Posts Tagged ‘Christian theology’

What We Study and Why: Language

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

In this part of our series we are looking at individual subjects and asking why and how we study them. So far we have discussed mathematics, science and history. Today’s subject is language. I am thinking here both of one’s native language and of foreign languages. Literature we will save till another time. My interest today is in all those things which one must learn to learn a langauge — the fun stuff like spelling (phonetics, phonology) and grammar which itself is a very broad topic including both how we form words (morphology) and how we put them together (syntax and semantics).

I think most people will agree that langauge is a necessary subject. But most also are just as happy to pass quickly over through the essential bits and to get on to something else. More than any other subject, we tend to have a very pragmatic approach to language; we see it as a tool, a very essential but very boring and often troublesome tool.

Why We Study Language

If langauge is a tool it is one so powerful it was used by God to create the universe. As I argued is this earlier post, words — those building blocks of langauge — are absolutely essential to our relationship with our Creator. God used them to create us and our world (Gen. 1). God the Son is identified as the Word of God (John 1:1-3) and it is through words (and distinctly not images) that God chooses to reveal Himself to us (Deut. 4:15). Words and names are powerful things (Gen. 17:5; 32:28; Mk. 3:16; Heb. 4:12). And it is through words that God continues to save His people (Rom. 10:14).

Education is sanctification. It is us confronting the things of God, drawing us closer to Him, and making us more like Him. Language is not just essential to almost all other learning – though it certainly is that — but it is also one of those things of God. If anything it is more closely associated with God than any other subject. Math, they tell us, is the code behind the universe, but the Word is God.

I don’t know how it works in the Godhead, but for us humans we don’t seem to be able to have ideas without the words to put them in. How could we understand God Himself without the word Trinity? Words and phrases like “nature” and “begotten” and “saved by grace through faith” are carefully chosen because they communicate very specific ideas. The words embody the ideas.

As we move beyond our own language, we also begin to see the possibilites in other languages. Biblical Hebrew is a language well suited to narrative but does not lend itself so well to philosophy and theology. Greek, on the other hand, is able to express complex ideas much more readily because it contains a case system and allows for much more complexly structured sentences. English, I have heard it said,  works very well for science and technology because, being a mash of so many other languages, it easily takes on new ideas.

Since there is such a tie between langauge and thought, when we learn another’s langauge we also learn something about how they think. This allows us not only to convey our own ideas to them but to understand their thought. If we know our God through langauge, we also know our fellow men through language. Being able to connect with others, both to communicate our own ideas and to learn from them, is a major goal of language learning.

If we too often view langauge as a tool and not as something that is beautiful in its own right, then the fault lies in our own educations. One of the major principles I have set forth in this series is that we need to let the beauty of knowledge (for all true knowledge is from God) shine through in its own right. We don’t need to dress it up to make it pretty but we must also not weigh it down and make it cumbersome and boring. Most of us have had langauge made boring for us.

We need to rediscover the beauty of language so that we can pass it along to our students. The primary way I know to do this is to read people who are themselves in love with language (I will add a brief bibliography at the end to get you started). In addition to reading about langauge, we need to read well-written books, whether prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction. I am thinking of those whose words just seem to roll off the tongue. I found when my kids were little that there were some picture books that I just enjoyed reading aloud. The words were a pleasure to say. The same is true of some big books as well. Authors that come to mind are: Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Russell Hoban (of the Frances books), and Charles Dickens (though I am often winded by the end of his sentences). These authors clearly love language themselves.

How We Teach Language

I think one of the biggest problems we have in teaching language is that we do too much. Perhaps in this subject more than any other we provoke our children to frustration. I am convinced that we need to take the formal elements of langauge slowly. The most important thing is to read children those well-written books that roll off the tongue. If you don’t love reading a book, don’t. Say no. Throw it away or return it to the library and get books that you, as an adult, can enjoy reading. Set an example of reading and give them access to good books (and limit access to poorly written books).

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of how we teach langauge, I can only offer you some observations I have made; take them for what you will:

  • Don’t rush into spelling before the child has a good ability to read and don’t rush into grammar for a while after that. These are subjects which can be learned more quickly a few years later.
  • Many, but not all, students will naturally pick these things up if they are reading good books.
  • Spelling seems to be a visual skill more than anything else. Some kids take to it naturally; others need to be encouraged to “see” words.
  • My observation is that worksheets on both spelling and grammar translate very poorly into children’s writing. As much as possible, there should be a context to what we teach, a literary and a social context.
  • English is a tough langauge because it is such a hodge-podge but there are some rules, however arbitrarily applied. Especially for the child to whom these things do not come naturally, it can be helpful to learn these rules.
  • When it comes to spelling, etymology and history are often helpful. If we know, that “crochet” comes from the French, we may remember that the “sh” sound in the middle is spelled with a “ch.” This can help us as well with chef and chauffeur (at least the first part of it). If we know some English history, we may also understand that chef and chauffeur, those fancy words for people with servants, come from the French. In Greek words, on the other hand, like chaos and anarchy, the “ch” sounds like a “k” (and what does that say about the Greeks?).
  • Choose your approach to grammar wisely. Many of us had the experience of not learning English grammar until we took a foreign langauge. The truth is most grammars were originally developed for other languages (like Greek and Latin) and were applied to English. We need an approach to grammar that it suited to the language.

Kee scrolling for my list of resources to get you started. I am sure there are many other good books that inspire a love for and a real understanding of language. If you have others to add, please let me know.

Nebby

Bibliography

Eide, DeniseUncovering the Logic of English (Logic of English, 2012). I consider myself a pretty good speller but this book taught me rules I never knew. There is a curriculum which goes with it which I have never used. I foudn it was useful for me to read the book. I also got the flashcards of phonemes and went through them with my kids when they were littler. Then when problematic words came up later in life I would refer to the phonemes and rules (“remember that  ….  can also make the …. sound” etc.). Teens could also read the book for themselves.

Leonard, Mary Hall. Grammar and Its Reasons (1909; republished by Forgotten Books, 2016). It is the first part of this book, beginning in chapter two, that I really like. Hall discusses the history of the study of English grammar and though she goes on to discuss grammar I thought she actually made a better case that we should not do so.

Norris, MaryBetween You & Me (W.W. Norton and Company, 2016). Norris is an editor for The New Yorker. She discusses grammar and her own career. I learned (finally!) when to use which and when to use that.

Schmidt, Stan. Life of Fred Langauge Arts (Polka Dot Publishing). Life of Fred is known for its math books but there is also a four-volume langauge arts series for high schoolers. The idea is that the child reads all four volumes every year. I am not sure it is necessary to go through them all four times. My high schoolers enjoyed these books though they did come away doing annoying things like telling me I use the word nauseous wrong (which just makes me sick to my stomach).

