Reformed Thinkers on Education: Frank Gaebelein, Or “All Truth is God’s Truth”

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find all the posts here.

I am currently in the midst of a series within a series in which I look at some modern reformed thinkers on education, The introductory post to this mini-series is here.

Today’s thinker is Frank Gaebelein who was head-master of a Christian school in New York in the 1960s. His “Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education” (Grace Journal, Fall 1962) was originally a series of four talks later published as one work. You can find them online here: chapter 1 and chapter 2 and chapter 3 and chapter 4  (sadly, there seems to be one page missing from chapter 1).

Gaebelein begins in the first chapter with a call for a Christian philosophy of education. He calls in particular for something thoroughly biblical while acknowledging that the Bible provides us with principles rather than laying out a philosophy of education as such. As we have seen with most of the other thinkers in this mini-series, school is his default; he does not consider homeschooling. He does say a number of times, however, that the home is the center of godly training. He also ties education closely to the Great Commission which he says is a command primarily to educate and which is given to all believers.

Though Gaebelein nods to the sciences of education and psychology, his approach is quite biblical and he strives to stick close to Scriptural principles. He gives some brief history of Christian approaches to education but concludes that we do not really have a good, workable approach with “full reliance upon Scripture” (p. 6).

In the second chapter, Gaebelein begins to give his own philosophy of education which is governed by the principle: “All truth is God’s truth” (p. 12). Because “all truth, wherever it is found, is of God” (p. 13), there is no separation between sacred and secular. All areas of study are open to us and should be studied by us. He acknowledges the effects of sin, and, quoting Emil Brunner, argues that some disciplines have been more corrupted by the effects of sin than others. Theology is the most corrupted followed by philosophy and those fields which have most to do with humanity — psychology and history and such. The hard sciences and mathematics are the least corrupted so that math is “the most objective subject” and is almost uncorrupted (pp. 14-15).

Having made some attempt to say what truth is, we must also ask how we learn truth. This, as we saw when we looked at Oppewal, is the science of epistemology. Truth, Gaebelein says, does not come to us through unaided reason but through “the believing heart and mind” (p. 14). The Greek word for truth, aletheia, means, literally, “without a veil” implying that we do not discover truth but that it is revealed to us.

Most of the thinkers we have seen, being reformed and not Anabaptist (as one of the articles reviewed here explains), argue for some level of interaction with secular culture. Gaebelein does as well. He is perhaps not quite so strong as some others in his langauge. He says not that we should lead culture or transform it but that we must “maintain a conversation with culture” (p. 16). He acknowledges that, through common grace, that God uses “non-Christians to bring forth enduring works of truth, beauty, and excellence” (p. 16).

In the third chapter, Gaebelein expands on an idea he presented in the second: that there is a connection between truth and beauty. Specifically he looks at music which he considers the greatest of the arts. I am not very musical myself so I feel ill-equipped to evaluate the specifics he presents for what makes music good and truthful or vulgar. I do like what he has to say about exposing children to greatness in music. And this: “With the advent of TV and the wide-spread use of record players and hi-fi sets, the great God-ordained center of education, the home, has been infiltrated by the musical devices of Hollywood and the night cub” (p. 23). He wrote this, you will remember, in 1962 (as if the word “hi-fi” didn’t tell you that). Imagine what he would say about today’s society with its utter saturation with media. There is a hint of a warning  here as well to those who send their children to schools that the home is still important. We cannot outsource education and neglect the home atmosphere.

In the fourth and final chapter, Gaebelein returns to a topic he addressed briefly in the second and discusses te role of the teacher. The most important thing for him is that the teacher be Christian. He gives a number of qualifications for Christian teachers from their personal faith and Bible knowledge to a genuine liking for children. I am not entirely on board with him here as I tend to place less emphasis on the person of the teacher. He does not provide a lot of specifics for how he envisions education working, but it seems from this chapter that it is very teacher-driven for him. I do agree with a couple of his points, however. I agree that teachers should genuinely like children (and I am very wary of those who write on education and do not seem to). I also agree that the attitude of the teacher is important. He quotes, “‘Every headmaster should think of every boy as having been sent to him by God'” (p. 31). And if God has sent them to us, we should expect Him to work in them.

