Posts Tagged ‘christian worldview’

Book Review: The Christian, The Arts and Truth

Dear Reader,

Frank Gaebelein is one of my favorite writers on Christian education (see previous reviews of his work here and here) so I was eager to read this volume on the arts. The Christian, The Arts, and Truth [ed. D. Bruce Lockerbie (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1985)] is a collection of essays which fit together fairly well. Gaebelein argues for a Christian understanding of and approach to the arts and the humanities in general.

A common theme of the book is that genius, including artistic genius, is a gift of God, falling under the heading of common grace, and that when we despise the work of non-Christians we reject what God has given (pp. 54, 64, 66, 76, 252). He urges us to judge art based on its quality and the truth it conveys, not based on the character of the artist (p. 67).

Christians should not abandon the field of art to secular society. They must engage in the arts (p. 71) and they must do so with discrimination. Gaebelein is quite critical of Christian art which finds its only justification in being Christian and ignores standards of beauty and taste. “[I]inferior art,” he tells us, “doesn’t become true and good art because it is baptized by religious usage” (p. 65).

What then are the standards by which art –both Christian and non-Christian — should be judged? Gaebelein holds up the Scriptures, themselves a piece of art, as the standard of excellence (p. 70) and looks to them for answers. It is important to note, however, that while truth is always truth, beauty is not inherently true but can be used to communicate lies (p. 47). Those fields which are most subjective, including the arts, are most prone to corruption (pp. 74-5, 127). What Gaebeleien most looks for in art, then, is truth. He goes on to delineate four marks of truth in art: durability (ability to speak to other eras), unity (of form and structure with meaning), integrity, and inevitability (pp. 86-93). Integrity demands that each part of the work contribute to the whole and inevitability is that quality that makes you hear or see a new piece of art and say, “ah, this is how it should be.”

Gaebelein goes on to discuss various specific topics related to his overall theme: education, music (with a chapter in Beethoven particularly), literature (with a chapter on Pilgrim’s Progress), and social justice. I cannot relate all of this (and you should read the book yourself), but here are some of the points which most struck me:

In the context of his discussion of the arts and education, Gaebelein makes a plea for high standards, the highest standards in fact. His call is for excellence, a standard which cannot be measured by human means:

“There is a kind of comparison of one person with another, a considering of student achievement through marks, rating scales, and objective test results, that is essential to education. But necessary as all of this is, it falls far short of the ultimate concept of excellence.” (p. 143)

Though Gaebelein here does not explicitly argue against classical models of education, he does point us again and again to God and His Word as the proper models of excellence. It is these he identifies with the “vision of greatness” which Alfred North Whitehead called for in his oft-repeated: “‘Moral education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness'” (p. 189).

I have argued for a fairly non-standardized form of education and I was happy to see theological arguments for this. In addition to arguing for high standards by which to measure knowledge, Gaebelien, following Pascal, also argues that we must allow independent, unique thought:

“In other words, one of the great marks of man’s uniqueness is his God-given capacity to think. Consequently, anything that diminishes our thinking tends to dehumanize us through making us less than what God created us to be.” (p. 152)

In his section on literature, Gaebelein shows how even non-believing authors used to be quite immersed in biblical language which infiltrated their writing, both through direct references and in terms of style. This is actually quite a convicting section. Most of us today, I fear, just don’t have this deep familiarity with the Scriptures.

Of course, Christian writers (hopefully) have something more as well. Gaebelien uses a German word Weltanschauung which roughly translates to “worldview” to describe it.  It is “a God-centered view of life and the world” which “will color all of his work and all of his thinking”  (p. 186). Such a pervasive perspective is not limited to writers but should be held by all Christians no matter their field. This is an idea we have seen in a number of writers (and I have argued for something similar in education). Gaebelein here sums it up well. I have struggled to find just the right word to encapsulate the idea and I like the appeal to a German term as it takes it beyond our usual vocabulary (“worldview” etc.) which has a tendency to get quite trite and overused.

The Christian, The Arts, and Truth has a lot to recommend it. Gaebelein presents a vision that is quite compelling. It is hard not to be inspired and humbled by his devotion to the Word of God. The book itself comes in manageable chunks and is easy to read. Overall, this is a book well worth one’s time.

Nebby

 

 

 

 

 

Veith and Kern on Classical Education

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.

Recently we talked about the variety that exists with the modern classical education movement. Today we add one more piece to that puzzle.

In  Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America (Washington, D.C.: Capital Research Center, 2015) Dr. Gene Veith, Jr. and Andrew Kern give an overview of the movement. I know of Andrew Kern from the Circe Institute and I had wanted to include  Circe that earlier post. I could not find one concise statement of their take on classical online. I picked up this book in the hopes of getting a clearer idea of their view. I do not know that this book presents the view of the Circe Institute, but at least we can say that it is the work of Kern who also heads up the Circe Institute (along with Veith, of course).

Classical Education is not primarily written to promote a particular view of classical education but as a polemic in favor of neo-classical education and an overview of its major branches. The authors’ views do come through to some extent, however, and it is these I would like to focus on.

Veith and Kern are accepting of all forms of modern classical education. They do not analyze presuppositions and they do not judge which school of thought is best or most true to its classical roots. Though their book shows that there is a lot of variety within modern classical education, they tend to gloss over differences, choosing instead to emphasize commonalities. In order to do so, they provide a list of what they consider the salient features of classical education. For Veith and Kern the distinguishing features of classical education are (pp. 13ff):

  • Classical education includes a high view of man. Included in this is the goal of classical education: to cultivate virtue (p. 14).
  • It is logocentric. That is, it believes there is a unifying principle and that truth can be known. For Christians, the unifying principle is Christ, the Logos (pp. 14-15).
  • It prioritizes western tradition. Veith and Kern are concerned to make clear that they do not idealize western culture. Yet they just as clearly see the West as the culture that “can sustain the political ideals of liberty and human rights” (pp. 15-16; see below).
  • It has a pedagogy that sustains these commitments. This pedagogy is connected with the Trivium, a three-fold hierarchy of learning popularized in modern times by Dorothy Sayers in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” (see my review here).

I’d like to look at each of these in turn.

A High View of Man. To have a “high view of man” means three things:

  1. Man is more than an animal and more than material. The components of his nature may be delineated in various ways but it all boils down to: there is a spiritual element.
  2. We must take man as a whole, recognizing and addressing all the components of his nature.
  3. Man is able to interact with and to know things which are themselves of a higher nature — the good, true, and beautiful.

