Posts Tagged ‘homeschooling’

Christianity, Science, and the Pursuit of Truth

Dear Reader,

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

In recent weeks we have been discussing common grace and education (see this post and this one). One of the big questions we have been wrestling with is whether there is anything good and true that we can learn from non-Christians. The short answer is yes. I agree with Van Til and others that God can and does use non-believers to further His greater goal, whether they co-operate willingly with His Spirit or not. Truth and beauty can come to us through non-Christian sources.

But, as is often the case, the simple answer is not the full answer. The line of thinking goes something like this: God is the Source of truth; beauty and goodness are defined by Him. As Creator, God’s nature is seen in His works and is thus available to all people, but not all people recognize their Creator. God chooses to reveal Himself more fully to some people (in reformed theological terms: the elect). The Holy Spirit enables the elect to better see and understand the things of God. Thus we should expect those God has chosen to have a better grasp of what is good and true and beautiful than those who are still mired in sin.

I want to be careful how I say this. I am not saying that truth does not come to us through non-believers or that everything believers say is true (or that everything they do is good or everything they create is beautiful).  We should test all things claiming to be truth (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Jn. 4:1) ,  no matter how they come to us. Nonetheless, we should expect more truth and beauty and goodness to come to us through Christians than through non-Christians.

Making the Argument, or a Whole Mess of Quotes

I’m going to overwhelm you with quotes today. While they are not all making exactly the same argument, their  conclusions tend to point in the same direction. Should you want to read more, a full, annotated bibliography is at the end of this post.

The work of God’s Holy Spirit in salvation and sanctification affects not just the heart but the mind. There is a sense in which the unsaved person cannot fully understand God’s universe:

“The Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration has an effect not only on man’s spiritual and moral nature, but also on his intellect; it opens the eyes of his understanding (Eph. 1:18). He begins to see facts in the light of God (Psalm 36:9); that is, he begins to see the true meaning of facts. The unregenerate person, on the other hand, continues to maintain that facts can be understood and explained in the light of man; he recognizes no higher category than the human mind, and he will never admit that his mind has been darkened by sin.” J.G. Vos, What is Christian Education?, p. 3

In other words, a true understanding of history or science or beauty is impossible without a godly mindset — that is, without participation in God’s mindset:

“The regenerate person, on the other hand, realizes that the human mind does not exist of itself; it is a created mind and is not competent to be the absolute and final interpreter of facts.” Vos, p. 5

“Another way to say this is that God doesn’t have a point of view; he has a complete view. And because he revealed himself, we can come to a true understanding of the world, thinking God’s thoughts after him — however imperfectly or incompletely — and knowing the truth as God knows it to be. All truth is God’s truth, and therefore, as Jonathan Edwards rightly said, all knowledge lies in the ‘agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.'” Philip Graham Ryken, What is the Christian Worldview?, p. 15

On a very fundamental level, Christians and non-Christians do not and cannot view the world in the same way:

“The conclusion of the whole matter is this. There are two mutually exclusive principles for the interpretation of life.” Van Til, Essays on Christian Education, p. 88

The Christian, because he sees a unifying principle and a divine order in the universe, will understand and interpret the facts before him differently:

“There are no uninterpreted facts. In every area of life and thought, all facts derive their meaning from the religious presuppositions of man.” Rousas Rushdoony, Philosophy of Christian Curriculum, Kindle Loc. 993

Christianity, Scholarship and the Arts

We can see this in various fields. I am going to talk about science in more detail below, but let’s begin with the social sciences and the arts. Without a theistic worldview, we have no standard for right and wrong, no way to judge the events and people of history. Without a Creator, the universe has no meaning and no purpose. If we look at history with such a view, we see it only as a class struggle (much like the very struggle to exist which Darwinian evolution posits) or a mere series of causes and effects, a kind of determinism without any determiner.

“In our day, humanistic reason affirms that there is only the cosmic machine, which encompasses everything, including people. To those who hold this view everything people are or do is explained by some form of determinism, some type of behaviorism, some kind of reductionism.” Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (p. 164)

Christian belief also provides a justification for art:

“The doctrine of creation also affirms music and the arts. Although there is nothing specific about this in Genesis 1 and 2, what we do with sight and sound is part of the inherent potentiality of creation . . .