Gaebelein makes two other good points in this last chapter. The first is that education must not be too easy. We must strive for excellence and we must feed our minds. The second is that God Himself, the source of all wisdom, is the “one greatest Teacher” (p. 32).

There is a lot I like in Gaebelein’s work. I agree with him that we must be utterly biblical in our approach and that “All truth is God’s truth” is a guiding principle for us. I like his emphasis on the home, though I wish he had considered homeschooling as well. I like his emphasis on atmosphere and attitude in education. And I like what he has to say about the disciplines and the lack of distinction between sacred and secular. One idea he just begins to advance and which is most important to add to our discussion is the role God Himself plays in education. Gaebelein just touches on this idea. Charlotte Mason, as we have seen, saw the Holy Spirit as the supreme Educator and all education as ultimately His work. I agree with her on this and I have been disappointed up to this point to find that more modern Christian writers do not seem to think of what God might be doing. Gaebelein is the first to even hint at such a thing.

Nebby

15 responses to this post.

  1. […] « Reformed Thinkers on Education: Frank Gaebelein […]

    Reply

  2. […] for many years at the Stony Brook School in New York which another thinker we have looked at, Frank Gaebelein, founded. I liked a lot of what Gaebelein had to say so I am eager to read more from this disciple […]

    Reply

  3. […] we saw last time, integration is a key word for Lockerbie. Following Gaebelein, he frequently quotes: “All truth is God’s truth.” Because God is One, His truth […]

    Reply

  4. […] is part of what might be termed the Stony Brook school of thought on Christian education. He, like Frank Gaebelein, taught at the Stony Brook School in New York and he follows and expands upon Gaebelein’s […]

    Reply

  5. […] discussed in this post, is in how we view the role of the teacher. For Lockerbie, as for his mentor Gaebelein, the Christian teacher is […]

    Reply

  6. […] family. But I do think we need to always keep in mind a key point which Lockerbie’s mentor, Frank Gaebelein, made quite clear: God gives the responsibility for educating children to their parents. This is […]

    Reply

  7. […] are returning today to Frank Gaebelein (see this earlier post), former head of the Stony Brook School in New York, because I have recently read another book by […]

    Reply

  8. […] looked at both Gaebelein and Lockerbie’s thought in earlier posts — two on Gaebelein here and here and four on Lockerbie, here, here, here, and here — so again I will not spend long on […]

    Reply

  9. […] School in New York. (We have previously looked at two other thinkers from this school: its founder, Frank Gaebelein, and and teacher, D. Bruce Lockerbie.) He himself is president of the Darlington School in Rome, […]

    Reply

  10. […] reformed thinkers seem to assume that all the children on their schools will be covenant children (Gaebelein is an exception. He argues for the inclusion of children from all backgrounds). My own desire is […]

    Reply

  11. […] matter must also be integrated. As it all comes from One Source — Lockerbie like his mentor Gaebelein often quotes “All truth is God’s truth” — there is unity to knowledge […]

    Reply

  12. […] of human knowledge (apart from faith) are going to be different for different fields of study. This is something which Frank Gaebelein addressed. Some areas are most objective than others. Our knowledge of those most concerned with God and man […]

    Reply

  13. […] The Triune God is the source of all wisdom, truth, goodness, and beauty. (John 14:6; Gaebelein on Truth; Bavinck on Art; Frank Gaebelein) […]

    Reply

  14. […] goal of education from a number of other Christian writers on education (for example, Lockerbie and Gaebelein). My favorite definition of what this integration is comes from Henry Schultze who connects it with […]

    Reply

  15. […] Gaebelein is one of my favorite writers on Christian education (see previous reviews of his work here and here) so I was eager to read this volume on the arts. The Christian, The Arts, and Truth [ed. […]

    Reply

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