Book Review: Imagine the Possibilities: Conversations on the Future of Christian Education 

May 3rd, 2019 | Category: Book Reviews
By Jacob Corzine

“Imagine the Possibilities: Conversations on the Future of Christian Education” 

by Bull, Bernard and Pingel, Jim,

2018, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis

Isbn: 9780758659309

Isbn 13: 9780758659293

Paperback, $24.99

I am certainly the right person to read this book. As a person with little training in Lutheran education, this book helped me to understand the diverse nature of our Lutheran schools. Compared to the readership of the Lutheran Education Journal, I have little prior experience with Lutheran education. My interest in it, though genuine, has grown as a result of circumstances rather than personal experience within the Lutheran school system. I have read this book, in an effort to better understand the Lutheran-school concept, to better understand the many students I teach who are studying toward careers as Lutheran teachers.

The book has eleven chapters, each a self-contained description of a Lutheran school entity notable for its success while pursuing something imaginative that at the same time is an identifying trait. Ten of the eleven schools are in the USA, but an international school is also included and enriches the volume. Four of the chapters describe schools in the Midwest, Three schools are on the west coast, two on the east coast, and one in Colorado. The schools serve a diverse population from the lowest socioeconomic echelon to the highest, and they approach instruction in a variety of ways from the traditional to the progressive to the classical.

Each chapter of the book covers a school, telling its story, assessing its goals and results, and extracting lessons for the reader. The authors’ selection criteria limit the stories to success stories, but in the conclusion they note the hesitancy with which they described schools for which the circumstances could suddenly turn less favorable. The book’s conclusion offers 25 lessons gleaned from the study of these schools and include admonitions such as: Do not settle for survival, Do not settle for Lutheran icing on a public-education cake, and Make teacher accountability and equipping a top priority.

The authors title each chapter with a summary phrase that provides a quick review of the eleven institutions discussed in the book. These provide means for a quick review of the eleven institutions discussed in the book. First, “Free, Family, and Faith Formation” refers to a church-supported ministry. “Bloom Where You Are Planted” reveals a school that has remained and adapted in a changing neighborhood providing a place of safety and faith education. “Yes, We Can” describes the way a secondary school intentionally accommodates all manner of needs as required by its over eight hundred students. The school is described as a top-tier college preparatory school that works to educate in academics and the faith, notably dedicating time to efforts to prevent mission drift. 

“A School That Nurtures Innovators and Groundbreakers” refers to a school that is unusual in its approach to educational methodology and in its admission process. “A School of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness” focuses on providing an education focused on these three pursuits, while at the same time putting forward its distinctively Lutheran identity and avoiding the false impression that what they offer is an “elitist” education. “Pursue your Passion” draws the reader’s attention to the school-within-a-school concept. as a way to provide personalized, focused learning for students in the final two years of the high school experience.

“The Exponential Power of Association” focuses on elementary schools that leverage the business knowledge of the founders to streamline operations in seven urban schools while relying on vouchers and meeting the physical needs of students. “Lutheran Education on a Global Scale” describes an international school that takes advantage of deep resources to provide a top-notch, mission-focused school in a restrictive environment. “Lutheran Education Reimagined” looks like a “wraparound ministry.” Open Sky Education operates schools near Lutheran churches and invites them to provide optional faith-formation ministry in the form of after-school programs and summer camps. Though students are not required to participate, many do. The authors note here, interestingly, that these efforts even substantially contribute to the safety and quality of life in the neighborhoods in which they are located. 

“Redefining the High School Experience” examines successful efforts to remove the stress of pursuing perfection from its students while maintaining its high college-acceptance record. The change occurred alongside the implementation of a major online education platform. “Settled between Two Rivers, Showing the Way to the Water of Life” concludes the book with the story of a Lutheran school that was founded in 1862. The school is of modest size, and not actively pursuing growth in the student body like others, but it is healthy and clear in its mission.

Equally intriguing in Imagine the Possibilities are impressively well-funded schools in California or Shanghai and the schools meeting an urgent need, like those in Miami, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. Taking the title as a suggestion, I begin to imagine the possibilities of where my students might one day teach, and have certainly been made more able to picture how the variety of students might be matched to such a variety of school environments. Particularly interesting are the authors’ own imaginings (p.177) about the possibility of Lutheran “micro schools.” Intimate learning environments with major access to educational technologies seems an exciting prospect, although I must leave it to the educational experts to confirm or dispute that it is as promising as the authors suggest.

The book is quite readable and very positive in tone. Although the material presented is by nature anecdotal, it is quite exciting to find so many positive anecdotes assembled in one place. Thousands of students are served by the schools described in the book in many different ways. The reader is encouraged to speculate both about what new ideas might be imagined and implemented, and which of the innovations described in the book might be replicated elsewhere. Bull and Pingel have succeeded with this book in holding up the Lutheran school as a praise-worthy example of a church tradition worth continuing because of its attention to the Gospel and service to the neighbor. LEJ

Dr. Jacob Corzine is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Concordia University Chicago. Dr. Corzine received his doctorate in Systematic Theology from Humboldt Universität zu Berlin; Berlin, Germany. Prior to joining the faculty at Concordia, Dr. Corzine served as Campus Minister assigned to the University of Pretoria, South Africa.