JG Vos on Education

Dear Reader,

I have my first book recommendation for you: What is Christian Education? by J.G. Vos (Pittsburgh: RPCNA Board of Education and Publication).** “Book” is actually an overstatement; this is a small 16 page pamphlet but it has a lot in it for all that.

Though he does not clearly state it, Vos seems to be arguing for Christian education at the college or university level. This is, of course, not our main concern, but he still advances principles which we can apply.

Needless to say, Vos comes to education from a thoroughly reformed perspective:

“By Christian education is meant education of which the basis and unifying principle is the historic Christian view of God, man and the universe in their mutual relations. This historic Christian philosophy finds its most comprehensive and consistent expression in Calvinism, or the Reformed Faith; therefore the most comprehensive and consistent Christian education must be based on, and unified by, the Reformed or Calvinistic view of God, man and the universe in their mutual relations.” (p. 1)

We have not yet gotten to discussing the biblical purpose of education but Vos points us to Matthew 22:37: “‘Thou shalt love the Lord they God . . .with all thy mind'” (p.2). The problem, of course, is that man is fallen so we must ask to what extent and in what ways this affects education. Again, this is a topic we will return to in more depth, but Vos argues that man’s mind or intellect, as well as his moral and spiritual nature, is fallen (p. 2) and that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate it (p. 3).

“Nor will education which originates from society as such assent to the truth of the damage done by sin to the human intellect, and the resultant need for regeneration, the recognition of which is absolutely basic to any truly Christian view of education.” (pp. 8-9)

True Christian education, Vos concludes, must: (a) come from Christian people (p. 9); (b)have a single unifying principle, “that the God of the Bible is the sovereign, active Lord over all reality” (p. 11); and (c) have as its goal “the glory of God, and the true welfare of man in subordination to the glory of God” (p. 12).

This is a wonderful little pamphlet and I recommend reading it if you can get your hands on it. Because of its brevity and its (presumed) focus on higher education it does not answer all the questions we have but it does point us in the right direction with regards to the two big questions which we have said any philosophy theology of education must answer, namely, What is the nature of man? and What is the goal of education?


**Sadly, I am not sure if this book is still available. I bought one recently from Crown and Covenant’s clearance section and I can no longer find it on their website. . . but perhaps we can inspire them to reprint it . . .  hint hint?



11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kim on March 3, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    Is this the full text? http://www.christianstudylibrary.org/files/pub/20140594%20-%20Vos%20JG%20-%20What%20is%20Christian%20Education.pdf (posting quickly and have not read it all but found some of your quotes before I posted….and I have not researched the site this is from—-I just plugged in the title/author and this was one of the things that came up….)


  2. Posted by Nicole on April 12, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Im so thank ful that the above reader posted the link to the article so I could read it. I found it very thought-provoking in many regards and very helpful. One criticism I did have, however, was the fact that Vos seemed to think he lives in a world where there are only two types of people: regenerate Christians and unregenerate atheists/secularists. In the second page of the article he explores the dichotomy of the regenerate vs the unregenerate mind and education philosophy, which is all well and good and I concede that is a good duality to work from, but his assessment of the unregenerate world was very limited. While in the west here, and specifically in our public schools, we are dealing largely with the duality of christian and post-christian/secular/atheist, of course in most parts of the world, and even in many communities in North America, there is a much wider diversity of unregenerate thought that simply secular/atheist. There is Islamic, Jewish, New Age, Jehova’s Witness/Mormon/other psuedo-Christian cults, and even Catholic, while I would put under the very large umbrella of Christian orthodoxy, is still an incredibly different theological framework than that of reform/protestant thinking and teaching. So while his points in the second half of the article about what Christian education must look like were right on in my opinion, the middle section where he was describing the variety of theological and pedagogical outlooks in the marketplace of ideas was a bit distracting for its lack of accuracy. But still a very good resource.


    • That’s a good point, Nicole. Vos was writing a while ago so I suspect part of it is that we are seeing a lot more variety, not just Christians and post-Christians/nominal Christians with at least a Christian background culturally. Personally, where I am, I am seeing more paganism/spiritualism and I expect to see that take off more nationally in coming decades. One thing that frustrates me with Vos and other Christian writers I have been reading (like Van Til) — while I like a lot of what they have to say, they are writing about educating Christians only. I want an educational philosophy that works for all kids; that’s not just “okay, this is how we educated our kids” while leaving the rest of the world out.


      • Posted by Nicole on April 14, 2018 at 1:11 pm

        I hear you. The problem, though, is that if we truly come at an education theology that says that all education starts with Christ, and a knowledge of Him, and all “subjects” and endeavor to learn is birthed out of an understanding how how our world, and the machinations of human civilization, are related to HIM, those outside the church will likely not be interested. I think the further along I go in exploring what a truly Christ-centered education theology/philosophy looks like, the more I think you cannot divorce theory from method, they have to go hand in hand, and while we can certainly present a Christ-centered pedagogy to the world and suggest they use it, more likely than not they will reject it (or pick it apart and remove Christ, as so many of us have tried to add Jesus in to these various secular or liberal Christian philosophies), in which case they wouldn’t be truly practicing what we had to offer. If that makes sense?

        Also wanted to say that i have read all of your posts now up until the most recent one, and wow have they blessed me. I also wanted to recommend a chapter out of “The Christian Homeschool” by Greg Harris, written in the late 80s during the beginning of this modern wave of homeschooling. He has a chapter in the book entitled “The Biblical Basis of Education”, in which he shares 20 pages worth of insights on the subject. There were many points made in the chapter that I hadnt thought of but hardily agreed with, one of which is his distinction that man is not merely “homo sapiens”, [or “thinking man”] as secular thought contends, but rather that he is “homo adorans”, or “worshiping man”, and that we are created first and foremost to worship and bring glory to God (a very reformed argument, I think you will agree). There is a lot here, and I encourage you to get ahold of the book if you have not yet, but a few lines that stood out to me are:

        “It only stands to reason, then, that one of the primary purposes of education is to prepare people to be born again and then to worship and fellowship with God.”

