I was recently at a conference and heard a presenter declare that Jesus was a “constructivist”. This declaration was based on a “biblical” analysis of Jesus’ teaching and interactions with others (eg, Christ’s conversations with St. Photini, the woman at the well, and the young rich man). The presenter assured us of his credibility as a pastor and PhD. While I can agree that Jesus was a master teacher adept at reaching learners in ways that often had them deconstructing their previous understandings and arriving at new understandings, I am very reluctant to identify Him with any particular type of pedagogy or philosophy and am deeply uncomfortable with any attempt to put Him in a pedagogical or philosophical box – especially when scripture is abused in order to do so.
I left the presentation thinking that one could easily have several other presentations with just as much “biblical proof” saying that Jesus was “_____________” (fill in essentialist, traditionalist…) You can go to the Bible and prove just about anything is true that you want to be true, if you want to abuse the scripture in that way, if you think that truth is dependent “proof texts”.
What made me even more disturbed was the underlying need of the presenter to make something “Biblical” in order to be comfortable with accepting what their reality was teaching them was true – that there is something real about the social construction of learning, something appealing to a teacher who really wants to help learners learn. I was probably disturbed by this because I have felt this same need in my previous attempts to have the right Christian thinking about everything.
The presenter started out by saying that many Christians are uncomfortable with the post-modern tenets of constructivism, so he developed the presentation in order to bring comfort to those who are already drawn to this pedagogy, but may be uncomfortable with how this fits with “absolute truth” as understood by “biblical Christians”. The reality is that, no matter how hard you try to find it and prove it, the Bible doesn’t say very much about constructivism or any other educational theory for that matter. What is a faithful Christian teacher supposed to do when the Bible doesn’t say clearly what is right and wrong about every educational theory? Some resort to individual interpretation, drawing lines to connect dots as clearly as we can back to the Bible so that we can make a picture that makes sense to US and is “biblically” true. We then make ourselves feel even better by convincing others to connect the same dots in the same way. Some come to the realization that scripture was never intended to be used to support our always paltry theories.
Scripture is about Christ – all of it! Its intent is to point us to Christ, and to help us participate in the loving life of Christ, His Father and the Holy Spirit. Scripture is not a “stamp of approval” brought out to support or convince or argue. Scripture is written for open hearts, not grasping minds. Scripture, when understood in light of Holy Tradition – what has been believed by the Church always, by all people, in all places – can help us see how truth glitters in all created reality and can help us discern what brings life and what brings death.
Theories, ists and isms, are our best human thinking at a point in time. They always carry both truth and untruth because we “see through a glass darkly.” They should be held onto lightly because they are usually developed in response to holding too tightly to another theory. Theories are ideas – not reality – and, as Simone Weil says, they hang in the middle of the air, neither rooted in reality or eternity, and never perfectly realized or even fully consciously applied as we offer ourselves to God, all others, and His creation in every given moment. To try to do so would make us absent from the present and unable to attend to the other. Theories do help us reflect and correct and deconstruct and construct. They serve a purpose, but they are not our salvation, or “rocks” on which to stand.
Jesus is the Son of God, the one who saved us, is saving us and calls us to be saved. The one who gives Himself to us to make it possible for us to be in right relationship with God and others – not theories. How dare we say He was a Constructivist or any other “ist”?