My over-riding goal is to propose a biblical philosophy of education. To some extent, at least, all three of these propositions are biblical. I think we need to be careful in how we apply them, however, especially the last one. I also think we need to address not just the nature of the man but also of the child.

In a boots on the ground, practical way, every philosophy of education must deal with the fact that things don’t always go well. People don’t always appreciate the wonderful things we put before them and they don’t always learn the lessons we want them to learn. In our Christian understanding, the root of the problem boils down to sin. Man is alienated from God and on his own he cannot do or choose or be good. As Christian educators, we need to ask how we can educate sinful and unregenerate people. But even as we do so, we recognize that the primary problem and therefore the primary solution is not educational. Sin is a problem only God can solve.

Every non-Christian philosophy of education sees education as in some way salvific. That is, education solves man’s problems.  Most equate wrong with ignorance; if we only knew enough or knew the right stuff or understood it in the right way, we would be and do good. Some, like Rousseau, see traditional, formal education as the problem rather than the solution. But either way, education is wrapped up in salvation.

As David Hicks shows in his Norms and Nobility (see my review here), the classical education of the Greeks starts with this assumption: that education can solve our fundamental problem. I don’t want to caricaturize classical education, but it is a bit like a machine. The expectation is that if we have the right input, the machine will spit out the right output. The problem is that the machine does not work the way we expect it to because it is not a machine but a sinful person. Like the famous joke about the physicist who assumes a spherical cow, we assume a perfect person who is able to react appropriately to all the good stuff we give him. If the desired results aren’t produced, we change the input — the content and the methods — and hope for a better output. But ultimately we fail because it is the machine that is faulty (which is not to say that content and methods don’t matter).

As far as I have yet seen (and I have read a fair amount I think) Christian classical does nothing differently. It either, like its non-Christian counterpart, assumes the best, or it chooses to use only those “machines” which will give it good output. Which is to say, it educates the children of believers but ignores the unsaved.

All of which is a very long way to say that classical education — Christian or secular — assumes the ability of human beings to appreciate and receive the good and true and beautiful.

The Nature of the Child.  While classical education assumes too much about the man’s ability, it assumes too little about the child. Though it has a high view of man, classical education often seems to have quite a low view of children. This is something I first noticed in reading Sayers’ infamous article (again see that review here). For the youngest children in particular, the assumption is that they are memorizing machines but that they are not inherently creative, thoughtful beings.

I have looked at what the Bible has to say about children and my conclusion is that they are fully human. They have body and soul, mind and heart. They are capable of sin and they are capable (by the grace of God) of having a relationship with their Creator. They are not blank slates to be written on or lumps of clay to be molded by us. They are, in short, human, and I agree with Charlotte Mason that in intellectual matters we need to give them a varied, nutritious, human diet.

Sayers’ main argument for the confining young children to the grammar stage with its emphasis on imbibing facts was her own experience (see below) so I too will appeal to my experience — I have four kids (now all teens) and I have been teaching two- to six-year-olds in Sunday school for a few years now. My observation is that even the youngest children are quite capable of grasping ideas, of employing well-reasoned arguments, of understanding more than mere facts.

The Purpose of Education. For classical educators, the end goal is to inculcate values. As David Hicks explains so well in his book Norms and Nobility (again, see this post and this one) there is some vision of the Ideal. The goal is conformity to this Ideal, while acknowledging that this will be an ongoing process. On the surface, this sounds Christian. The problem is that our goal as Christians is not ultimately to be moral. Yes, we are called to live moral lives, but the Christian ideal is something more than virtue or even holiness. It is union with Christ. It’s more about relationship and less about morality. Education that aims for morality may achieve it, but it also may not go beyond morality to that something more.

A Unifying Principle. I may have more to say on this topic as I am currently reading another book which touches on the question of unifying principles. For now, I am going to concede the point that a unifying principle to all of knowledge is a good thing. My problem is that there is no one unifying principle across classical education. Can we say that all these approaches — from the ancient to all the modern variants — are truly the same if they have different unifying principles?

Western Tradition. One thing that unites the various classical approaches is a common foundation in Western civilization (by which is meant ancient Greek and Latin writers and thinkers and everyone in Europe and the west who comes after). For Douglas Wilson all but baptizes Western civilization, saying in essence that, as God allowed His Church to grow in the soil of western culture, it is superior to other cultures.

The take of Veith and Kern is a little different. They acknowledge that there is no golden age of Western civilization. Rather, we stand in a stream which continues to flow. We must know what came before us but we also adapt what comes out of us. The phrase “Great Conversation” is used to indicate that this is an ongoing communication in which we also participate.

There is a level, however, on which Veith and Kern do unquestioningly accept the values of western civilization and thereby idealize it. Specifically, they hold a liberal ideal which exalts political freedom above all else. “Truth alone,” they tell us, “can sustain the political ideals of liberty and human rights” (pp. 15-16). There is here an exaltation of individual liberty (human rights) and of political liberty which is very western. I am not at all opposed to liberty but we must be careful that we do not read the ideals of our own civilization back into our theology.

Eastern cultures, for example, tend to value the community above the individual. Douglas Wilson would argue that Christianity grew up in the West because its ideals matched those of western culture. But this is not necessarily the case. There is also a lot about the community in the Bible. We all fell in Adam and all believers are raised in Christ. The Church is called both a building and a body. Conversions and baptisms in the early church seemed to have been done on the household rather than the individual level.  There is here a very good argument for studying other cultures; perhaps there is something in there understanding which we are missing because we are so bound by our own western ideals.

Veith and Kern find their ideal of political liberty in the Bible — but they do so with some bad exegesis. “Christ,” they say, “formulated the essential political doctrine of the West: ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free'” (p. 15). The problem is that this verse is not about political freedom. They are quoting John 8:32. In the next verse, the Jews — like Veith and Kern — misunderstand Jesus; they think He is talking about slavery. But Jesus goes on to make clear on verse 34 that they are not free because they are slaves to sin. The freedom He offers is freedom from sin. It has nothing to do with whether they are slaves and it has nothing to do with political freedom.