“Together these various aspects of human life give us what theologians call the ‘Cultural Mandate.’ We have a God-given responsibility to develop the possibilities of creation in ways that reveal our Maker’s praise, and this to fill the whole earth with his glory. We are to do this in science, politics, business, sports, literature, film and all the arts.”  Ryken, pp. 23-24

Christianity and Science

Because Christianity and science are often portrayed as opposites in modern society, I’ll take  a few extra moments to address their relationship specifically.  Christianity is the basis of science because it assumes a world that makes sense (something many Christians today need to be reminded of):

“Science and the scientific method arose in one and only one place: Western Civilization (Western Europe, to be precise). Why is this the case?   . . .

“The surprising answer is Judeo/Christian theology.

“In most ancient societies, nature was viewed as capricious and erratic, as were the gods themselves . . .

“Science and the scientific method could arise only if the universe and world were orderly, predictable, and inherently rational.” Rick Stedman, 31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God, pp. 134-35

“That is, scientific exploration assumes that there exists an underlying order of the world that is inteligible even when it is yet undiscovered, as secret code ciphered into the natures of things themselves, a knowable order rather than mere gibberish.” Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World, p. 123

“Far from conflicting with science, creation is what makes science possible by establishing an orderly universe . . . The people of God have been keenly interested in the study of science ever since, as a way of exploring the mind of their Maker.” Ryken, p. 23

Francis Schaeffer makes the argument from a more philosophical point of view. Christianity not only assumes a universe that makes sense, it also assumes that we can use our senses to know  and find out about that universe:

“In brief, science, as it is now usually conceived, has no epistemological base  — that is, no base for being sure that what scientists think they observe corresponds to what really exists.” Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (p. 199)

But it is not just our assumption of a logical and perceivable universe that leads us to truth but also our innate love of beauty. This love, of course, can drive both Christians and non-Christians. But I would argue that it should be more of a motivating force to Christians:

” . . . there would be no periodic table without our very human love of beauty. Elaborating on this point, the great mathematician Henri Poinare said, ‘The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living.'” Wiker, Meaningful World, p. 115

A specific example of how Christian belief makes a difference in scientific thought:

“Materialism erases the distinction between nonliving and living things, and that misses the essential nature of the way proteins exist in cells. A functional protein structure depends on the living unity of the cell; that is, it is by its function as a part in relation to the living whole, one whose particular, complex arrangements of parts is necessary to carry out its intricate function.” Wiker, A Meaningful World, p. 211

The Flip-Side, or Everybody Has Presuppositions

I tend to get frustrated with Christians throwing around the term “worldview,” but the truth is how one perceives the world and its purpose will affect one’s thoughts in all areas. For this I would point you to a whole book: Benjamin Wiker’s The Darwin Myth. Wiker gives what I think is a very fair treatment of the man but shows how Darwin’s lack of faith (and he does argue that Darwin was not a believer) skewed his view of evolution.  Darwin, for example, starts with the assumption that there is no absolute morality:

“According to Darwin, morality doe snot govern evolution. If it did, then we might expect a divine overseer. Darwin would not allow that; and in order to disbar it, Darwin had to argue that morality was created by evolution. It is, in Darwin’s scheme, an evolutionary after-effect of sociability.” (p. 92)

Indeed, Darwin’s whole theory is based upon not just a godless foundation but on the antithesis of God:

“Death, Darwin thought, was the key to life, a complete inversion of [his wife] Emma’s superstitious belief in a creator God and the idea that death was the punishment for original sin. Death was, is, and always will be, the creator.” (p. 66)

Wiker contrasts Darwin’s take on evolution with that of his contemporaries who were believers, showing that the views of each were shaped by his underlying beliefs:

“The chosen scientific hypothesis or paradigm, the lens through which the investigator attempts to scrutinize nature, both magnifies and distorts, bringing objects nearer and crowding them within a particular field of vision, but at the expense of what lies outside and beyond the frame.” (p. 120)

The conclusion for Wiker is not a rejection of evolution per se but of Darwinian evolution in particular.

Wrapping up

The point of all this is not to beat up Darwin, or any other non-Christian thinker. We should not ignore the truth that comes to us through non-Christians whom God also uses to further His plan. But we should expect more truth and beauty and goodness to come to us through Christians —  because the minds of Christians are being transformed by the Holy Spirit (this, in truth, is education), because their eyes are opened to the divine revelation that comes to us through Creation, because they have the philosophical and theological framework from which to understand and make sense of science and history.

