Why We Need a Theology of Education

Dear Reader,

Last time I talked about the need for a truly reformed (Christian) approach to education. I want to expand a bit upon that now and say why I think we need not just a philosophy but a theology of education.

When I began to look at the various approaches to education, I found that they all were founded upon certain beliefs. Some are deliberate and up front about their beliefs; others may not even know they have these beliefs. But either way, they all make assumptions about two very important topics:

  1. They all assume something about the nature of the child. As the child is a person (or will at least become a person), this means that they are really saying something about human nature.
  2. Even the most basic has some idea of goals. If I write a spelling curriculum, I still have some belief about why we should teach this subject and what the desired end result is. Every approach to education has a goal in mind. Whether education is a life or the preparation for life, the goal of education tells us something about the purpose of life.

Whether you know it, whether your curriculum writers know it, these are the big questions they must answer: What is human nature? and What is the purpose of human existence?  If we believe in a Creator, we cannot answer these questions without asking how and why God made man.

In the next few weeks, I plan to look at two of the most popular Christian approaches to education, Charlotte Mason and Christian classical. Today I would like to begin to show you what I mean by looking at a secular (by which I just mean not inherently Christian) approach: Unschooling (see my original post on unschooling here). For my purposes today, unschooling is useful because it is philosophical — it has definite ideas behind it and knows what they are — and because it is not inherently Christian. While I do not think unschooling is compatible with biblical Christianity, I have a lot of respect for the unschooling parents I have met. More often than not, they are very involved, responsive and loving parents who truly want what they think is best for their children.

Unschooling has a very high view of the personhood of the child. So high that it says we should not impose our own views upon the child. The parent or teacher does not decide what should be learned; only the child is able to make those decisions for himself.  The underlying assumption is that the child is able to and will choose what is good for himself.  Individuality is highly valued. Janey may choose to learn calculus and use correct punctuation; if Johnny does not, that is fine for him. Looked at from one perspective, unschooling  says that the child can choose and do good. The flip side is that what is good is defined as what the child chooses. In other words, each person decides what is good for himself and what is good for one might not be good for another.

There are other assumptions at work as well. Each child is equipped to learn; learning itself need not be taught. There is a natural curiosity and love of learning which the child, unimpeded, will pursue.  Learning is to some degree an individual pursuit. Though unschooling parents are often quite active in providing materials, all education, in the unschooling environment, is self-education.**

In unschooling, the child learns not just what but when he wants to learn. Some of you will be saying, “Well, if I didn’t make my child learn, they never would.” Unschooling  takes a different approach; rather than looking at a child who might be coloring or playing video games or picking his nose and saying they are not learning, they look at the child and say he is getting what he needs. In other words, there is a kind of educational sanctification of all life. Whatever the child does is learning. There is no separation between education and life. All life is education.

If the material of an unschooling education is thus individualized, we should not be surprised that its goals are also personalized. Individual parents may have specific goals; an unschooling mom once told me her goal was for her children to be kind people. I am not sure that in the unschooling community as a whole that there is one clear idea of what the goal is, but I think there is an implied goal. If each child naturally acquires what is good for him, then, conversely, the goal of education is for the child to acquire what is good for him. But education is also life so we can say that the goal of life is for each person (not just children) to obtain what is good for them. Because my good may not identical to your good, we might say the goal is a kind of self-actualization in which each person achieves his own good.

So what assumptions have we seen in unschooling? Here’s my list:

  • The child has a natural ability to learn and an inborn love of learning.
  • The child is naturally good at least insofar as he will gravitate to what is good and necessary for him.
  • There is not one body of knowledge everyone needs to know.
  • There is not one “good” which applies to everyone. What is good for me might not be what is good for you. (I assume there are theists, if not Christians, who are unschoolers and hold to some higher standard of good beyond ourselves. I would love to hear how parents deal with things philosophically when their unschooling child chooses something that the parent thinks is not good. Another way to ask is, I suppose: how does unschooling account for the existence of “not good”?)
  • One does not truly teach another; “all education is self-education.”
  • Education is not separate from life. All life is education.
  • The purpose of education is for the child to acquire what is good for him.
  • Therefore the purpose of life is also for the individual, child or adult, to achieve his good.

I have used unschooling as an example so we can see how the ideas one holds manifest themselves in a philosophy of education. Unschooling embodies assumptions about: the nature of the child, his abilities and inherent goodness; how learning happens; what good is; how education relates to life as a whole; and what the purpose of one’s life is. If we were to change any one of these assumptions, the philosophy of education would change.

As Christians, we need to ask the same questions: What is the nature of the child? What are his abilities, both intellectual and moral? How does learning happen? What should one learn (is there a set body of knowledge that everyone needs)? What is good? (and perhaps: What is true and beautiful? and maybe even: What is evil/bad/not good and where does it come from?) What is the goal of education? How does education fit into the rest of life? To the extent that education either is life or prepares one for life, what is the purpose of life? Because we believe that there is One who created us and has a purpose for us, these will be for us inherently theological questions.  So to return to my initial claim: we need not just a philosophy of education, as if education were something apart from the rest of our beliefs, we need to see how our theology plays out in our approach to education. We need a theology of education.

Next time I want to talk a little about methodology, how  do we go about forming a theology of education? After that, I’d like to look at two popular approaches to education, Charlotte Mason and Christian classical, to see how they answer the questions above, to see the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Nebby

**I have often quoted this statement, “All education is self-education.” I looked up the source for this post; apparently it was first spoken by western author Louis L’Amour.

 

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A Call for a Reformed Christian Philosophy of Education

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Dear Reader,

It’s a new year and I have decided to pursue a new direction in this blog. To the extent that I have had a direction thus far, it has been to discuss homeschooling and particularly the Charlotte Mason approach. This blog has always been my own way to work out my thoughts. Now I have a few thoughts, or seeds of thoughts, and I would like to pursue them more single-mindedly.

Ideas matter. In the realm of education, what this means is that the ideas that lie behind any particular approach to education have consequences. Years ago, I did this series on different approaches to homeschooling.  I found that each, consciously or not, makes two big assumptions: They all have something to say about the nature of the child, and thereby about all human nature; and, in defining the goal of education, they all say something about the purpose of life itself. Observing my own children and other homeschooled kids, I have come to believe that these ideas not only lie behind what we do, they work themselves out in what we do. In other words, ideas matter because they have consequences.

Though I began as a more eclectic homeschooler, over time I was drawn to the Charlotte Mason approach to education. In many ways it fit my own ideas. There have always been aspects of her thought that did not sit right with me, however. As I have read and studied Charlotte’s own words more, this discomfort has not decreased but has become more focused. As I understand her better, I see our differences more clearly. While there are parts of Charlotte’s philosophy that I find quite biblical and while I do not at all doubt her own faith, there are also aspects which I cannot reconcile with my own (reformed Christian) theology. (You can read specifics here.)

I think many homeschooling parents have done as I have; we look at what is available to us, choose what seems best, tweak as needed, and proceed more or less blindly feeling our way. I want something different. I want a philosophy of education that begins from a Scriptural foundation. I want it to incorporate a reformed view of human nature and to say how that affects how we educate children, both the children of believers and other children. And I want it to place the goal of education within God’s plan for humanity.

