I recently came across a quote by Ellen Charry in By the Renewing of your Minds:The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine. I resonate deeply with this quote. Teaching can stifle the mind, yet hopefully it will enliven the imagination. Teaching can promulgate error prone ideas, yet hopefully it will encourage to seek out truth and ideas beyond the classroom. My goals as an educator is to do both: enliven the mind as well as teach my students beyond the classroom.
Charry’s quote…well, I can’t help but say “yes!” A resounding “Yes!” that is.
When subjects and disciplines are taught, what end goal is in mind? A well-educated mind? A reduplicated self? Or a student who ties human happiness to virtuous character predicated on such disciplines? I teach to the whole man so as to affect the whole being so as to affect change in the whole person. We teach a discipline, and in teaching a discipline we simultaneously desire to affect the whole man so that they pursue happiness and virtue because of knowing God.
I also noticed that they (Ancient Christian thinkers) understood human happiness to be tied to virtuous character, which in turn comes from knowing God. Becoming an excellent person is predicated on enjoying God. For these theologians, beauty, truth, and goodness—the foundation of human happiness—come from knowing and loving God and nowhere else. I realized then why this no longer make sense to use. All of these have become disjoined in the modern world, and especially the postmodern world, with the unsettling consequence that from the point of view of the classical tradition, we are moral and intellectual barbarians.
Although I started this project as an exercise in historical theology, a constructive thesis emerged: when Christian doctrines assert the truth about God, the world, and ourselves, it is a truth that seeks to influence us. As I worked through the text, the divisions of the modern theological curriculum began making less and less sense to me. I could no longer distinguish apologetics from catechesis, or spirituality from ethics or pastoral theology. And I no longer understood systematic or dogmatic theology apart from all of these. In the older texts, evangelism, catechesis, moral exhortation, dogmatic exegesis, pastoral care, and apologetics were happening at the same time because the authors were speaking to a whole person. Our neat divisions simply didn’t work. Eventually the distinctions between historical and systematic theology and between theology and biblical studies began to weaken, too. I realized that I was uncovering a norm of theological integrity that had become unintelligible to the modern disciplines.
Why am I pursuing a life as a teacher? Because there is happiness to think deeply upon the beauty, truth, and goodness of the world. And this happiness, when addressing the whole of a person, is tied to virtuous character, all rooted in knowing God. Therefore, to think deeply upon the beauty, truth, and goodness in the world is to think deeply upon God. As Charry states, “Becoming an excellent person is predicated on enjoying God.” I teach to construct the “excellent person” who enjoys God and will live virtuously, because virtue and happiness is subsequently linked to enjoying God.
Ellen T. Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), vii–viii.