The Trivium. Veith and Kern claim that all classical education is united by a pedagogy which they equate with the Trivium as Dorothy Sayers presented it. There are a few problems with this. The first is that not all the approaches they discuss do rely on the Trivium. As far as I can tell (and I have read both their books) neither David Hicks nor James S. Taylor (author of Poetic Knowledge) makes uses of the Trivium.

A second issue is that the Trivium itself, as conceived by Sayers, has been largely discredited. In an article published by the Circe Institute (Kern’s organization), Shawn Barnett argues that Sayers largely made up the modern understanding of the Trivium [1]. The term itself is older, going back to the Middle Ages, but Sayers particular interpretation, which equates each element — grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric — with a stage of child development is her innovation. Though Doug Wilson tries to make a biblical defense of this three-fold division (which I will address in another post), the main argument for this three-stage Trivium is observational. Sayers admits that it is based on her perception of her own personal development.

Though they tout Sayers’ Trivium as the classical pedagogy, when initially describing the Trivium Veith and Kern give a much more, well, classical description.  Theirs is actually one of the best descriptions I have read of the Trivium. As they describe it, it is not about developmental stages but more about how we understand a subject, particularly language or any language-based subject. (Likewise, their explanation of the quadrivium, which is about mathematical knowledge, makes a lot of sense, though it is less filled out.) Having once given this description, however, they seem to forget it and favor a much more rigid, again developmentally-based understanding of the Trivium when it comes to the nitty-gritty of pedagogy and how we educate.

Conclusions

My short take on Classical Education is that it is a useful little book for some things. It begins a quick fly-over of education in America, its history and its flaws. The bulk of the book provides an introduction to the many varieties of modern classical education.  If what you are looking for is a survey of what is out there, this is a very handy little book.

For my purposes, I find Veith and Kern’s take on classical education too broad. They gloss over differences and tend to remain on the surface, describing approaches but not delving into presuppositions. Where the authors’ own ideas come through, they exhibit a somewhat surprising degree of attachment to Sayers’ Trivium and an uncritical adoption of western traditions.

Nebby

[1] Shawn Barnett, “Dorothy Sayers was Wrong: the Trivium and Child Development,” Circe Institute (Aug. 9, 2019).

 

Bavinck on the History of Classical Education

Dear Reader,

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

I have done a couple of posts already on topics from Herman Bavinck’s Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008; see here and here). Today it is time to get to my main topic: Bavinck on education. 

The biggest contribution of “Classical Education” is to show just how widely this term has been applied. Bavinck shows that “classical” can refer not only to practices in the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds, each with their own distinctives, but that even in the ancient world, there was not just one model of what classical was. Some of this is material we have covered previously. I am going to try to focus on what Bavinck adds that we have not already seen in other works.

As we saw when we looked at Barclay’s Train Up a Child, the early Church struggled with how to respond to the educational system of the day with some like Tertullian arguing for a complete separation between Athens and Jerusalem and others like Origen and Clement seeking a unity. The long-story-short version is that a compromise, middle position became the default, with the Church acknowledging and making use of the “natural gifts” of art and science while still considering them of a lower level than the supernatural subjects (pp. 211-12).

The fall of Rome brought chaos to Europe. Classical learning was preserved in monasteries which copied texts. Under Charlemagne (c. 800 AD), empire once again meant peace and that learning could begin again. The goal was an educated clergy and the seven liberal arts, divided onto the trivium and quadrivium, were taught as precursors to theology (p. 213).

Another stage began around the year 1000 AD with the rise of Scholasticism. Aristotle, as transmitted through Boethius, was a major influence. The process known as dialectic was rediscovered (see this post for more on dialectic). As John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus in spiritual matters, so Aristotle was said to have done so in natural matters. It is important to note, however, that few people read Greek. What was known was known through commentaries and translations. What was learned was learned through books, not through experimentation or first-hand study (pp. 214-15).

Scholasticism was rigid and it was perhaps inevitable that there was a rebellion against it. This came in the Renaissance through the rise of humanism with its emphasis on the individual (see also this earlier post). When people began to actually look at Aristotle for themselves, they were disappointed. Dialectic as a rigid system was abandoned. The beauty of ancient culture was re-discovered and it was held up as an ideal (pp. 215-17).

This was followed by a period of realism which turned its back on the past (p. 218). But as the pendulum swings one way, so it swings back the other. Around 1750, Rationalism was replaced by Romanticism and neo-humanism, which elevated Roman and Greek culture respectively. Antiquity was elevated to such a degree that Jewish culture, and Christianity which arose from it, were expected to fade into oblivion.  It was the ancient, classical cultures which embodied the purest form of humanity (pp. 218-21). At the same time, classics became a field of study in its own right and related fields like archaeology and philology took off. As a result of these developments, people discovered that the ancient world was more far-ranging and less uniform that they had imagined (pp. 225-27).

At this point we enter the modern era with its emphasis on science as the way to know. Two Bacons played a role: Roger Bacon said that we know through observation and experience. Francis Bacon said that we must reject preconceived notions. Learning was no longer done primarily through books but through experimentation and experience. More practical goals were also put forward; learning was valued for what it could do to advance the condition of humanity. Our sights were turned from the past to the future (pp. 231-32).

Bavinck goes on at this point to address a practical educational issue of his own day in the Netherlands. The specifics of the battle he was fighting do not concern us. He does, however, close with his own estimation of the value of classical learning which I will leave you with as well:

“Classical antiquity is no longer the ideal of education for us, and it will never again be that . . .But the great cultural and historical value of that antiquity has never been realized as well as today. The influence of Israel and also of Hellas and Latium on our culture is much more clear to us now than in previous centuries; these are and will remain our spiritual forbears.” (pp. 241-42)

Nebby

 

 

Bavinck on Art

Dear Reader,

As a part of my series in search of a reformed theology of education, I have been trying to read all I can on the topic by reformed writers. I recently picked up a selection of essays by Herman Bavinck entitled Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). I was a little intimidated to dive into Bavinck but am pleasantly surprised to find that, though I can’t understand everything he says (a lot of it has to do with not knowing the people he is talking about),  for the most part his writing is pretty accessible.

There are some great essays in this volume and I will certainly get to the ones that deal directly with education. Today I’d like to look at “Of Beauty and Aesthetics.” What follows is my narration of Bavinck’s article. As such it has fewer direct quotes and page numbers.

