Posts Tagged ‘Christian parenting’

General Revelation and How We Live Our Lives

Dear Reader,

In my current series, I am looking at how Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy lines up with Special Revelation, that is, the Scriptures (see this post, this one, and this one). I am doing this to some extent because I can — because the Bible is a finite book and I can hold Miss Mason’s propositions up to it and ask if the two agree. But Charlotte does not claim to get her philosophy just from the Bible but also from God’s general revelation, His revealing of Himself through what she calls divine law and which we might call natural law or simply Creation.

In her first book, Home Education, Charlotte makes a strong case that we need to order our lives and our children’s lives around the principles God has revealed if we want to obtain the blessings He promises of health and wholeness:

“The reason why education effects so much less than it should effect is just this––that in nine cases out of ten, sensible good parents trust too much to their common sense and their good intentions, forgetting that common sense must be at the pains to instruct itself in the nature of the case, and that well-intended efforts come to little if they are not carried on in obedience to divine laws, to be read in many cases, not in the Bible, but in the facts of life.” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 38)

In other words, we must not trust to common sense or even entirely to the Bible but must discern God’s laws for how we should live our lives from “the facts of life.” If we as Christians are not thriving while our non-Christian neighbors are, she tells us, then it is because:

“all safety, progress, and success in life come out of obedience to law, to the laws of mental, moral or physical science, or of that spiritual science which the Bible unfolds; that it is possible to ascertain laws and keep laws without recognising the Lawgiver, and that those who do ascertain and keep any divine law inherit the blessing due to obedience, whatever be their attitude towards the Lawgiver.” (p. 39)

Notice that these laws are for the most part scientific laws in that we learn them through observation and experimentation. Things that were once new ideas which encountered much resistance — that fruit should be eaten to avoid scurvy, that doctors should wash their hands — now seem completely obvious to us, but there was a time when these basic principles had to be discovered. These are the sorts of laws which Charlotte has in mind; we ignore them at our own peril.

As I read what Charlotte wrote more than one hundred years ago, I wonder if we as Christians still believe this? Do we believe that there are discernable divine laws which govern life?

Too often it seems that Christians have forgotten that there is a general revelation and that we can know anything from creation alone. If you’ll allow me, I’ll pick once again on the Trim Healthy Mama diet (THM). My main problem with this eating plan (see my review here) is not that it is illogical or doesn’t work, but that it claims to be based on the Bible but has little solid Scriptural basis. For my purposes today, the question is not is THM Bible-based but why does it think it needs to be? Why is there a bread on the market based on the grains in the book of Ezekiel? Why do some wear only fibers mentioned in the Bible?

The problem, it seems to me, is that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater; in an effort to reject certain scientific theories, we have turned our backs on a whole arm of God’s revelation to us. Without general revelation, we are left trying to find biblical justifications for all we do, a process which leads to bad exegesis and ultimately undermines biblical authority as well as texts are stretched to speak to subjects they were never intended to address.

If today’s Christians are skeptical of science, they are not alone. Miss Mason speaks from a time of great scientific progress. Her view of man’s ability to discern God’s unwritten laws is an optimistic one. I think in many ways that is not true today. In the context of her book, the issues Charlotte addresses are very practical ones — What types of foods should we eat? How much fresh air do we need? She lived in an age when science was expected to give the answers to these questions. We live in a time when low fat diets have gotten us fatter and low carb is the answer — or, wait, is it? Maybe it’s paleo, maybe it’s gluten-free, maybe the pesticides which increased our food stores and can cure hunger are secretly killing us.

We live in a time of too many voices saying too many competing things and we have lost faith in our ability to discern God’s laws. I am somewhat comforted by the idea that we still seek truth. The many competing theories out there — whether it is about what we eat or how we raise our children — at least show that we still believe there is a truth; we just can’t find it.

I really don’t know where to end with this. Charlotte disparaged common sense but I am not sure that it is not one of our best and most helpful guides. Its is no longer a matter of just obtaining scientific knowledge; we need to decide which science to believe.

Any thoughts?



