Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 3), On Teachers

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).

This is my third post discussing D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The 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 education. He, like Frank Gaebelein, taught at the Stony Brook School in New York and he follows and expands upon Gaebelein’s philosophy of education. For Gaebelien, the controlling sentiment is “All truth is God’s truth.” One God as the source of truth means there is a unity to all knowledge. Lockerbie adds to this the idea of integration. The Fall of Man introduced disintegration and our goal is now re-integration.  This integration come on two levels. Man is an integrated whole — body, mind, and soul — and must be educated as a whole. This idea the Greeks knew and called paideia. But Christianity adds another dimension — as there is one God, there is a unity to truth, which Lockerbie calls Christian Paideia.

Today we are looking at the second section of Lockerbie’s book, chapters 6 through 12, which bear the heading “God’s Joyful Call to Service.” If there is a theme for this section it is the role of the teacher in education.

A key phrase for Lockerbie is thinking-and-acting. He hyphenates these words to show that they are really two sides of one coin. As you think, so shall you act. Looked at the other way, we may say that one’s actions tell what is in one’s heart. I completely agree with this idea and, as I said last time, I like how he ties it to Romans 12:1-2. There, you may recall, he told us that as our minds are transformed by God’s truth that this will be evidenced in our lives.

I find at times, however, that Lockerbie goes too far for me in emphasizing the practical outcomes. It is not that I don’t believe in these outcomes — I do and I am not advocating an education which is head only. I am fully with him when he says that:

“And let us — once and for all — rid ourselves of the silly notion that, somehow, spelling and the precise use of language doesn’t matter outside the English classroom. Precision in usage and accuracy of expression do matter.” (p. 132)

In the following chapter, however, Lockerbie seems to de-emphasize the value of knowledge in its own right. He says,

“Ideas have consequences, as we know, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone’s life is going to be transformed simply by being taught the Pythagorean theorem or the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet. Instead, what will transform any student will be the character of the teacher and the demands made by that teacher’s example for new and fresh and creative thinking.” (p. 142)

And here I think is the crux of my disagreement with Lockerbie. We both look for the transforming of the mind which must necessarily produce, like fruit from a vine, godly thoughts, words, and actions. We both also see this as the work of God the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual. Where we differ is in how this work is done, what God’s tools are, if you will.

For Lockerbie, as for Gaebelein before him, the Christian teacher is the key. It is not truth itself which transforms but the example of the teacher.  Note again in the quote above that it is the character of the teacher which transforms for Lockerbie, not the subject matter he is teaching.  Similarly, elsewhere he says that teachers are to teach who they are, not what they know (p. 92).

The teacher-student relationship for Lockerbie is that of master to disciple and is modeled on Jesus’ relationship with His disciples. This is no doubt a good model and we should look at how Jesus taught (as I did in this earlier post), but I am not convinced that the master-disciple model needs to be the defining model of our system of education. The goal for the disciples was to get to know their teacher because their teacher was God Incarnate. The goal for us is not that our students get to know us personally or learn from our characters but that we point them to the same Person that the disciples got to know. That is, we point not to ourselves but to Christ, God the Son through whom, we are told, we may also know the Father.

My contention (as I have argued here) is that in education we put before children the things of God. Because they are God’s, and because He works in their hearts and minds, these things have the power in themselves to transform. I do not expect that anyone will be saved by learning the Pythagorean theorem (though I would not rule it out as impossible) but I do think that this bit of truth, along with a myriad of others, can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, transform the mind.

My difference with Lockerbie is shown in an interesting way through the parable of the sower (Matt. 13; Mk. 4; Lk. 8). Lockerbie uses this parable as a jumping off point to talk about education. I agree with him on this up to a point but I think he goes too far and adds too much to the parable. As you may remember, the story is that a man sows seed on various kinds of ground. Some thrives and flourishes, some takes no root at all, and some does well for a while and then ultimately fails. As Lockerbie correctly points out, our usual title for this story — the parable of the sower — is a misnomer as the sower himself places little part in the action. He is indiscriminate in his sowing (no doubt a bad practice for an actual farmer, but, remember, this is a parable, not a lesson in farming). The seed we are told is the word of God. It is the soil that is the key in the story. Lockerbie acknowledges all this, saying that “ultimately, we aren’t in charge of the results of our planting” (p. 99), but nonetheless goes on to say that “we’re responsible for preparing the soil” (p. 100). While there is nothing wrong with helping a child overcome any obstacles he may have to learning, Lockerbie undercuts the very point of the parable. He urges us not to “content ourselves with aimless scattering” (p. 103) but this is precisely what the parable does urge us to do. We are to spread the gospel even on soil that we think is unfit for it, where we think it will never sprout. This is bad farming but good evangelism for we must “always remember who is the Lord of the harvest” (p. 103).