To understand art, we must understand beauty. Beauty precedes art. We know this because there is beauty in nature which predates art. But beyond this, beauty exists apart from Creation with God Himself. Bavinck equates Beauty (capital “B”) with God’s glory. We often think of beauty as a sensory thing, because we appreciate art or nature through our senses (sight, hearing, etc.). But animals have these senses and they have no appreciation for beauty. So we know that there is something more to it. There is a spiritual aspect to beauty.  

In this beauty is like truth and goodness, other things which animals, amoral creatures that they are, cannot grasp. In fact, these three, though distinct, are related in that they all proceed from and are defined by the Godhead. As God is Truth (John 14:6) and as His character defines what is Good (Mark 10:18), so His glory is the definition of Beauty. The beauty that we see in nature is a reflection of this Beauty. It is meant to point us beyond this world to its Creator. 

They say art imitates nature and to some extent this is true. But it is also more than a derivative of a derivative. The connection between art and the beauty of nature comes from their common source (again, in God’s Beauty).  

The ability to create art is a gift from God (Exod. 36:1-2) and while we all have it to some extent, it is different in each of us. Some are certainly more gifted than others. 

Art is different from science or craft in that its ultimate purpose is not utilitarian. It exists for its own sake. 

Modern approaches to art tend to focus on the material, on what we can experiment with. They talk about the artist — his social and historical situation, for example. And they talk about psychology — how we perceive art and how it affects us. We can analyze what elements of a painting affect us and make us call it beautiful. We can devise lists of criteria having to do with colors and lines and what makes one piece “beautiful” and another not. Bavinck acknowledges that there is some value in all this. It is worth doing, but it is not and should not be the whole of our study of art because it ignores the very real, spiritual element.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Bavinck on the value and purpose of beauty in our world:

“Beauty thus discloses us to ourselves and also grants us another, new glimpse into nature and humanity. It deepens, broadens, enriches our inner life, and it lifts us for a moment above the dreary, sinful, sad reality; beauty also brings cleansing, liberation, revival to our burdened and dejected hearts . . .

“Beauty is the harmony that still shines through the chaos in the world . . .it is prophecy and guarantee that this world is not destined for ruin but for glory — a glory for which there is a longing deep in every human heart.” (p. 259)

Nebby

 

A Few More Thoughts on Grammar

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.

We are returning for a moment to the “what we study and why” section of this series. I did a post on language already — both foreign language and all the fun stuff like grammar and spelling — here, but I have recently read a short article by Henry Zylstra that has made me reconsider some things.

In “Formal Discipline Reaffirmed,” [from Testament of Vision Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1958)], Zylstra argues for a formal or prescriptive approach to grammar as opposed to a normative or decsriptive one. I did not think I would come down on this side of the argument but he has some lovely things to say that I do find convincing.

Simply put, there are two ways to consider the field of English grammar. One way, which Zylstra favors, is prescriptive. This means it tells us what grammar should be. The alternative is the more modern, normative approach which describes the language as people speak and use it. It is more scientific, but Zylstra argues that it stays on the surface and does not look at principles.

Though Zylstra acknowledges that language is psychological and sociological and even biological, he argues that:

” . . . these natural dimensions of language do not exhaust it. There is that about it which reaches beyond the natural into the rational or spiritual, and it is precsiely this aspect of it which is normative, definitive, and ideal. What I object to in functionalism is that it ignores this spiritual reach of language.” (p. 168)

For those who fail to see the spiritual aspect of language, remember that God the Son is called the Word and that God created by His Word. It is through the Word that He communicates with us. “In studying language, consequently,” Zylstra tells us, “one is studying something more permanent and universal than popular speech practice. One is studying the truth of that reality which reason apprehends . . . reason informs language. Language . . . is expressive of principle” (pp. 168-69).

The Greek word logos which we find identified with Christ in John 1 contains the notions of both reason and word:

“Logos is only half translated word (language), the other half being reason (thought). It is the keyword to the rational nature. It is the keyword also to the human being . . . Language therefore distinguishes ma: it proves him rational, free.” (p. 169)

It is for this reason, Zylstra tells us, that classical education placed grammar alongside logic. The modern version of classical education misunderstands this, making grammar a preliminary stage which is about memorization and not about thought.

Zylstra once again inspires me, as anyone who loves his subject is apt to. He is a bit short on the practical details and I wish he gave some examples or some indication of how this all works in real life. He does speak briefly at the end of a student studying Beowulf  and how he can then learn “what the sentence is, magnificent embodiment as it is of mind speaking, seen as a whole and in its parts: substantive, predicate, complement, and modifiers” (p. 171). I have some sense of how words enable us to not just express but to understand and encapsulate ideas. How this works on a broader plane, how it expands when we look at sentences and paragraphs and the like is not something I have considered or grapsed yet.

Nebby

Henry Zylstra and the Love of Literature

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 my never-ending search for more to read about reformed education, I recently picked up Henry Zylstra’s Testament of Vision (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1958). Though there is a good section on this book on education (which I will return to; see also this earlier post on Zylstra), I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the first half of the book is devoted to his thoughts on literature. I have been arguing, among other things, that we should be reading people who love their subjects. Zylstra’s love is clearly literature. I thought about just emending my earlier post on why we study literature but decided that Zylstra’s thoughts merit their own post.

Zylstra argues that being well-educated used to mean being well-read, that literature used to be the focal point of education and that it should be again (p. 26). In today’s world, everything is STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math (or perhaps STEAM, with a nod to art). Van Til, as we have seen, argues that history should be the core since it is about man. Zylstra argues for literature which he believes is philosophical and embodies the thinking of an age:

“If you really want to get at the spirit of an age and the soul of a time you can hardly do better than to consult the literature of that age and that time. In the novels and stories and poems and plays of a period you have a good indication of what, deep down, that period was about. I am thinking now, of course, of the real literature, the honest and soul-searching literaure, the valid and undissimulating literature.” (p. 15)

Zylstra goes on to make clear that he does not includng the pop culture of an era, its popular fiction, movies, etc. This is mere entertainment, but the literature of a time and place is “important, literally full of import.” It conveys the knowledge and should be the principal means of education (p. 27).