Education and Sanctification

Dear Reader,

I touched on this recently but thought it deserved a post of its own. To cut right to the chase, my big idea is this: Education is a part of Sanctification.

I want to be very clear first on what I am not saying: I am not saying that education in any way saves us. I am not saying that if we just teach people the right things or in the right ways they will be saved.

Sanctification is for people who are already saved. First comes justification, then sanctification by which those who have been saved are made more and more righteous. To be sanctified is to be made holy and to be holy is to be set apart for God. So when the Holy Spirit — and it is His work — sanctifies us, He makes us more and more as God wants us to be, indeed more and more as God is.

Education is also the work of the Holy Spirit. This is an idea I have gotten from Charlotte Mason. In her philosophy of education, the Holy Spirit is the Great Educator; it is He who gives all knowledge and wisdom and who is the source of all truth.

If both these works, then, are of the Holy Spirit, it is not too large a leap to say that the one is a subset of the other. And that is what my point in this post is — Education is a part of Sanctification. Both are the work of the Holy Spirit and the one is subsumed under the other.

Some Bible verses which I think add to my point:

 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2; ESV)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

“For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)

“Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
    to whom belong wisdom and might.” (Daniel 2:20)

This idea is a very Puritan one. Though Charlotte Mason was a member of the Church of England, she and the Puritans seem to have had some overlap in their understanding of the role of education. Education was so important to the Puritans that they demanded and educated clergy and early on established Harvard College. The Covenanters (to which my own denomination traces its roots) in the young United States were willing to break laws to teach slaves to read; they could not conceive of growth in Christianity without literacy (Joseph S. Moore, Founding Sins, p.??).

But I do not think the place of education is only to allow us to read our Bibles. That is certainly part of it but education is not merely the servant of our sanctification. It goes beyond that.

Both Charlotte Mason and John Calvin said that all truth is God’s truth. It is not merely our religious or Bible knowledge which comes from God, but all knowledge and wisdom, though it may at times comes through worldly or non-Christian sources. As God used the Persian king Cyrus to restore His people and His temple, so He can and does use non-believers to bring truth to mankind.

When man in Adam fell, his whole nature was corrupted. So in Christ our whole nature is, gradually in this life, restored. Part of this is our intellect. Of course many non-Christians are quite intelligent and highly educated (I am related to quite a few of these). Nonetheless, I maintain that education, rightly done, should add to our sanctification. When we learn about God’s creation, including human beings, we bring glory to Him. And as we grow in wisdom, we become more like Him, which is after all what sanctification is all about.


Habit-Training and Sanctification

Dear Reader,

As my local Charlotte Mason study group makes its way through her 20 Principles,  we are up to “Education is . .  a discipline . . . ” Habit-training is what we are talking about here. As I revisit this topic, I find myself thinking more about the spiritual than the physical.

Often times in habit-training we seem to be speaking of very mundane issues — cleaning one’s room and bathing and brushing one’s teeth and putting one’s shoes away. On the surface these things don’t seem to have much of a spiritual component. But I think that if we get tied up in practical, everyday things we miss the point.

God is always working in the heart of His people to sanctify them and to bring them closer to Himself. As I told my own children, we need to cooperate in our own sanctification. About a year ago, I sat each of them down and asked them what they wanted to work on in themselves. They are slightly older (currently 10 through 15) so they are able to say that they need to work on things like “pride” and “patience” (that one is a lot like her Mama). But even when we work of the seemingly more trivial issues, it can and perhaps should still be a spiritual exercise. For one thing, whenever we change our habits, we are working on the will as Charlotte Mason speaks of it. We are forcing ourselves not to do the easy, lazy thing but to do what we know we should. Then too there can (and should) be good reasons for the things we are working on. I would go so far as to say if you can’t give your child a good reason why they should work on a given habit, you should probably let it go and turn your attention elsewhere. Brushing one’s teeth, trying a new vegetable, cleaning one’s room — these are all about stewardship, about being wise and responsible with what God has given us. Putting away your shoes so they don’t clutter up the foyer? That’s consideration for your family members who might trip over them.