Vavra, Ed. Professor Vavra has written a number of useful articles on grammar, but the most useful by far is the free grammar curriculum he has developed. KISS Grammar takes a functional approach to the English language, asking what words do in a sentence rather than focusing on parts of speech.  You can find this wonderful resources here and a document I have written in how to use it here (opens a Google doc). Other articles by Dr. Vavra include: “A Psycholinguistic Model of How the Human Brain Processes Language” (here; Click where it says “click here to get article” and you will be able to download a word document). This article explains some of the basis for his approach. He explains how we understand sentences and how words “chunk” together in units of meaning. I found it fascinating and had my high schoolers read it as well. Practically speaking, this article helped me think about how to do dictation with my children.

Warner, George Townsend. On the Writing of English (1918; republished by Forgotten Books, 2013). This is an older volume which speaks to teens on how to write essays. I like Warner’s approach because (a) it is very practical and (b) it favors language which communicates well rather than heaping up long, descriptive words.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well (Harper Perennial, 2012). Though 30 years old, this is a more modern book on how to write well.

The Holy Spirit in Education (A Podcast Review)

Dear Reader,

I am writing this having just listened to a recent podcast from A Delectable Education. Given the non-written nature of the material, I want to reflect on it while it is fresh in my mind. A Delectable Education, if you are not familiar with it, is a podcast devoted to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. The episode in question (#140) is entitled “Live from Charlotte Mason Soiree Retreat Q&A” and was released on September 28, 2018.  As its title suggests, this podcast is actually the audio from the Q&A session of a recent retreat. The portion I am interested in comes about 35 minutes into the podcast episode.

The panel of speakers is asked how if, as Charlotte Mason says, the Holy Spirit is the prime mover in education, we can educate our children if they are not yet saved and have not yet been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. There are two answers given: that God is the source of all truth and that He does work in our children’s lives.

I am sorry I am not good at identifying which of the female panelists is speaking when, but one of them provides the first answer (not first in the order they say them; they go back and forth a bit), that all truth comes from God. This does not actually get to the heart of the question but it is a statement I heartily agree with. Art Middlekauff (the only male member of the panel) adds that just because we get a certain truth through say, Euclid, that does not mean all he has said is worth listening to. In other words, God may speak through an unbeliever on one topic or one set of topics but that does not mean all they say is inspired. This is a good reminder to us to use discernment.  In our own culture, we tend to put too much faith in anyone who does anything at all impressive from movie stars to sports heroes. I have read for instance that  Isaac Newton had some really wacky ideas on theology. This does not detract from his scientific theories but neither do his scientific theories lend credence to his theological ideas.

The second point, which is made primarily by Middlekauff, is that the question is flawed because our children are saved. My own church, like his, baptizes infants and considers them part of the body of believers. Middlekauff’s explanation is a good one as far as it goes. It addresses the case of Christian homeschooling parents educating their own kids.

We are left still with the question of other children. Whether at home or in a school context, we may find ourselves teaching children who do not have believing parents. Middlekauff partly addresses this issue. He says something along the lines of (paraphrasing, not an exact quote): even if you do not believe your children are saved, it is still the Holy Spirit that works in them and since your primary concern is presumably that they be saved you should very much desire and rely upon the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Again, I agree largely with what Middlekauff has to say, but I do have two concerns. I believe that it is the Holy Spirit that is working even if our students are unregenerate. If there is any good to be done in and for them, it is He that does it. Charlotte Mason’s philsophy of education relies upon the student being able to choose the good and I would not say that the unregenerate (children or adults) have any power to do so. I think then that more needs to be said about how this philosophy can work for such children. (I do have my own theories about the purpose of education in the lives of both regenerate and unregenerate children; you can read them here.)

My second concern is that I am just not convinced that this is how Miss Mason herself thought of the issue. I *think* that Middlekauff is saying something very similar to what I have been saying in my current blog series, that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of regenerate covenant children and that if any are outside of the covenant we still educate them while praying and hoping for His work in them too. (I hope I am not misrepresenting his ideas; this is how I took what he had to say. Though we seem to get to the same place, I am not sure our reasoning is the same.)

In contrast, when I read Charlotte Mason’s writings, what I understand her to say is that her education is for all children (she is particularly concerned to include those her society would have deemed uneducable). I do not think she makes a distinction between regenerate and unregeneate children because I do not think that she sees such a difference. She had a very different view (from mine) of what it means to live in a “redeemed world” (her term) and of the general moral and spiritual ability of people apart from the saving work of Christ. (I just did a long post on that here.) The long and the short of it is that her philosophy relies upon the ability of all children to choose the good because she believed that all children were capabale of doing so. She does not address what we do with unregenerate children because she did not believe in them as such. She believed all children had, through Christ’s redemptive work, been given some ability to choose and do good.

So I guess my conclsuion on this episode is that I like a lot of what the panelists had to say. I was surprised, in fact, to find myself agreeing so much with them. I am less convinced that how they explain the situation is how Miss Mason herself saw things. I still think we need a philsophy of education which considers all children — whether from believing parents or not — and which finds its origins in a reformed understanding of human nature and the purpose of life.

Nebby

Charlotte Mason, Anglicanism, and You

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

Charlotte Mason Poetry had recently released in audio-form a series of articles by Benjamin Bernier entitled “Education for the Kingdom” (these articles were originally published on their website in 2017). The five articles in this series form one argument. Bernier, an Anglican minister and homeschooling parent, has done extensive research into the religious basis of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. This series presents his argument that Charlotte’s philosophy cannot be separated from her Christian religion and that it is a distinctly Christian philosophy of education.

Bernier has clearly done his research. He shows specific authors and their writings that he believes influenced Miss Mason and makes a compelling case for each. I have no quibble with his scholarship and am very grateful to him for the work he has put in and his willingness to share it. Nor do I disagree with his conclusions. All in all this is an article well worth reading for anyone who uses Charlotte’s methods or who is interested in Christian education (and I do think reading is probably a better option than the audio versions as there is a lot here to take in). What I would like to talk about today is not Bernier’s scholarship but what we do with the information he has given us.

Miss Mason sought to develop a disticntly Christian approach to education. What Bernier shows is that that approach is heavily influenced, as it should be, by Miss Mason’s own church, the Church of England.

“In order to properly understand Mason’s philosophy, it is important to grasp the essential socio-religious context of her life and work, whch in this case happens to be the Anglicanism characteristic of the late-Victorian era England.” (Benjamin Bernier, “Education for the Kingdom, Part 1,” from charlottemasonpoetry.org, Feb. 18 2017)

Bernier goes on to argue that as the Anglican Church of the time encompassed a wide range of opinions that the form of Christianity embodied in Miss Mason’s philosophy is one that focuses on essentials, what he calls, following C.S. Lewis, a “mere Christianity.”