Other areas of study may give us facts, but literature interprets those facts. “In fiction,” Zylstra tells us, “the skeleton of life takes on the body” (p. 49). Though he does not flesh out (pun intended) the allusion to Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, one thinks that for Zylstra the other subjects must be dry and dead until they are vivified and given spirit by the literary arts. He singles out poetry as particularly life-giving:

“More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us . . . to sustain us. Without poetry, science will appear incomplete.” (p. 27)

We have seen that various reformed thinkers trace the work of education to the early chapters of Genesis. Some place its origins in the Fall as a correction to the corruption of mankind. Others trace it back to Genesis 1 and the “cultural mandate,” the commands given to Adam to care for God’s Creation. Zylstra here places the origins of literature in Genesis 2:

“In a way, the novelist is doing what Adam did in Paradise. I do not mean the pruning and the trimming. I mean the naming of created things. Words are poems really. This name-giving is artistic work.” (p. 47)

When we start talking about literatute, a couple of questions always arise — What makes a book literature? and Should we only read Christian authors?

Looking at the second question first, Zylstra argues that we need not only read Christians. Though our object is to see interpretations of life and though non-Christians will get some things wrong, yet there is truth that they can reveal to us (p. 51). In fact, Zylstra argues, most modern Christian literature is not worth reading because it does not wrestle with issues or question ideas.

What then is literature? Whereas “[t]he popular novel accepts and affirms the existing values of the people of its time, …. the great literature challenges those values” (p. 65). It includes “fidelity to the truth about life” (p. 59). Zylstra’s one sentence definition of literature might be:

“A novel is literature if a comprehensive vision of life, sensitively perceived, is given aesthetic embodiment in it.” (p. 52)

Because this vision of life is not necessarily our vision, Zylstra gives some insight into how we should approach literature. We should “look for the author’s uncritically accepted religious dogmas” (p. 67). “Since the light falls on [a given piece of literature] from the wrong angle, we must in the knowledge of faith cause it to fall from the right one” (p. 68). In the end good literature, though the author’s own assumptions and views may be faulty, will drive us to Christ. Of Thomas Hardy he says that:

“There is more of you, after reading Hardy, to be Christian with than there was before you read him, and there is also more conviction that you want to be it.” (p. 67).

If Zylstra’s goal was to give me a better appreciation for literature and desire to get reading, he has achieved it. I don’t know if I am willing to say that literature should be the backbone of the curriculum. I am half-convinced but need to think on it a little more. I am beginning to plot what books I will make my high schoolers read next year and I have compiled a list of the authors that Zylstra commends for my own reading. If nothing else, Zylstra shows us once again how someone who loves his field can inspire that love in others. He has certainly done so for me.

Nebby

 

Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 4), on Schools

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. Currently we are in the midst of a series within a series in which I look at various reformed thinkers and what they have had to say about education (see the introductory post to this series with a series here).

This is my fourth and final post discussing D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). Find the earlier parts here, here, and here.

This final section of the book, chapters 13 through 20, consists of a collection of brief speeches given by Lockerbie, all on the practical and administrative side of Christian schooling. For the most part, the admonitions given here seem like they would be quite valuable to school administrators, but they are not really on the topic we are concerned wtih which is to develop a philosophy of education.

There is one little idea Lockerbie touches on, however, which does concern us. I fear I am beating a dead horse on this issue, but, as he brings it up, I want to briefly revisit the homeschool versus Christian school debate (for previous discussions of this issue see this post and this one).

Though I am an enthusiastic homeschooler, I am not entirely opposed to institutionalized schooling. There are times and situations which can make homeschooling impossible, or at least very difficult, for a given family. But I do think we need to always keep in mind a key point which Lockerbie’s mentor, Frank Gaebelein, made quite clear: God gives the responsibility for educating children to their parents. This is not an argument that parents need to do everything themselves, but it is a the-buck-stops-here kind of situation. The ultimate responsiblity for educating children belongs to their parents and they will have to answer to God for it.

As Lockerbie was himself a teacher in a Christian school and worked with an organization that helps Christian schools, it is not surprising that he is pro-school. He relates what is for him a typical conversation with a pastor:

“One church-sponsored school placed me on the golf course with its senior pastor, who told me that he didn’t find the Christian school in the Acts of the Apostles. I replied, ‘Pastor, I don’t find indoor plumbing anywhere in the New Testament.'” (pp. 210-11)

While I take Lockerbie’s point, I think he is a little off-base in a couple of ways. First of all, indoor plumbing which is essentially a tool is not really an apt comparison for schooling. His argument would be better if he compared schooling to another institution involving people, say a hospital. But I also think he is too dismissive of the pastor’s argument. It is perhaps a little naively stated but the fact is schools are not mentioned in the New Testament. On the other hand, there are other insitutions — the church and family — which are charged with the education of children. Again I am not ruling out schools wholesale, but they do need to answer for how they fit with and relate to the institutions God has ordanined. Simply put, schools serve a function which God has specifically delegated to another, God-ordained institution, the family. Parents can and should get help educating their children and this will no doubt at some time and to some degree include delegating at least part of that education to some other party. But they are obligated to be discerning in how they do so because they are the ones who will answer to God for it. The school and the family should have clear guidelines for how they are working together and where the responsbilitites of the one end and the other begin.

Lockerbie touches on this issue as well. He acknowledges that there is a kind of covenant here and that the school must answer to the parents:

“Because those parents have entered into a contractual agreement with your school, they are entitled to the fulfilling of that agreement — which means that their children will be taught. But they have also entered into a covenantal relationship with the school, which means that their children will be nurtured in ways that complement the nurture being given at home and in church. Your task is to serve the children and their parents; in doing so, you serve God.” (pp. 198-99)

There are a couple of things I like here: I like that he acknowledges that school, family, and church work together and that the school serves the family. It is important that the school not go beyond its bounds and take on a larger role than it needs to. There is still a place for the church and there is still a place for the family. Lockerbie says as much when he argues that the school be primarily concerend with academics (p. 208). This is in contast to some other thinkers we have seen who depict so large and expansive a role for the school and its teachers that one wonders what is left for the parents to do (see this post on Cornelius Jaarsma).

