Educating for Culture Wartime

Stephen McAlpine | 8 Feb 2024

We have a culture war on our hands. A war not only about gender and sexuality but also about freedom of speech, immigration, abortion and more. A war in which each viewpoint is held with deep conviction and ferocity, and in which the other side is labelled evil and dangerous. The current culture war is still primarily a “cold war”. Yet the signs indicate that the next generation of God’s people will likely experience a “hot war” that seeks to completely suffocate any compelling public Christian witness. It will conscript the corporate, legal, academic and educational spheres to ensure victory.

One area that seems to be particularly in the crosshairs of progressive governments is schooling. The moral formation of the secular education system is designed to produce model citizens who will help us move towards a more just and equitable society. So far, so good. That’s what a Christian education system desires also. Yet their methods are at odds with each other. Christianity’s doctrine of human flourishing is now regarded as part of society’s problem, not part of its solution.

Don’t Retreat

There’s no single “right way” to educate our children. Some will decide to homeschool or send children to a Christian school, in order to avoid the indoctrination of secular public schools. If you do choose public schooling—or it’s your only option—it’s worth remembering that parents must remain invested in their children’s education.

Perhaps you won’t be able to influence the curriculum, but it’s important to keep asking questions—of your children and of the system. Remind children of how God calls us to live faithfully in the world and not simply withdraw from it. Yet at the same time help them to keep a critical mindset towards the views they are hearing.

I’m encouraged to think of my French friend who, growing up, was the only Christian in a high school of 4,000 students. In a deeply secular country, he knew what it was to be in a minority! Yet his small evangelical church experience was deep and rich. And far more compelling than school.

Raise the Bar

Christianity is most compelling when its message is embedded within communities that clearly show how liveable its truths are—how emotionally, relationally and intellectually compelling they are. It’s counterintuitive, but in tough times for the church—with shrinking attendance and scandals being played out before a gleeful media—our tactic should be to raise the bar, not lower it, by creating Christian communities that live for Jesus by standing up for what is good. We are educating for wartime, and the time to start that is now.

Christianity is most compelling when its message is embedded within communities that clearly show how liveable its truths are—how emotionally, relationally and intellectually compelling they are.

I know of the CEO of a Christian schools association, who is working with government officials to reframe the online schools tables. Schools had been discouraging lower-achieving students from accessing tertiary-entrance subjects, partly because of the risk of receiving a lower ranking on the online schools table. It’s not a good look!

The CEO told the government that as an association of Christian schools, he and his colleagues were determined to lead the way in giving every student access to the subjects they wished to do, for their sake, and not merely to make the school look good. This is not the kind of action that hits the headlines necessarily, but it makes a difference. And it is a  small way of showing why the gospel is plausible. Not only plausible, actually, but vital.

The War is Already Won

Here’s the encouragement: there is a King above who still rules and reigns, despite the secular culture’s insistence otherwise. The culture war is, in the end, a phoney war; the true battle has been fought and won by King Jesus over the powers and principalities. What we are experiencing are the retreating skirmishes of a vanquished foe—rebellious citizens who have usurped their true King in the vain hope of claiming territory they do not own. But we have true hope:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3 v 20-21)

This article is an adapted excerpt from Futureproof: How to Live for Jesus in a Culture That Keeps on Changing by Stephen McAlpine. In the book, Stephen encourages his readers by showing how the gospel equips Christians to live confidently for Christ in an increasingly secular culture, facing the challenges of the future with confidence.

Stephen McAlpine

A pastor and church planter for thirty years, Stephen McAlpine now writes and speaks on issues of theology, culture and church, in particular the increasing pressures on religious belief in the secular public square. He is married to Jill, who runs a clinical psychology practice in Perth, and they have two children.

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