Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 1), Introduction

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here. Currently we are in the midst of a series within a series in which I look at various reformed thinkers and what they have had to say about education (see the introductory post to this series with a series here).

I am excited to begin to read D. Bruce Lockerbie’s writings on education. Lockerbie was a teacher 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 of his.

The volume I am currently reading, A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005) is a collection of essays and talks by Lockerbie which have been assembled and somewhat edited for publication. Because these were originally distinct works and because there is so much meat in them, I am going to treat them in a series of posts. Today we will look at the introduction and the first chapter.

Summary of Lockerbie’s Thought

Even in his “introduction to part 1” Lockerbie gives us something to consider. Here he introduces the idea that Moses instituted a new approach to education, as seen in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. He focuses in especially on a word in verse 7 which he translates “impress.” Referring to the commandments of God, Moses says to “impress them on your children” (p. 3). This verse, along with a second from the New Testament, seems to shape Lockerbie’s philosophy.

The New Testament verse is Ephesian 6:4: “bring up your children in the paideia … of the LORD” (p. 4; I am quoting Lockerbie, quoting the Bible here; his book indicates that he uses the NIV translation).  The word paideia is the Greek for education or instruction, It was used by Greek thinkers such as Plato and Socrates. Lockerbie argues that the key phrase in this verse is “of the LORD.” The Greek philosophy is not enough; our children must receive instruction in the paideia of the LORD, not that of pagan philosophers. What this Christian paideia, as he terms it, would consist of is a subject for the rest of the book.

Lockerbie argues, as Gaebelein did, for Christian schooling done by Christian teachers. He nods to homeschooling, which is more than most other thinkers we have looked at thus far do (which is probably due largely to the fact that he is writing much later when homeschooling has become better known). A small quibble: he says that even homeschoolers have formal times and locations for education. His point is that homeschooling is in its essence  still “formal” schooling. Perhaps you, like I, know many examples to the contrary. I suspect that Lockerbie was largely unaware of unschooling and other more flexible approaches to homeschooling.

The main point Lockerie is trying to make, however, is that Christian education demands Christian teachers. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Christian education must be done from a Christian worldview, and, second, we know what we know through faith in the word of someone else (this is an epistemological argument, i.e. an argument about how we know; we discussed epistemology a little in this post). “The starting point,” he says, “as always, is the individual teacher’s personal relationship with God-in-Christ and the Christian worldview that presupposes the sovereignty of God and the authority of Scripture” (p. 15).

Another formative idea for Lockerbie is one we saw in Gaebelein as well —  “All truth is God’s truth” (p. 15). This idea leads to a belief in the unity of all knowledge. God is a Unity; He is holy as well as “wholly integrated” (p. 14). The Fall of man represents disintegration and our goal is reintegration. Lockerbie says: “we must encourage every Christian school teacher, administrator, and board member to seek integration as an indidivual. One must find its application to one’s own vocation before it can become instiutional and a distinctive of the school” (p. 16; his emphasis).

Lockerbie acknowledges, however, that this work is not done by teachers alone. God the Holy Spirit is the source of illumination and “He enlightens the darkened cosmos and the mind of every human being” (p. 12). It is our duty, given us in the cultural mandate of Genesis 1-2, to “learn all that can be known about our environment and our role as its stewards” and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us discernment and guides us in all truth to be able to do so (p. 12).

My Reactions

There is a lot here that I like. I am very pleased to see Lockerbie acknowledge the role of the Holy Spirit in education. This is something we found in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy but sadly have seen far too little of among reformed thinkers. I also agree (again) with the assertion that “all truth is God’s truth” and that there is therefore an integration of knowledge. I am very intigued by the idea that the Fall equals disintegration and the goal of education is therefore to strive towards reintegration. Though I would not have used this langauge, it seems very similar to the idea I have posited that education is a part of sanctification. I might not use Lockerbie’s words and I don’t know that he would use mine, but we both seem to be saying that education plays a role in undoing the effects of the Fall.

I am a little less convinced of the need for Christian teachers, or perhaps I should say for exclusively Christian teachers. For me this is an issue of who and what a teacher is. As a homeschooler, and also as an effect perhaps of my coming out of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, I do not regard a teacher as always a peron that stands in front of one (or beside, if you prefer). Which is to say, a book or a piece of art can be as much a teacher as a live person.  And, as all truth is God’s truth, we can learn from non-Christians as well.

