.  Maybe reading a small book about nutrition, about what we eat and how it helps our bodies work, will inspire a desire to learn more by reading more.  Getting a Roadside Geology book for a state you'll be driving through will make your exploring of "the land and its history" more educational and enjoyable.  If a child is fascinated by gadgets and asks "How does it work?", find out in or in a book.
      How can you pick a topic?  Usually, just be aware of what a child finds interesting, and go with the flow.  Occasionally, provide guidance by encouraging exploration of a topic that you think will be interesting or will be useful in life.
      How can you find books and decide which ones to read?  Visit a library and explore it by yourself, then ask for help.  Librarians love books and learning.  They want to help you and will eagerly share what they know, along with their enthusiasm.  A wide variety of resources for all ages, including books and much more, is available in your public library, the library of a church or school, a bookstore (new or used), and on the internet.  This website provides high-quality information about all aspects of education in the home, church, and school.  { It contains some resources now, and its usefulness will continue to improve as it is more fully developed. }  It includes ideas for exploration activities, resources (books and magazines, tapes and films, websites and programs) for second-hand exploring, tips for teaching and learning and thinking, ideas about design method and scientific method and careers in design and science, ideas for learning and using mathematics, plus discussions of frequently asked questions about Christian perspectives on nature and science.

      Exploring ideas is especially interesting when, in an effort to get accurate understanding, you get the best information and arguments that all sides of an issue can claim as support.  A conflict of ideas is inherently dramatic, and the evaluative thinking it stimulates is an opportunity to learn valuable skills for life.  { a personal example of a high school teacher who changed the way I think }   In contrast with protective isolation (by trying to avoid contact with all non-approved ideas), supported exploration will help children learn the skills they need for intellectual self-defense.  They will be confronted with many challenging ideas from peers, authorities, and media, while living in the modern world.  Although you cannot protect children from exposure to ideas, you can protect them against indoctrination if you help them develop skill in evaluating the merits of different ideas.  Compared with protective isolation, supported exploration is more educational because there is more learning and thinking.  But exploring ideas is educationally useful and spiritually edifying only when it is done wisely and well, in a secure environment with adequate support.  The level of exploration should be adjusted for a child's maturity, since topics and resources that are useful and edifying for an older child might not be appropriate for younger children.  You should provide emotional and spiritual support through love and prayer, and intellectual support by showing that Christian perspectives are rational and are useful for improving quality of life.
      Many exciting "adventures in thinking" are possible in design.  You can help a child find problems to solve and projects to pursue in all areas of life, in all school subjects and in everyday living.  Daily decisions become a "designing of strategies for living" when you ask "what are your goals" and "based on your observations and predictions, which strategy-options will produce a closer match with your goals?"  By practicing and reviewing the principles of design, you can stimulate creative, disciplined thinking in design and also in science.  How?  Logical "reality checks" are used in both science and design, so you can build an educational bridge from design to science and then, by using this bridge, learning design method will help a child learn scientific method.
      In all activities of learning and thinking, while exploring the fascinating world of nature and ideas, you can help a child develop motivation, and maintain it for the long term, by enthusiastically sharing, consistently encouraging, and occasionally guiding.

      Long-Term Motivation: Make it Useful
      Why should you, or those you are teaching, want to learn?  Early in the process of education, it's best to focus on the intrinsic motivation of having fun now.  Later, after a child has experienced the joys of learning-and-thinking in a variety of contexts, you can look for opportunities to explain how — in addition to being fun — learning can also be useful.  The ideal motivational situation is when a student thinks educational activities are fun and useful, immediately enjoyable and eventually practical.
      We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And utility is in the mind of the beholder, so the personal goals of an individual student should be the focus of long-term motivation.  Will your education be personally useful in the future?  If you can say "yes" and you have a forward-looking expectation that what you're learning now will improve your life, you have a reason to learn.  When you view learning as an opportunity for self-improvement — so you can become the person God created you to be, so you can fulfill God's wonderful plan for your life — you'll want to learn.  In this goal-directed intentional learning, you want to achieve personal goals by transforming your current state of knowledge (which includes all you know and all you can do) into a future state of knowledge that is improved.  For long-term motivation, a good question to ask is, "What can I learn now that will help me in the future?"
      As a teacher, your question is "What can I help them learn now that will be useful for them in the future?"  With your adult perspective, you see further down the road of life, and this lets you provide valuable guidance.  Your guidance can be personalized, because you have seen the many ways in which abilities and personal goals vary from one student to another.  This understanding can help you motivate a wider range of students with whole-person education for multiple intelligences — linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal — along with spiritual development.
      You can help repair any damage to a child's self-esteem that has occurred due to past experiences.  Maybe a former teacher was overly harsh, or was simply wrong, in evaluating the child's abilities;  or fellow students were unkind on the playground or in the lunchroom.  Whatever are the personal histories and the sources of distortion in self-perception, you can help children develop a more accurate-and-edifying view of themselves (now) and what they are capable of becoming (in the future).
      What about science?  You can begin by convincing students that learning science will be useful in the near future, for the next exam.  You can also emphasize long-term benefits by explaining how learning science will be useful throughout life, for living and working in a modern society that is powerfully influenced by science and the products of science.  For some students — but not others, since abilities and motivations vary — learning science (plus mathematics and design) could lead to a productive career in science, or in a related design field, that uses abilities given by God and is honoring to God.
      Although some Christians worry about the spiritual effects of science, and there are legitimate reasons for concern.  But a page about The Compatibility of Science and Faith explains why, if we recognize the limits of science and use it to answer only the questions it is designed to answer, the usual result of learning science — when we embrace science but reject scientism — is stronger faith.  When we study science, we learn about the wonders of nature, and this helps us appreciate God's intelligence (in designing the universe) and power (in creating the universe).  When we combine this knowledge with what we learn from the Bible, which tells us that nature reveals only a fraction of God's omniscience and omnipotence, we can more fully appreciate the glory of God's awesome intelligence and power.  We can enthusiastically share this appreciation with others by explaining what we have learned, from scripture and nature, about God and His wonder-filled creation.  For all aspects of life, including our witness to others, learning from both of God's revelations will be useful.

