Lost in Space
We all know that the physical space in which we teach can be stimulating or deadening for our students but, since Nouwen and Palmer, we now know the even greater importance of the psychological space we create by our intentions, attitudes and relationship with our students. They talked about a free and friendly space without fear but with boundaries, in which authentic encounter can take place with the teacher, with the truth, and each other.
A forum for theological educators from across South East Asia took place in Bangkok in May this year organised by a small group of concerned practitioners. It explored the matrix between learning, space and relationship and one key issue to come out of the discussions was the importance of seeing our learning and teaching taking place within a space that is fundamentally Christian. But what does that mean?
Firstly, it means that we cannot buy into the secular enlightenment university paradigm of teaching theology and biblical studies, which regards them as just a few more objective scientific enterprises which do not need faith or the Holy Spirit to succeed. We must assert that they are to be done by Christians for Christian purposes. In the words of Aquinas, they are faith seeking understanding.
Secondly, it means that we see our calling in theological education as a form of ministry, for God, to our students. Our objectives for them are as for ourselves, that they may love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbour as themselves. As such, all the great passages in the New Testament about Christian ministry become guides, challenges and encouragements to us in our work.
Thirdly, it means that we consciously create the space for encounter; for the students to encounter us teachers as fellow Christians striving, with them, to please God; with each other in real Christian community; with the fellowship of past and present scholars; and above all, with God. We teach and learn in the conscious presence of the God we talk about. We are not just looking for knowledge about God but greater knowledge of God.
Fourthly, it means that we model for our students a real engagement with society and lead them into that engagement. We do not create “locked away” Christian space that has no interface with the world, we create real “discipleship in the world” space. This means, among other things, a deep and full and free engagement with the academic enterprise of society, academia – working at its level, heeding its quality control rules, engaging with its questions and being a respected partner. Christian space is open space, not narrow space.
This does not exhaust the concept of Christian space and I would encourage readers to extend it in the comments section below.
We must now do two things. We must work out just what this means for our practice in teaching. And we must, because it is the harder and less safe option, have the courage to try to create just such a Christian space for ourselves and our students.
In the words of Captain Kirk, “to boldly go……It’s teaching, but not as we know it….”