On the other hand, I will acknowledge that there needs to be an overarching framework for education and that it needs to be permeated by an understanding that places it all within God’s work. I have argued as well that a teacher’s expectation and attitude are of paramount importance. So it may be that we are not really so far apart, but I am still uncomfortable with giving too large a role to the teacher. I would argue instead that we have many teachers and that, while I would be skeptical of an approach that relied solely on non-Christian sources, that their work is nonetheless valuable and worth studying insofar as it communicates to us Truth.

I am intrigued by the two Bible verses that Lockerbie lays out in the introduction as the foundation of his philosophy. These are teasers thus far since he has not filled out his argument so it is hard to say too much. I am a little wary of constructing doctrines upon these two verses, and even more so upon a handful of words within them.  My own background is in biblical Hebrew so for now I will focus only on the verse from Deuteronomy.  I am not convinced that Moses laid out a new approach to education. There is no doubt Moses, speaking for God, had things to say about educating our children, but I do not see that there is a new (to the world) program as such that is laid out (see this post on education in the OT). Lockerbie’s argument (thus far) seems to rest on the word in verse 7 which the NIV translates “impress.” If you are familiar with the verse, you may be aware that it is usually (by all other translations I looked at) translated “teach diligently.” In truth, neither of these is quite right. The NIV has a good instinct I think — it is trying to communicate somehting the others have glossed over, but I am not sure that “impress” is the word I would choose. The root of this Hebrew word is the same one we find in the word for “tooth.” In its verbal form it means “to sharpen” or “to pierce.” My Hebrew lexicon suggests translating it here as “to teach incisively,” which I think is a bit closer to the meaning. The difference lies in what it means to impress versus to inscribe. To impress is to take something, like a seal, and to press it into a softer substance so that it leaves a copy of its own form, or an approximation thereof. This may be quite a poetic and pleasing picture of what we do in education, but it is not what the word means. The root used here seems to convey not a pressing but an incising, a cutting into, which, in a time of stone and clay tablets seems to imply a writing more than a sealing. In other words, the implication I take from this word is that the words of God are to be written on the child’s heart (cf. Jer. 31:33). We may also make a connection to the word of God as sword in the New Testment (Hebrews 4:12) — it cuts in the sense of writing and inscribing but it also pierces and divides and thereby shapes one’s character.

All in all, I am pleased with what I have read from Lockerbie so far and I am happily anticipating what is to come. Though I am quibbling with the translation he follows for Deuteronomy 6:7, I am interested to see how he will build his case from these two verses.



9 responses to this post.

  1. […] « Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 1), Introduction […]


  2. […] Last time we began discussing D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision o… (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). We saw that Lockerbie puts forward two passages — Deuteronomy 6:4-9, especially verse 7, and Ephesians 6:4 — as the basis of his philosophy of education. In the latter he focuses in particularly on the phrase “the paideia … of the LORD” which he connects to the classical idea of paideia but also distinguishes from it, arguing that there is a specifically Christian paideia. Because his remarks last time were introductory, he did not expand upon this concept so I have been very eager to find out what he means by this and how he envisions it. In today’s chunk, chapters 2 through 5 of A Christian Paideia, Lockerbie begins to answer my questions. […]


  3. […] Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). Find the earlier parts here and here. Lockerbie is part of what might be termed the Stony Brook school of thought on Christian […]


  4. […] Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). Find the earlier parts here, here, and […]


  5. […] published 1994). We have looked previously at some of Lockerbie’s own ideas on education (see here, here, here and here). In this book he presents not his own thought but an overview of historic […]


  6. […] 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 it now. There was one idea, […]


  7. […] 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, Georgia. I had long heard of his […]


  8. […] Man of God Thoroughly Furnished,” Schultze combines some of the ideas of Van Til and Lockerbie, both of whom I rather liked. (He would have been a contemporary of Van Til but came well before […]


  9. […] of what we call sanctification.  (Education and Sanctification; Education and the Covenant Child; Lockerbie; also CM and the Puritans on […]


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