An Introduction to Faithful Learning at Rosslyn
By Dr. Phil Dow
Rosslyn is a Christian, international, school. On the surface, what that means is clear. Rosslyn is a community whose identity is rooted in three things – Christianity, an international student body, and education. At the same time, each of these three terms is packed with layers of additional meaning that require further explanation. In this post, I will focus only on the first term “Christian”, and will be exploring what it means for Rosslyn to be a distinctively Christian school.
Because modern education (even many of its non-Western varieties) rests on foundations that were influenced in significant ways by Christianity, it is not surprising that many of its most highly valued aims – like critical thinking, character, rigor, and service – are enthusiastically espoused by non-religious and Christian educators alike. This agreement doesn’t make Rosslyn less Christian, as much as it makes secular schools more Christian. However, it does raise the question of if, and how, Christian education is distinct from its non-Christian counterparts.
Perhaps the most important philosophical difference between Christian education and its secular peers are the often unspoken assumptions that lie beneath the learning that goes on in the classroom. Answers to questions such as “does truth exist?”, “where does it come from?” and “can it be known?” necessarily and profoundly shape a school’s aims, practices, and culture. If, for instance, a school assumes that the material world is all that exists; and that there is, therefore, no logical justification (outside of arbitrary individual preference) for believing in spiritual or moral truths, this will influence not just what, how, and why we learn, but how we seek to use that knowledge. In short, our answers to these foundational questions will necessarily shape how we choose to live our lives.
Along with Christian thinkers over the centuries, Rosslyn believes that truth exists, that it originates from God, and that, despite our human frailties and limitations, it can be known – through the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the person of Jesus (“specific revelation”) and through the study of all of creation (“general revelation”). Moreover, and quite remarkably, Scripture teaches us that the good and loving Creator of all truth wants to be known and loved by us. These assumptions join Rosslyn firmly to the storied educational tradition of Augustine, Aquinas, Kepler, Bach, Pascal, Newton, and countless others, for whom the sacred significance of learning was assumed. To these, and myriad other towering figures of learning, the pursuit of truth (education) was far more than a ticket to a good job and living comfortably. It was a sacred and richly joyful quest to better know and honor the Creator; and to understand, care for, and revel in a universe created, in part, for our enjoyment.
In short, while we are closely aligned with much that can be found in the best secular education, one important and life-giving distinctive of the Christian education that Rosslyn provides is the assumption that learning and faith are not separate things. That, in fact, to be truly whole and effective, and to best make sense of the world around us, faith and learning need each other. Some have called this idea the “integration of faith and learning”. At Rosslyn, we refer to the inherent (and, we believe, necessary) link between faith and education as “faithful learning”.
But what does faithful learning look like in practice? Over the next semester, this blog will be the home for posts by a number of Rosslyn teachers who will be expressing, in their own way, and through means uniquely suited to their different academic disciplines, what faithful learning can look like. As you read, I believe you will develop a vision for education that can not only be more intellectually, morally, and spiritually compelling than its secular counterpart, but one that is also better equipped to explain the world around us, and to train students to live well within that world.