There is a practical dimension we must take into account as well. A Christian school cannot accomodate the many different preferences and opinions of every family that uses it. In my state, the courts have ruled that when a parent sends their child to the public schools, that he gives up any control over what the child is taught. One hopes that Christian schools will be somewhat responsive to the parents of their pupils, but there is a level at which these parents too give up control when they choose to send their kids to school. The fact is schools are institutions and, despite heart-warming brochures to the contrary, they are not and should not be families. All institutions, because they deal with large numbers of people (and even a smaller class of say five studnets still sees this effect) must make compromises. The only truly individualized education is an indidivual education. Lockerbie says:

“Only homeschooling, which by design is deliberately non-institutional, is an accurate model of school-as-family. Once children depart from the sanctuary of their own homes and the presence of their own parents, they enter into a new sphere of learning, one that is controlled by facts other than what their parents might have determined . . . When I enroll my children in our chool, I waive some of my family’s idiosyncracies, some of my personal preferences, some of my know-it-all opinons, in order to obtain from the larger social unit called school that which the privacy and isolation of my family cannot provide.” (pp. 191-92)

While the wording here is biased — the family is “isolated,” the parents are “know-it-alls” — the basic point is a good one that any parent sending the rchild to school should take into account. There is always a trade-off. There may be good reasons to choose your local Christian school, but you give up something in doing so.

While Lockerbie does not come off as a fan of homeschooling, his treatment of this issue is fair and I appreciate that he acknowledges some of the pluses and minuses of institutional schooling.

Nebby

 

Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 3), On Teachers

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. Currently we are in the midst of a series within a series in which I look at various reformed thinkers and what they have had to say about education (see the introductory post to this series with a series here).

This is my third post discussing D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). Find the earlier parts here and here. Lockerbie is part of what might be termed the Stony Brook school of thought on Christian education. He, like Frank Gaebelein, taught at the Stony Brook School in New York and he follows and expands upon Gaebelein’s philosophy of education. For Gaebelien, the controlling sentiment is “All truth is God’s truth.” One God as the source of truth means there is a unity to all knowledge. Lockerbie adds to this the idea of integration. The Fall of Man introduced disintegration and our goal is now re-integration.  This integration come on two levels. Man is an integrated whole — body, mind, and soul — and must be educated as a whole. This idea the Greeks knew and called paideia. But Christianity adds another dimension — as there is one God, there is a unity to truth, which Lockerbie calls Christian Paideia.

Today we are looking at the second section of Lockerbie’s book, chapters 6 through 12, which bear the heading “God’s Joyful Call to Service.” If there is a theme for this section it is the role of the teacher in education.

A key phrase for Lockerbie is thinking-and-acting. He hyphenates these words to show that they are really two sides of one coin. As you think, so shall you act. Looked at the other way, we may say that one’s actions tell what is in one’s heart. I completely agree with this idea and, as I said last time, I like how he ties it to Romans 12:1-2. There, you may recall, he told us that as our minds are transformed by God’s truth that this will be evidenced in our lives.

I find at times, however, that Lockerbie goes too far for me in emphasizing the practical outcomes. It is not that I don’t believe in these outcomes — I do and I am not advocating an education which is head only. I am fully with him when he says that:

“And let us — once and for all — rid ourselves of the silly notion that, somehow, spelling and the precise use of language doesn’t matter outside the English classroom. Precision in usage and accuracy of expression do matter.” (p. 132)

In the following chapter, however, Lockerbie seems to de-emphasize the value of knowledge in its own right. He says,

“Ideas have consequences, as we know, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone’s life is going to be transformed simply by being taught the Pythagorean theorem or the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet. Instead, what will transform any student will be the character of the teacher and the demands made by that teacher’s example for new and fresh and creative thinking.” (p. 142)

And here I think is the crux of my disagreement with Lockerbie. We both look for the transforming of the mind which must necessarily produce, like fruit from a vine, godly thoughts, words, and actions. We both also see this as the work of God the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual. Where we differ is in how this work is done, what God’s tools are, if you will.

For Lockerbie, as for Gaebelein before him, the Christian teacher is the key. It is not truth itself which transforms but the example of the teacher.  Note again in the quote above that it is the character of the teacher which transforms for Lockerbie, not the subject matter he is teaching.  Similarly, elsewhere he says that teachers are to teach who they are, not what they know (p. 92).

The teacher-student relationship for Lockerbie is that of master to disciple and is modeled on Jesus’ relationship with His disciples. This is no doubt a good model and we should look at how Jesus taught (as I did in this earlier post), but I am not convinced that the master-disciple model needs to be the defining model of our system of education. The goal for the disciples was to get to know their teacher because their teacher was God Incarnate. The goal for us is not that our students get to know us personally or learn from our characters but that we point them to the same Person that the disciples got to know. That is, we point not to ourselves but to Christ, God the Son through whom, we are told, we may also know the Father.

My contention (as I have argued here) is that in education we put before children the things of God. Because they are God’s, and because He works in their hearts and minds, these things have the power in themselves to transform. I do not expect that anyone will be saved by learning the Pythagorean theorem (though I would not rule it out as impossible) but I do think that this bit of truth, along with a myriad of others, can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, transform the mind.

My difference with Lockerbie is shown in an interesting way through the parable of the sower (Matt. 13; Mk. 4; Lk. 8). Lockerbie uses this parable as a jumping off point to talk about education. I agree with him on this up to a point but I think he goes too far and adds too much to the parable. As you may remember, the story is that a man sows seed on various kinds of ground. Some thrives and flourishes, some takes no root at all, and some does well for a while and then ultimately fails. As Lockerbie correctly points out, our usual title for this story — the parable of the sower — is a misnomer as the sower himself places little part in the action. He is indiscriminate in his sowing (no doubt a bad practice for an actual farmer, but, remember, this is a parable, not a lesson in farming). The seed we are told is the word of God. It is the soil that is the key in the story. Lockerbie acknowledges all this, saying that “ultimately, we aren’t in charge of the results of our planting” (p. 99), but nonetheless goes on to say that “we’re responsible for preparing the soil” (p. 100). While there is nothing wrong with helping a child overcome any obstacles he may have to learning, Lockerbie undercuts the very point of the parable. He urges us not to “content ourselves with aimless scattering” (p. 103) but this is precisely what the parable does urge us to do. We are to spread the gospel even on soil that we think is unfit for it, where we think it will never sprout. This is bad farming but good evangelism for we must “always remember who is the Lord of the harvest” (p. 103).

In conclusion, I will say again that there is much in Lockerbie’s thought that I really like. I have one more section within this volume of his to read and think about, but I think I have begun to narrow in on precisely where I agree with him and where we diverge. There is so much I would say he has right but the point of divergence is on the issue of how utimately our minds are transformed.

Nebby

 

Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 2), On Christian Paedeia

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. Currently we are in the midst of a series within a series in which I look at various reformed thinkers and what they have had to say about education (see the introductory post to this series with a series here).