My resolution for the coming year is to start this process by reading, writing about and posting on anything and everything related to the topic of reformed Christian education. Though we must begin with the theoretical, as a homeschooling parent, I hope that we will be able to move into the practical as well.

So what can you expect? I am hoping you all can help me with that by suggesting books, articles and sermons. In the short term, here are some of the posts I am planning for the next months:

  • Why we need not a philosophy but a theology of education
  • Rules of the game: Principles of biblical interpretation, or how is she going to go about this anyway?
  • A Charlotte Mason education: why it is not enough 😦
  • The elephant in the room, or why not Christian classical
  • Implicit Assumptions in Modern American Education
  • J.G. Vos on Education
  • The Puritans on Education
  • Jewish Education
  • Erasmus, Luther, Calvin and Strum (that’s four separate posts, at least)

Until next time,

Nebby

 

Living Books on the Ancient Near East

Dear Reader,

We did a mini term between Thanksgiving and Christmas on Mesopotamia and Canaan. As a once and future Hebrew scholar, it kills me to give the short shrift to the Ancient Near East but there is only so much one can fit into a school year. You can find all my booklists here.

Living Books on the Ancient Near East

In our time all together, we concentrated on art and myths. I used Hillyer’s book for the art. Though it can be understood by elementary level, I think it still provides a good introduction for older children as well. Note that Hillyer has a few volumes, on painting, sculpture and architecture. I have the three in one volume, A Child’s History of Art, and we covered all the areas.

The Ancient Near East includes a number of cultures. While they all have similarities, there is also some variation. We tried to include both Mesopotamian and Canaanite myths. I used Padraic Colum’s Myths of the World which I got on Kindle. It is nice because it gives some introduction to what we find in each of the cultures as well. For Mesopotamia, we also got a few of the storybooks by Zeman by tell the epic of Gilgamesh. There are three I believe that they each tell part of the story so you want to read them in order. Though these are picture books, they do a great job. For Canaan, I used Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan. These are tales from Ugarit, a Canaanite town which was destroyed by fire. The destruction meant that the clay tablets on which the stories were written were baked hard and survived. It is interesting to see the similarities and differences here with one of Israel’s close neighbors. What we have is somewhat fragmentary. Coogan gives good introductions to each. I recommend prereading so you can give context and read selections. I blogged on these myths when we studied them previously. You can see one of those posts here.

We also talked about writing together using the book Sign, Symbol, Script. This is one I had leftover from my grad school days. It is actually a catalog from an exhibition but gives lots of info on the history of writing and the alphabet, a topic I couldn’t pass by. I have no idea how easy this is to find. We didn’t use Ancient Israleites and Their Neighbors. I find it a bit cumbersome. It has lots of extras like recipes if you are into that sort of thing.

I’m not thrilled with the historical fiction in this period. I don’t find it very well-written. My high school daughter read Adara by Gormley. My middle schooler read  Hittie Warrior by Williamson. The latter in particular seemed to through in every biblical motif it could (not in a good way). My senior read Silverberg’s Gilgamesh the King. I chose this book partly because he has been studying science fiction for his literature this year and Silverberg is a sci-fi writer. I thought the book would stray farther from the myth but it actually seemed to do better than I expected.

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My 8th grader read Science in Ancient Mesopotamia. I am not thrilled with this series but it is decent and provides info that one might not get elsewhere. He also read a book I loved for him — Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons by Nosov. I only had him read the portions relevant to what we are studying. I seemed to be a very readable book. My 7th grader read Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Persian Costumes and Decorations by Houston. There are a lot of picture sin this book. She choose to do drawing of the costumes for most narrations and seemed to really get into it.

Lastly, we get to the actual history books.

My7th grader read The Ancient Near Eastern World by Podany. I’m not sure it’s 100% living but it seemed well-written. She liked that it included a lot of different things, like history and myths and how people lived. My 12th grader read A Short History of the Near East by Hitti. He seems to have really enjoyed it and says that it did a good job of being both broad and specific if that makes sense. My 11th grader read Fairservis’ Mesopotamia. She says it was pretty good. Since Fairservis only covers Mesopotamia, I also had her read The Phoenicians by Pamela Odijk. My 8th grader read the relevant portions of Dorothy Mills’ Book of the Ancient World. I am not thrilled with the book though I see it recommended a lot. It seems overly brief and simple (though her book on Greece is longer and I am planning to use that one). I was supposed to read Maspero’s Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria but life got away from me and I never started it 😦

Next up: Ancient Greece

Nebby

So, Is Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy Biblical?

Dear Reader,

With the holidays and various personal issues, I have not posted in about a month. This has also given me some time to think. I have decided to wrap up my series “Are CM’s 20 Principles Biblical?” Though I have not been through all 20 principles, I think I have gotten what I wanted to from this series (and I hope you have too).

Before I pull it all together and answer the big question, let’s review why we even asked this question and where we have been.

Goal and Methodology

This series sprang from a phrase “pure CM.” Art Middlekauff at Charlotte Mason Poetry argues that it is important that we adhere closely to Charlotte’s philosophy because her philosophy is founded upon “immutable divine law.” Essentially his argument is: If Charlotte’s philosophy of education is, as she claims, founded on the Scriptures and divine law, we should not dilute it but stick closely to her ideas. I agree with this statement, but it all hinges on the if. The goal of this series, then, has been to examine that if and to ask the question: Is Charlotte’s philosophy indeed founded upon the divine law? (The folks at A Delectable Education also advocate a “pure CM” approach though they cite different reasons; all of this was discussed in the first post in this series which you can read here.)

It took Miss Mason six lengthy, dense volumes to elucidate her philosophy. This is a bit much to tackle in one chunk. I chose to focus on Charlotte’s 20 Principles.  I understand that these principles were not spelled out in their current form from the get-go and that they, by nature of their brevity, may be lacking, but I believe they provide us with a good framework for Charlotte’s philosophy. My methodology was to take each principle, to ask what Charlotte herself meant by it, to see what the biblical text has to say on the issue, and then to hold the two up and compare them to say whether the one is in line with the other. My standard for evaluating each of Charlotte’s ideas is to ask “Is it agreeable to and founded upon the Scriptures?” To be founded upon the Scriptures is, in my mind, to find a clear biblical basis, precedent or command. Something that is agreeable to the Scriptures may not be directly addressed in the Bible but seems to fall in line with biblical principles.

Some principles of interpretation by which I have operated: 1) The Scriptures are only a part of the revealed divine law. God reveals Himself through both His written word and His creation. Miss Mason makes clear that she appeals to both of these sources, basing her method on both the gospels and the knowledge we derive through our senses and reason from God’s creation (this includes scientific knowledge).  2) The Scriptures are “the only infallible rule for faith and life.” That is to say, they are the only rule that is infallible, but not the only rule. We may also learn true things from other sources. 3) The Scriptures tell us about God and our sin and how we may be saved. They don’t tell us everything we need to know about every topic. They don’t tell us what diet is best nor are they a primer on godly education. 4) The Scriptures contain both prescriptive and descriptive passages. Sometimes it is clear what we are to do or not do (“Though shalt not . . . “). At other times we may derive general principles from Scripture and apply them to situations which the Bible, for whatever reason, does not directly address. Some times we are told what a given person did but we must make determinations about whether this is emulatable behavior or not.  5) The Scriptures are internally consistent. We may and should use clearer passages to illuminate those that are more confusing. And as a corollary — 6) The New Testament does not replace the Old. Those principles and practices that are not specifically abrogated in the New are assumed to still be in effect.

