What Does the Bible Say about Educating Children? (Part 2)

Dear Reader,

In part 1, I talked about the why and what of education. But I think most of us do not disagree on these things. How is a bigger issue. It would be nice (maybe) if the Bible would just say “Thou shalt do dictation three times a week” so we would know what to do. But as in most areas of life, it does not address our concerns so directly.

Given that we don’t have such blatant commands, what we take from the Bible on the hows of education depends a lot on how we understand and interpret the Bible in general. When looking to God’s Word for guidance on a particular issue, we usually speak of prescriptive and descriptive passages. Prescriptive passages are those which tell us outright what to do as when Jesus said “Do this in memory of Me” or when we are told “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But there are also descriptive passages which do not tell directly but show how things were done. For example, I would take as descriptive those sections in Acts which show how the early church worshipped. Though we are not told directly “You should sing psalms, pray, and listen to preaching”, we see that the early church did this so we do too. We follow their example. Of course, not everything done in the Bible is a good example to follow.

So the question before us is: Are there descriptive passages in the Bible that relate to education and if so, should we follow their example? When I ask myself, where in the Bible does someone teach someone else, the first thing that pops into me head is Jesus teaching His disciples. This was often done through parables. Does this mean we should use stories to teach? It is hard to know with descriptive passages what we are to emulate and what we are not to emulate. It seems to me that more often than not Jesus’ listeners, including the disciples, did not get what he was trying to say. So I don’t know what that means for us. I do think stories are a good way to learn. But we have to remember the Jesus’ goal at the time was different from what ours is with our children. He was not revealing everything. He intentionally left mysteries and things they couldn’t yet understand. That is not usually how we approach our kids’ education.

Of course, the whole Bible is God teaching us. And what I see is that He uses concrete events. He instructs the Israelites, for instance, to tell their children about His saving work during the Passover celebration. He is also very repetitive. There are repeated patterns all over the place. Think of Noah and the ark passing through the flood, Moses through the Red Sea, Joshua across the Jordan, Jesus passing through death, and us through baptism. Do I take this to mean that we need repetition and therefore should follow a four-year cycle of education as in the classical approach? No, I don’t think we can be that specific. All I conclude is that we are a lot stupider than we think.  I think it probably says more about our hard-heartedness than about God’s preferred means of education.

But sometimes we frail humans do manage to learn something. How does that happen? Why, for instance, did the disciples finally get it? The answer is that they understood when, and only when, the Holy Spirit opened their minds. Which brings us to what I think is really a key point: we need to understand what the Bible has to say about wisdom and how we get it. We all know “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Elsewhere we see that wisdom comes from God:

“Settle it therefore in your minds  not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for  I will give you a mouth and  wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or  contradict.” [Luke 21:14-15; ESV]

Indeed, Christ Himself is our wisdom (I Cor. 1:30). In Him, we are told, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). I could go on and on with New Testament verses alone that mention wisdom without evening touching on the book of Proverbs and all it has to say about wisdom and knowledge.

As Christians, I think we can all agree that wisdom comes from God and that He is a God of truth. But when it comes to the question of how this plays out in our human knowledge and in how we educate, I think differences arise. For some, all education must be done in a very Bible-based way. So if we teach grammar, we use only sentences from the Bible to do so. And if we teach math, we must have a Christian curriculum (whatever that means). But I think when we do this, we misunderstand how active and powerful our God is.

A key question is how we understand the seeming wisdom of non-believers. Do we dismiss it outright, saying that since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, that anything that comes without that fear is not wise and to be ignored? Or are we more accepting of truth from non-Christian sources? There is a giant can of worms here, because we could start talking about science and God’s Word and what we do when the two seem to come into conflict. I don’t really want to get into that now.

Here is what I think: all truth and wisdom belongs to and comes from God. If we find any truth in other non-Christian cultures and sources, that truth is still from God. It is part of what we call common grace, the good God does for and in people even though they are not His. And like all grace it is undeserved. Common grace does not save, but it keeps the world going for now and keeps us all from going to hell in a handbasket so to speak. It is why, even though I believe our natures are totally depraved and we are incapable of doing good, a pagan mother still loves and cares for her child. So too a pagan thinker (or an atheist or any other non-believer) may come upon some truth, may have some measure of wisdom.

My own view would be that we don’t need to take every subject we teach our children and Christian-ify it. We don’t need to make every math problem about counting sheep so it will seem biblical. It is already godly because it is true and all truth rests with God. This has implications for how we teach our children. Personally, when I hear that all knowledge comes from God, I, as the teacher of my children, feel a great burden lifted off my shoulders. This is not an excuse for me to sit back and do nothing. But I do not feel like I have to come up with the perfect lesson so that my children will learn. The ultimate responsibility is not on my shoulders. Just as I cannot save my children, so I cannot truly teach them. At least, I cannot make them learn anything. That is God’s work.

It also makes me feel that we need not be afraid of knowledge. That may sound silly, but it seems to me that there are many times throughout history when Christians have been afraid of certain bits of knowledge. We may be in one of those times now, at least some of us, but that gets back to those cans of worms I don’t really want to open. To paraphrase the pharisee Gamaliel from the book of Acts, the truth will out (Acts 5:38-39). If something is from God, it will stand, and if it is not, it will ultimately fall.

I also think this means that we need not limit our study to material from only Christian sources. Of course, we should be somewhat critical and weigh everything we look at, but that is true of the Christian as well as the non-Christian sources. Many show a preference for western civilization because it is closer to us and is generally Christian. But an awful lot of it is not inherently Christian anyway, and there may still be truth and wisdom in eastern, non-Christian civilization as well.

So I guess my conclusion is that I see very little either prescriptively or descriptively in the Bible to tell us how to educate. So what I fall back on instead are general principles which have implications for education. Some of these principles which I discussed in part 1 have to do with what children are like and with human nature itself. Another, which I have addressed here, has to do with the source of wisdom and how we get it. For myself, when I evaluate different educational methodologies, the first question I ask is how does it fit with these principles? Specifically, I would ask myself:

– Does it acknowledge that children are, from birth (and before), made in the image of God and that as such they have innate worth and abilities?

– Does it acknowledge that children, like all of us, are inherently sinful and fallen creatures and that without God’s intervention we will not choose or do good?

– Does it see God as the source of all wisdom and truth?

– Does it, instead of overemphasizing the role of the teacher, rely upon God as the Educator of our children?

There could be others, but these are the primary questions that come to my mind. I have no addressed directly the subject of what our goal(s) should be in educating our children (though I think I danced around it in part 1). That too will have implications for how we educate.

This has been one of those posts where I think as I write. If it has ended up too disjointed, I apologize. Can you think of other biblical passages which have implications for education? I feel I am just scratching the surface so far.

Nebby

3 responses to this post.

  1. […] agree that wisdom comes from God and that He is a God of truth. … Read the original here: What Does the Bible Say about Educating Children? (Part 2 … ← Baptist Defend the Inspiration of the Bible, but . . . — Conservative […]

    Reply

  2. […] is biblical. Not that I think there is just one biblical approach to education ( see posts here and here), but I think Charlotte’s thinking is in line with general biblical principles, especially […]

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  3. […] What does the Bible say on educating children part 1 and part 2 […]

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