Last time we began discussing D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). We saw that Lockerbie puts forward two passages — Deuteronomy 6:4-9, especially verse 7, and Ephesians 6:4 — as the basis of his philosophy of education. In the latter he focuses in particularly on the phrase “the paideia … of the LORD” which he connects to the classical idea of paideia but also distinguishes from it, arguing that there is a specifically Christian paideia. Because his remarks last time were introductory, he did not expand upon this concept so I have been very eager to find out what he means by this and how he envisions it. In today’s chunk, chapters 2 through 5 of A Christian Paideia, Lockerbie begins to answer my questions.

As we saw last time, integration is a key word for Lockerbie. Following Gaebelein, he frequently quotes: “All truth is God’s truth.” Because God is One, His truth is also unified. The Fall for Lockerbie is disintegration and the goal of Christian life, the rebuilding of the image of God in man, is re-integration.

“. . .  integration means drawing many fragmented parts into a whole; integration means finding that the whole thereby obtained is indeed greater than the sum of its many parts. Integration sees not merely the multiplicity of threads that make up the warp and woof but also the pattern in the tapestry. Integration understands that no filament of knowledge, no aspect of human endeavor, no gift or talent or skill or craft exists in a vacuum apart from anything else.” (p. 25)

I love the image of a tapestry in this and the idea that one area of knowledge is not separate from others but that there is a kind of interconnectedness between them.

Practically speaking, Lockerbie draws out the implications of this idea of integration in two ways. In chapter 2, “Integration and the Life Worth Living,” he speaks of our need to be integrated people. We have often seen in the reformed thinkers we have been looking at an emphasis on the whole person. We have parts — body, soul, mind, and heart — but these parts are not separate, and, Lockerbie and others argue, education must address all of them.  Lockerbie distinguishes three terms here: wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.

I will say at this point that I am always a little uncomfortable when Christians begin to define wisdom and knowledge and the like as distinct things (or as unique facets of a thing). I have a quite clear memory of one of my college professors – who had studied the book of Proverbs more than most of us ever will – saying that while we can draw some little distinctions among the many, many biblical words for wisdom, that there are no hard-and-fast ones. Like Eskimos and their words for snow, the ancient Hebrews had a lot of words for knowledge or wisdom and, apart from a thorough study of how these words are actually used by the Scriptures, I think we overstep ourselves when we begin to  define them too closely.

Nonetheless, though I may not like the meaning Lockerbie ascribes to these very scriptural terms, I am willing to go along with him for the moment and to try and discern what the ideas behind these words are for him.

Wisdom, for Lockerbie, is divine; it is what God has. Knowledge is what we have, or should acquire. As we saw last time, the cultural mandate given to us in Genesis 1 demands it. Knowledge is still for Lockerbie a head thing and as such it must be tempered by understanding. This he defines as discernment. It is informed by faith and it allows us to choose what to do and to actually do it.  We have seen in a number of the other thinkers we have looked at this tension between the intellectual and the practical. While Lockerbie seems to value the intellectual, he says that we must also teach students “to think and act as Christians” (p. 43).

In the fourth chapter, “Veritas: the Integrated Curriculum,” Lockerbie brings back that word paideia. For the Greeks, he says, it meant educating the whole person, mind, body, and spirit (p. 48). Christian paideia adds to this a new concept, the unity of truth:

” . . . the unity of all truth under God allows for the unity of all learning because of its common origin in the mind of God. But this concept of unified curriculum and the unity of truth must also stem from a unified world-and-life view: a Christian paideia born out of a Christian worldview . . .” (p. 51)

Practically speaking, “[w]e are looking to string together our otherwise isolated pearls of wisdom” (p. 50). Lockerbie gives some examples to explain what he means. He tells the story of how, working in a Christian school, he as English teacher and his colleague as Bible teacher were unknowingly assigning the texts on the same ideas and even the same books to their students. When the students protested, they realized they needed to talk to each other and coordinate their subjects.

What strikes me most about Lockerbie’s thought here is how much it echoes Charlotte Mason’s. He does not seem to know her work (which is a great shame) but they arrive at very similar places. I agree, as Miss Mason would, that the various areas of knowledge in our traditional school subjects, are more related than they often appear. Lockerbie’s implication is that teachers need to coordinate a curriculum which draws these subjects together. I am still enough influenced by Mason to wonder if this is the best way to go about connecting subjects. No doubt in a school setting with a variety of teachers there needs to be some coordination, but Mason would argue that the connections to be made are best made by the student.

In the last chapter we are looking at today, chapter 5, “The Christian Scholar,” Lockerbie introduces one of my favorite verses relating to education: Romans 12:2, in which he says the Apostle Paul tells us: “‘Prove the authenticity of your faith and your redemption through Jesus Christ by living a changed life derived from your changed mind'” (p. 59).  We return again here to the intellectual learning versus practical application debate. My own view in this is much like what Lockerbie says in this chapter — when we first change the mind, practical results will follow. While I too view the person as a whole — body, mind, soul, and heart (many neglect heart but I would add it in) — I have defined education as the transformation of the mind specifically. Note that this is a definition and is not meant to imply either that our parts can be divided or that our other parts do not also need to be transformed. I know that we live in an age in which one’s private beliefs and public actions are often divorced, but I would argue that for a Christian, when his mind is truly being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that this cannot help but spill over into the rest of his life and to have practical applications.

All in all, there is not much I disgree with here, though there are at times things I would say differently or lay a different emphasis on. My question about Christian paideia, as Lockerbie defines it, has at least been partially answered, and I am a little surprised but also a little gratified to find that it is not something new and different to me but it largely what Charlotte Mason proposed (under different terms) and what I myself believe.

Nebby

 

Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 1), Introduction

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. Currently we are in the midst of a series within a series in which I look at various reformed thinkers and what they have had to say about education (see the introductory post to this series with a series here).

I am excited to begin to read D. Bruce Lockerbie’s writings on education. Lockerbie was a teacher for many years at the Stony Brook School in New York which another thinker we have looked at, Frank Gaebelein, founded. I liked a lot of what Gaebelein had to say so I am eager to read more from this disciple of his.

The volume I am currently reading, A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005) is a collection of essays and talks by Lockerbie which have been assembled and somewhat edited for publication. Because these were originally distinct works and because there is so much meat in them, I am going to treat them in a series of posts. Today we will look at the introduction and the first chapter.