Above all, habit training is not something we impose on our kids; they should be part of it. We should explain to them what they will be working on and why. And as they do they learn that we all have things we need to work on. If you conquer one bad habit, there is always anther. And that’s really what life on this earth is like for God’s people. Too many of us (and I am guilty of this too) go through life waiting for God to start changing us. I do believe that the work of redemption and sanctification is all God’s, but He graciously allows us to cooperate with Him in it. How much better to do so consciously and intentionally. As Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13; ESV).


Teaching Obedience

Dear Reader,

In preparation for my local Charlotte Mason discussion group, I am rereading Charlotte’s sixth volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education. This month’s selection is the fourth chapter which is entitled “Authority and Docility.” Miss Mason sees these two concepts — authority and docility — as being like the two foci of an ellipse; they are the two points around which we orbit or two celestial objects whose gravitational pull keeps us between them.

We all have authority in some area and are called to submit in others. If nothing else, we have authority over our own selves and even the greatest among us is called to submit to God. One of Miss Mason’s main points in this chapter is that we, as parents and teachers, must let our children know that we are also under authority, that we do not demand obedience from them on our own behalf but that we do so because we are likewise under divine authority.

What struck me most as I read through this very brief chapter once again was what sort of obedience we should be calling our children towards. Elsewhere Charlotte speaks of the will and how to be willful as we usually use the term is a very bad thing. It means really to follow one’s own desires. What we should want for our children is not to be willful in this common usage of the word but for them to be able to will. To will, in her language, means to be able to choose to do something and to do it even when it does not fit our own desires. Really, it is to have authority over ourselves, to do what we do not want to do. It is a form of self-control.

So when we try to teach our children obedience, in reality what we should be teaching them is not just submission but authority, authority over their own members and their own desires. If all we want is kids who will do what we say in the short term, then we can be quite dictatorial, we can force obedience. But when our force (or bribery or whatever motivating principle we use) is removed, the obedience will likewise disappear. In the long-term what we want, at least what we should want, is not for our children to obey us, since our authority over them will pass away, but for them to learn obedience to God, whose authority will never pass away. We do this by example, by showing them our own docility and submission to Him (not by preaching it all the time, but by showing them through how we live our lives and only occasionally explaining why we do so). We also do it by helping them learn to control themselves, to lay aside their own desires and to do what it required of them or what benefits another.

Docility, or submission to authority, then, is as much about authority over our own natures as it is about submission to another.


Catechizing Kids: What do you think?

Dear Reader,

A few years back we were visiting family and attended a small church from our denomination that was in search of a new pastor. The week we were there they had a possible candidate as the guest preacher and after service had a meal and a time to get to know the candidate and his family. We stayed for lunch and got to hear the discussion. The only thing I remember from that conversation is one church member asking the candidate in a somewhat eager tone how he felt about catechizing his children. The candidate responded that he was all for it and that he and his wife did catechize their children. I will admit I was a little flummoxed. I guess you had to be there to see what I mean but the attitude of the questioner was just so intense. There was clearly more going on here that a simple question about how one chooses to train one’s children. I rather think from the tone of the whole thing that if the answer had been anything other than “we catechize our kids” that the candidate would have been rejected right then and there.

Since my husband is not a candidate for anything I will now confess that we have not ever catechized our children. Or maybe we have. It all depends on how you define it. If you’ll allow me to be ramble-y for a minute — It seems to be that “catechizing” one’s kids is a bit like “classical” education. In the contemporary homeschool world, when we speak of classical education we are really most often talking of a certain version of the classical philosophy of education which was reignited by Dorothy Sayers’ famous article. When one asks in this context if Charlotte Mason was a classical educator, the answer is no; I don’t think she would have bought into what now passes for classical education (and which I try to refer to in this blog as modern classical education — talk about an oxymoron!). But on another level, before the term was hijacked, classical education meant something different and others have written better than I can on how Charlotte Mason was indeed classical in the, well, classical sense.