Nebby

[1] This post focuses on the presuppositions behind an idea; we can also look at its effects. A tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:15-16). It is no coincidence that the wide-spread acceptance of Darwinian evolution was followed by a host of other bad ideas from the Waldorf method education (which is predicated upon the idea that kids evolve into people) to the rise of sociology which seeks to control human progress through social manipulation to the attempted extermination of the Jews and other (slightly) more benign attempts at eugenics.

Bibliography

Rushdoony, Rousas. Philosophy of Christian Curriculum. Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2001 (originally published 1981). I was not crazy about Rushdoony’s book but I think he is right on this point: there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact. No one ever views anything without their worldview coming into play.

Ryken, Philip Graham. What is the Christian Worldview? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2006. This is a wonderful short book, more of a pamphlet actually. I find the title a little deceptive. I think it is more of an introduction to reformed theology. I make this one a must-read for my kids when they are middle school aged.

Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live? Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005 (originally published 1976). Schaeffer’s subject is more philosophy than anything else though he covers big trends in art as well. A Christian classic and a must-read.

Stedman, Rick. 31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2017. This is a fairly simple and somewhat redundant read but is good as an introduction or for tweens/teens to read. My review is here.

Van Til, Cornelius. Essays on Christian Education. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1974. Van Til is a solid reformed thinker. More than any other, his book on Christian education is one I find myself returning to. See my review here.

Vos, J.G. What is Christian Education? Pittsburgh, PA: Reformed Presbyterian Church of N.A. This is a very slim little pamphlet but with a lot of good nuggets packed into it. I highly recommend picking this one up.

Wiker, Benjamin. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. Regnery Publishing, 2009. This is an easy book but a must-read. I find Wiker’s treatment very fair and well-researched. He does not reject evolution as such but Darwinian evolution. His own love for and awe at Creation comes through.

Wiker, Benjamin and Jonathan Witt. A Meaningful World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. I am in love with this book. It is a tougher read but well worth it. The authors show how Shakespeare and chemistry and astrophysics all point to the Creator. They clearly love and appreciate the beauty of God’s world and it shows in their writing.

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Living Books for Environmental Science

Dear Reader,

I let my 11th grader pick her science this year and she chose environmental science. She is big into art of any kind and photography so she has been working on a project for a local Audubon sanctuary to make a bird watching handout for them. She also watched some Khan Academy videos (here; she only did the ecology section half-way down the page) and read a lot of books. The wonderful thing about this age if that you can find good adult books that are written to be interesting (as opposed to a lot of the books written for kids, sad to say). You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Environmental Science

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — THE classic of the environmental movement. We hadn’t read it yet so I made sure she got this one in.

The Curious Naturalist by Sy Montgomery — Short essays on subjects from lichen to beavers. Divided up by season.

Autumn Across America by Edwin Way Teale — I love Teale’s books. This one is part of a seasonal foursome. Also look for Circle of the Seasons and A Walk through the Year.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir — Nature lore. I’ve heard Muir was a Christian.

Anthill: A Novel by E.O. Wilson — I’m not crazy about Wilson’s view of evolution/creation (he is not a Christian) but when he talks about his subject, entomology, his love of creation comes through.

Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson — Another classic from Carson.

Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus — Why are the bees dying and why does it matter?

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Amusing anecdotes from the author’s walks on the Appalachian trail.

The Darwin Myth by Benjamin Wiker — I am going to make all my kids read this one. I love Wiker’s books. This one is a pretty easy read. Wiker tells the story of the man and how his life and personal views affected his famous theory. It is kindly but fairly done. He is not anti-evolution but is anti-Darwinian evolution. Wiker inspires hope for a godly view of creation ad evolution which will bring us closer to, not farther from, our Creator.

Our Only World by Wendell Berry — Ten essays from one of my favorite American fiction writers.

How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro — A professor tells how we could, maybe, clone animals to reintroduce them and asks why and if we should. A little tough and technical in parts but good and engaging.

Happy reading!

Nebby

 

In Defense of Truth and Beauty

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.

In recent weeks, we have talked about the purpose of education. I argued the case that education, for the Christian, is part and parcel of sanctification (see this post). Our minds, like all our other faculties, were corrupted in the Fall and are in need of redemption. There are many good things that can result from this sanctification of the mind, both for the individual and for the larger society (under which heading I would include the Church, the state and really any group to which that individual belongs). A saved person will begin to pray for his family and society. He will witness to his friends and neighbors. He will bring truth and goodness and beauty into the discussion. As he continues to grow in wisdom and knowledge, he will feed and encourage his brothers in Christ. As his sanctification increases, he becomes more and more able to bear fruit for Christ and to fulfill the particular calling God has on his life. All these things are good and I don’t want to diminish them but they can also tend to lead to a very results-oriented view of education.