Recapping the Evidence

I began at the beginning — with Charlotte’s first principle. I then jumped to the 20th, as being, to my mind, one of the most pivotal (see this much earlier post). I then returned to that thorny second principle. And then, because my attention was drawn to new evidence, revisited the first principle. I did not treat the third principle, which deals with authority,  but addressed the fourth principle indirectly in my post on what Charlotte calls “the gospel principles.” I then moved on to principles 5 through 8 which put forth and then elucidate the PNEU motto: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” This is where I broke off.

If you have been counting, you will see that I have tackled less than half of the 20 principles. Nonetheless, I think I have gotten an answer to my own question. Before pulling everything together, let’s do a brief fly-over of each of the principles I did look at and how they stacked up:

  • I addressed Charlotte’s first principle, “Children are born persons,” in three posts: CM’s first principle, First Principle Revisited, and “the Greatness of the child as a person” (a fourth post, Man in the image of God, was a sidebar to this series within a series).  I saw that Charlotte, in speaking of children as spiritual beings and in discussing their various characteristics and abilities, is in line with biblical thought which includes children in the community of God’s people and says that they can sin and are capable of faith. However, in my post on  “the greatness of the child as a person,” I saw that Charlotte goes beyond what I am comfortable with in her interpretation of Matthew 18 and attributes a degree of innocence to the child which I find unwarranted. This is not to say that her idea of the child’s greatness is unbiblical, but that I personally judge it to be the result of poor biblical interpretation.
  • Charlotte’s 20th principle addresses the role of “the Divine Spirit” as the child’s “Continual Helper” in education. In my post on this principle, I found that Charlotte’s basic idea is biblical, though I had some reservations relating to the relationship between godliness and wisdom.
  • I treated Charlotte’s second principle in a three part mini series (see part 1, part 2, and part 3). Her second principle says that: “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.” Part 1 looked at how Charlotte herself explains this principle. Contrary to what I had read elsewhere, Charlotte clearly means her second principle to be a statement about morality, as well as about other aspects of the person. What does it mean to say that the child, on a moral or spiritual level, has possibilities for good and evil?  In part 2, I looked at the spectrum or orthodox Christian belief on original sin and the nature of man. I assumed at this point that Charlotte’s own idea of the level of good and evil in human nature would fall in line with the Church of England of the time of which she was a member. In part 3, I began to wrestle with reconciling my own beliefs with Charlotte’s. My conclusion at this point was that, while Charlotte falls within the spectrum of orthodox belief, she is not where I am on that spectrum (I am firmly in the “reformed Christian/Calvinist” camp) and that this poses some problems for me in using her philosophy. Again, I would not say at this point that her principle is unbiblical; I will say that it does not agree with my (reformed) view of what the Bible has to say on the (sinful) nature of man.
  • Charlotte claims to lay the foundation of her philosophy on what she calls the “gospel principles” of education. These gospel principles roughly correspond to Charlotte’s 4th and 5th of her 20 principles. They come out of her interpretation of Matthew 18-19 (see this post). I was not completely comfortable with how Charlotte interprets the relevant passages, but I cannot deny that she is clearly leaning on the biblical text for these ideas.
  • Charlotte’s fifth principle introduces her motto: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Principles 6, 7 and 8 pull apart this motto and explain its parts.  In the post on “Education is an atmosphere . . .” I decided that Charlotte’s idea of atmosphere is plausible biblically. We are ranging here into more of the specifics of education, the hows more than the whys, and we should not necessarily expect to find specific biblical evidence which her ideas are “founded upon”; it is enough to say that they are “agreeable to” the Scriptures.
  • I then jumped to “Education is . . . a life” in this post. Again we saw that not everything Charlotte says can be substantiated directly by the Scriptures. I was impressed, however, with how deeply biblical her thought seems to be. At this point more than any other, I got the sense that, even when she is not directly relying on the Bible, Charlotte’s thought is informed by deep spiritual undercurrents which are themselves biblically based.
  • “Education is  . . . a discipline . . .” is another thorny issue and took two posts here and here.  For Charlotte discipline means essentially habit training and she specifically rejects corporal punishment, at least as a regular or frequent form of discipline.  I spent some time looking at how the Bible uses various words for discipline and how it depicts both parental and divine discipline. There are two sides to this one — habit training itself is not unbiblical (and indeed I think there are undercurrents here too which betray a deeply Christian understanding)  but Charlotte goes well beyond the biblical text in her downplaying of the physical aspect of discipline. I am not quite willing to say unbiblical on this one but Charlotte certainly weights things in a  way that the Scriptures very clearly do not.

Further Evidence 

At this point I ran across a quote in Charlotte’s second volume that caused me to revisit her second principle and to do some reevaluating.  If you haven’t read that post — The Key to Charlotte Mason’s Thought — I would encourage you to stop here and do so before continuing.

In Parents and Children Charlotte says that all children “born in this redeemed world” are in “the kingdom of grace” as opposed to “the kingdom of nature” (p. 65). This is to say that children are born, if not good, at least able to do and choose the good.  Her whole philosophy is predicated on this idea — that the child can choose the good. The child has an appetite for knowledge and when presented with the right intellectual food is able to ingest what he needs (principle 9). The job of the teacher is to present the right foodstuffs (principle 11); it is up to the child to accept or reject what he is presented with (principle 19). This methodology only works if the child is able to accept what is good.

Art Middlekauff discusses this passage and argues that Charlotte is not really saying anything new or out of step with her church (“Charlotte Mason’s Theology: Orthodoxy or Innovation?” from Essays on the Life and Work of Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, Riverbend Press, 2014). His argument is that Mason “is not denying the doctrine of original sin, but she is rather asserting that (a) children are created in the image of God and (b) we live in a redeemed world in which Christ gives a measure of light to all.” We all agree, I think, that there is evil in human nature. The point of debate seems to be how much good, or potential for good, there is and where it comes from. As I understand it, Middlekauff, on Charlotte’s behalf, argues that there is good in even an unredeemed human and that it comes from two sources: (1) some remnant of the image of God and (2) the general, widespread good effects of Christ’s redemptive work, what has been called common grace. These two provide enough good for the child to be able to respond to the good when it is put before him.

I have some problems with this idea as Middlekauff presents it. On one hand, I do not believe that man does retain the image of God post-Fall; I discussed that here.  On the other, I think Middlekauff overstates the ability of man to do true good apart from redemptive (not just common) grace.