Bernier argues that Miss Mason’s goals in education were intrinsically religious. He shows from lesser known early writings that her concern in education was mainly apologetic. Specifically her motivation was to guard to youth of her day against the then very new theories of Darwinism and the Documentary Hypothesis [1] which threatened traditional faith assumptions (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 2, Beginnings,” Feb. 25, 2017). He maintains that she never abandoned the faith-basis of her method though she was forced, as the method became more popular and widely used in different contexts, to downplay the overt religious elements:

” . . . the Christ-centered foundation of Mason’s thought was not diminshed one bit; it simply became less overy and less conspicuous to a general audience when her message was repackaged in the hope of influencing the evolving national system of education as such a crucial stage.” (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 5, Enthroning the King,” March 18, 2017)

Note that Bernier here calls Mason’s philosophy “Christ-centered.” Elsewhere he speaks of the gospel foundation of her work. Mason herself spoke of the gospel principles of education which she derived from a few passages from the Book of Matthew. “As far as I have been able to trace,” Bernier says, “Mason was the first Christian educator to define a connection between these words of Christ [in Matthew’s gospel] and a philosophy of education” (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 2, Beginnings”).

Bernier thus makes three points that we need to consider:

  1. Mason’s philosophy cannot be separated from her Anglicanism which is itself a kind of “mere Christianity.”
  2.  As Mason’s philosophy reached a wider audience, its Christian foundation became more covert to the point that many in the modern CM movement are unaware of it altogether (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 1”).
  3. The biblical foundation for Mason’s philosophy is found primarily in certain words of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew.

Given these points, those of us who use or are considering Mason’s philosophy need to ask ourselves a few questions starting with: Is Mason’s Christianity my Christianity? If you are not Christian, Bernier shows clearly that Mason’s philosophy is not for you as it cannot be separated from its Christian underpinnings. If you are Anglican (as Bernier is) you can probably use Mason’s methods in good conscience. If you are from another Christian tradition, you need to consider what her faith is and if this “mere Christianity” is enough for you. Bernier points out, for instance, that Mason renounced the authority of the pope (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 3, Christ Himself for Himself,” March 4, 2017). If you are a Roman Catholic using this philosophy, it may be that you can ignore her personal views and still use her methods. Or maybe not. But it is an issue that needs thought.

Personally, I am a reformed (read: Calvinistic) Christian. I have certain views of human nature (total depravity) which do not gel with Mason’s approach. I have blogged on this many times now (see this post and this one, for example) so I will not rehash all the arguments but I believe that when Charlotte states her infamous second principle — “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil” (“CM’s 20 Principles,” from Ambleside Online) — that she means this as a spiritual statement, that this statement is foundational to her philosophy, and that this view is incompatible with reformed Christianity [2].  Mason’s “mere Christianity” is not simply the core essentials that all Christians would agree to but is a kind of Arminianism (though no doubt it is not far from the faith of many evangeicals today). [3]

I also have concerns about the biblical basis of Mason’s philosophy. I do not deny that she derives her approach from the gospels, but I do question her use of these texts exclusively. There are many other passages in the Bible which speak of children and topics related to education, both in the Old and New Testaments (see this post, this one, or this one).  Though I doubt they had red-letter editions of the Bible in Mason’s day, her selection of these passages from Matthew, and only these passages, exalts the words of Jesus there recorded over other parts of God’s holy and inspired Word. And, as I discussed here, I do not even particularly like how she interprets and uses these passages.

“Education for the Kingdom” is well worth reading. Bernier’s scholarship is excellent. It is an article (or series of articles) that demands a response, however. Bernier shows us clearly what the religious basis of Mason’s philosophy of education is. But, if you are using or considering using this philosophy, it is not enough to know what it is, you must also ask if it is compatible with your own beliefs. Are Mason’s foundational ideas your own? And if they are not, is there enough commonality that you can use her methods as written in good conscience?

Nebby

[1] The Documantary Hypothesis is a theory about the origins of the biblical text, specifically the Pentateuch, which posits different authors for different sections and tends to chop the biblical text up into parts.

[2] Bernier quotes Charlotte Mason’s “A Catechism of Education Theory” which says: “‘What is the part of man? To choose good and refuse the evil'” (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 4, Meditation and PNEU Philosophy,” March 11, 2017). Though the immediate topic is education, the discussion is of spiritual food and it is hard to take this as anything but theological statement about man’s ability to choose.

[3] Charlotte Mason’s view of man’s state and abilites seems to be tied to the phrase “redeemed world.” Bernier, quoting Mason, also uses the phrase: “Christ is shown to extend His light and life over every sphere of knowledge and practice in this ‘redeemed world'”  (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 4, Meditation and PNEU Philosophy,” March 11, 2017).  I have discussed Mason’s use of the phrase and its possible meaning in this post.  I do not at this time feel completely confident in my grasp of what Mason means when she speaks of a “redeemed world” but I suspect that there is some odd soteriology underlying it.

Movie Review: Calvinist

Dear Reader,

This is not inherently education related but I am going to try to tie it in 😉  (You can see all the posts in my current series on reformed Christian education here.)

The Calvinist Movie was made fairly recently by a guy names Les Lanphere. It is available on DVD, Blue-Ray or as a digital download from his website here. My short take on this is that it is well worth watching and even buying (price to rent is $5 and $15 to buy). There are really two parts to the movie– the bulk of it is about trends in evangelicalism and how and why Calvinism has become hip and new again. Sandwiched in the middle is about half an hour (of 1.5 hrs total) which explains Calvinism with lots of biblical quotes and (intentionally?) cheesy graphics.

The best part of this movie is the middle bit exlaining what Calvinism is. I could definitely see showing this section to anyone who asks “Reformed? What does that mean?” (which actually happens a fair amount when I say the name of my church). Admittedly they are preaching to the choir with me, but I went away from this section thinking “Why on earth wouldn’t anyone believe this?” They do a very good job of highlighting (literally) biblical verses to support all they say. The one lack, if there is one, is that while they show reformed theology to be biblical, little is said about what comes between the New Testament and the Reformation. I’m sure time was limited and one had to pick and choose but you wouldn’t know from this video that there was any good theology in the early church which the reformers were returning to.

Two-thirds of the movie is about the trend that has been called “Young, restless and reformed.” I think I am old enough that I am not part of this trend though my own journey (from Catholicism to 4 or 5 years as a generic evengelical to reformed faith) is not so different from many in the video. It was interesting to me as the study of a social movement. I don’t think this bit would be for non-Christians. I do plan to show it to my soon-to-be college student because, though he has been raised in the reformed faith, I think it would be good as he goes out in the world to have some sense of where his Christian peers may be coming from.

