Summit aims to train Christians to champion a biblical worldview. Obviously this means that “worldview” is an important part of what we do.
Recently, worldview education has come under some criticism. In a recent article on The American Conservative website, senior editor Rod Dreher raised a question about “The Problem of Worldview Education” sparked by Dreher’s attendance of Society for Classical Learning conference. Read the article here to understand some of the points made by Dreher and others.
Here at Summit, we saw this as a wonderful opportunity to engage in discussion, just as we teach in our curriculum and conferences. We did just that, and we were not alone. Dr. Jeff Myers, president of Summit Ministries, wrote a response to Dreher and the article, as did John Stonestreet, president of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview and long time Summit faculty member. Dreher graciously invited the discussion. Read Dr. Myers’ and Stonestreet’s response in another of Dreher’s recent articles “Defending Worldview Education”.
Thanks to our friends Rod Dreher, The American Conservative, John Stonestreet, and The Colson Center for Christian Worldview for encouraging the discussion. Please feel free to share and join in. However, in the midst of the discussion, remember this is not a position in which we must take sides, but instead, an opportunity for iron to sharpen iron. As brought up by Stonestreet’s response, it is easy to criticize any one form of education when narrowing it to small, specific examples. As Christians engaging in the culture, we must do so with conviction, but more importantly, with truth and grace.
See complete response by Dr. Jeff Myers below.
Rod, I’m the head of Summit Ministries—the organization that designed the worldview survey you took. I’m hoping that by writing to you personally I can enter into the dialogue and then send a version of this correspondence by email, along with a link to your article, to the folks on our Summit mailing list. Please feel free to publish this letter if you think it advances the conversation.
Let me say up front that you are well-loved and respected here at Summit. Your book Crunchy Cons describes how many of my colleagues and I see our lives in our little hippie town, Manitou Springs, Colorado.
So, about the survey. We created it to spark a dialogue about worldviews. I think it is working. Of course, the danger is that respondents would think that we’re passing judgment on their faith commitment. That’s why we put a disclaimer statement at the beginning of the survey stating that it in no way suggests whether someone is a good or bad Christian. The purpose is dialogue and spiritual growth.
The questions in the survey come from the writings of prominent advocates of each of the worldviews we’re considering. No survey is perfect, but I think these questions are holding up pretty well relative to previous studies conducted across various denominations, age groups, and regions of the country.
I think we both agree that ideas flow in patterns and that they have consequences when lived out. We may disagree on some aspects of a Christian worldview, but neither of us would conclude that therefore no Christian worldview exists.
In the survey, we tried to reflect this kind of thoughtful flexibility. We did not score 7-day creationism as the default (as one of your respondents asserted). We did not assume that capitalism is the biblical response—we just tested levels of agreement with representative Marxist statements. We did score responses higher that agree with assurance of salvation.
I respect that you and I view this differently, and I’m among those concerned about the evangelical reliance on formulaic prayers that “guarantee” salvation. Still, I don’t think it is faithful to the biblical witness to say that we can have no assurance of salvation.
About the comments of the classical school teacher, Joshua Gibbs, I think his definition of worldview education is a straw man. I don’t know about all worldview education programs, but the way Joshua defines it is exactly the opposite of the way we teach it in our Summit programs and curricula. Here’s how we see it.
Worldview education done well:
- Enables students to understand the patterns that emerge as ideas flow through history, recognizing that ideas have consequences
- Prepares students to contemplate reasonable, biblically-faithful answers to life’s big questions
- Opens up a more mature dialogue with those who reject the biblical witness, as well as fellow believers who disagree on various points
Worldview education done poorly:
- Leads students to be cynical rather than curious
- Narrows students’ range of thought rather than broadening it
- Encourages students to become conceited rather than compassionate in their response to others
A good worldview education is about the approach as well as the content. In the courses we have designed for Christian schools, we “flip” the classroom so that it is nearly 100% dialogue. In our summer programs, our 65 instructors and our 140 twenty-something mentors see truth and relationship as two strands of the DNA of influence. Our goal is to put rungs in the ladder between truth and relationship for the students we interact with.
No approach is a miracle cure. I am among those who believe in the kind of classical education Joshua advocates—two of my children were trained in classical schools. But classical education—even of the Christian variety—isn’t a cure-all. Many of the thousands of students I work with have received such an education. Two weeks ago, one of them told me, “Look, my classmates know exactly how to give our teachers the impression that we’re all wonderful thinkers, but inside they’re going, ‘It’s all bullcrap’— and they live like it.”
When it comes to getting students to honestly wrestle with ideas, I’d like to see the range of options broadened rather than narrowed. At Summit we use dialogue, conversation, small groups, open forums, Q & A, lectures, mentoring, curriculum, webinars—you name it. As one of our graduates, David Eaton, phrases it, we want students to find answers to their unanswered questions and to ask questions that challenge their unquestioned answers.
In your article, you express concern that worldview education leads to an unthinking dismissal of works like those of Marx and Nietzsche. The courses we’ve designed for Christian schools don’t ignore these thinkers. In fact, they’re required reading, along with Plato, Bertrand Russell, Michael Shermer, John Hick, Bart Ehrman, Richard Dawkins, Darwin, Freud, the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, the Humanist Manifesto, and others. We have our students read widely because we want them to truly understand other worldviews: their founders, their histories, their arguments, and their implications.
But in doing this, we never want to give our students the impression that the dominant worldviews of our day are morally equivalent. We take pains to point out interesting insights of non-Christian worldviews, but we also invite students to question whether Karl Marx is truly Christian-like in his concern for the poor. If students don’t grasp Marx’s larger body of work, which includes atheism and the abolition of religion as necessary conditions for the good life, we don’t think they’ve been well educated.