Schools are in the business of training citizens. We saw that the first teacher in the Bible emerged in the city-building enterprise of a developing civilization. They were building the wrong cities in the wrong way for the wrong reasons, but they were right to want to build a city. God had wired mankind that way from the beginning – though his desire had been that they would co-operate with him in building his city rather than building one of their own.
Education is about learning to do what God has told us to do, and to do it his way. What he told Adam to do was to subdue the earth, and the teaching task emerged as new generations needed to be taught new ways of fulfilling that mandate.
Initially in the Garden there was minimal manpower and there were few resources immediately available. The manpower shortage was addressed by the command to multiply, and the resources, while largely hidden, were all available – as they still are: provided by God and waiting to be uncovered and utilized. Skills for the task were developed slowly over time, and the understanding necessary to fulfill the task also grew slowly. That process of a growing workforce, discovering new resources, developing new skills, and ever-increasing understanding will continue throughout human history until God’s purposes are fulfilled. Education exists to further this process of dominion, and Christian education seeks to do so in Christ, in God’s ways, and for His glory.
The goal was never that Adam and his offspring would all be gardeners; the goal, as we see in Revelation 21,22, was a Garden City with Christ in the Centre. There is a lot of green space in John’s description, but it is a beautiful city with streets and walls.
It comes down from heaven. Of course it is all in symbolic language, but we should not be misled to think of it as a vast UFO floating down out of the sky. Coming down from heaven implies that its builder and architect is God. This is the coming of the Kingdom, God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. It is the fulfillment of all that God had planned for planet earth.
So the goal of Christian Education is to train “citizens of heaven”, as Paul describes us in Philippians 3:20. This does not mean we are to be preparing young people for the ride of their life, passports in hand, to be lifted out of the planet. Paul’s vocabulary suggests what was common in Philippi. Citizens of Rome had been sent by the Emperor to colonize the city, to transform its culture into that of a genuinely Roman city. So, he says, we are citizens of heaven. We have been sent to colonize – to bring the culture of heaven into the life of a godless world; to be “a city on a hill” – a living example of what life lived in the light of God looks like.
A different kind of city needs a different kind of citizen – citizens who think differently about the realities of normal everyday life in a body and in a community. Christian teachers have the privilege of preparing young people to be such citizens.