Posts Tagged ‘reformed christian’

Principles of Reformed Education: Summary Post

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.

My goal in this part of the series has been to lay out some principles to help you evaluate books, materials, and curricula. For a summary of the big ideas behind it all, see this summary post.

This series within a series — the practical details — began with an explanation of methods. As we move away from theory and into the nitty gritty, we are not going to be able to find Bible verses that bear directly on the questions we have (Are spelling tests inherently evil?). To the extent that we can, I have tried to elucidate biblical principles while acknowledging that we are on less certain ground here.  We must rely more on personal observation, scientific studies, and logical reasoning. And as good reformed people we also acknowledge that our reasoning has been affected by the Fall and that we think is unassailable fact is often tainted by our own experiences, emotions (also tainted by the Fall), and presuppositions.

With that firm foundation, we dove right in.

Before we even get to curricula, we must begin by looking at ourselves, the teachers. I began with a presupposition: that the attitude and expectations of the teacher can do more to facilitate or to undermine learning than almost anything else he does. Therefore we must begin with right expectations and right attitudes. Simply put, the teacher should expect that God will work in the minds of his students. The attitude of the teacher should be one of joy and delight in the things of God because he himself is growing in knowledge and because he believes that they are the things of God and delights in them.

Once you’ve mastered that easy first step, you can begin to consider materials. So we talked about what to teach. I argued for a broad education that encompasses many subject areas [not just the trendy STE(A)M ones] based on the principle that all knowledge comes from God and as He is One so it is ultimately unified. More recently, we tackled another trendy question: Is there a core body of knowledge all people need to learn? With some qualification, my answer to that one is no, there is not (note that we are not talking here about religious knowledge as such but about all those subjects it is still legal to teach in public schools).

After we have considered the what, we must ask how? There are various aspects of this. We began by considering what the materials we use should be like. I argued that they should be interesting but need not be designed to be entertaining. Since the things we place before children in education are the things of God, they should be inherently interesting, We must be wary, on the one hand, of curricula which suck all the inherent joy out of knowledge and, on the other, of curricula which try to dress it up in clown costumes complete with red honky noses thereby sending the message that it needs our dressing up.

I also made the argument that the written word, that is, books, should be the primary tool by which we place such knowledge before our students. There is a place for other media as well, including but not limited to lectures, videos, audio recordings, visual aids (such as maps and charts), fine art, and music. Whichever we are using, we should use discernment in selecting our sources. We need not limit ourselves to Christian “teachers.” On the one hand, all truth is God’s truth and He may choose to reveal it to us through non-Christians. On the other, many who claim to be Christian are either not or are but have bad theology underlying what they are saying which affects their presentation of their subject. Nonetheless, we should expect more truth and better scholarship to come to through Christian sources. Because this is a tricky area, it is important for us to vet our sources and to consider such things as the age of the child we are educating. We also took a bit of a side trip to examine the power of narrative, for good or evil.

Lastly and most recently, we discussed what we do with this material— Do we ask kids to reproduce what they are learning and if so how and why? This includes testing but also more mundane things like worksheets, essays, and narration. Specifics will depend on the setting one is in (home vs. school, small vs. large class) but there are some principles we can seek to adhere to. First and foremost is not to provoke children with unnecessary and/or tedious work. Second is that we need to consider the benefit to the child. I argued for narration as a wonderful tool and discussed some pros and cons of other methods.

For the moment, I think these posts will wrap up the “practical details” portion of this series. I have been promising you that I will go through individual subjects one by one and my intention is to begin that next time.

Until then,

Nebby

Principles of Reformed Education: Pick Your Teachers Well

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.

How do we grow in knowledge? How does one learn anything? Depending on the sort of knowledge we have in mind, there can be varying answers. I would not say I know how to scuba dive if I have only read a book on the topic. In all disciplines there are people who go out in the field or go back to primary sources and analyze and develop new theories.

Though some kind sof knowledge require hands-on experience and though there will always be the need for discoverers who return to the sources, none of us starts from scratch. We all get some base of knowledge from those who have come before. And most of the time, for most of us, the bulk of our knowledge comes to us through other people, whether in person or through books and, increasingly, other media. This is as it should be; God created us to be in relationship with one another (Gen. 2:18), and He commands us to pass on our knowledge to the next generation. This is especially true in the family (Deut 6:7) but is not exclusive to the family (Tit. 2:4-5).

Today’s principle is fairly simple: Most human knowledge is communicated from mind to mind therefore we should choose our teachers well. 

