On 22 March 2018, Professor Paul Oslington, Dean of the Business School at AC, spoke at the opening of Level 4, St Andrew’s House, for St Andrews Cathedral School. The following plaque was dedicated:
LEVEL 4, SAH was officially commissioned and dedicated to God on 22nd March, 2018 by
Paul Oslington B.Econ, M.Econ (Hons), B.D., Th.D, PhD
Professor of Economics, Alphacrucis College
Psalm 71:5: For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.
Dr J Collier Very Rev Kanishka Raffel
Head of School Chairman
The following address was then given by Professor Oslington.
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Reflections on Christian Schooling in Australia
As the valuable survey work National Church Life Research has been pointing out, Australians’ contact with Christianity in the future will much more with Christian not-for-profit social service organisations, Christian schools or aged care facilities, than with local Christian congregations. Roy Williams’ Post-God Nation argues, indeed, that the most important struggle for the future of Christianity in Australia will be over Christian identity and mission of our schools.
This underlines the importance of Christian schooling as a witness to the gospel in a country which is always been uneasy about the institutional church, and our times particularly suspicious of anything connected to church.
Parents, however, are trusting their children to us in increasing numbers (and paying substantial amounts of money for this).
Government support of Christian schooling is regularly questioned in some circles, but remains solid. Such government support of Christian schooling is quite extraordinary by international standards, reflecting the choices of parents, and the strongly utilitarian approach to religion by governments that goes back to the early days of the colony. Australian secularism has always been a pragmatic and willing to utilise the churches where there are clear social and economic benefits.
Challenges for Christian Schooling.
(These are observations of someone who is not an expert, just interested observer, my experience is higher education and engaged in project of building a high quality Christian university for Australia at Alphacrucis College)
(As someone involved in Christian higher education I can’t help observing the contrast between Australian government policy and funding in schooling and higher education. Where is the principle of religious neutrality in higher education? Or the economic rule of competitive neutrality between public and private higher education institutions? Where is our Gonski for higher education?)
1) Integration: The gospel needs to shape curriculum and pedagogy.
A school is not a preaching hall of course. Nor does this means teaching Christian mathematics or Christian economics (something I’m pretty sceptical of on theological and practical grounds – as per the ‘Kuyperian Dream’ paper delivered at the AAR) – rather, it means having these subjects framed by and in lively dialogue with Christian theology. Not just the content but the way we go about teaching them.
This is problematic in Australia with our notorious anti-intellectualism. Not least in Christian circles. We are too readily satisfied with intellectual mediocrity, a satisfaction which contrasts markedly with our famous cultural demand for excellence in sport!
It has been gratifying to see the efforts of the St Andrews’ Cathedral School (SACS) to push students hard academically, and to be increasingly serious about bringing Christian thinking to bear on the enterprise. John Collier has been a quiet agitator in this for a long time, and I’ve watched a series of overseas visitors and events over the last few years pushing this agenda forward: not least among these was having Julie McGonigal with us last year. My sense is we still have a way to go, though; and it is hard working against the dominant culture.
If we are going to rise to this challenge then we will need much less “churchy” theology. A theology much addressed to and expressed in the language of ordinary Australians. Bringing the gospel more directly to the issues which young Australians struggle with, and perhaps even more importantly to the deep yearnings below the surface. This is no less intellectually challenging - in fact probably more so than doing theology in a “churchy” (or even “academic”) way.
Australian Christian educators are particularly ill-equipped for this enterprise because of the historic separation between our universities which typically exclude theology, and theological colleges outside the university system which have traditionally trained candidates for ordained ministry in their own denominations (something which is explored further in “Religion and Australian Universities: Tales of Horror and Hope.” The Conversation). This system works against the kind of engaged and accessible theology that is needed to equip our teachers and chaplains for the task of engaging young Australians with the gospel. Some individuals manage to do this sort of theological work despite the incentives embedded in our system, but disruption of the system is needed and this is part of the reason I’m involved at Alphacrucis. It is also why the reshaping of our core Christian worldview course by Rikk Watts and others is a hugely important project for us at Alphacrucis at the moment. And why James Dalziel has been running the Scholarly Christian Educators gatherings over the last few years which SACS has hosted. We have a long way to go in this - and need our best educators and theologians working together much more to raise the bar.
I’d also love to see a well-resourced research centre that brings together the best people across different institutions for projects that will resource our Christian schools into the future. Perhaps state and federal governments could be encouraged to contribute too, in view of the size of the sector and how ill served it is by our existing research institutions.
(cf. Labor’s proposed research institute which does not seem to recognise the Christian dimension of the educational enterprise in Australia)
2) Business Practices.
Kids and parents are smart and will treat Christian integration as hypocrisy (or, to use the cultural acronym, “BS”) unless our actions in all areas are aligned with the message.
Our actions will be even more closely scrutinised than our words. This means our fundraising, marketing, human resources practices, and political lobbying. All these communicate the gospel in some way. There is no neutral technical or economic domain.
This is hard one because school are large enterprises with lots of money and careers on the line.
This is one of the real strengths at SACS. My sense is that our actions speak more clearly and powerfully of the gospel than our words in chapel and CD classes.
Where will the next generation of Christian leaders for our school system come from? They need the leadership skills, financial literacy, understanding of the policy environment appropriate to large organisations operating in a complex and rapidly changing environment. But they also need firm theological roots, especially now that we have left behind an era where knowledge and broad acceptance of Christian principles could be taken for granted. It is not just an MBA alongside a theological degree that is needed, but the capacity to integrate leadership, education, and theology; to bring the gospel to bear on every aspect of the running of a school.
Our school has been blessed with strong Christian leadership, but this sort of leadership for our system won’t in the future generally be produced by education or business faculties of our universities, nor by our theological colleges.
We give thanks for this new facility and pray that it will be well used to advance Christian education and serve the cause of the gospel in our nation. For we affirm with the Psalmist “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it” and our hope that our students will look back with the words on the plaque “For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.”