But beyond these arguments, I am not at all convinced that this is what Charlotte meant when she spoke of the redeemed world. Let us look again at the quote in question as well as another from Parents and Children and one from her first volume, Home Education:

“But we live in a redeemed world, and one of the meanings which that unfathomable phrase bears is, that it is the duty of those who have the care of childhood to eradicate each vulgar and hateful trait, to plant and foster the fruits of that kingdom in the children who have been delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace; that is to say, all children born into this redeemed world.” (Parents and Children, p. 65)

“Perhaps it is incumbent upon them to make conscientious endeavours to further all means used to spread the views they hold; believing that there is such ‘progress in character and virtue’ possible to the redeemed human race as has not yet been realised or even imagined.” (Ibid., pp. 247-48)

“The most fatal way of despising the child falls under the third educational law of the Gospels; it is to overlook and make light of his natural relationship with Almighty God. ‘Suffer the little children to come unto Me,’ says the Saviour, as if that were the natural thing for the children to do, the thing they do when they are not hindered by their elders. And perhaps it is not too beautiful a thing to believe in this redeemed world, that, as the babe turns to his mother though he has no power to say her name, as the flowers turn to the sun, so the hearts of the children turn to their Saviour and God with unconscious delight and trust.” (Home Education, pp. 19-20)

Children, Charlotte says, bear “vulgar and hateful traits,” but they also contain “the  fruits of the kingdom.” Note that these are fostered. To me “foster” implies that they are already present, perhaps in a seed-like form. In these two we see Charlotte’s second principle clearly — the possibilities for good and evil. There is a hint of something more than just a possibility, a propensity we might say, in the quote from Home Education.  Charlotte phrases it in a way so as to not fully commit herself but advances the idea that children would naturally turn to Christ as Savior if they were not hindered by their elders.

Charlotte repeatedly uses the phrase “redeemed world” to describe our current state (in addition to the quotes above, see also Home Education p. 331). I spent some time googling and as far as I can tell Christians are a lot more likely to speak of our world as fallen and to discuss how we live as redeemed people in a fallen world.  Though I’ll acknowledge my approach is by no means exhaustive, I could find very few references to a “redeemed world.” I am very hesitant to ever use words, especially loaded words like “redeemed” or redemption, in ways that the Scriptures themselves do not. I did a cursory search in my concordance and could not find that the Bible ever speaks of a “redeemed world.” I have no doubt that Creation at the end of time will be renewed and redeemed but I see no precedent for saying it is so now. Romans 8 springs to mind:

 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom. 8:19-25; ESV)

While there is some hint here that perhaps the waiting of the fallen creation is at an end, the thrust of the passage seems to be that that creation still waits in hope for its redemption.

My instinct is that this idea of a “redeemed world” must come from the postmillennialism movement which was popular at the time, the idea (briefly put) being that we are in the millennial rule of Christ that will culminate on His second coming and that this is a time of blessing, optimism and progress. Though I have some sympathy with postmillennialism, the idea that world is at this point redeemed does not seem to be a biblical one.

Whether the world is redeemed or not, the main question seems to be how much potential for good children have. Middlekauff, as we have seen, speaks of the image of God and common grace (though he does not use that term). Charlotte seems to me to go beyond these. She says that children have been “delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace.”  If Charlotte only said that children had the power to do good then I would agree with Middlekauff’s reading. But to speak of children as being delivered from the kingdom of nature to that of grace seems to me to take it a step further. Delivered is another loaded term and implies salvation.

The phrases “kingdom of nature” and “kingdom of grace” also deserve attention. Dean Boyd, an Anglican minister preaching in the 1850s and 60s, says:

” There is, however, a kingdom which is neither the kingdom of nature nor the kingdom of glory, but something between the two: but nevertheless, it belongs to earth in one respect, and to heaven in another. Its great object is to rescue sinners, and to build them up in holiness; and therefore the subjects of this kingdom are those that have been once rebellious, but, through the grace of God, have been brought into a state of loyalty and allegiance to the Lord” (“The End of the Kingdom of Grace,” from Biblehub.com).

The terms were not new in the 1800s; in the 17th century a Puritan, Thomas Watson, was also spoke of “the kingdom of grace.” The kingdoms of grace and glory, he says, “differ not specifically, but gradually; they differ not in nature, but only in degree. The kingdom of grace is nothing but the inchoation or beginning of the kingdom of glory” (T. Watson, “The Kingdoms of Grace and Glory,” from Biblehub.com). So we see that the kingdom of nature is opposed to the kingdoms of grace and glory. The latter two being roughly equivalent though the kingdom of grace exists on this earth for believers in the here and now and the kingdom of glory is the fulfillment yet to come. To say, then, that children have been delivered from the kingdom of nature to that of grace is as much as to say that they have been saved.

One final note: in the second quote above from Parents and Children, Charlotte speaks of “the redeemed human race.” We might overlook this phrase if it were not for the context provided by the other quotes we have been looking at. As it is, I cannot help but thinking that Charlotte saw the results of Christ’s redemptive work as extending to humanity as a whole. It would be beyond the scope of this post to follow all the threads but there are huge theological implications to saying that all the human race is redeemed or, as Charlotte does, that all children have been delivered into the kingdom of grace, beginning with what we actually believe Christ’s sacrifice accomplished, whether is it actual or only potential atonement.

 

Where do we go from here?

There is a lot I love in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. I have been using it, or some version of it, in my family to good effect. There is a lot in her thought that I find good and biblical and true and at times I am in awe of just how deeply biblical ideas seem to penetrate her thinking. There is much good here. I know of no other philosophy of education which is as biblical as hers. She takes her ideas from the gospels — however misread — and works from a Christian worldview and I do not doubt that she had genuine, saving faith.

But then there is this one idea which I cannot accept. Though my disagreement with Charlotte boils down to this one point, it is so foundational to Charlotte’s thinking and has such profound theological implications that I cannot dismiss it.

I believe that ideas have consequences and that every philosophy of education, whether consciously or not, is based upon assumptions about human nature which cannot help but manifest themselves. As a reformed Christian, I have concerns about Charlotte’s philosophy which I cannot ignore. These began as niggling uneasiness but the more I have read her words, the more I see that that are clearly ideas that I do not agree with or consider to be biblical.

I want to take a new direction in this blog in the new year. Up to this point I have been beginning with Charlotte’s philosophy and holding it up to the Word of God. I think we need to begin somewhere else — as Charlotte did perhaps, with the Word itself.

I am going to leave it there for now. Look for more on the new direction in the new year.

Until then

Nebby

 

Living Books on Ancient Egypt

Dear Reader,

We have gone back in time and are studying ancient history this year. We are just finishing up 11 weeks on Ancient Egypt. My kids are in 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th grades this year so most of what we have used will be for middle school and up. I also read some of my own books as well and did written narrations. I have been learning the limitations of my own memory 😉 You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Ancient Egypt

For something different, we did not use a spine book for the whole family this year. We did do Egyptian art, science, and tales together.

egypt 1

We read Science in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Woods together. This is an elementary level book and is not truly living but it is not awful and there is not much else I could find on the subject. Woods has a series of these books and I do think they are worth a look.

For art, we began with The Art of Ancient Egypt by Shirley Glubok. This is very similar to Woods’ book but on at instead of science. Both are elementary level — perhaps even early elementary– and are not  the best quality. Glubok’s also is part of a series of such books. We followed it up wih an old stand-by from my book shelf, V.M. Hillyer’s Child’s History of Art. Though also appropriate for elementary, I found this book so much more interesting and informative so I think we will continue with it alone for art as we move to other cultures. A word of warning– Hillyer has a few volumes on art. Mine is a compendium of his histories of painting, architecture and sculpture. All three are worth having.

We also read some tales together, both myths and legendary tales, from Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of Ancient Egypt.

My middle schoolers each read a number of books.