What I’d like to propose today is that truth, beauty and goodness have inherent merit and that therefore it is good for us to immerse ourselves in them even when there is no particular practical outcome. Consider the following quotes:

“Similarly, in mathematics. much of the curriculum is important to future mathematicians, not to the overwhelming majority of peoples. Mathematics should be geared more to management, accounting, and a variety of practical needs of the modern world.” [Rousas Rushdoony, Philosophy of Christian Curriculum, () Kindle loc. 243; see my review here]

“Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.”  —Galileo Galilei

There are two very different ideas about mathematics presented here. I am very much inclined to agree with Galileo.

The more we study the works of God, the more we understand Him (or perhaps the more we understand how little we can understand).  The works of God are all around us — they are Creation and history and language and art.

We should not be afraid to delve into any area of knowledge and beauty. They are the things of God and as such we can and should expect them to reveal His character. We should, in fact, desire these things. Calculus may not be for everyone. One person may delve more into history and another science and another language. But it is a sad life which has no interest in any of these areas or which only sees them as a means to an end.

Some quotes to demonstrate what I am getting at, starting with the Scriptures–

That God may be known through His works, especially His Creation:

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.” (Rom. 1:20; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted)

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Ps. 19:1; cf. Ps. 50:6)

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” (Prov. 6:6)

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;  the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;  and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (Job 12:7-9)

That our God is a God of language:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light . . .” (Gen. 1:3)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn. 1:1; cf. Heb. 4:12)

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)

That God controls and reveals Himself through human history:

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; . . .” (Dan. 2:21)

“[The LORD] who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose.’” (Isa. 44:28; God uses the Persian king Cyrus to fulfill His purpose)

God is the God of Beauty:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Eccl. 3:11; cf. Gen. 1:31)

For Aaron’s sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty.” (Exod. 18:40)

Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” (Ps. 96:6)

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” (Zech. 9:17a)

God is the God of Truth:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6)

Let God be true though every one were a liar . . .” (Rom. 3:4a)

“. . . God, who never lies . . .” (Tit. 1:2b; cf. Heb. 6:18)

God is Good:

And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.'” (Mk. 10:18; cf. Matt. 19:17; Lk. 18:19)

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Ps. 100:5)

That we should devote ourselves to the good and true and beautiful:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

And some quotes from others–

From Frank Boreham, a early 20th century pastor:

“We are living in a universe that is constantly trying to talk . . .’The air,’ says Emerson, ‘is full of sounds, the sky of tokens; the ground is all memoranda and signatures; and every object is covered over with hints which speak to the intelligent.’ The stars above my head are signaling; the astronomer maters the code and reads the secrets of the universe. The stones that I tread beneath my feet are signalling; the geologist unravels the code and interprets the romance of the ages.” [Frank Boreham, The Uttermost Star (Pioneer Library, 2015; originally published 1919) Kindle loc. 89]

From Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and as far as I know, not a Christian:

“Mathematical analysis and computer modeling are revealing to us that the shapes and processes we encounter in nature — the way that plants grow, the way that mountains erode or rivers flow, the way that snowflakes or islands achieve their shapes, the way that light plays on a surface, the way the milk folds and spins into your coffee as yo stir it, the way that laughter sweeps through a crowd of people — all these things in their seemingly magical complexity can be described by the interaction of mathematical processes that are, if anything, even more magical in their simplicity.

….

“The things by which our emotions can be moved — the shape of a flower or a Grecian urn, the way a baby grows, the way the wind brushes across your face, the way clouds move, their shapes, the way light dances on water, or daffodils flutter in the breeze, the way in which the person you love moves their head, the way their hair follows that movement, the curve described by the dying fall of the last chord of a piece of music — all these things can be described by the complex flow of numbers.