In conclusion, I will say again that there is much in Lockerbie’s thought that I really like. I have one more section within this volume of his to read and think about, but I think I have begun to narrow in on precisely where I agree with him and where we diverge. There is so much I would say he has right but the point of divergence is on the issue of how utimately our minds are transformed.



8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lucila Feldman on July 14, 2019 at 1:28 am

    Hi Roberta,

    Another great read – I totally agree with your perspectives here.

    I am beginning to think I need to do more work to understand reformed theology of Holy Spirit and to what extent he works in the life of an unbeliever. I think this will help me grasp a philosophy of education as it applies to everyone. I had always understood that if unbelievers demonstrated wisdom / knowledge of truth, it was because of “common grace” mediated through general revelation, not necessarily requiring the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work of enlightenment. I get the sense you (& certainly CM) also see it as his work to reveal truth to anybody…ie. common grace doesn’t happen without the Holy Spirit actively applying it. Am I right?

    I guess your daughter is about to start at her new course? Exciting times… I hope its a great fit for her.

    Kind regards Lucila


    • Hi, Lucila. Common grace is a tough concept and I am not sure I fully understand it. I do have a couple of posts on it but I am not sure I have ever gotten good teaching on it. Often its seems to be a catch-all explantion for things we can’t otherwise account for — why good things happen to bad people and why unregenerate people do seemingly good things or aren’t as bad as they could be. I don’t believe the phrase itself is biblical though it is certainly trying to encapsulate a biblical concept — (paraphrasing) “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

      I think the question you are getting at is how active is God’s involvement in “common grace” things. My answer would be that God is very active in maintaining/sustaining His Creation in all ways. I don’t know if this is the theologically correct answer but I would nothing happens without His active involvement. It is not that He sets the processes in motion and then just lets them take their course and only steps in sometimes but that He is actively overseeing things. Though there are obviously also natural processes that we can observe and predict. I don’t think those are mutually exclusive options. If a farmer needs rain, he can watch the weather and there may be natural water cycles that happen and bring him rain and that can be predictable and follow scientific laws but at the same time even if nothing happens that is outside our normally expected patterns we say that God sent the rain and answered the farmer’s prayers and that He is in control of what happened in a very direct way. In the same way I would say that nobody learns anything without God’s involvement. That does not negate natural processes or the will or intellectual effort of the individual. These things can all work together just as God can be directly involved with the weather and the clouds and air currents still do their normal expected things.

      A little off topic of your question but one thing I have come to realize is that common grace is not really good for those who aren’t God’s people. Our pastor says that for God’s people even the bad in their life is turned to good and for those who are outside of His covenant even the good is turned to bad. So if God sends those whom He hasn’t chosen something good — say wisdom or even rain — it ends up condemning them all the more because they should be grateful and they should turn to God but they don’t.

      My daughter starts at art school in September (thank you for asking). She is getting veyr excited/nervous. The art I know she’ll love. The social aspects are more nerve-wracking.


  2. […] « Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 3), On Teachers […]


  3. […] This is my fourth and final post discussing D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). Find the earlier parts here, here, and here. […]


  4. […] 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 Christian views […]


  5. […] have seen before how for both Gaebelein and Lockerbie, the teacher is paramount. I expressed some concerns with that idea when we looked at Lockerbie. I am concerned again here. Gaebelein says with regard to his Bible-trained teachers that […]


  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, however, I gleaned […]


  7. […] Godly knowledge — and goodness and beauty — are active, effective, and transformative. (In Defense of Truth and Beauty; Zylstra on the Transforming Power of Truth and On Frameworks and How We Know What’sTrue; Lockerbie on Teachers) […]


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