LEAN INTO LIFE
Strengthening faith through Christian Studies Program a journey of growth and development
by Todd Bacon, Christian Studies Department Chair
e shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. Toward the end of his poem “Little Gidding,” T.S. Eliot eloquently penned an insight into the nature of understanding – often it’s the path that takes us away from the familiar which ultimately circles back and leads us to a deeper understanding. I am particularly reminded of this truth whenever traveling abroad. Returning home after encountering new lands, culture, language, and friends, inevitably brings appreciation of the familiar in a richer, more profound way. Development comes through exploration and a
the Israelite’s wandering in the wilderness, to apostles, saints, mystics, missionaries and theologians, the story of faith with God has always been an ongoing encounter – a process experienced and told through the lens of a journey and often in the midst of doubts and questions. Frederick Buechner, with characteristic perceptiveness, articulates this beautifully, “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway. A journey without maps . . . doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”1
Left Christian Studies Chair Todd Bacon with students at Martha S. Lindner High School. Right Renowned Bible teacher Ray Vander Laan spent a full day on CHCA’s campus teaching four Christian Studies classes at Martha S. Lindner High School and then engaging with Armleder in their classrooms and chapel service. Vander Laan’s visit culminated with an evening speaking engagement which was open to the public.
journey which necessarily stretches the imagination, encounters new terrain, and willingly wrestles with challenging questions. Leaving the familiar can be disconcerting and yet only by encountering the unfamiliar does growth occur. The themes of exploration and journey in Eliot’s poem are fitting metaphors for the process we hope students engage during their four years of Christian Studies at the high school. Reflecting on the Christian faith as a “journey” or “pilgrimage” has deep and ancient roots within Christianity. Scripture and the history of the Church over the last two thousand years are replete with stories of faith as a journey through doubts, fears, questions, and tension with the familiar. From Abraham and Sarah to 12
Students at CHCA attend over 160 churches within the greater Cincinnati area and represent a wide range of traditions and denominations within Christianity. Although the primary focus of the Christian Studies curriculum is academic in nature, our passion and desire is to walk along side each student, not only as teachers but as fellow travelers, and encourage our mutual ongoing spiritual growth and development. Toward this end, we do our very best “to create an environment in which we listen to God speak to us through the words of Scripture, encourage a love of learning and the exercise of reason, gain wisdom from the historic voices and traditions of the Church, and seek to understand our own human experience within this world.”2 Precisely because we value the student’s continuing growth and development,
we invite challenging questions and explore theological diversity that purposely stretches a student beyond his or her familiar tradition to see how a student’s faith and church fits into the broader historical Church and shared story of the last two thousand years. Not only do exploration and questions intentionally foster a model and example of open engagement for students to follow later in life, but to do so during high school is to wrestle with tension and dissonance in a safe environment. A student’s faith is intentionally stretched not in order to be deconstructed and abandoned but rather to grow in maturity. Our goal is to purposely create an environment where questions are valued in themselves and the pursuit of truth beyond the familiar is acknowledged as profoundly formative and shaping. Incidentally, the nature of Scripture and the Christian life are rife with tensions. The relationships between justice and love, faith and reason, praise and lament, literal and figurative, grace and accountability, imminent and transcendent, and between the Kingdom of God being both present and future, to name just a few, do not produce simple answers. A faithful response to Scripture and a transformed life in Christ is to acknowledge and live with these tensions as both guiding and correcting truths. Resolution is not always easy. Living with tension is not without frustration and yet acknowledging this opens rich paths to explore the way in which the transforming love and power of the risen Christ are at work in the midst of a complex, broken world.
CHCA’s Christian Studies program develops students holistically, allowing them to articulate a distinctly Christian worldview and encouraging them to pursue excellence in order to engage God’s world
The journey of a student from preschool to young adult in high school is itself an ongoing journey of maturation from concrete to complex, from simple to abstract. In age appropriate ways, a student’s learning moves from familiar to unfamiliar, discovery to rediscovery and from new to a profoundly deeper understanding of the familiar. An unexamined life and an unexamined faith can never authentically grow. The temptation to vicariously hold the faith of a parent as the faith of a student is seemingly safe and convenient yet will likely result in frustration or crisis. To own one’s faith for oneself necessarily means embarking on one’s own journey of exploration and discovery. The story of Christianity also tells us that the nature of faith is not static, linear, or predicable as faith is more verb than noun, a process not a possession. Faith ebbs and flows in relationship to the unpredictable nature of the ups and downs of our lives. Our prayer for each student is that during the short span of years in which we walk and travel together, their journey of discovery and faith will be nurtured and seeded with patterns which yield a life of engagement, discipleship, and transformation. May the end of our student’s exploring be to arrive where they started and know the place for the first time – that is, a deeper and richer understanding of his or her faith and the profound love of God in Christ which holds the key to a continually changed and transformed life and world. 1 Frederick Buechner, “Wishful Thinking a Seeker’s ABC.” Rev. Ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 30. 2 Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy Christian Studies Vision Statement, 2013.