Building Personal Relationships with a Personal God
As we approach Good Friday, we are reminded that God himself became a man to live among His people and to understand personally what it is to suffer. Even though the incarnation is a critical doctrine of Christianity, it is not mere theological terminology in classrooms at The Oaks Academy. The incarnation is not an academic topic; instead, it’s a fundamental principle that determines how we engage students in conversations about Christ.
“We want students to have their own encounter with God,” says Laura Grammer, Head of School at the Middle School. “It doesn’t have to be mediated by what we think. We want to introduce them face to face to God.” And this desire dramatically impacts what Christ-centeredness means at The Oaks.
The Oaks is unique among private schools for its approach to spiritual matters. At The Oaks, students are not tested on their grasp of biblical topics. Instead of instructing students about who God is, The Oaks provides opportunities for students to get to know Him themselves.
Students read the Bible as a part of the humanities curriculum, and in doing so, they discover God’s nature by seeing him act in history. They encounter the beauty of God as they study the creation in science class and the unchanging truth of God as they study math. They explore the character of God as they read stories of good and evil in English class. And they experience the wonder of God as they contemplate art and music. Matters of faith are not isolated to a Bible class at The Oaks because, as Laura Grammer explains, “It doesn’t have to be explicitly Christian to show who Christ is. These true and beautiful ideas will point them to Christ.”
Even chapel—and on non-chapel days, lauds—emphasize interaction rather than instruction. The entire school gathers together at the beginning of each school day to worship, to read Scripture, and to pray—but not to listen to a speaker deliver a message. Chapel is not a time for students to hear about God, but to meet with Him. “I’ll even read Scripture from the back of the room,” Mrs. Grammer says, “so that it’s about the Scripture, not about who’s up front. You as the teacher have to get out of the way. That’s how you honor the personhood of the child. You allow them to have that real relationship with the living God and you don’t manage that for them.”
The Oaks has resolved not to interpret Scripture on behalf of its students, or direct their spiritual journeys. The Oaks is committed to protecting the personhood of the child in matters of faith. Instead of telling students what to believe, the students tell their teachers what they believe. This is the capstone project for every Oaks 8th grader: a thesis that defines truth and beauty, and a personal narrative of the student’s faith journey. And the students are not graded on the content of their responses, but in how their responses are constructed and presented.
While some might find it frightening to give children this freedom, Mrs. Grammer remains confident. “I’m not the one who saves them. God cares a lot more about their faith and their belief in him than we do. So why would we try to control and manipulate children? God will pursue them.”
We can take hope in that promise. Good Friday reminds us just how far God will pursue us. That’s why he came.