“That’s not a reduction of it, that’s the beauty of it.” [Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (New York: Pocket Books, 1988) pp. 182, 184]

If I could at this point I would quote the entirety of Benjamin Wiker’s A Meaningful World in which he explains how Shakespeare, astrophysics, mathematics, and genetics point to the existence of God. Since I cannot, some select quotes–

” . . .the universe is meaning-full.” [Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006) p. 15]

“Pandas as comic relief, as divine whimsy? . . .Why should not the designer’s world entertain, amuse and fascinate as well as ‘work’?” (p. 53)

“The truth about human nature is that humans take immense joy in knowing for its own sake.” (p. 87)

“The chemistry of life is like an unknown alphabet and language rapidly spoken to us.” (p. 113)

“Thus, as important as our desire for self-preservation is, there would be no periodic table without our very human love of beauty. Elaborating on this point, the great mathematician Henri Poincare said, ‘The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living.'” (p. 115)

Nebby

 

Living Books on Meteorology

Dear Reader,

I let my high school senior pick his science this year and he chose meteorology. I structured his course around two video series from The Great Courses, An Introduction to the Wonders of Weather and The Science of Extreme Weather. The edginess of the latter balnaces out the more dry factualness of the former. He also read a number of living books. If you are looking for books for younger kids, we also did a year on geology and weather when my kids were in elementary and middle school; you can find that booklist here. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Meteorology

What if the Moon Didn’t Exist by Neil F. Comins — All the ways our world wouldn’t exist if conditions weren’t just right.

Why the Sky is Blue by Gotz Hoeppe — Did you know that it’s not blue for the same reason during the day and at the end of the day?

Storm by George R. Stewart — The story of a violent storm which sweeps in from California. Originally published 1941.

Tornado Alley by Howard Bluestein — A professor and storm-chaser tells what he has learned about tornados.

The Children’s Blizzzard by David Laskin — True story of a blizzard in 1888. The kids that tried to get home, those that hid at school.

Divine Wind by Kerry Emanuel –The subtitle says it all: “The History and Science of Hurricanes.”

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson — It came up  a lot in the news this year too: the Galveston hurricane of 1900.

Visualizing Weather and Climate by Anderson and Strahler — A more textbook-y book to make sure we covered all the bases.

Weather Analysis and Forecasting Handbook by Tim Vasquez — Again, a bit more textbook-y and also seemed rather math-oriented so maybe not for all kids.

Happy forecasting!

Nebby

 

Church, State . . . and School?

Dear Reader,

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

Is there such a thing as a Christian school? Well, of course there are Christian schools. The question I want to explore today is what if any the place of the Christian school is vis-à-vis the Church and state.

If you have been reading here a while, you know that I have been going through a number of books on education. In doing so I was struck by the fact that both Cornelius Van Til and Rousas Rushdoony (see my reviews of their books here and here respectively) speak of the Christian school as an almost divinely-inspired body complementary to the Church:

“Oh, yes, the church and home may speak of this Christ. But neither the church nor the home can deal at all adequately with the length and breadth of Christ as the Savior and Transformer of human culture . . . only in the school, in which professional people engage in setting forth the whole history and meaning of human culture, can Christ and his work be portrayed in full detail . . .” [Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1974) p. 23-24]

“However, where the state seeks to license, accredit, control, or in any way govern the Christian school as a school, it is then another question. It is usurpation of power by the state, and it involves the control of one religion, Christianity, by another, humanism . . . The school, moreover, is a separate sphere under God from church and state, and it thrives most when free from both.” [Rousas Rushdoony, Philosophy of Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2001) Kindle loc. 1609]

“It should be stressed that discipline requires the cooperation of church, school, and family. Each has its own distinctive task and cannot infringe on the other.” (Rushdoony, Kindle loc. 1819)

There are a number of ideas embedded in even these brief quotes. While they all may work together, I don’t think one need take them as an all-or-nothing proposition:

  • School is a divinely-ordained institution on par with Church and State.
  • School is complementary to Church and State, fulfilling a unique place which may have some overlap with but does not duplicate their roles.
  • The responsibility of educating children belongs to the school.
  • The state and the church should not interfere with the work of the (Christian) school.
  • Family is also a distinct entity with its own role.

The Scriptures address both secular governments and the Church explicitly. Both are given specific authority and specific tasks and have divinely-ordained leaders (on government: Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17; on the Church: Matt. 16:18; 28:18-20; Acts 20:28; Col. 1:18). The same cannot be said of school.

The main reason schools are not mentioned in the Bible (it seems silly even to have to say it) is that they simply were not a feature of the time, at least not in the way we now know them. Of course there was education in some form (see this post on teaching in the Old Testament and this one on the New), but I cannot think of a single reference to organized group education of children.