      3. Christian Education

      Christian education is for the whole person, for every aspect of life.  It includes everything in Sections 1 and 2, in a "general education" for the exciting adventure of learning and thinking, for trying to understand the fascinating world created by God, using minds given by God.  It also includes spiritual education and edification, the focus in this section, to help us improve what we think and do in our personal devotions and in daily life.

      Glorifying God in Our Thoughts and Actions
      God deserves glory because He created everything, and He loves us: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. ... As high as the sky is above the earth, so great is his love for those who have reverence for him. (Revelation 4:11, Psalm 103:11*)"
      Our purpose in life is bringing glory to God by the way we live, by joyfully doing what He commands: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. ... Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Matthew 22:37,39*)"  Our primary relationship, with God, provides a foundation for our secondary relationships, with people.  In everything we do, we should be a witness for Christ in our thoughts and actions: "Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. ... As often as we have the chance, we should do good to everyone. (James 3:13; Galatians 6:10*)"
      God has graciously provided us with two sources of information about Himself and His creation.  When we learn from both sources, in scripture and nature, we can more effectively glorify God in our thoughts and actions.

      In Psalm 19, an appreciation of God's dual revelations in nature ("the heavens declare the glory of God") and scripture ("the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul,... giving joy to the heart") inspires a personal dedication: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
      The main goal of Christian Education is to develop the motivations and abilities needed to convert this dedication into reality.  For a Christian, the goal of life is learning how to live by faith, with a trust in God serving as the foundation for all thoughts and actions of daily living.  We want to live in a way that glorifies God.
      This goal is featured in the ASA Statement of Faith, which begins: "We accept the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct."  Notice the focus on using what the Bible teaches for faith (what we believe) and conduct (what we do), for thoughts and actions.
      One aspect of Christian living is building and maintaining a Christian worldview based on the Bible.  But if a worldview is "a view of the world, used for living in the world," our real worldview is what we actually use for living in the world.  How we live each day is a reality-check to test whether what we claim to believe is what we really believe.  Is a trust in God really the foundation for our thoughts and actions?  Are we really motivated mainly by a desire to please God, to think, speak, and live in a way that honors Him?  { How can we help students learn to think and live in this way?  Some useful ideas are summarized by Mark Witwer in Teaching Students to Think Christianly. }

      How should you respond to the glory and goodness of God?  Paul says, "Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him.  This is the true worship that you should offer."  How can you please God?  "Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.  Then you will be able to know the will of God — what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect."  You are to "let God transform you" because God wants to be the spiritual source for your transformation and empowering.  When you are willing to let God transform you, beginning with prayer, "your lives will be filled with the truly good qualities which only Jesus Christ can produce, for the glory and praise of God."
      Both of the great commandments, to love God and love your neighbor, are interpersonal.  A personal relationship with God — initiated by our repentant acceptance of God's grace, and nurtured in prayer and worship — serves as the foundation for personal relationships with other people.  God wants us to participate fully in life: "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. ... Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
      What about motivation?  "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving."  The ultimate long-term motivation to "work at it with all your heart" is to imagine your joy in the future when, at the beginning of your new life in heaven, Jesus hugs you in a warm embrace, looks into your eyes, and says "well done, good and faithful servant."


Bible quotations in Section 3 are from New International Version or (*) Today's English Version:  Psalm 19:1,7-8,14,  Romans 12:1,2*,  Romans 12:15-16,  Ephesians 4:29,  Philippians 1:11*,  Colossians 3:23-24,  Matthew 25:23.

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
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Here are other related pages:

This is part of a set of pages — about
Christian Education, Relationships
between Science & Christianity, and
Scientific Methods — written for a
multi-author book project in 2004.

and for pages by other authors:



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Copyright © 2004 by Craig Rusbult
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