The Calvinist Movie does a good job of showing where the evengelical movement is lacking and how the continual altar calls with no emphasis on what comes after have left church kids empty and anxious. Though this is not my own experience, the feelings I got from growing up Catholic, with the continual need to repent, were similar. The movie makes the point that we have been depriving our kids by exiling them to children’s church where they are basically entertained. We need to treat them like people and to include them in the worship of the church, a position I fully support (see this post on children in the Bible).

A major theme in the movie is that what we believe matters; we can’t just boil down the gospel to the simplest terms. People (children too) need the meat of theology. This is a point I have been making on this blog for years — ideas  matter. To bring it back to the topic of this series — it is why we need a reformed theology of education. There is one particularly good quote near the end where one of the interviewees (Joel Beeke, I believe) says that theology changes us and flows out and affects our feelings and actions as well.  I completely agree with this. I would extend it and say that, perhaps to a lesser extent, the other, not inherently theological, ideas that we take in do this also. Our ideas shape us.

If there is one flaw in this movie, it is that it doesn’t go far enough. The core beliefs of reformed theology (I have just learned we call now these  “the doctrines of grace”) are clearly presented but beyond that there is no effort to present a biblical ecclesiology or a biblical doctrine of worship. And while I would agree that there is some diminishing importance and that we can’t get hung up debating every point small point of doctrine, some of these other issues are still quite important. I am not going to dwell on worship because though the film shows mostly what I would consider unbiblical worship, I hear that the filmmaker has since come to a more biblical understanding of worhip and that his next project will be on the Regulative Principle of Worship.

In the latter half of the film, Lanphere addresses Mark Driscoll, a popular reformed pastor who suffered a dramatic downfall from his ministry.  He then moves to talking about the various reformed Confessions, the implication being that adhering to Confessions will keep us from getting into situations where we are too dependent on the personality of one charismatic leader. Confessions are good, but I would argue that what we need is a biblical ecclesiology. In the movie’s defense, it uses the word ecclesiology a lot but it fails to take that added step and argue that there is a biblical ecclesiology and that we need to adhere to it (I would argue that what the Bible depicts is essentially a Presbyterian structure — one with a lot of accountability).

I definitely recommend the Calvinist Movie. The bulk of it is best for those who are already Christian and even reformed but the half an hour in the middle (actually about 15 minutes in, I think) is a very good, concise and clear way to present reformed theology to anyojne who shows an interest.

Nebby

A Teacher’s Expectation

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Read all the posts here.

Last time I laid out for you the theory behind my philosophy of education. Today we begin to move into the specifics of how one teaches. I want to start with something  intangible but which is actually fairly foundational to all we do — the expectations and attitude of the teacher.

As we move into the practical details and away from the pure theory, we are moving away from the clear testimony of the Scriptures and into the realm where we are using the sense God gave us and the wisdom He gives us through General Revelation, which includes both scientific research and personal observation. Today’s comments have to do with matters that are not directly addressed in Scripture. We need instead to rely upon our own discernment. As such, we should not hold to them too tightly but should be willing to revise and correct as God gives is greater wisdom.

Having said which, the underlying belief I am working with today is that the attitude and expectations of the teacher can to more to facilitate or to undermine learning than almost anything else he does. I am basing this largely on my own observation, from seeing the education and discipline of my own children and others. I do not think it is a particularly radical stance to say that a teacher’s mindset affects her students so I hope that you will be willing at least to venture forth with me in what follows . . .

If we will admit that this principle is true and that the teacher’s expectations and attitude affect the student’s learning, we must ask what those expectations and attitude should be.  There are actually two very similar ideas here — that of expectation and that of attitude — so I am going to divide what I have to say into two posts. Today we will focus on the expectation of the teacher.

My thesis for the day is this: A teacher should always expect the most and hope the best. Again this is not going to seem to be a radical opinion. I think it is worth spending a moment on, however, because there are going to be many times when it is hard to do just that.

Last time I argued that when we educate we place before children the General Revelation of God. Whether our efforts bear any fruit depends upon the responsiveness of the child which is turn relies upon the work of the Holy Spirit. In the covenant child or one who has made a profession of faith, the intended goal is his sancitfication, specifically the renewal of his mind. For the unbelieving child this presentation of God’s self-revelation in His Creation is a part of the external call of God.  The ideal outcome is that he will recognize and begin to respond to the things of God.

In education we bring before the child what is good, true, and beautiful, and yet the one who is unregenerate is not able to choose or do good. This sounds on the surface like quite a fruitless exercise. It is as if we are giving children food which they do not have the ability to digest. We can pour as much as we like down their throats but they are unable to get the good of it.  And if it were not for the role of God in all this, that would certainly be the case, not just for the unbeliever but for the believer as well. Ultimately, education is the work of the Holy Spirit . As teachers, we need to see ourselves as His instruments and we need to expect that He will work.

There are going to be times when teaching seems to bear no fruit. We should not be surprised when our students’ hearts are hard and they do not take in the food we present. This is the natural human state and a certain amount of futility is to be expected. Even in the believing child, there is still a sin nature which fights the work we are doing. Nonetheless our expectation must always be that God will work. When we present the gospel to someone, we do so in the hope that they will receive it. Though in education our message is more general, we are nonetheless bringing the things of God to our audience. We should do so in the hope that they will respond positively and in the knowlegde that God can enable them to do so.  I would even go beyond this and say that if God has placed an unregenerate child in the care of a reformed Christian teacher like you that He probably has plans for that child’s life and that there is a good chance He will make His words effective unto salvation and save that child.

I only teach my own covenant children in a homeschool setting and I can testify that there are times when it is a discouraging enterprise. If you have a larger class and have unbelieving children in it or perhaps even teach in the public schools in a setting in which you cannot speak as cleraly as you’d like, I imagine the temptation to despair is even greater. But we must, as always, see with the eyes of faith and know that the seeds we sow may be germinating though we see no little shoots sprouting yet. We sow the seed; it is up to God to bring the harvest, but we must always — with prayer — hope that He will bring that harvest.  This is the expectation of the teacher.

Nebby

 

Reformed Christian Education: Drawing Some Conclusions

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Read all the posts here.

I began this series in January by arguing that we need a distinctively reformed Christian approach to education.   It is now July and we have looked at a number of different issues. I would like to try and draw some of these strands together and to propose some conclusions. Thus far most of what I have said has been on a fairly theoretical level — it is about the why of education more than the day-to-day hows. I can’t promise there won’t be more theory in the future but my goal moving forward is to look more at the practical details and to begin to show how we can implement the theory in real life.