Both had geography on Egypt as well. My son read L. Frank Baum’s The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt. Baum is the author of the Wizard of Oz books so I was excited to have him try this one. It seems to be a fairly adventurous story of some boys hunting treasure in Egypt and battling various bad guys. From his narrations, I am not sure how much my son learned about Egypt itself. I will say though that he is my worst narrator and probably not as good as others at extracting info from a narrative so others might do better with it. My daughter read The Warringtons Abroad, which we found online here. This is another older book about a family’s journey through various lands and covers much more than Egypt.

My 7th grader read two other books: Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra by Iris Noble and The Pharaoh’s of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne. Both are upper elementary-lower middle school level and are highly recommended. Iris Noble is a favorite author and we always look for books on her. The Payne book is also used by the Greenleaf history guide for the period.

My 8th grader read three books: The Mask of Akhnaten by Robert Silverberg, Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs, and Egypt in the Age of the Pyramids. The first is fiction about a boy looking for the Pharaoh’s mask. I have liked Silverberg’s books a lot and read one myself (see below). The other two are non-fiction and are not truly living books. They were the result of getting what looked best from my library’s bookshelf. Egypt: Land of Pharaohs is mostly about the pyramids and the archaeological side of things. Egypt in the Age of Pyramids tells a fair amlunt about daily life in ancient Egypt and, though it is not the most engaging, is decent for providing that side of things. Another similar book which we checked out but did not use is Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, again not living but our choices were limited.

egypt 12

Because she has a lot else going on this year, I went easy on my 11th grader. The two books she read could really both be middle school level. They are: The Book of the Ancient World by Dorothy Mills and Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. The latter is fiction by an author I often see recommend in homeschooling lists. I am not overly impressed with her writing style but had problems finding good historical fiction on the period. Mills’ book covers more than just Egypt. I only had her read the relevant portions.

My senior read two books I am pretty excited about: In the Valley of the Kings by Meyerson and Isaac Assimov’s The Egyptians. Both could be read by adults, not that they are overly hard reading but that is the intended audience. Assimov’s history goes from the beginnings through Cleopatra. Meyerson’s is again more about the archaeological side. I think he enjoyed both.

egypt 11

As I mentioned above, I also read some books on our time period (and did written narrations!). They are: Akhnaten the Rebel Pharaoh by Robert Silverberg and Beneath the Sands of Egypt by Donald Ryan. I enjoyed both and they could both be read by high schoolers. Ryan is an archaeologist and while his book has much to say about Egypt it would be excellent for a student considering a career in archaeology. Silverberg I mentioned above; my 8th grader also read a book by him. Mine was non-fiction. It covered a fair amount more than Akhnaten’s time though that was certainly the focus. It bordered on being too detailed but didn’t quite cross the line. One caveat– Silverberg has a chapter at the end on Akhnaten and Moses. He makes it clear that he does not accept the Bible as a historical document. If you are not already familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis and biblical interpretation, enough to know what to believe and what not to believe, I would skip it entirely.

caveat–egypt 8Happy reading!

Nebby

The Key to Charlotte Mason’s Thought

Dear Reader,

If you have been around here, you know I have been working through a series in which I look at Charlotte Mason’s principles and ask “Is it biblical?” (Find all the posts here, under the heading “Are Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles Biblical?”). In the past I’ve looked at many philosophies of education (see here), and what I’ve concluded is that each, whether consciously or not, is founded upon certain ideas about who we are as humans. I am also firmly under the conviction that the ideas behind what we do matter; they will always come out over time. So when I look at Charlotte’s philosophy, as much as I want to accept it all wholesale I have to ask if her view of the child is truly biblical.

I am a reformed Christian — 5 points of Calvinism, TULIP, total depravity, limited atonement, and all that. As such, Charlotte’s second principle has always been a sticking point. She says that:

“[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”

I have read a lot of explanations of this principle. Most dismiss what Charlotte is saying here by arguing that it is not really a theological statement about the moral nature of children. It took me three posts in the current blog series to get through this principle. I began by looking at how Charlotte herself explains it. The short story is this: Charlotte believed that “the possibilities for good and the corresponding possibilities for evil” are “present in all children.” When she says this, she is not just talking about their ability to be educated but the whole child “body and soul, body and mind, body, soul and spirit.” In other words, she is saying children are able to choose and do good and it is a moral statement (read my post here to see how I came to that conclusion).  In the second post, I place Charlotte’s position (and mine) within the spectrum of Christian thought (read about that here). In the third I wrestle with how I can accept her educational ideas when we have different views of the nature of children (here).

I am returning to this topic and wrestling some more because I recently ran across a quote in Charlotte’s second volume, Parents and Children, which, while shedding light on Charlotte’s own thought, also places her more at odds with my (reformed) theology.  Here is the quote:

“But we live in a redeemed world, and one of the meanings which that unfathomable phrase bears is, that it is the duty of those who have the care of childhood to eradicate each vulgar and hateful trait, to plant and foster the fruits of that kingdom in the children who have been delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace; that is to say, all children born into this redeemed world.” (Parents and Children, p. 65; emphasis added)

Let that sink in for a minute — We live in a redeemed world, and all children born into this redeemed world have been “delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace.” If you are like me, you are thinking how can that be? Is she saying what I think she is saying and if so, where on earth did this idea come from and how can she believe it? Personally, I have never heard anyone put forward this position — that everyone born in the redeemed world, which would be since the time of Christ, is automatically in “the kingdom of grace.” So I began to google things and found that this was actually an idea around in Charlotte’s time.

In 1905 Crown Theological Library published a collection of essays under the title “The Child and Religion.” It is available from Forgotten Books here or from Archive.org here. The book itself is the outcome of what began as a debate within one congregation. As is explained in the book’s introduction, some children, ages 8 to 12, wanted to become members of the church and the leadership was unsure how to proceed. They were wondering if children even had the capacity to be saved, if they could have union with Christ. They therefore appealed to wide range of pastors of their day. The book is a compilation of essays from these men. A summary of the views they encountered was given by The Expository Times  (Oct. 1904 – Sept. 1905). They asked the following questions: “(1) Is the child born in the Kingdom? (2) Is conversion necessary to make it a child of God? (3) Are all children in a state of favour with God? (4) Are all unconverted outside the Kingdom? (5) May they grow up within the Kingdom without consciously being alienated from God?” (Expository Times, vol. 16, p. 481). The men they asked were: a low churchman (of the Church of England), a high churchman (ditto), two Presbyterians, a Wesleyan (Methodist), three Congregationalists, a Baptist, and a Unitarian (and probably a partridge in a pear tree, if they could find one).

