Reading Time: 3 minutes

Is the Khan Academy the future of the church?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

facebook twitter instagram

Salman Khan, famous for the Khan Academy, speaking at TED 2011 (Credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr)

The Khan Academy is now an iPad app.  What’s the Khan Academy?  Some say it’s the future of education; others say it points to the demise of civilization.  I’m afraid both may be right.

Salman Khan was a hedge fund analyst who began posting math tutorials on YouTube in 2004 to help his nieces with their homework.  Five years later he started recording lessons fulltime.  Donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google provide funds that make his Internet videos available for free.  More than two million students have watched them more than 50 million times.  Some 3,000 different classes are now online.  I watched a few–they’re conversational and easy to follow.  Think Wikipedia on video.

Critics point out that Khan is not a trained teacher.  However, he was a math major at MIT with master’s degrees in computer science, electrical engineering and business administration.  He provides exercises to test a student’s comprehension of the concepts, and a “dashboard” so teachers, coaches and parents can monitor student progress.  Some wonder if this is the end of traditional education, as students progress at their own pace without being classified in “first grade” or “junior high.”  Everyone could have access to the same quality of instruction, leveling the educational playing field.  Or education could be “dumbed down” to a transfer of information without the critical interaction between teachers and classmates so vital to worldview development and character formation.

I worry about what the popularity of the Khan Academy says about our society and, more specifically, our faith.  Providing free online resources on demand is the quintessential strategy for our consumer culture.  No more getting up early for class or staying up late to study.  No teachers to challenge us to do better or peer pressure to try harder.  It sounds like much of contemporary spirituality to me–therapy-based preaching and programs to meet consumer needs dispensed in the most user-friendly manner possible.

Is this what Jesus died for?  Lately I’ve been reading the Gospel of Luke in my personal Bible study.  I count 30 times where Jesus refers to “the kingdom of God.”  In the first he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43).  When I read his statement a few days ago, the question struck me: “Why is the kingdom of God ‘good news’?”

I thought of four answers: (1) this world has a King–it is not random or chaotic, despite the depravity we see daily; (2) this King loves each of us, personally and unconditionally; (3) he has a “good, pleasing and perfect will” for each of his subjects (Romans 12:2); and (4) we can know him intimately and follow his will daily.

Here’s the catch: there can be only one King in a kingdom.  Is Jesus your instructor or your King today?