Early on, I tried to show that every philosophy of education makes some assumptions, whether acknowledged or not, about who the child is and why we educate. As such education is a very theological enterprise. If our theology is distinctive — and as reformed people we do tend to be pretty picky about theology — we should expect those distinctives to show up in our philosophy of education.

My goal today is not to say something new but to combine everything in one place so we can see how it all fits together. If you want more depth on any point and/or to see where I got these ideas, click on the links provided (or, again, all the posts in this series can be found here). First we will look at  who we are educating by reviewing the nature of the child. Then we we will look at what we are teaching. Finally we will look at what happens when you bring the two together, what is the desired outcome and how does it come about.

The Nature of the Child

Every philosophy of education makes assumptions about the child, his nature and abilities. We looked at the child in both the Old and New Testaments and saw that:

  • Children are not a separate category of being. That is to say, they are at a most basic level the same sort of creature as adults.
  • All people, including children, consist of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects. Though the Bible speaks of the mind, heart, soul and strength, it does not divide up a person in such a way that one of these parts can be addressed or can operate in isolation from the others.
  • Children are included in the body of God’s people and are called to obey God’s law.
  • Children are capable both of sin and of faith (through grace, of course).
  • Though they are in all these ways the same as adults, children are nonetheless ignorant and foolish. They are in particular need of education and discipline and the Bible says one’s youth is the best time for these activities.

Anyone who educates assumes that his pupil is in some way incomplete or imperfect. If he were both perfect and complete, there would be no need for education. The child’s lack of certain abilities, what we might call his immaturity, is generally not in dispute. An infant cannot eat steak or talk or walk or write his ABCs or do calculus. There are both physical and intellectual milestones which he has not acheived and cannot acheive in his current state.

One big question any philosophy of education needs to answer is how the child begins to be able to do these things. Will he pick up reading and calculus as naturally as he does walking and talking? Does he need input from adults to master these skills and if so, how much input?

How we answer these questions about the child’s physical and intellectual development is often tied closely to our view of his moral development. Those who view the child as inherently good tend to want to leave him to his own devices on the intellectual plane as well, trusting that he will aquire what is needful to him. This is the approach known as  unschooling.  Radical Unschoolers do not discipline because they trust the child to grow in correct ways on his own, not just physically and intellectually but morally and emotionally as well.

Most professing Christians would not go quite so far. Though all major branches of Christianity have some understanding of man’s fallen nature, how this is interpreted and what it means varies widely (see this post or this one).  The Roman Catholic Church, and many Protestants as well, accept the idea of Original Sin but stop short of the reformed doctrine of Total Depravity. As the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) lays out,  we believe that all the parts of human nature as being affected by sin (WCF IV). To the extent that the mind in particular is affected, this is going to alter how we educate and how successful we can be in education.

To sum up, as we look at who we are educating, we need to see that the child is fully human with all the aspects of a person, mind, soul, heart, and body. On the spiritual place, he is called to obey God’s law, but, like his parents, has a sin nature which makes him incapable of doing so. Nonethless, he also, again like his parents, is capable — by God’s grace alone — of true saving faith. His other aspects are not independent of his spiritual nature or of each other. They too have been affected by the Fall. His body, heart, and mind are not just immature due to his age and abilities but are corrupted.

The Fodder of Education

Before going too far, I want to reiterate a point that I made last time: when I speak of education I am defining it fairly narrowly as an intellectual activity. Because we are all made up of parts, the mind cannot be separated entirely from the other aspects of a person. This is easy to see on a practical level: we cannot easily educate a hungry child or one in the midst of emotional truama. So too education is also closely tied to discipline, but it is not discipline (see this post of biblical discipline). Nonetheless, education, as I am definfing it (and this is largely a matter of definition), is an affair of the mind.

If we want our children’s bodies to grow as they ought, we give them good food and exercise. If we want their minds to grow, we must also nourish and work them. Most of us already have some idea of what we want our children to learn — they must read and write and do at least basic math.  They should have some knowledge of history and science and maybe learn a foreign langauge. When we get into the specifics later this year, I will address each of these subjects and talk about why teach them and how. For now I hope that we can at least all see that there is some body of knowledge that comprises education whatever that may be.

All this stuff we teach, the fodder of education if you will, falls under the heading of Natural or General Revelation.  The Scriptures are God’s Supernatural Revelation to us in that they come not through the laws of Creation which God has ordained but directly from God Himself. They are also termed Special Revelation because they give specific knowledge to man about salvation and redemption. In contrast, God’s Natural or General Revelation comes to us through His Creation and teaches us about God in a more broad way.

Too often, I think, we limit General Revelation. We may take a brief walk in the woods and say some things about beauty and order and then we move on. But there is a lot more to General Revelation than we can get from a quick surface observation. The testimony of scientists, both believers and non-believers, is that the more we delve into the universe and look at how it works, the more wonder we find. Nor is General Revelation limited to the physical universe. God also reveals Himself through events  and through people:

“General revelation does not come to man in the form of direct verbal communications. It consists in an embodiment of the divine thought in the phenomena of nature, in the general constitution of the human mind, and in the facts of experience or history.” Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine [Grand Rapids: Eeerdmans, 1981 (originally published 1933)] pp. 26-27

Of course, believing parents will also teach their children the Scriptures, but the bulk of what we teach falls under the heading of God’s General Revelation. For a glimpse into how many of the traditional school subjects reveal the Creator, see this post.

What Happens in Education

Imagine yourself in front of a class of children. Some are from Christian homes. They are what we call covenant children. By God’s gracious decree, we assume them to be part of His covenant people. They are redeemed and, while still sin lives in them, they are capable of choosing and doing good. Others in your class are not from Christian homes. As yet we see no evidence of salvation in them, though of course we hope and pray that they will be saved. These children are not (yet) capable of choosing and doing good. When you teach a lesson to these children, they hear the same words and read the same books, but what is happening in them is fundamentally different because they are fundamentally different.  While there is one thing we do when we educate, there are two fundamentally different purposes, one for the believing covenant child and one for the (as yet) unsaved child.

Thus far we have looked at who the child is and at what we are teaching him. Now it is time to see what happens when we take the fodder of education and present it to our pupil. In education, we present to the child the things of God, all the truth and beauty and goodness that God has given is in His General Revelation. How this is received, whether it even can be received, will depend upon the character of the recipient and the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is actually a little easier to discern what is happening with the non-believer. Paul tells us in Romans what the purpose of General Revelation is in the life of the non-believer:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:20-21; ESV)

General Revelation is a revealing of the Creator God. To the extent that men fail to see the Creator behind the creation, it serves to condemn them. Of course, if we are educators, we hope — and pray — that this will not be the case for our students. We desire that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they will recognize their Creator in the things He has made and done.

