A Reformed Philosophy of Education: Goals and Purposes

Dear Reader,

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

As I move toward a unified philosophy of education, there are a few points I want to take a little more time on. One of these is the question of the goal or purpose of education. I might better say goals and purposes because in God’s Creation these things are often multi-faceted.

I have argued that in education we put before the child the things of God, primarily those things known under the very broad heading “general revelation.” Though God is the God of all, He works differently in the lives of those who are His and those who are not. The effect of education is also different in the life of the elect and the non-elect. Education is the sowing of seed; the result will depend on where it falls. 

When fallen people are confronted with the things of God as revealed in His Creation, this is the outward Call which goes forth to all men. This is what is happening when we educate non-believers. If they are chosen by God, then they will ultimately respond in faith. But if they are not, the ultimate purpose is to further condemn them. Their knowledge is a curse and not a blessing to them, but God is still glorified. Because all things work together for the glory of God, the non-elect person may, perhaps inadvertently, contribute to the overall knowledge of God and of His truth, beauty, and goodness in the world of men, but the effect for him personally is still to further the curse. 

When we place before the elect, the things of God, the outcome is very different. It is important to note here that education itself is not salvific. So many philosophies of education aim to save man (the goal of Montessori education, for instance, is no less than world peace). God’s truth, beauty, and goodness — are in themselves powerful and serve to transform his fallen heart and mind. We understand that salvation is not possible apart from the choice of God, the work of Christ on the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the individual’s life. But, insofar as it places God’s general revelation before man, education is an ordinary means God uses to save and sanctify His elect. 

Thus as a subset of sanctification, education serves to undo the effects of the Fall. By it God’s people are transformed by the renewal of their minds (Rom. 12:2). [1] Yet education had a purpose at Creation as well. That is, if there had not been a Fall, education would still have a role to play as men grew in their knowledge of God. The Fall has made education harder, but the need for education is not solely a result of the Fall. 

Biblical wisdom and knowledge are never merely intellectual subjects but are practical. Romans 12 tells us that our minds should be transformed so that they may “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2; ESV). The ability to discern is one practical outcome. Another is simply to produce right behavior. Our actions should reflect our thoughts. 

To be thus transformed is to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ.  It is to become more and more “whole-hearted.” The effect of sin is to divide us, to make us double-minded beings. Our hearts and minds are transformed when the effect of sin in them grows less and they more and more are united to a single purpose which aligns with the will of God.

We have been speaking thus far of the effect of education in the life of the individual. There will be other goals which are achieved along the way as well: a man will be prepared for the work God calls him to; the Church will be built; God’s kingdom in this world will be furthered. Ultimately, God will be glorified which is the purpose of all things.[2]

Nebby

[1] I would add “and hearts.” See this post on the words heart and mind in the Bible.  

[2] Because the teacher who is thinking of the good of the Church is likely to lose sight of the individual student before her, I have argued that we should keep the focus of education on the individual. In God’s Providence all these things work together, but we are fallen, fallible people who have a tendency to ride rough-shod over the individual.

4 responses to this post.

  1. I found your blog after searching for more information about Charlotte Mason’s 2nd principle. My husband and I are reading For the Children’s Sake right now because I am drawn to a lot on Mason’s method yet there has been much (mostly rooted in her 2nd principle!) that has not sat well with me, which is one of the reasons I wanted to read Macaulay’s book with my husband. Anyway, thank you for all of your writing. It’s helped us to think through things more and figure out what direction to take and what of Mason we can keep and what we should reject or hold very loosely at our oldest starts school this fall.

    Reply

  2. […] Education thus serves to undo the effects of the Fall. (John Milton on Education; JG Vos on Education; Goals and Purposes) […]

    Reply

  3. […] them all is that the child, no less than the adult, should be conformed to the image of Christ (see Goals and Purposes). If we keep in mind that who the child is matters infinitely more than what he knows, then we will […]

    Reply

  4. […] As these things are of God they are powerful in their own right. They are transformative and this transformation, specifically the remaking of our minds, is the goal of education (Romans […]

    Reply

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