Pedagogy and Education For life (Wipf & Stock, In Press)

The purpose of this section of my ideas as they develop. For the last 9 years I have been working on an educational pedagogy book that has been submitted to Wipf & Stock and hopefully will be out late this year or early in 2018.

The book started a long time ago. For over 25 years I have tussled with the challenge of reconciling theology with secular research in education. Some people of faith have often been suspicious of secular research on education. I’m not one of this group. Rather, my problem has been to reconcile some writing on religious education to my own faith position. There has often seemed to me to be much inconsistency.  Why, for example would some religious schools privilege independent learning over collaborative learning? Or, child-centred approaches over teacher-directed method?

The result of my reflections, discussions and exploration is this new book. Its primary concern is the question, ‘Is there such a thing as Christian Pedagogy’? Or, ‘is there such a thing as a Christian curriculum?’ ‘What does Christian education look like?’ ‘How do we build a Christian ethos?’ and so on. I my book I contest some of the narrowly developed definitions that have driven responses to questions such as the above. Christian teachers are often confused by Christian debates about education, and resort simply to the advice of secular theorists and experts whether educating children at school, in the church or at home. Other writers often claim the support of Scripture to justify how they want to ‘do’ Christian education. At times, this advice can appear to be educationally flawed.

I have two over-riding criticisms of much of the work in the name of Christian Education. First, it hasn’t always engaged with the best secular knowledge and research while seeking to frame models of Christian education, curriculum and pedagogy. Second, the application of the Bible to justify views on Christian education has often been decontextualized, and has demonstrated limited or poor biblical interpretation, and at times, doubtful theology.

As I have searched the Scriptures for guidance, I have tussled with other writers on the topic. In this book, I use biblical interpretation, to frame my consideration of the best secular knowledge available about teaching and human learning. This has taken me to varied fields beyond theology, including education, sociology, psychology, linguistics, semiotics, anthropology, and philosophy. In drawing on these varied fields, I have set the wisdom of other scholars against scholarship on Christian formation. The formation and education of children is spoken of in the Old Testament in books such as Proverbs and Psalms, and it is also seen in New Testament references to paideia, a word that has its genesis in ancient Greek philosophy and education. Greek education assumed the need to form children not simply teach them things. Children were not seen by Greeks or Jews, nor would it seem, early first century Christians, as simply needing to find their own way in learning and life. Their place within varied communities of practice such as families, varied types of formal education, church and the wider world, was given extensive ‘guidance’. Children were seen as needing to be nurtured, taught and led into the life of communities.

The purpose of my new book is not to simply revisit ancient traditions and argue for replication, although the emphasis on formation is an important part of my work. But in considering formation, I do not narrow my focus to teaching, method or curriculum as some have done in the past, leading to particular ‘Christian’ approaches. I suggest in my book that such narrow approaches offer at best, incomplete answers to the questions that matter. As a result, they end up being approaches to education that while claiming to be Christian, lead to outcomes that John Hull has wisely referred to as ‘Christians educating’.


Trevor H. Cairney, Pedagogy and Education for Life, Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, In Press.