Perhaps your student has seen a tree (I hope!) but maybe he has never appreciated the intricate process by which sunlight becomes food for the plant and ultimately for us. When we bring these things before our non-believing students, those outside the covenant community of God, we are playing a part in the process that will ultimately either lead to their salvation or seal their fate.  In theological language, this is the External Call which goes forth to all humanity (see this post). [1]

A covenant child or one who has made a profession of faith is in a bit of a different situation (for my previous discussion of this point, incuding a lot more verse references, see this post).  The base condition of man is to be unable to choose or do good. As discussed above, all aspects of his being are affected and are fallen or corrupted.  But once the Holy Spirit has begun to dwell in a person this is no longer the case. We are still pretty sinful people, but we are no longer ruled by our sin natures. We are in the midst of a process called sanctification which will last throughout this life. Sanctification means that we are gradually being made more holy. The image of God in us is being perfected as we are made more like Christ who is Himself the perfect Image of God (Col. 1:15).

As reformed people, we believe that the Fall affected all aspects of our natures. So too sanctification affects all aspects — body, mind, heart and soul (WCF XIII:II). In education we bring before our believing students the things of God. What happens when God’s people learn and think about what He has made and done? They are transformed (cf. Phil. 4:8-9) —

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.” (Rom. 12:1-2; ESV)

This renewal of the mind is one piece of sanctification and should be something we desire and actively seek for ourselves and our children.

We are often tempted to concentarte exclusively on the moral aspect of sanctification. We focus on whether we have sinned today and how much and is it any less than yesterday. Fighting specific sins on our lives is essential, but it is not the whole of sanctification. There is a lot to be said also for immersing ourselves in the world God has made not because it will make us better — though it will – but simply because He has made it. As I argued in this post, the pursuit of knowledge and beauty for their own sakes is valuable because all true knowledge and beauty come from and belong to God. Nonetheless, because all the aspects of our beings work together, we should expect that as we actively participate in the sanctification of our minds by feeding them the things of God that we will become better people as well. As I discussed in this post there is an intimate connection between faith and knowledge.

Conclusion and the Most Important Point

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7; ESV; cf. Prov. 1:29; 2:5; 9:10)

You can’t go far in the book of Proverbs without seeing that faith and knowledge go hand in hand. True knowledge comes from God (James 1:5). When we educate we bring before people — no matter their age — the things of God. We show them what He has made and how it works and what He has done in history and how He has made us. These are things we should all spend more time contemplating.

What happens when we bring these thinsg before a particular pesrons depends not on us but entirely on the eternal plan of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in that person’s life. Let me say that again because it really is the most important point I can make today: We don’t “teach” anyone anything. We bring to them the things of God and whether they receive those things or not is dependent upon the work of God the Holy Spirit in their lives. If the student before us is not a believer, we hope and pray that they see God in what we show them and that it will be the beginning of faith. If they already have faith, we expect that they will grow in that faith and in their understanding of God as they  contemplate what He has done.

Nebby

[1] A side bar: You may be asking yourself: Why not just present Special Revelation, i.e. the message of the Scriptures, to the unbelieving child? Of course in the end we all need to understand the particulars of the gospel message. If you are teaching unbelieving children in a Christian school or in your home, you should certainly make the Bible part of their shcool day. But you might be teaching in a setting in which you cannot do that (a public or non-Christian school) or it may be that your student is not ready for the meat of the gospel yet. Special Revelation is essential to salvation in a way that General revelation is not, yet General Revelation is one of the ordinary means God uses to prepare hearts for the work of His Spirit.

Revisiting Hebraic vs. Greek Education

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Read all the posts here.

I dealt with this issue when I reviewed Art Middlekauff’s talk on Syriac versus Hellenistic education (see that review here), but I feel the need to revisit it. I have recently begun listening to the Schole Sisters podcast and while there are some of their broadcasts which I would heartily endorse, there is one, entitled “Paideia is all Greek to me,” which I found quite disturbing.

In this broadcast the Sisters discuss a book they have begun reading, Werner Jaeger’s Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. I have not read the book myself and will admit that the concept of Paideia is new to me. What I want to discuss today is a part about midway through when the ladies begin to discuss the relative merits of Greek and Hebrew culture, particularly as it relates to education. Though I am going to use their comments as a springboard for my argument, I want to be clear that they are not alone in what they say here. I think the issue is worth addressing because there are some fairly common ideas, especially in Christian classical education circles, that come out.

I’d like to present the issue this way: We have before us two models of education and culture, that which is inherited from the Greeks (through the Romans) and that which comes from Hebraic culture which we know through the Old Testament and to some extent the New. If our object is to form an approach to education, we can use these two traditions in a number of ways:

  1. We can reject both.
  2. We can accept the one and reject the other.
  3. We can blend the two in roughly equal proportions
  4. We can include both to some degree but favor one over the other.

Among the various authors I have read thus far no one actually does #1 and rejects both. Some reject the classical model which comes from the Greeks and look to the Bible alone. Because we are talking about Christian authors, no one goes so far as to say that the Bible should not provide us with a model but some come pretty close to it in their emphasis on the classical.

Before turning to the Schole Sisters again, I feel I need to give a disclaimer — it is hard to review something that it oral. While my desire is to accurately represent their positions, what I am really giving you is what I heard which may not be identical to what they meant to say. 

In the podcast, the Sisters argue for the value of the Greek educational tradition. They did not explicitly say that this tradition is to be preferred over the Hebraic one but they argue fairly strenuously for the merits of the Greek and denigrate the Hebrew to the degree that I at least felt that they prefer the Greek over the Hebrew (option #4 above). Among other things they say that:

  • We should not reject the Greek tradition for being pagan because the Hebrew was also pagan.
  • God was preparing the Greeks for the gospel just as He prepared the Israelites/Jews.
  • There is something unique for the world in the Greek tradition (as opposed to Chinese or Indian or other traditions).
  • The New Testament uses the Greek language and Greek ideas. These ideas are necessary to convey the New Testament message.

There is a lot to discuss here, but I think we can boil it down into two main ideas: the latter two points tell us that the Greek culture was special and the first two tell us that Hebrew culture was not (or at least not that special). I am going to deal with the claims about Greek culture first and then turn to those about Hebrew culture.

Greek Culture: Is it unique?

Is Greek culture in some way superior to or more suited to the gospel than other pagan cultures? The short answer is I just don’t know. The Schole Sisters say essentially the same thing. There are no doubt people who are competent to do so, but neither they nor I have the kind of knowledge of, for example, ancient Chinese thought to be able to make a determination. From their discussion I gather that Jaeger in the book they were reading does make such a claim.

