Principle-Based and Worldview-Based Approaches to Education

Dear Reader,

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

I recently reviewed two more homeschool curricula for my Approaches to Homeschooling series, and in the process realized that I should probably say something more generally about some popular Christian approaches to education.

My larger goal in this series has been to build a Reformed Christian philosophy of education. We have discussed why that is necessary and why Christian classical and the Charlotte Mason method fall short, but there are other Christian curricula out there. These often fall into two categories: values- or principle-based curricula and worldview-based curricula.

Values- or Principle-Based Education

By values- or principle-based curricula I mean those which make it their primary goal to inculcate certain virtues. Curricula which fall under this heading include A Thomas Jefferson Education (not inherently Christian; see my review here), the Biblical Principle Approach (I did a number of posts on this one; the conclusions are here), and, to a lesser extent, Generations Homeschool Curriculum (which I looked at recently here).

For those of us who are Reformed, I think it is perhaps easier to see the inherent flaw in these approaches. Simply put, they make a fruit, that which should come after, the main goal. These curricula, given the scope of what’s out there, might look pretty good to a Christian parent on first inspection. Certainly, virtue, however one defines it, is something we want for our kids. But if we make that the main goal, we miss the core. If I can use a somewhat negative analogy, it is treating the symptoms but ignoring the disease. What our children need is not first and foremost virtue but new hearts and minds. Virtue should flow out of that as a secondary result.

Worldview-Based Approaches

Worldview-based approaches step into this gap and present an even more attractive alternative. Generations (mentioned above) has elements of being worldview-based. Cornerstone (my review here) is also worldview-based. The attraction of this approach is that it seems to prioritize first things. How one views the world is paramount, and the goal is to leave children with a God-centered worldview in which all subjects are viewed through the lens of faith.

In some ways my own approach (which once again I will promise is going to be published in a more coherent form soon) could be called worldview-based so I am not entirely unsympathetic to this approach. They teach worldview as a subject in the curriculum and they integrate it very deliberately into every other subject area. This usually affects book choices for all subjects, the practical application of which is usually that only books by Christian authors are used.   While the product they offer looks good on the surface and one can certainly not argue that it is not God-centered, there are some assumptions underlying the worldview-based approach all that I would disagree with.

The first of these has to do with how we view non-Christian scholarship. There is a level on which non-Christians, no matter their field, are just not going to have complete or accurate knowledge. Put another way, we should expect Christians to be the best scholars (which was perhaps true at one time, but sadly is often not the case these days). I argued this point here. On another level, however, God is the God of Truth and He works through even His fallen, unregenerate creatures. As He used Cyrus for political good, so He uses the scholarship of non-Christians to advance human knowledge as a whole (see this earlier post for a fuller argument of this point). While I agree with the advocates of the worldview-based approach that we should be discerning in the sources we use, we should not ignore non-Christian scholarship (see this post for some tips on how to pick good books).

There is still another level of error here, one that Fesko points to in his book Reforming Apologetics (my review here). In recent decades the reformed church has largely abandoned the idea of natural law and something called Historic Worldview Theology (HWT) has taken hold.  Simply put, HWT divides the world into two clear groups: God’s people and not God’s people. Everyone has a worldview through which they interpret reality, and there is only one correct, biblical worldview. This view is comprehensive in that it covers all areas of knowledge. In education, then, every subject must be viewed through the correct lens, the lens we call a right biblical worldview. The problem, as Fesko argues, is that this is simply not biblical. God is One, but it does not from this follow that there is one truth, one lens through which all knowledge should be viewed.

I am not sure how Fesko would feel about this but I think of it this way — God is the God of Truth but though He is One God, His Truth cannot be distilled into one proposition. Yes, it all fits together and there is in some sense a unified whole, but it is not a simple unified whole. It is not something that you could sum up in a word or a phrase or even a paragraph. It is much more like a large intricate painting. You can’t take it all in at once and you could describe it for hours and not feel you had done it justice. Because God has given us both general and special revelation, and because all things, even fallen man, work together for His glory, there are going to be times when unregenerate people give us glimpses of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty.

The problem, then, with worldview-based approaches is that they make it all a bit too simple. They have a tendency to denigrate God’s general revelation, they ignore the real contributions of unregenerate people, and they reduce Truth to something simpler and more propositional than what it is. It is as big as God Himself and cannot be packaged in manageable chunks, useful to some extent but ultimately insufficient.

So What Do We Do Then?

The Scriptures make pretty clear that parents are to teach their children about God, and to do so almost incessantly (Deut. 6:7). I am not advocating for a lackadaisical approach. But neither can we boil down the things of God to a few easy propositions. Ultimately what we want for our children is a relationship with the One who is beyond all we can imagine.  My problem with worldview-based curricula is not with the idea that we needed to have a God-oriented view of all things but with the practical applications with have a tendency to reduce rather than to expand our vision.



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Yvonne S. on February 13, 2020 at 7:18 am

    Thanks for your views and letters. I appreciate your balanced approach and look forward to more content.


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