All of which is to say that just as whether or not one is classical depends on one’s definition, so too whether or not we catechize our children depends on one’s definition of that term. I am afraid that catechizing has often come to mean something very diluted, something that I personally find unattractive and rather useless. But in a more classical sense, yes, catechizing is wonderful. In fact, it is so utterly basic I don’t know how one could not do it (though I am sure many don’t).

So what does it mean to catechize one’s children? I am indebted to this article by John Murray in clarifying my thoughts on this issue. These days catechizing seems to refer to a rote memorization of questions and answers. This sort of exercise repels me. While there may be some benefit to it for some children as they grow and the words they have learned come back to them, I think there is little true, guaranteed and immediate benefit. Nor does this approach fit with my philosophy of education. It does not take into account the individuality of the student; it does not therefore respect them as persons (as Charlotte Mason would say).  Murray tells us that this sort of approach would have been condemned by the early refomers:

‘It is clear that blind memorizing of a catechism was in the eyes of the Reformers and Puritans an evil to be guarded against. The fear of the divines who compiled the Westminster Catechisms was, as one of them expressed it, that “people will come to learn things by rote and can answer as a parrot, but not understand the thing.”’ (“Catechizing: A Forgotten Practice” by John Murray, Banner of Truth)

What, then, should catechizing be? Let me quote Murray again:

The reason why many people regard catechizing as a slight and trifling exercise is that they confuse the practice with the mere rote-work of asking and answering of question in a catechism. But there is a vast difference between catechizing and the mere rote acquaintance with a catechism. It is almost certain that the early Church did not have catechisms constructed on the method of question and answer. Their great concern was catechizing. The early Fathers, the Reformers, and the Puritans were at one in maintaining that true catechizing is a very different matter from learning the mere letter of the catechism.”

I grew up in the Roman Catholic church and we used the term catechumen which I have not heard in other contexts (until Murray’s article). In the Catholic church the catechumens were those adults who chose to join the church. They were required to take classes to find out what the church believed and then were baptized at Easter. Turns out that that is exactly the right idea. To catechize, in the original definition, is simply to teach what one believes. This was originally done orally and using a question and answer format because of the limitations of the time (few books available) and the practices of the time (question and answer format in education). The catechisms as we have them were created much later to aid in catechizing, but they are not the origin of catechizing. That is to say, we have catechisms so that we may better catechize; we do not catechize because we have catechisms.

Why catechize at all? For the Reformers teaching what one believes was a big deal because they came right out of the Medieval Catholic church. It was important that people know and understand what they believed because of the hostile religious environment in which they lived. The Catholic church of the time did just the opposite — they essentially said “listen to us; no need to think for yourselves.” And in a time of persecution, how could people be expected to stand strong if they didn’t really understand what they were standing up for?  Lastly, as Murray points out, people are a lot more likely to stick with right doctrine if they know and understand what they believe. When theological knowledge slips, people begin to slowly fall away and ultimately heresy easily slips in.

All these reasons are still good reasons for us to catechize our children today (and our adults, of course). By this definition, catechizing is simply teaching theology, teaching what we believe and why. And why wouldn’t you do that?

One last word on the how of catechizing: I can’t pass up this quote from Murray’s article:

“[Augustine] insists that each pupil be treated according to his individual needs and that to this end the catechist should examine him by preliminary questioning as to his motives and as to his attainments with a view to making the pupil’s error or lack the starting point of his particular instruction. Similarly, all the way along the pupil must be watched and questioned, and carefully dealt with individually so that he may be cause to know rather than merely be caused to hear the truth which is the substance of the catechetical instruction. This certainly puts catechizing on a different level from the mere use of a catechism.”

I love the emphasis on the individual approach here. It sounds very CM, doesn’t it? To end up where we started, rote memorization such as I have often seen which says, for instance, that every kid in the Sunday school class is memorizing question 10 this week and must recite it in class, often with no explanation of what question 10 means, is not going to produce kids who know what they believe and why. It is going to produce kids who commit a few words to short-term memory for a week in order to get a piece of candy and then quickly move on.

So do we catechize our kids? Absolutely! It is very important to us that they know what they believe and why. Have we ever made them memorize questions and answers? No.


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