One author I have reviewed recently, Christopher Dawson, comes very close to making this claim as well. Dawson views the Greeks as having been prepared for Christianity:

“The Greeks and Romans had been prepared for Christianity by centuries of ethical teaching and discussion. Plato and Aristotle, Zeno and Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius had familiarized men with the ideas of man’s spiritual nature, the immortality of the soul, divine providence and human responsibility. But the Barbarians knew none of this.” Christopher Dawson, Crisis of Western Education (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010; originally published 1961) p. 9

But note that the comparison here is between Greeks and Barbarians. It is not clear from his writing whether Dawson sees the Greek culture as inherently superior to other more developed cultures. He elsewhere praises the longevity and scholarship of the Chinese tradition (p. 4).  He lists as the Greek contribution three things: its ethics, the idea that man has a spiritual nature, and the concept of immortality.  But are these unique ideas?  I suspect we would be hard-pressed to find an ancient culture that didn’t have a moral code and didn’t believe that man embodies an immortal spiritual element. Certainly the Egyptians believed these things as did the Babylonians (known, by the way, for the Code of Hammurabi). Nor am I convinced that Greek morality was superior to that of other cultures (and, I will argue below, it was inferior to the Hebrew law).

It is an interesting question what would have happened if Christianity came to the world in a different time and/or place. Ultimately, it is not a question we can ever answer as it is completely hypothetical. But we can ask if God chose this time and place for a reason.

Because I believe God’s plan is perfect, I believe that Christ came and the gospel spread just as it was supposed to. God certainly could have built His church first in China or India but He chose to do so in a certain time and place. The Schole Sisters imply that the reason was, at least in part, the Greek cultural atmosphere, that is, its world of ideas. I am not convinced that that is so.

The Schole Sisters as much as say that the New Testament use of Greek language legitimizes Greek culture. The choice of Greek for the New Testament was no doubt a practical consideration. The Hebrew of (the majority of) the Old Testament had already become a literary and not an everyday language (the average Jew would have spoken Aramaic, a close kin of Hebrew, but not the same language). The gospel message was to go out to the world, to the Gentiles and not just the Jews, and therefore using the lingua franca of the day made sense.

But I do think that there is a bit more to the choice of Greek than this. I have heard it said that English is uniquely suited to the modern world. Because it is such a hodge-podge it lends itself well to technological enterprises. Hebrew is a language well suited to narrative. Greek is a language well-suited to philosophy and to more complex theology. As big a fan as I am of biblical Hebrew, it would be hard to convey all the messages of the New Testament in that language (sometimes I think it is hard in English!).

But this is still an argument about language. The Schole Sisters go further and argue that Greek ideas were essential. They point in particular the concept of logos in John 1 (logos the Greek word for “word”; thus it is used when John says that Jesus was the Word).  

The question, it seems to me, boils down to this: Do the New Testament writers use Greek culture because it is essential to make their point? Are there essential ideas derived from Greek culture which the Hebrew culture did not provide? Oa, alternatively, do they use Greek cultural references simply because they are appealing to a Greek (or Greek-influenced) audience?

This could be a huge question and it is probably beyond me to answer it fully. I will share my own observations and inclinations, but I suspect there is a lot more than can be said (and probably has been).

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.” (1 Cor. 9:20-21; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted)

The apostle Paul here gives us a clue as to his own use of culture — he will use whatever he needs to to win people to Christ.  We see this played out in Acts 17 when he preaches about the unknown god. Paul takes something his audience is familiar with. He finds one point of connection and uses it to preach a sermon that they will understand. Though he refers to their poets, again making a connection with what they know, the language he uses of God seems straight from the Old Testament.

But what of the logos?  I am not convinced that there is an essential Greek concept here that John could not have done without. Hebrew has a very similar idea — that of Wisdom. Personified Wisdom is found in both the Old Testament (Prov. 8-9) and in Jewish works from the Intertestamental period (the Wisdom of Solomon and Ben Sirah, both of which are included in the Catholic version of the Old Testament). While the concept may not be identical, there is certainly something here that John could have worked with. I don’t think it is clear that he had to appeal to the Greek concept of logos. I find it more likely that John, like Paul, was using a Greek idea to draw in his Greek audience. John raises the Greek idea of the logos, which was an impersonal force, and identified it with a Person, namely God the Son, in order to draw in his Greek audience. [1]

When we think about why the gospel came into the world when and where it did, we also need to recognize that Christianity did not come into the Greek world as such. It came into the Roman world. Now, as I am sure we all learned in our own schooling, the Romans took over a lot of Greek things as their own (including the widespread use of the Greek language), but they also made their own contributions. When we ask why God chose this time and this place, a large part of the answer has to be Roman roads and Roman government. Simply put, the gospel could spread because people could travel relatively easily over a very large and mostly peaceful empire.

One final thought before we move on to the Hebrew culture: If we are going to argue that Greek ideas were somehow essential to the gospel, then we need to evaluate what this means for modern missions. When we bring the gospel message to very different places, from Africa to East Asia, we need to decide how much of the cultural stuff surrounding our message is essential and how much is, well, cultural. What can be adapted to the local culture and what cannot? If we begin with the presupposition that Greek ideas were essential, then we are likely going  to end up keeping a lot more of the trappings of western civilization as well. I do not know if this is bad or good but I do think it is an issue we need to consider.

My provisional conclusion on Greek culture is this: I believe God chose the time and place for the gospel message to come into the world and I believe He chose for the New Testament to be written in Greek. I think the Greek language lends itself well to more nuanced concepts. I have not yet seen any Greek ideas which seem to be essential to the gospel. What I see is what the Apostle Paul describes — that the New Testament writers appealed to Greek ideas to draw in their audiences. The Greek ideas (the logos, the unknown god) are a hook to grab the audience but then there is always something of a bait-and-switch as the apostle (John or Paul) uses the familiar concept as a means of making his point. I will say, however, that I have by no means done an analysis of all the ideas in the New Testament. I am open to other evidence on this point if anyone has any to present.

Defending Hebrew Culture

The flip side of the argument is that Hebrew culture is not special or different. The Schole Sisters call Hebrew culture pagan because the Israelites worshipped idols and (they note this particularly) did not keep the Passover. I would not use the word pagan in this way, but they are absolutely right that the Israelites did these things. They imitated their neighbors and worshipped false gods, and they did not do the things their God told them to. But — and this is a big BUT — the sins of the people and their failure to keep God’s law do not invalidate the law (Rom. 9:6).

We need to be clear that what the Israelites had, what the Old Testament presents to us, is not their law so much as it is God’s Law (big “L”). Other peoples, the Greeks included, had only a shadow of the law, derived from general revelation only (Rom. 2:14), while Israel had God’s revealed Law.

The Scriptures never say look what we are giving you is good and the proof is how great the Israelites were and how well everything worked out for them. They make it quite clear that these were rotten sinful people who couldn’t remember 10 minutes after He did it that it was the LORD who brought them out of Egypt. The law never made anyone good; it shows us our sin (Rom. 3:20).

