The legend goes that when Steve Jobs was recruiting John Sculley to leave the CEO role at Pepsi for an executive spot at Apple, Steve said, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to join me and change the world?” I might have to repurpose this line when talking to prospective students, families, staff, and faculty about join a Christian school or university community.
I’ve read, studied, and taught about faith formation and catechesis for over thirty years. Last night and today, I was re-reading Walther’s The Church and Ministry (a seemingly prudent pre-convention read). While reading Thesis V, I realized that I’ve sometimes made things too complicated when discussing the core distinction of a university like CUNE. We are blessed with exceptional students, faculty, and staff. Still, the foundational difference is the presence and prevalence of God’s Word, not just in chapel or theology classes but in our life and learning together. This is no small thing, especially not in our current age. It is a precious gift to have learning communities where God’s Word is welcome in any office, meeting, stage, dorm, performance, class, conversation, court, field, locker room, or lab. We have ample room to grow, improve, and learn—but what a treasure!
Not to take anything away from my past writing and teaching on the subject, but the most important why and how of Christian education can be summarized this way. Christian education matters because God’s Word matters, and He speaks to us through His Word. Why would we not want to create as many schools and learning communities as possible that provide a solid education (across levels, disciplines, and purposes) while also making them communities where God’s Word is sown freely, repeatedly, and pervasively?
God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I intend and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Luther once wrote, “Do you really want to consider the Word of the Gospel on a par with the word or the talk of a peasant in an inn or a tavern? Remember that God has said: When the Word of Christ is preached, I am in your mouth, and I pass with the Word through your ears into your heart. So, then, we have a sure sign and know that when the Gospel is preached, God is present and would have Himself found there” (W 16, 210).
I might make a few modern additions to his comment. Do we really want to consider the Word of God on par with the word of a philosopher, politician, professor, social media influencer, or anyone else? Then why not create learning communities where God’s Word is regularly shared amid one’s study? After all, it is in His Word that God promises to speak to us. Why not celebrate and support those places where God speaks so freely and regularly?
Look at the Concordia University, Nebraska seal. You will see a man sowing seeds, pointing us to that profound parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 and Luke 8…” the seed is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11). That seal reminds us that this is fundamental to who we are and what we do. We are a community where God’s Word is sown, and where God works, as he promises, through that Word.
“Whenever a man reads the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is speaking to him. Wherever the Word of God is, there the Holy Spirit, faith, and other gifts of the Spirit must necessarily be.” (W 31 II, 755). This Word has immense relevance for temporal and eternal life, pointing us to the significance of Jesus Christ in and amid modern life, thought, trends, and events.
There are many ways that we learn and acquire knowledge. We learn through the scientific method, philosophical inquiry, and by experience. These are readily available in schools throughout the world. Yet, none of them get us to the most profound form of learning, the Holy Spirit at work through the Word—”…teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” that we might be well-equipped for our present and future callings (2 Timothy 3:17).
God’s Word is, again in the words of Luther, “…a thunderbolt so powerful that its impact turned the whole Roman Empire…into a pile of rubbish” (W 34 II, 531). It is also a salve for the wounded, a quencher of the deepest thirsts, a source of life to a valley of dry bones, a means of turning hearts from stone to flesh, and (as reminded by C.S. Lewis) an irrigator of our modern educational and ideological deserts.
By God’s grace, I’ll probably keep writing about the why and how of Christian education, and I will probably still make it more complicated than it needs to be. Yet, for today, suffice it to say that these schools and universities matter because God’s Word matters.