[There is evidence that adults were educated in “classes” by teachers. Jesus was the “Rabbi” of His disciples (Jn. 3:2, among many others) and Paul learned from Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). The boy Jesus learned from the teachers in the temple (Lk. 2:42ff), but this does not seem to have been the norm; the shocking part of this story is that at 12 He was discussing theology like an adult.]

What we do see is that parents are charged with teaching their children about the things of God (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 4:9; 6:7; Ps. 78:4-6; Prov. 1:8; 4:1; 6:20). There is some evidence that others, notably grandparents, might help in this (Gen. 48; 2 Tim. 1:5).

Neither the Church nor State is charged with providing schools. This does not necessarily mean that they should not do so, however. With regard to the Church, they are of course charged with the education of all members, including children, in the things of God. Does this mean the Church shouldn’t provide other forms of education? Not necessarily, but we should balance any such endeavor with a caution against allowing the Church to distracted from its main mission, namely the preaching of the gospel (cf. Acts 6:2).

Among the functions of civil government mentioned in the Bible are: collecting taxes (Matt. 22:17-21; Rom. 13:6-7), punishing wrong-doers (Rom. 13:4), administering justice and settling disputes (Exod. 18:13ff), and waging war (1 Pet. 2:14). There is one more function of government: the care of the helpless, among whom the Scriptures name widows, the fatherless, the poor and needy, and foreigners (Ps. 82:1-4; Jer. 22:3). If we are going to find a Scriptural justification for state education, it is here. One might argue that in our society the way to help the poor, to help them get ahead, is to provide education.

In our church, there are a number of African refugees. As pro-homeschooling as I am, it is hard for me to imagine how these parents — who are often traumatized, don’t speak English, and are frequently illiterate in their native languages (this is true of the mothers especially)  — would ever be able to educate their own children. It would be wonderful if there were good Christian schools for these children to go to but the fact is that there are not. So we are back again to whose responsibility it is to care for them in ways their parents are unable to.

I don’t think there are hard and fast answers here; there is a lot of room for debate and it may be, given the state of affairs on the ground, that what is the right answer in one location is just not feasible in another. But here is what I think:

  • There is no biblical justification for the School (big “S”) on par with the Church and State.
  • If there were any institution on such a level, it would be the family, not the school (though Church trumps family; Matt. 12:50; 19:29; Lk. 14:26).
  • It is the parents who are charged with educating their own children and who must bear primary responsibility.
  • This is not to say that the parents cannot or should not have help.
  • The Church should certainly educate all its members, of all ages, in the things of God.
  • While there is nothing inherently wrong with a Church providing education in other areas, we must be very careful that any such ministry does not distract from the main work of the Church.
  • A better case can be made for the State to take a role in education, especially as it concerns the most needy members of society. However, there are many ways that this could happen . . .
  • Which brings us back to: education is ultimately the responsibility of the parents and Christian parents need to ensure that, above all, their children receive a God-centered education.

Nebby

 

 

 

Education and the Covenant Child

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.

In recent weeks, we have been discussing common grace as affects our understanding of education (see this post and this one). Specifically, I have spent some time trying to answer the question: How shall we educate non-believing children? Are they capable of true education, of receiving that which is good and true and beautiful?

But I do not want to neglect the children of believers. Most of the children in our homeschools and Christian schools are going to come from professing families. As such, they are what we call covenant children. That is, they are considered from birth (and before) to be part of God’s covenant community.

When speaking of those who are clearly unregenerate, of whom we have no evidence of salvation (yet), I argued that education forms part of the call that goes out to all humanity (Matt. 22:14) and presents to them God’s general revelation by which He may be known (Rom. 1:19-20). But what of believers then, those who already have received the call? How does education benefit them?

This is my thesis: Education is a piece of sanctification.

In previous posts, I hope I have shown that children are not a separate category. They are fully persons. Education does not prepare them for a life which they will have later nor does God wait to work in them. Conversely, education is not confined to childhood,  though I do believe children are especially adapted to learn (read all these arguments here.)

We have also discussed what kind of goal we should have for education and argued that we need long-term goals which look not merely to the next stage of life but even beyond this life, goals which serve God’s greater plan.  These goals should focus first and foremost on the individual, not the society (while acknowledging that in God’s economy there is no conflict between the two; see this post and this one).

