The classroom and the world

The classroom and the world

The classroom is not the world. It is a safer, sanitised version of the world, less evil, more loving, reasonable. It is, in fact, an oasis from the real world.

In the classroom, we think things through, listening to each other carefully. There is little violence even in words, virtually no sex (apart from an occasional glance across the room!), tragedies are small and dealt with by a smile. No babies die of poison gas in theological education classrooms, although they do in Syrian towns. We all have enough to eat, supplemented by coffee and biscuits now and then.

And this is OK. We are meant to create a quieter, safer place in which to do theology and grow. It is a pattern in both scripture and church history for God’s people to withdraw at times. The problem is re-entry into reality. That has to be done on a daily basis as we step out of the classroom and read the newspaper, walk the streets, and as we step out of the college or seminary at the end of our course – back into a world where terrible evil is rife, people are not sweetly reasonable and tension can sometimes be cut with a knife. And we do ministry in that very real world.

So, the classroom has also to be the place where the Word and the World intersect. It must provide the equipment to enable students to make that transition back into the real world. And some of that transition needs to occur in the classroom itself. This not to deny the importance of “irrelevant” theology; we have the right, even duty, to study theology and the text of scripture for its own sake, for truth’s sake (more on this in a future post). But it also has to equip the student for the real world.

The classroom has to be both safe and unsafe, enclosed and open, apart and engaged. To create such a classroom is the duty of the theological lecturer. The teacher stands in the classroom as the mediator, the broker, between the Word and the World.

How does he or she do that? Firstly, by having a foot in both camps. It is not enough to be familiar with the Word and unfamiliar with the World if we are going to build bridges for our students between the two. Secondly, by introducing prayer for the world and its problems, specific and general, for our students and their struggles, into the classroom time. Thirdly, by deliberately applying the material, at some point in the process of teaching, to the real world (and real students’ lives), with their strange mixture of good and evil, their complicated relationships and messy reality. We craft theology in order to help our students live lives pleasing to God in the real world.

A difficult task, but theological education classrooms were never meant just to be safe places for theological teachers.

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2 Comments on “The classroom and the world”

  1. Perry W Shaw Says:

    A great challenge is that the classroom often attracts teachers who are more comfortable in the safety of the library, than they are getting their hands dirty in the world. Beyond Graham’s great observations I would suggest that our colleges need intentionally to recruit faculty who have “dirtied their hands” and who continue to engage personally in the complex realities of the world we live in – rather than looking for those with impressive publication records, but who are reluctant to go beyond the safe cloisters of academia.

  2. Paul Sanders Says:

    This post speaks volumes as well into the challenges of helping students from abroad reconnect with their home countries and ministry contexts after graduation. I’m thinking in particular of students from North Africa who come to the Middle East to study, but there are many other applications. What are some strategies that could use the classroom to help the “re-entry” ?

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