Their answers to the first question are enough to address our purpose. Here is how The Expository Times reports it:

“The first question runs, ‘ Is the child born in the Kingdom ? ‘ What child ? Does Mr. Stephens mean all children that are born into the world? Can you say that the children of Muhammadan parents are born within the Kingdom of Christ ? Or is the meaning as narrow as the child born of truly Christian parents ? The most of Mr. Stephens’ correspondents seem to take the question in a middle way, in the sense of children born in a Christian country. And they mostly answer Yes. But Mr. Stanley, the Unitarian, says bravely that all children are born in the Kingdom of God. He says, ‘ The child comes to our earth from the hand of God with a fresh mind and a pure heart, and evokes our reverence for the mystery and sanctity of life. The little one cannot be regarded as a child of wrath, for it has wonderful and fair capacities, and where all influences favour a righteous development, it may be led to admire and cleave to holy things.’ In Mr. Stanley’s belief, the Muhammadan child is born within the Kingdom of God.” (pp. 481-2)

The position of Stanley, the Unitarian among them, is an extreme one. At the other end of the spectrum is the Baptist, a man named Lewis, who believed that “no children whatever are born in the Kingdom” (p. 482). The others are along a spectrum between these two. As far as I can distinguish them, there seem to be two main positions between these two extremes:

  1. The low churchman and one Presbyterian believe that while all must be born again, “the second birth may occur so near the first as to be practically identical with it.” Children may thus be saved in “unconscious infancy.”
  2. The other Presbyterian and the three Congregationalists believe that children may be born saved but do not say that all are. “‘[A] child may be born into the Kingdom of God when it is born into the world,'” says Watson, a Presbyterian. Similarly, Thomas, a Congregationalist says: “‘Christ claims the children, as He has redeemed them.'” But, the editor tells us, “Both seem to think of the children of Christian parents.”

Charlotte Mason proposes an educational method founded in part on the idea that children have “possibilities for good and evil.” Her philosophy assumes that there is good, or at least the potential for good, in the children she is educating. Another way to put it would be to say that in order to be educable, children must be able to choose the good. We see this paly out in Charlotte’s philosophy; she uses inherently good materials — living books, fine art, etc. — spreading a feast and allowing the children to choose what they “ingest.” If the children were not able to choose the good, then this method would make no sense. Charlotte believes all children are educable, therefore she must believe all children have this capability.

The question before us then is of which children is this true? As the Expository Times article makes clear there are a number of answers to this question. The main possibilities are: (1) no children can be converted/regenerated and made able to believe and do good before a certain age at which they are able to make a conscious decision to believe; (2) some children are saved either before birth or in “unconscious infancy”; or (3) all children are capable of good and are, as it were, born into the Kingdom of God. Within the second category — “some” children– there are still more possibilities. We must ask with The Expository Times “What child?” Those quoted in the article seem to give two answers: (2a) children born to Christian parents and (2b) children born in Christian nations.*

It is a bit unclear where Charlotte stands. On the surface, her statement seems to place her in  camp 3, all children are born into the Kingdom of God, but I think it is also possible given her time and location that she would be in 2b, children born in Christian nations are born into the Kingdom.

Having looked at where Charlotte stands, we must also ask where we fall in this spectrum. The reformed doctrine of total depravity teaches that all people, since the Fall, are, apart from saving grace, unable to choose or do good. However, grace is not dependent on our ability to choose it but upon God’s election. The psalmist speaks of having faith from his other’s womb and John the Baptists recognizes his Savior even in utero. The Apostle Paul tells us that the children of believers are holy (I Cor. 7:14). Our church baptizes infants on the belief that the covenant of God is for us and our children (Acts 2:39). In other words, children of believers are considered part of the people of God, the visible church. As such, I believe in option (2a) above: some children, namely the children of believing parents, are born into the Kingdom of God.

So what does all of this matter? On one level, it does not. Charlotte bases her system of education on the assumption that the children being educated are able to choose and do good. I believe that my children, as covenant children, have this ability, so, well and good, I can use her method in my homeschool. She is educating children she believes to have the potential for good and so am I.

On another level, however, we are quite a world apart. There is a lot of theology behind any of these positions. No theological tenet stands in isolation from others but all depend upon the other. If we say that all children are born into God’s Kingdom, we are also making statements about the nature of the atonement, the sovereignty of God, and the perseverance of the saints.

 

In the end, I am not very far from where I started. I understand Charlotte’s view better but at the same time I find myself farther from her. The provisional conclusions I had made in that earlier post still stand; while I do not agree with Charlotte’s view of all children, yet I can apply her philosophy to my children. I also feel I have a better sense of the questions I still want to answer. Above all, I feel more greatly the need for a truly reformed philosophy of education.

Nebby

*The writer of the Expository Times synopsis says that “most of Mr. Stephens’ correspondents seem to take the question in a middle way, in the sense of children born in a Christian country. And they mostly answer Yes” (p.482). However, he does not specify which corresponds hold this position. It is hard to believe that anyone today would hold such a position for it is very hard in our day to say what is a Christian country, but both these men and Charlotte herself were living in a different time.

 

 

 

“Education is a Discipline,” Part 2

Dear Reader,

This is the second part of my post on Charlotte Mason’s statement “education is  . . .  a discipline . . . ” It is part of an ongoing series in which I look at Miss Mason’s principles in light of the Bible. You can find all the posts in this series here under the heading “Are Charlotte’s 20 principles biblical?

In part 1, we looked at what Charlotte means by “education is . . . a discipline . . .” and saw that according to Miss Mason:

  • Discipline is discipleship.
  • The child is not to be left to his nature which has evil aspects.
  • The goal of habit training is to provide a “second nature.”
  • Habit training works by replacing a bad habit with a good one.
  • Though Charlotte lists many specific habits to work on (obedience, attention, etc.), behind them all is what she elsewhere calls “the Way of the Will,” that is, the ability to make oneself do what one ought, not what one will.
  • Habit training is not just for children; when grown they are to continue to “habit train” themselves.
  • Habit training is not done apart from the work of the Holy Spirit but is a part of it.

We then looked at the biblical text and saw that many of these points, while not specifically stated in the Scriptures, are in line with what it teaches.

But there is one big elephant in the room which we have yet to address. That is the whole nature of parental discipline in the Bible. Charlotte says that physical punishment should be rare and reserved for crisis situations. In a perfect world, it need not happen at all. The discipline that parents owe their children she defines as a kind of discipleship which for her boils down to habit training. She points to verses like Proverbs 22:6 — “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted) – to show that we must establish lines, like railroad tracks, along which the child’s character will develop.

If you have read any Christian parenting books, there is another verse which probably pops into your head when you hear the word discipline:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Prov. 13:24)

This verse, and many others like it, seem to speak of discipline as corporal punishment (with a rod, no less!). We must ask then: What is biblical discipline? How do the Scriptures define it and what do they tell us about how parents should discipline/train their children? Having answered these questions, we can then get back to Charlotte Mason and see if her assertion — that discipline should be primarily training and that physical punishment should be rare — is truly biblical.

Parenting in the New Testament

Before delving into the evidence, I should say a word about how I approach the biblical text. Both the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God. There are some changes that occur between them, the substitution of baptism for circumcision for example. But, where a doctrine or practice is not specifically negated in the New Testament, it is still in effect. I bring this all up because one easy out when it comes to parental discipline is to say, “oh, that spare the rod stuff is all Old Testament; it no longer applies to us Christians.” I reject this position. The Old Testament commands and counsels regarding child rearing are still in effect today.

Having said which, I am going to start by looking at what the New Testament has to say on parenting. Ephesians (and a parallel passage in Colossians) addresses the parent/child relationship:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:1-4; cf. Col. 3:21; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted)

From this passage we learn that fathers are not to “provoke [their] children to anger” but are to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I think it is reasonable to assume that the “instruction” refers to what they are taught. We are told many places in the Bible that fathers are to tell their children about the things God has done (cf. Ex. 13:8; Deut. 4:10; Ps. 78:4; Joel 1:3). Discipline is a trickier term, but, unfortunately, Ephesians does not give us much to go on in terms of what “discipline” looks like other than to say that there is some limit lest children be provoked to anger. 

