Education: Creation or Fall?

Dear Reader,

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

One of the first reformed thinkers I read on education was Cornelius Van Til. In his “Essays on Christian Education”  (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1974), Van Til argues that the purpose of education is found in Creation (pp. 79-80, 125, 167).  As he puts it, the Fall delayed the ultimate goal of Creation but did not fundamentally change it. Thus education is not merely a reversal of damage done by the Fall but it is a fulfillment of man’s creation mandate.

At the time I was intrigued by Van Til’s assertion and meant to come back to this idea. As I have developed my own philosophy of education, I have argued that for believers education is a subset of sanctification. In education we bring before students the things of God which He reveals in His general revelation. 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 12:2).

Does that mean that if there had been no Fall and therefore no corruption of our nature that we would not have needed education? I am inclined to side with Van Til on this and to say that education would still have had a purpose. There was a Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden which Adam and Eve had not eaten of. They were sinless and their natures were not corrupted, but they did not know everything that there is for mankind to know. Education in such a state would perhaps not have been transformative in the sense of changing but there could still have been growth. Though Adam and Eve were in a state of grace, they could still have grown up in that state. Just as the world itself needed their cultivation so their persons could have matured.

For us, living in this fallen world, the task of education is tougher. The ultimate goal is the same, to grow up to maturity in the image of Christ. But the job is harder because we do not start from a place of mere immaturity but from one of corruption. The Fall is not the reason for education but it does make education harder.  Though I have largely followed Charlotte Mason in her philosophy of education I do think this is one aspect that she does not take fully into account. Oddly enough, I have found this idea most clearly in a non-Christian writer I encountered recently, Alfred North Whitehead. The Fall, he says, makes education not as easy as it should be because we do not have the joy in knowledge that we should and we resist those who would teach us. Not to mention that our mental abilities are hampered. I can not recall entirely where I read this (though I think it may be from Frank Gaebelein) but one writer said that every math error is a result of the Fall. It is easy to see that various specific struggles — things like dyslexia and attention deficit disorder — would not exist if it were not for the Fall, but it is incredible to think that if our natures were not corrupted that we would not make even minor mistakes.

I am straying far from my original intention in this post but it does make me wonder what life will be like in the new heavens and the new earth. We know that we will still have good work to do but will we also have learning to do? Will we know everything that there is for man to know at once? I tend to think that there will still be knowledge to be gained. To gain knowledge should be a joy for us and it is hard to imagine that we will no longer have that joy.

But this is speculation. My main point today is simply this: Education has its origins in Creation. The Fall did not create the need for education but it does make it harder.

Nebby

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Yvonne S. on July 28, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts. I’m grateful for your writtings especially at this time when time with friends is not as is used to be. I am encouraged to be a homeschooling mother who continues to know more of the God who saved me. Indeed we will never exhaust learning more of God here or in the world to come.

    Reply

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