        “No amount of intelligence can give moral guidance.”

        “In addition, the Bible makes it clear that homo adorans does not worship God best in isolation. He is a social being by design. Thus, education is to benefit our society and the Church by equipping us to filfill our part and take our place in the community of faith.”

        “… but in teaching them to the young, those who are older are stretched and renewed in their own commitment to God. Parents learn more by trying to teach their children tan children learn by being taught.”

        “The Church itself needs for the home to be the center of this kind of education if it is to enjoy a steady flow of competent and Biblically qualified church leadership. It is interesting that the qualifications for church elders include a heavy emphasis on family management…”

        He also talks at length that the Biblical model of teaching is really demonstrated in Christ being a teacher to his disciples. He emphasizes that while there do need to be times for formal instruction, that learning happens all the time and that our children will learn most by our own example,a s well as our taking the opportunities to do as Duet 6 tells us and to teach them in every aspect of life, as we “walk along the way”. He says, “Jesus summarized this principle: ‘A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).’ The student who admires his teacher doesnt just acquire the same knowledge, Jesus was saying. The two will eventually think alike; they will walk alike, even live alike. Our teacher should be the Lord Jesus Himself, and we, in turn, should teach our children. We should be able to say to them, as Paul said to the Corinthians, ‘Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.'”

        To flesh out that theory he gave two great insights with the lives of Noah and Lot. He said both men knew the Lord, but one (Noah) clearly had a working/teaching relationship with his sons and their wives and his own wife that was worthy of admiration and emulation. When God told him to build the ark, they followed Noah instead of the world which surley mocked him as mad. And when God told Noah it was time to go in the ark, they all went, without questioning, and were saved because of it.

        She then contrasts that with the example of Lot, who as we see from his life choices (chosing to cosey up in Sodom instead of keeping to the hills and away from the perverting influence of the sinful city) that he was not as thoughtful about the proper shepherding of his family. He offers his poor daughters to the ravenous crowd. Shockingly, when he tells the sons in law of his daughters to pack and leave, they laugh him off- they arent influenced by him. And even his own wife turns to salt as she looks back toward the sin of sodom instead of towards the salvation of God. And of course his daughters take on the very wicked, worldly wisdom that they were taught in Sodom and basically rape their own father to produce progeny that will be a thorn in the side of Israel for generations to come.

        And then he sums it up very powerfully for me, ina lesson that God really used to drive home how important it is that I look to the well being of my own family, and take seriously the role God has given me in shaping and molding this next generation. As you know, God had told Abraham that if he could find 10 righteous people in Sodom, then he would spare the city. Harris points out:

        “And when we do a bit of arithmetic, we find a frightening possibility. When we add up the people just in Lot’s immediate circle of influence, his wife, three daughters, at least two sons, two fiances, a son in law, and himself, we have a minimum total of ten. Ten people. If Lot had devoted his time to being respected most by those who knew him best, both cities might have been spared. God said He would call off the destruction for the sake of ten righteous. Lot cold have accomplished more for his community by simply taking better care of his own household.”

        Woah. Now I realize hat a lot of this is not “practical”, in the sense of what kind of materials to use of how to order your day or how long lessons should be, etc, and I want to know those things, too, but I think more and more how essential it is for us to always be operating from a true understanding of the purpose of learning from God’s perspective, and the responsibility it is for us as parents and teachers to be ourselves walking closely with the Lord, and taking our own learning seriously, so that we can transmit that love of the Lord, and love of learning, onto them.

        Ok sorry about that crazy long post, but I’ve spent so much time thinking about this this week after coming across your wonderful series here and wanted to share some thoughts with someone that I know is thinking as seriously as I am about it all. God bless!!


        • Thanks for the book suggestion. I’ll add it to my list. When I say that I want something that works for non-believers, I only mean non-believing students. I think the teachers would have to be Christian. I am just imagining that a Christian school has students that don’t come from Christian families or that an adult might homeschool other people’s kids. Some of the Christian authors talk as if education is only possible for Christians and to some extent that may be true but I want something that we can at least put before non-Christians. Whether they respond to it is another matter.

          I agree that theory is important and I am mostly discussing theory at this point but as a homeschooling parent I hope we are eventually able to say some practical things about the how of schooling too. That is another big lack in the books I have read thus far. Many have higher education in mind but even in that area there is not a lot that gets us to “okay, but what do I do today in my homeschool?” I’m not sure there will be one set of answers but maybe we can at least have some practical suggestions.

          Thanks for your thoughts again! I am happy to have feedback and have this be a discussion.


  3. […] not just college-level education – and that it begins to delve into specifics. By comparison, Vos and Van Til were much closer to where I am theologically, but they are both concerned with […]


  4. […] continue to pull from them.  On the theological/theoretical side of things two of my favorites are J.G. Vos and Cornelius Van Til. Vos’s book is very short, more of a pamphlet. Van Til has more to say […]


  5. […] J.G. Vos What is Christian Education? […]


  6. […] Most of my book reviews relating to Christian education are from this period: Dawson (a Catholic), Vos, Van Til, Greg Harris, and Rushdoony. It is no wonder that the modern homeschooling movement has […]


  7. […] God’s grand plan, the end of which is His own glory. It brings His general revelation to men.  (JG Vos on Education; The Purpose of Education, Part 1; Common Grace, part […]


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