Toward a theologically robust philosophy of education
Meaningful work fills our days at Free Lutheran Bible College and Seminary. Among other activities next week (like the 7th Annual Friends of FLBCS banquet and the start of our basketball season), a site visit team of peer reviewers from TRACS arrives for our five-year reaffirmation. If you listen in around campus, you would hear… “accreditation…education… certification… information… transformation…” In other words, all the “shuns!” Understanding these concepts– and articulating them well– leads to a theologically robust philosophy of education that drives all that we do, benefiting souls, families, and congregations around the world.
Our institution, and thus our students, benefit greatly from accreditation. Our accrediting institution, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (somehow that is “TRACS”) wholeheartedly embraces our purpose and identity. Accreditation makes you keep your promises, from the Corporation to the Board of Trustees, through our administration, and all the way down to our students. Accreditors examine everything we do, including our finances, our course descriptions, our program outcomes, our publications, our donor relations, and our students’ satisfaction. We educate in a very narrow space of Bible and ministry, possessing the largest (that we know of) student body for a Bible and ministry program. Our philosophy of education governs the approach we take to the mission of establishing students in the Word of God for life in Jesus Christ.
The core of an educational philosophy includes answers to the questions, “What is education, and why do we educate students?” A sound philosophy of education produces value everywhere, not just at our institution. Senator Ben Sasse, recently appointed President of the University of Florida, reflected: “I’m a romantic when it comes to the importance of education and the mission of a university. Students aren’t machines and a university isn’t an assembly line. Education, properly understood, isn’t exclusively—or even primarily—about transmitting information. Education is about learning how to humbly and meaningfully engage ideas.”*
I agree. Education is more than information. You can get information anywhere. Education includes transformation, and all the more when we consider theological education. Education is far more than certification. Certification proves that you can do something, and education may be either crucial or redundant. I want my heart surgeon to have completed med school, but I also want him to possess certification that he can actually do the job. This idea extends to pastoral education, too; Free Lutheran Seminary trains future pastors, but we do not certify or ordain. That responsibility belongs to others.
We work in the transformation business, just as we realize that this business is God’s business. Our curriculum is distinctively biblical, or as we put it in the Bible College program, “Scripture without Distraction.” Most of our classes come right out of the Bible text, with others helping in congregational and life application. Increasingly, our students need to be taught how to learn. The vast majority of high school graduates do not possess the tools for lifelong learning.
Transformational work happens in person, so we emphasize “Discipleship without Distance.” Online education has its place, but we build our work around in-person education and discipleship. Iron sharpens iron, but only when they get together. Our world has enough two-dimensional disembodied opportunities; we are happy to provide an alternative.
All of this in-person, scriptural, transformational work prepares students for life and “Ministry through the Congregation.” Most of our students will not pursue full time ministry, but every Christian will live and serve in a congregation.
We thank God for accreditation. It is a lot of work, but the fruit that God has provided through the process has made it all worthwhile. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the late Dr. Fran Monseth, who first brought the need for accreditation to our Board of Trustees. Drs. Joel Rolf and Mark Olson moved us along toward accreditation, and a dozen or so Board members joined scores of staff to accomplish what we have today.
Thanks be to God, and we hope to join you soon for a celebration.
*Ben Sasse interview: https://www.wsj.com/articles/ben-sasse-on-the-university-florida-gators-purpose-ideas-disagreement-debate-leaders-knowledge-higher-education-college-free-speech-11667397078
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