To these ideas, let me add one more: Man is fallen in all his faculties (WCF IV:II) and needs to be regenerated in all his faculties (WCF XIII:II). We could give various lists of what constitutes the “faculties,” but I like this one: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted) or the New Testament version: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). The biblical view is not one which chops man up into pieces. The body is not divorced from the spirit nor the mind from the heart such that one can think one thing and do another or keep one’s soul pristine while sullying one’s body. Still, there is some idea here that we do have different aspects. As reformed people, we believe all the parts of the person are fallen and in need of redemption.

Education is a term that has been used in many ways and our tendency these days is  to think of it broadly. Even secular teachers are expected to shape not just the intellect but the character. For Christian parents as well discipline and education are closely entwined. These are not bad tendencies but what I want to address today particularly is the mind, while acknowledging that it does not function apart from the emotions or the body.

I’d like to get at this topic by looking at the word “mind” as it is used in the New Testament. We have already seen that both Old and New Testaments command us to love God with our minds. Our minds can be either for God or against Him (Matt. 16:23; Rom. 8:5-7). There is ample evidence that they are often against (Matt. 16:23= Mk. 8:33; Tit. 1:15). A fallen mind, one in opposition to its Creator, is a curse and the result of sin (Rom. 1:28). But there is hope — when Jesus comes healing people, it is not just bodies that are restored but minds (Lk. 8:35). It is He who opens men’s minds to receive wisdom (Lk. 24:45; cf. Hebr. 8:10; 10:16) or who hardens them (2 Cor. 3:14;  4:4). There is evidence of some level of restoration in this life as Christians we are called to have changed minds, not minds of futility and sin (Eph. 2:3; 4:17; cf. Col. 1:21). Mind is a characteristic of God Himself (Rom. 11:34) and we are to share His mind and to be of one mind (1 Cor. 1:10; 2:16; Phil. 1:27; 2:2,5).  And above all there is this:

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)

The pattern here should be familiar: We are called to a high standard. Sin corrupts our minds so that we cannot meet the standard set in God’s law. But God Himself restores the minds of His people. As Christians we are called to use these restored minds for the good of the Church (1 Cor. 1:10; 2:16; Phil. 1:27; 2:2,5) and for the furtherance of the things of God (Rom. 12:2) and for worship (1 Cor. 14:15). In other words, the same process of fall and redemption applies to our minds as it does to the rest of our persons.

This then is the goal of education in the life of the believer: the renewal, through the power of the Holy Spirit, of the mind to the end that the Church may be built up and God glorified. That renewal is what we call sanctification. It will not be complete in this life, but, through the power of Christ, it is possible to make real progress.

Nebby

 

 

Book Review: The Christian Home School

Dear Reader,

Thank you all for continuing to give book suggestions. My latest read has been Gregg Harris’ The Christian Home School (Gresham, OR: Noble Publishing Associates, 1995; originally published 1988).

Harris’ book is a bit dated (can one still realistically homeschool for $100-200 per child per year??) and I found its scope too narrow, particularly in talking about how to homeschool, but there enough good material here to make it worth perusing.  As my source indicated, there is one stellar chapter here, chapter 5: “The Biblical Basis of Education.” If you are new to homeschooling and need encouragement and the very basics of how to begin, you might appreciate the rest of the book; otherwise you can probably just skim large chunks (as I confess I did).

The Christian Home School begins with a lot of the usual scary stories about public schools. I don’t doubt the truth of these stories; there no doubt is something indeed to be afraid of. But I’m not a big fan of this approach. Harris also includes a brief history of public schooling in the United States and shows why reforming the current system is not an option.

Harris then turns his attention to Christian schools. For me as a homeschooler, this was refreshing; all the other books I have read thus far have been pro-Christina school and not even mentioned homeschooling as an option so it was nice to hear arguments for homeschooling in particular. Nevertheless, while I agree with a lot of what Harris says, both anti-Christian school and pro-homeschooling, I don’t think he is as fair and well-rounded as he could be. Let’s just say there are pros and cons in any option.

Having established the case for homeschooling, Harris then gets to the meat: the role of the Bible. Though he appears to be a fairly conservative writer, Harris’ stance is not overly fundamentalist. The Bible, he says, “isn’t intended to be a textbook for teachers and school administrators . . .But it does tell us everything we need to know to evaluate education – to tell the basic difference between good education and bad” (p. 66).