The Book of Hebrews has more to say:

” And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’

It is for discipline that you have to endure.

If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebr. 12:5-11)

The goal of this passage is to encourage the readers to endure in their sufferings. These sufferings are identified as the discipline of the Lord and are shown to be a sign, not of God’s wrath, but His love. God disciplines His people because He loves them.

If we look at this passage to find out what parental discipline looks like, we are taking it backwards. The writer is assuming that his audience knows about parental discipline and is using that knowledge to say something about God’s discipline. We are doing the reverse, assuming we know what God’s discipline looks like and asking what parental discipline should look like. Because of this, we should be cautious in drawing conclusions, remembering that the point of this passage is not to tell us about parental discipline. Having said which, there are some conclusions we can draw:

  • The motive for discipline is love.
  • An earthly father’s discipline is for “a short time.” I suspect this refers not to length of an individual punishment but to the fact that a father’s authority to discipline only lasts so long.
  • Discipline is not easy for the one being disciplined. It is unclear what sort of hardships the readers are enduring but the writer has to encourage them to endure. Whatever it is, it is “painful rather than pleasant.”
  • The child respects the parent who disciplines him.
  • The earthly parent disciplines “as seems best to him.” The implication is that this is not always going to be perfectly done.
  • The ideal is to discipline for the good of the child. Again, earthly parents may fall short of this.
  • God’s discipline yields “the fruit of righteousness.” I think it is not too much of a stretch to say that the ideal (again) is that parental discipline should do the same, i.e. it should produce righteousness.

The word used for discipline in this passage is used a handful of other times in the New Testament. It is the word used in 2 Corinthians when Paul says we are “punished, and yet not killed” (2 Cor. 6:9). It is also used by Herod and Pilate; they both ask why they cannot just “punish” and release Jesus (Luke 23: 16, 22). In both these contexts, it seems a very physical discipline, likely scourging (i.e. beating with whips), is what is in view. But — and this is important — this is God’s discipline which is being described. The conclusion to draw is that God’s discipline is harsh and physical and that it is compared to parental discipline. This makes it likely that the human father’s discipline is also physical in nature, but it is certainly not license for us to scourge our children.

To sum up what we have seen in the New Testament, parental discipline is compared to God’s discipline of His people. There is an acknowledgement that human fathers will not discipline perfectly, either in motive or application. This is perhaps why they must be told not to provoke their children to anger. The ideal motive is love with a goal of doing good to the child by producing righteousness in him. There is a strong implication that the nature of such discipline is physical (i.e. some form of corporal punishment), but we must keep in mind that the Hebrews passage is not prescriptive with regard to parental discipline; it is assuming we know what parental discipline looks like, not telling us how to do it.

Discipline in the Old Testament

As we turn to the Old Testament, we find no shortage of prescriptive passages. These can be grouped according to the Hebrew words they employ. Hebrew uses a triliteral (three letter) root system. Though there are a few dozen verses which address parental discipline, there are only three main root words which are used. Two are words which we often translates as discipline, chastise, or rebuke as in the infamous Proverbs 13 verse:

“Whoever spares the rod** hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Prov. 13:24)

The third is translated as “train” in that other well-known verse from Proverbs 22, the one upon which Miss Mason seems to base her view of discipline:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. ” (Prov. 22:6)

The Hebrew Roots ykh and ysr: Rebuke and Discipline

The first two root words are ykh (if you know Hebrew, that last is a hard “h,” the Hebrew letter het,  but I don’t have the proper font for representing it)  and ysr (that’s a samech in the middle, Hebrew scholars).  The former is often translated “rebuke” while the latter is more often “discipline.” In English, these seem to be pretty different words, but as we look at the Hebrew text, we will see that the two often occur together and are used in very similar ways.***

Both are used of God’s rebuke/discipline of His people:

“O Lord, rebuke (ykh) me not in your anger, nor discipline (ysr) me in your wrath.” (Ps. 6:1; cf. Ps. 38:1)

“You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes (ykh)—I am the Lord; I have spoken—” (Ezek. 5:15)

“The Lord has disciplined (ysr) me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” (Ps. 118:18)

“When you discipline (ysr) a man with rebukes (ykh) for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!” (Ps. 39:11)

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves (ykh); therefore despise not the discipline (ysr) of the Almighty.” (Job 5:17)

God’s “rebuke” (ykh) is harsh– it consist of debilitating pain (Job 33:19), failure in childbirth (2 Kgs. 19:3; Isa. 37:3), or the destruction of a city (Hos. 5:9). But His “discipline” (ysr) is no less harsh. In Leviticus 26:28ff, a list of punishments is given which begins with fathers eating their own children. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

As we saw in the New Testament, God’s rebuke/discipline is compared to that of a father:

“My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline (ysr) or be weary of his reproof (ykh),  for the Lord reproves (ykh), him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Prov. 3:11-12)

“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline (ykh) him with the rod** of men, with the stripes of the sons of men . . .” (2 Sam. 7:14)

“Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines (ysr) his son, the Lord your God disciplines (ysr) you.” (Deut. 8:5; cf. Deut. 11:2)

What specifically does this rebuke/discipline consist of? In I Kings, King Rehoboam says he will discipline (ysr) his people with whips and scorpions. This is figuartive (he is actually taxing them harshly), but it shows, as we saw in the New Testament, a connection to scourging. In Isaiah 53:5, the Suffering Servant, whom we know is a figure of Christ, is chastised (ysr) for our iniquities, a reference to scourging again:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

And of course there is that rod thing again**:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline (ysr) him.” (Prov. 13:24)

This may not be all there is to discipline, however. It can also be used in parallel with teach:

“He who disciplines (ysr) the nations, does he not rebuke (ykh)?

He who teaches man knowledge— the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
    that they are but a breath.

Blessed is the man whom you discipline (ysr), O Lord,
    and whom you teach out of your law,” (Ps. 94:10-12)

These two aspects of “discipline” (ysr) seem to occur in roughly equal measure throughout the Old Testament. At times, the root, especially in its nominal form (musar) clearly refers to something that is spoken and heard:

“He opens their ears to instruction (ysr and commands that they return from iniquity.” (Job 36:10)

“Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction.” (Jer. 17:23 cf. Jer. 32:33; 35:13; Ps. 50:17; Prov. 4:1; 13:1; 19:27; Zeph. 3:2)

In Proverbs 19, it is used in parallel to “advice”:

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Prov. 19:20)

Still, at others, it seems to refer to a physical kind of discipline:

“In vain have I struck your children; they took no correction; your own sword devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.” (Jer. 2:30; cf. Isa. 26:16; 53:5; Jer. 5:3)

In Deuteronomy 11, the “discipline of the Lord” seems to refer to the wonders He has done, specifically His drowning of the Egyptians and the deaths of Dathan and Abiram who were swallowed up by the earth for their sin (Deut. 11:2-7).

