Reformed Thinkers: Gaebelein on 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.

We 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 him, The Pattern of God’s Truth: The Integration of Faith and Learning [Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1968 (first pub. 1954)].

If you recall, the guiding principle for Gaebelein is “All truth is God’s truth.” What this means for him is that there is a unity to truth because it all has a common source. Though Gaebelein (in what I have read) does not make this explicit, his disciple, D. Bruce Lockerbie (see this post), draws the connection that the Greeks, for an example, could not have unified truth because they did not have a unified Godhead. One God who is the source of truth means that all truth is connected.

As Gaebelein points out, the Scriptures have quite a lot to say about truth. Jesus himself is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Praying for His disciples He asks the Father to “sanctify them through the truth; they word is truth” (John 17:17). Truth, Gaebelein says, “inheres in the very nature of God Himself” (p. 20).  As we have heard others say, there is no distinction between sacred and secular. That truth may come to use through non-Christians, but “Christian education has a holy obligation to stand for and honor the truth wherever it is found” (p. 23).

Gaebelein acknowledges what have been called the two books of God’s revelation, which is to say God reveals His truth to us both through the Scriptures and through His creation. We know this truth “through our reason, enlightened by the Holy Spirit” (p. 29). Though we must always bear in mind that our knowledge is and always will be (in this life at least) limited. This is true not just of the knowledge we get through Creation but also of our scriptural knowkedge. The Scriptures are, of course, themselves perfectly true, but our interpretation and understanding of them may be untrue.

When we looked at D. Bruce Lockerbie, who taught at Stony Brook and seems to have been a disciple of Gaebelein as far as his philosophy of education goes, we saw that he added the idea of “integration” to Gaebelein’s emphasis on truth. Integration for Lockerbie seems to take two meanings. On one level it means we educate the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. On another it speaks to the unity of the truth itself, that all subjects, because of their common origin, relate not just to biblical truth but to each other as well. Integration, for Lockerbie, was the original state of things. The Fall brought disintegration and our goal now is re-integration.

In this book, Gaebelein uses the word “integration” as well, but he seems to use it in a different sense. He speaks of integrating every subject with Christianity (p. 36). And this integration he strives for is not just academic but affects extra-curriculars and the administration of the school as well:

“Nevertheless, in respect to a thorough-going integration of Christ and the Bible with the whole institution, with all departments of study, with all kinds of student activities, with all phases of administration, there remains much land to be taken.” (pp. 15-16)

Gaebelein finds the integration he seeks (at least theoretically) in persons. It is not enough for him to show, for example, how math or history relates to God (though he does spend a chapter on such things). A person, a well-educated Christian teacher, is required. His proposal is that Christian schools not have separate Bible departments but that at least one teacher in each department have a thorough knowledge of the Bible which they are able to apply to their subject. This sort of personal integration he expects to spread from teacher to student and also throughout the school. It becomes an atmosphere, if you will.

We 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 “Unanimity of denomination is not essential; unanimity of faith is” (p. 52). This seems a very slippery criterion. Take a subject like history — will be reformed understanding of how God has worked in historical events be the same as that of an Arminian? Vague standards lead to a kind of mere Christianity which becomes quickly diluted. Gaebelein decries “reliance upon what other men say about the Word of God” and prefers “what it says directly to the individual” (p. 45). I would argue to the contrary that God the Holy Spirit guides His church in all truth, especially as regards doctrine, and that individual interpretations, especially as they contradict the historic creeds and confessions of the church, are suspect.

The Pattern of God’s Truth is a thin, little book and well-written so it is easy to read. If you are looking to get your feet wet in some Christian thought on education, it would not be a bad place to start. Gaebelein has a lovely vision of what truth is and I am particularly struck by the idea that truth is inherent in God. Just as God’s law reflects His character, so does His truth — which should be reason enough alone to pursue it. I am less convinced by his heavy reliance (again) on the teacher which seems to bring with it a lot of pitfalls.


3 responses to this post.

  1. […] Lockerbie distinguishes two main branches of thought, that of the Stony Brook School, headed by Frank Gaebelein (with which he is affiliated), and that which arises from the Dutch Reformed […]


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


  3. […] 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. D. Bruce […]


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