Parents are the primary educators (p. 66). This point is easily established. Harris makes the case that as our parenting is compared to God’s that we will be better parents the more we emulate God and adopt His style. While the Bible may not give us many specific instructions in how to parent, there is much we can learn from examining how God parents and educates us (p. 67). [1]

Harris finds the purpose of education in the purpose of man (p. 70). He goes on to say: “It only stands to reason, then, that one of the primary purposes of education is to prepare people to be born again and then to worship and fellowship with God” (p. 70) and again: “Thus, education is to benefit our society and the Church by equipping us to fulfill our part and take our place in the community of faith” (pp. 70-1). I agree with him in much of this — the purpose of education is found in God’s overall plan for man; and the primary purpose is for the individual but the larger society also benefits. I have a slight quibble with his phraseology, however. Harris speaks of “preparing” and “equipping” as if children are not yet a full part of the Church. I have argued here that there is no real divide between children and adults in the covenant community. Children are fully part of that community, are able to contribute to it, and are already interwoven into God’s plan (see this post, this one, and this one).

When it comes to the how of education, Harris tries to keep an open mind, allowing for various methods of education [though not unschooling (p. 88), a conclusion I agree with], but he clearly has a favorite. His own preference is for what he calls “Delight-Directed Study” which he equates with Unit Studies. Very briefly when we began homeschooling, we tried unit studies. I have some problems with the idea of unit studies (see this post or this one) though Harris’ arguments make me more amenable to his approach that I would have thought I would be. Part of the issue is that Harris shows no awareness of a living books approach to homeschooling such as Charlotte Mason advocates. I suspect this is because his book is older and the Charlotte Mason resurgence in homeschooling circles had not occurred, or at least not developed so much steam.  [More than any other approach we have followed the Charlotte Mason method in our homeschool. While I have become less enamored of her philosophy in recent years (and this series is the result of that disillusionment), hers is still the best single approach I have found.]

In reality there is much that Harris says that would fit well with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. He argues that children have an innate, God-ordained appetite for knowledge (p. 69) and advocates a broad liberal arts education (p. 71). In fact, his language is very much like Miss Mason’s when he argues for a balanced intellectual meal that will bring pleasure to the child (pp. 101-02). They also both say that education cannot and should not be accomplished through force or discipline and that the role of the parent/teacher is largely to prepare the feast (Charlotte’s image) and to wait for the child to respond, as flower bud opens (Harris’ image, p. 111). 

Harris is a bit more in the classical mode in that he sees stages on education, those his are not strictly defined (pp. 112-17). This should not surprise us given the emphasis he places on education as preparation (as I argued in this post).

Delight-directed studies, as Harris defines them, teach multiple subjects through whatever topic the child is interested in. That is, if a child has a particular interest in cats, he might do language arts by reading and writing about cats and learn math by starting a cat sitting business. This were he is most like Unit Studies and least like Charlotte Mason. Though I think in the end, there is more similarity here than I thought; Charlotte’s approach also teaches some subjects, like grammar and writing, indirectly through readings and narrations done on history or other topics.

Harris advocates delight-directed study not just because it works but because, he says, it is biblical. This is perhaps his best and most unique argument — that God intended us to have pleasure even in the things we need, from food to procreation, and that we should also find delight as we satisfy our intellectual appetites (pp. 96ff). For evidence of this he points to the Psalmist’s pleasure in his study of the law of God (Ps. 1:2 among others).

One final quibble — I am once again (as I was with Rushdoony) uncomfortable when Harris talks about education for boys versus that of girls (pp. 119-20). He argues that high school age boys should be educated for a specific career but that girls should be given a broad education so that they will be prepared to help their husbands in whatever their calling might be.  My problem with this kind of thinking is two-fold: It ignores the very real possibility that not every Christian will get married. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that it is better not to be married (1 Cor. 7:32ff) and  perhaps we would take this injunction more seriously if we didn’t start our kids off with marriage as the be-all and end-all of Christian life. Secondly, it tends to undervalue knowledge for its own sake. Harris does not go as far as Rushdoony in this but perhaps just teeters in the edge of the idea.

The bottom line is that Gregg Harris’ The Christian Home School is not a book you necessarily need to run out and get right away but there is one solid good idea in here which I think we need to add to our discussion of a reformed Christian approach to education.

Nebby

[1] As a side note, I don’t agree with Harris’ definition of “to train up” in Proverbs 22:6 as “to touch the palate” (p. 68).  I have no idea where he got this. You can see my own interpretation of that verse here.

 

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