Summary of Lockerbie’s Thought

Even in his “introduction to part 1” Lockerbie gives us something to consider. Here he introduces the idea that Moses instituted a new approach to education, as seen in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. He focuses in especially on a word in verse 7 which he translates “impress.” Referring to the commandments of God, Moses says to “impress them on your children” (p. 3). This verse, along with a second from the New Testament, seems to shape Lockerbie’s philosophy.

The New Testament verse is Ephesian 6:4: “bring up your children in the paideia … of the LORD” (p. 4; I am quoting Lockerbie, quoting the Bible here; his book indicates that he uses the NIV translation).  The word paideia is the Greek for education or instruction, It was used by Greek thinkers such as Plato and Socrates. Lockerbie argues that the key phrase in this verse is “of the LORD.” The Greek philosophy is not enough; our children must receive instruction in the paideia of the LORD, not that of pagan philosophers. What this Christian paideia, as he terms it, would consist of is a subject for the rest of the book.

Lockerbie argues, as Gaebelein did, for Christian schooling done by Christian teachers. He nods to homeschooling, which is more than most other thinkers we have looked at thus far do (which is probably due largely to the fact that he is writing much later when homeschooling has become better known). A small quibble: he says that even homeschoolers have formal times and locations for education. His point is that homeschooling is in its essence  still “formal” schooling. Perhaps you, like I, know many examples to the contrary. I suspect that Lockerbie was largely unaware of unschooling and other more flexible approaches to homeschooling.

The main point Lockerie is trying to make, however, is that Christian education demands Christian teachers. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Christian education must be done from a Christian worldview, and, second, we know what we know through faith in the word of someone else (this is an epistemological argument, i.e. an argument about how we know; we discussed epistemology a little in this post). “The starting point,” he says, “as always, is the individual teacher’s personal relationship with God-in-Christ and the Christian worldview that presupposes the sovereignty of God and the authority of Scripture” (p. 15).

Another formative idea for Lockerbie is one we saw in Gaebelein as well —  “All truth is God’s truth” (p. 15). This idea leads to a belief in the unity of all knowledge. God is a Unity; He is holy as well as “wholly integrated” (p. 14). The Fall of man represents disintegration and our goal is reintegration. Lockerbie says: “we must encourage every Christian school teacher, administrator, and board member to seek integration as an indidivual. One must find its application to one’s own vocation before it can become instiutional and a distinctive of the school” (p. 16; his emphasis).

Lockerbie acknowledges, however, that this work is not done by teachers alone. God the Holy Spirit is the source of illumination and “He enlightens the darkened cosmos and the mind of every human being” (p. 12). It is our duty, given us in the cultural mandate of Genesis 1-2, to “learn all that can be known about our environment and our role as its stewards” and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us discernment and guides us in all truth to be able to do so (p. 12).

My Reactions

There is a lot here that I like. I am very pleased to see Lockerbie acknowledge the role of the Holy Spirit in education. This is something we found in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy but sadly have seen far too little of among reformed thinkers. I also agree (again) with the assertion that “all truth is God’s truth” and that there is therefore an integration of knowledge. I am very intigued by the idea that the Fall equals disintegration and the goal of education is therefore to strive towards reintegration. Though I would not have used this langauge, it seems very similar to the idea I have posited that education is a part of sanctification. I might not use Lockerbie’s words and I don’t know that he would use mine, but we both seem to be saying that education plays a role in undoing the effects of the Fall.

I am a little less convinced of the need for Christian teachers, or perhaps I should say for exclusively Christian teachers. For me this is an issue of who and what a teacher is. As a homeschooler, and also as an effect perhaps of my coming out of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, I do not regard a teacher as always a peron that stands in front of one (or beside, if you prefer). Which is to say, a book or a piece of art can be as much a teacher as a live person.  And, as all truth is God’s truth, we can learn from non-Christians as well.

On the other hand, I will acknowledge that there needs to be an overarching framework for education and that it needs to be permeated by an understanding that places it all within God’s work. I have argued as well that a teacher’s expectation and attitude are of paramount importance. So it may be that we are not really so far apart, but I am still uncomfortable with giving too large a role to the teacher. I would argue instead that we have many teachers and that, while I would be skeptical of an approach that relied solely on non-Christian sources, that their work is nonetheless valuable and worth studying insofar as it communicates to us Truth.

I am intrigued by the two Bible verses that Lockerbie lays out in the introduction as the foundation of his philosophy. These are teasers thus far since he has not filled out his argument so it is hard to say too much. I am a little wary of constructing doctrines upon these two verses, and even more so upon a handful of words within them.  My own background is in biblical Hebrew so for now I will focus only on the verse from Deuteronomy.  I am not convinced that Moses laid out a new approach to education. There is no doubt Moses, speaking for God, had things to say about educating our children, but I do not see that there is a new (to the world) program as such that is laid out (see this post on education in the OT). Lockerbie’s argument (thus far) seems to rest on the word in verse 7 which the NIV translates “impress.” If you are familiar with the verse, you may be aware that it is usually (by all other translations I looked at) translated “teach diligently.” In truth, neither of these is quite right. The NIV has a good instinct I think — it is trying to communicate somehting the others have glossed over, but I am not sure that “impress” is the word I would choose. The root of this Hebrew word is the same one we find in the word for “tooth.” In its verbal form it means “to sharpen” or “to pierce.” My Hebrew lexicon suggests translating it here as “to teach incisively,” which I think is a bit closer to the meaning. The difference lies in what it means to impress versus to inscribe. To impress is to take something, like a seal, and to press it into a softer substance so that it leaves a copy of its own form, or an approximation thereof. This may be quite a poetic and pleasing picture of what we do in education, but it is not what the word means. The root used here seems to convey not a pressing but an incising, a cutting into, which, in a time of stone and clay tablets seems to imply a writing more than a sealing. In other words, the implication I take from this word is that the words of God are to be written on the child’s heart (cf. Jer. 31:33). We may also make a connection to the word of God as sword in the New Testment (Hebrews 4:12) — it cuts in the sense of writing and inscribing but it also pierces and divides and thereby shapes one’s character.

All in all, I am pleased with what I have read from Lockerbie so far and I am happily anticipating what is to come. Though I am quibbling with the translation he follows for Deuteronomy 6:7, I am interested to see how he will build his case from these two verses.

Nebby

 

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