No people or culture has ever been outside of God’s plan or control (Ps. 47:8). Did God work in Greek culture? I am sure He did. But the Scriptures also make it quite clear that He chose one nation: Israel (Deut. 14:2) and that He gave them something He did not give  any other culture: the Law (Rom. 9:4-5) and that He sent salvation for all peoples in the form of His Son through Israel and not through any other culture (Matt. 2:6). Even when this salvation spreads throughout the world to all cultures it is not because their cultures are deserving in any way but because they become engrafted into the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:17ff).

In His perfect plan, God chose a particular time and a particular place to send salvation. But He also chose a particular people through which to send salvation. They were a people prepared for two millennia — a people chosen in Abraham, instructed in the law by Moses, defined by the exodus from Egypt, and cured from their idolatry (but by no means sinless) by the Babylonian exile.

Because the Schole Sisters single it out, I’d like to focus in on the Passover for a moment. Their claim is that Hebrew culture is no better than pagan culture because the Hebrews did not actually keep the Passover (at least until the time of Josiah; 2 Kgs. 23:22-23). While this is true, the idea of the Passover still comes to us through Hebrew culture. And  there is more necessary, beautiful, and awe-inspiring truth in it than in all of Greek thought put together. Both in what the Passover remembers (the exodus from Egypt) and it what it points toward (Jesus’ work of salvation) the story and the celebration associated with it are a beautiful picture that tell us much about God and about ourselves. One might argue that this is only religious knowledge and that there is much more that we can and should know in this life. I would counter that we cannot truly understand science or history or art unless we understand the world from a godly perspective. None of those things make sense unless we first understand the Creator (as I argued in this post). So in giving us the story of salvation encapsulated in the Passover, the Hebrew culture  — whether the Israelites themselves appreciated it and kept it or not — gives us more truth and beauty than all of Greek culture.

 

A Little Historical Perspective

I have not taken a historical approach to this question. I am not generally find arguments that begin “the early church said . . . ” conclusive (knowing that God’s people can go astray so quickly), but I wanted to include the two quotes below to give some idea of the   scope of thought in the earliest Church. Both are from William Barclay’s book Train up a Child: Educational Ideas in the Ancient World (I expect to review this book soon so stay tuned). Barclay gives very thorough analyses of different ancient educational traditions. These quotes are from his chapter on the early Church and their use of the classical authors. Barclay himself is quoting early church writers —

“‘Avoid all books of the heathen. For what hast thou to do with strange sayings or laws or lying prophecies which also turn away from the faith them that are young? What is lacking to thee in the word of God, that thou shouldst cast thyself on these fables of the heathen? If thou wouldst read historical narratives thou hast The Book of Kings; if philosophers and wise men, thou hast the prophets, wherein thou shalt find wisdom and understanding more than that of the wise men and philosophers. And if thou wish for songs, thou hast the Psalms of David; if thou wouldst read of the beginning of the world, thou hast Genesis of the great Moses; and, if laws and commandments, thou hast the glorious Law of the Lord God. All strange writings therefore which are contrary to these wholly eschew.'” William Barclay, Train up a Child (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959) p. 230

“‘If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said anything that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our use from those who have no lawful possession of it . . . In the same way all branches of heathen learning, have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, wen we go under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths even in regard to the worship of God are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence, which are everywhere scattered abroad . . .'” Barclay, pp. 231-32

Two different views are represented here. They amount essentially to “no Greeks, no way” and “use what is good in the Greeks but prefer the biblical tradition.” They show, on the one hand, that even in early days there was no clear consensus on how to approach the classical material. But, on the other, it is not a free-for-all. The more open position still takes the biblical tradition as the measuring rod and is selective about what it accepts from the Greek sources.

Summary and Implications for Education

There is a lot here and I feel I have just scratched the surface. What I feel confident in saying is that God revealed Himself to Israel in a way He did not, and still has not, to any other people. Christ’s work does not undo this special relationship; it just expands it. Israel is redefined (with some branches put out and others grafted in) but the special relationship still exists. The culture and traditions of the Old Testament come from God; those of the Greeks (or Chinese or Romans or any other society) come from man. This is not to say that there is not some truth which comes to us through those pagan cultures but that nothing they have to offer can even begin to rival what God gives us in His Law, in the story of His dealings with His people, in the beautiful poetry of the Psalms, in the wisdom of Proverbs and the other wisdom books.

I began by positing four options for incorporating Greek and Hebrew culture. The Schole Sisters, as I understand them, would include both cultures but give preference to the Greek. Though I did not go into this series with a clear opinion on the matter, as I reread my own writing, especially posts like this one, I am sure it sounds like I at least give preference to the Hebrew culture. To some extent, this is true though I would phrase it in a slightly more nuanced way — The things we learn through the Scriptures are true in a way nothing else can be. Yet there is very little they tell us about very many areas of knowledge. What they do give us is the theological and intellectual framework by which to understand every fact that comes our way. I do think we can receive truth from other traditions, but what we receive from them must be selective and must be filtered through the lens we get from the Hebrew tradition. The Hebrew tradition, then, is the only essential one and the basis for evaluating what is good in the others.

Comparing the Greek culture to other pagan cultures (again, the Chinese or the Indian or any other), I have yet to see a strong reason to prefer the Greek or to hold it in higher esteem. It is, of course, largely the foundation of western civilization of which we are part and as such we should learn about it, but I am not convinced that it is in any way superior to other pagan cultures (though I am still willing to be convinced if anyone has evidence to present on that issue). But whatever we may take from those cultures, we need to do so with discernment. It is not going to be a matter of take all of Greek culture and reject all of Chinese culture or vice-versa. All things should be held up to the standard we are given in Scripture (1 Thess. 5:21).

Nebby

[1]  For a very brief introduction to the logos, I will refer you to this article on Logos from Ligonier Ministries.

Sabbath Mood Homeschool

Desiring That a Sabbath Mood Rest on Your Homeschool

A Work in Progress Productions

Learn•Grow•Shine || Based in Attleboro, Ma

dayuntoday

my musings, wise or otherwise

Festival Fete

locally grown art, food, and merriment

StrongHaven

A Literary Homestead

journey-and-destination

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Harmony Fine Arts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Sage Parnassus

Blogging about education, theology, and more

A peaceful day

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Living Charlotte Mason in California

Blogging about education, theology, and more

weeklywalrus

Weekly Walrus Whatevers

Creations by Maris

Handwoven Textiles

Fisher Academy International ~ Teaching Home

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Afterthoughts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Leah's Bookshelf

Book Reviews You Can Trust

Duxbury Art Boosters

Supporting the visual arts in Duxbury Public Schools