And at least once, “discipline” is a lesson which is learned through observation:

“I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles,
 and its stone wall was broken down.  Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.” (Prov. 24:30-32)

Proverbs 23 perhaps sums up the dual nature of “discipline”; in two verses, our modern translation interprets ysr once as “instruction” and once as “discipline”:

“Apply your heart to instruction (ysr) and your ear to words of knowledge.
Do not withhold discipline (ysr) from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.” (Prov. 23: 12-13)

In the first occurrence, ysr is translated as “instruction” and clearly refers to something heard; in the second, it is translated “discipline” and just as clearly refers to physical discipline.

Summing up, then, here is what we have seen about the words translated “rebuke” and “discipline” by our Bibles:

  • The two words are frequently used together and in similar ways.
  • God disciplines/rebukes His people for their sins.
  • Human parents discipline/rebuke their children.
  • The motive for discipline is love.
  • The goal of discipline is to turn one from one’s sins.
  • There is a strong connection between discipline and physical punishment.
  • However, discipline is also something which can be spoken and heard, what we might call instruction.

Another root: hnk, “to train up”

Still, that is not quite the end of the story. We have yet to consider that other oft-quoted verse, the one which Charlotte herself seems to prefer:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. ” (Prov. 22:6)

The word translated “train up” here is a different one, unrelated to those we have already looked at. The Hebrew root this time is hnk (that’s a hard het again). It occurs less than a dozen times in the Old Testament. Other than this verse from Proverbs almost every other occurrence of this root is in reference to the dedication of a building:

“And the chiefs offered offerings for the dedication of the altar on the day it was anointed; and the chiefs offered their offering before the altar.” (Num. 7:10)

“Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it.” (Deut. 20:5)

“Solomon offered as peace offerings to the Lord 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord.” [I Kgs. 8:63; cf. 2 Chr. 7:5; Ps. 30:1 (superscription)]

“And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem . . .” (Neh. 12:27)

The only other time this root is used in reference to people is in Genesis:

“When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” (Gen. 14:14)

In the context, hnk might also be translated as “dedicated.” Abraham takes these men because they are born in his house; that is, they are dedicated to him.

In Proverbs 22:6, then, it would be more accurate to translate: “Dedicate a youth to the way he should go.”**** What difference does it make to translate the verse this way? A dedication is something that happens once, as the dedication of a new building. When, in Nehemiah 12, the rebuilt wall of Jerusalem is dedicated, a purification of the people and the wall itself takes place, and there is a great celebration. When the altar is dedicated (Numbers 7), there are offerings. The altar is put into use, that is, it is given its purpose. It is also consecrated; it is set aside, i.e. made holy to the Lord.

When is a child dedicated? In the Old Testament, for a boy, this would be at his circumcision when he is physically included in the people of God. In the Christian era, for boys and girls, it is at baptism when the child is publicly included in the visible church, God’s covenant community.

We discipline our children because they are dedicated to the Lord, both because we love them and because we desire that they walk in the right path and turn from all sin. But I don’t believe there is much in this verse to guide us in how that discipline occurs.

Conclusions

The picture given of discipline is very similar in the Old and New Testaments. Discipline is something God does to His people and something parents do to their children. In both cases the motive is love and the goal is the sanctification of the individual. The Bible does not lay out for us anywhere just what parental discipline should look like, but in both Testaments there is a clear connection to physical punishment.  While this association is unequivocal, it does not seem to be the entirety of discipline. Oral instruction is also discipline.

For the most part, the Bible assumes parental discipline, but in two key passages there is some instructions given to the parents: In Proverbs 13:24 the parent is told not to “spare the rod,” that is, not to neglect discipline. In Ephesians 6, fathers are told not to provoke their children to anger. These two represent to us the two sides of a see-saw, the two extremes between which we must navigate. On the one hand, we must not think it is more loving to let discipline slide; on the other, we must not be so stringent in discipline that our children become angry. As God’s mercy and justice are balanced in His discipline of His children, so we as parents must seek balance between these extremes.

The original question we asked was how Charlotte Mason’s philosophy jibes with the biblical view of discipline. She, as we saw, does not deny the place of “sparing the rod” but relegates it to subsidiary role, saying that it should be rare. She emphasizes her method of habit-training. To the extent that the physical side of discipline is a response to sin (we do not spank our kids proactively for what they might do), I think Charlotte is right that the more rare it is, the better. If they sin less, which is always the goal, we will need it less. However, Charlotte goes much further than the biblical text does in downplaying that side of discipline. In both the Old and New Testaments, the physical side of discipline is the more prominent; Charlotte would have it less so.

Charlotte bases her signature method, habit-training, on Proverbs 22:6 (“train up a child . . .”). Though she is not at all alone in this, and indeed most English translations lend some support to her view, I think she misunderstands the verse. It would be more accurate to translate the verb as “dedicate” and to see it as a one-time act of devoting our children to the Lord such as occurs at their baptism. Even if this were not so, however, we must remember that there is one verse which speaks of “training” children in this way and dozens and dozens which speak of disciplining or rebuking them.

In the first half of this post, we saw that Charlotte’s ideas about habit-training, while not spelled out as such in the Bible, do seem to be in line with certain biblical principles.  In this post, we have seen that there is a verbal aspect to discipline which we can call instruction. I don’t think it is too much of s stretch to place habit training under this heading. This is not to say that habit-training is all of what the Bible means when it speaks of instruction, but I am willing to say that it is a legitimate means of instruction.

So, Myth Busters style, what can we say about this CM principle? I am calling it plausible with a caveat. It does seem that habit-training is in line with some biblical principles and that it can fit under the heading discipline, subheading instruction. But I am uncomfortable with how much Charlotte downplays that aspect which the Bible seems to most focus on, namely physical discipline.

Nebby

**If you have been in Christian circles for a while as I have, you have probably heard someone argue that the “rod” of Proverbs 13:24 is not a rod to beat with but a rod of guiding, as a shepherd uses his staff to guide the sheep. The Hebrew word for rod is shebet. It is used in Proverbs 13:24 (“spare the rod”). It is used in Psalm 23:4 when the psalmist says “your rod and your staff with comfort me.” But it is also used contexts where it is clearly a harsh sort of rod:

“When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. ” (Exod. 21:20)

All in all, looking at the occurrences of “rod” in the Old Testament, I find a few cases in which the rod is an instrument of comfort (Ps. 23:4; Mic. 7:14) but many more in which is it used for beating or as a sign of conquest (Exod. 21:20; 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:9; Isa. 10:5).

***Hebrew poetry is characterized not by rhyme or rhythm but by parallelism (see this post or this one for an intro to the topic). Though the passages we are looking at are not poems as such, they are for the most part proverbs and make use of the principles of parallelism as well.

What does it mean when two words are used in parallel, as we have seen ysr and ykh are many times? If in English I say “I am going to give you donuts and send you patsries,” then you would probably take that as two things: I am giving donuts but somehow  sending  other pastries. But if this were Hebrew poetry, then we would be talking about one action: I am going to give/send pastries, possibly just donuts, possibly donuts and other pastries. So in the Proverbs 3:11, when it speaks of the Lord’s discipline and his reproof, we have no reason to think these are two separate things. If we spend our time dissecting the terms and trying to figure out what the distinction is between discipline and reproof, we miss the point. Rather than distinguishing the two terms, the proverb is equating them.

****I looked at a number of modern translations on Proverb 22:6. Almost all say “train.” But the NIV actually handles the verb better, in my opinion. It has:

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

 

 

 

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