God Himself is the source of all wisdom and knowledge (Acts 7:10; Jam. 1:5). Because we, in Adam, were created in His image as spiritual beings (i.e. ones with a spiritual as well as a physical nature), we also are capable of obtaining wisdom and knowledge. Note that I do not say we originate knowledge. All knowledge comes from God. We “discover” it when God reveals it to us.

Though there are no doubt many ways in which we as a race go astray and follow wrong ideas, there is some progression in human knowledge. I am very grateful that we live in an era in which we know about bacteria and viruses. I have a child who is alive today because God allowed a man (Frederick Banting) to discover insulin and its role in controlling blood sugar. Still, we will never know everything there is to know.

There are “Eureka” moments in human history in which God allows one person to dicsover some truth that no human had ever thought before. But these “discoveries” are not built on nothing. The discoverer already has some base of knowledge, some reason to be looking in the corner they are looking in or to be running the experiment they are running. And when they make that great discovery, we do not all have to make it again. The knowledge gets passed on and built on.

As we discussed last time, when we want to convey specific knowledge, we use words, whether oral or written. This use of langauge seems to be inherent in how we are made. We were created by God’s Word and it is how He, who created and knows our natures, communicates with us. When He chooses to communicate specific truths to us (special revelation as opposed to general revelation), He uses words.

And so we use words to communicate with one another. When we think of teaching, we often think of one person standing in front of a class and lecturing and this is certainly a valid method of conveying human knowledge. But the words and ideas that flow from mind to mind can come to us in various media. In our day and age, we can preserve a lecture and share it with others. This has not always been the case. More than anything else the written word has been the means of preserving and transmitting human knowledge. Last time, I made the case for books as the primary tool of learning and for particular kinds of books which we are calling “living books” (see this post).  Today I’d like to focus not so much on the books themselves as on the authors.

As I have argued many times before, God’s knowledge can come to us through non-Christian sources (though we should also expect more truth to come through Christians).  Our “teachers” — live or on paper– will come to us from many walks of life and with many different worldviews. There are no uninterpreted facts. Even in the most mundane, practical subjects, there is some level on which the author’s beliefs will be reflected in what he writes. Because this is so, we must be discerning in who we learn from.

How shall we choose our teachers? It is not simply a matter of Christian versus non-Christian.  There are times when we will have things to learn from non-Christians and there are Christians who will either be factually wrong or who will, despite a profession of faith, have a wrong outlook. When one is young, either chronologically or in one’s faith and knowledge, it is better to keep a narrower circle. There are books I would give to my teen that I would not give to my kindergartner (apart from content considerations of course). The more we know what we believe, the easier it will be to be discerning when we need to evaluate others’ beliefs.

At this stage of my life, I spend a lot of time in the car. I have taken up listening to theological podcasts for entertainment on long drives. While it is occasionally interesting to listen to someone I know is radically different from me, for the most part I pick people who are from the same end of the theological spectrum — i.e. reformed Christians, even other Presbyterians. But even within this realtively narrow corner of the spectrum, I hear things which make me wonder “Is that really true?” But there is one podcast that is done by members of my own (small) denomination including an ordained elder and the president of the seminary.  I’ve never met these men but I know their pedigrees and I know that they have the stamp of approval of a denomination I have already chosen to give allegience too. There might be things they say that I would disagree with but as I listen to them, I am more relaxed because I know that I can have some level of trust in what they say.

My point is this: I have made a broader choice, that I will cast my lot in with a particular church, so when my “teacher” is someone from that body, I can have a certain level of trust. I do not need to vet everything to the same degree I might otherwise. We all make similar choices. We rely on indidivual reputations but we might also look at broader criteria: where a person was educated, what church they belong to, etc. These are not infallible standards but, when well chosen, they are far better than no standards.

When I rely on my church’s seal of approval, I am in some sense accepting their recommendation. We live in a age of reviews. I would caution you to also vet those from whom you get recommendations. Quite often I see people post on homeschool message boards “What curriculum should I use?” If you are going to ask someone for recommendations, make sure they are someone who thinks like you, who has the same goals and standards. Knowing the subject area is a bonus too. Your pastor may be a wonderful, godly man but that doesn’t make him the best person to recommend a grammar curriculum.

To some extent we can develop relationships with particular authors, even those long dead. We become familiar with their thought, and we can develop a trust in them. When you have collected a body of trusted teachers, you do not need to do as much work each time.

While I don’t believe there are any truly secular subjects, there are areas in which I am going to be more careful. I don’t research the religious views of the authors of my children’s math and grammar books, but I am pretty careful of what theology they read and also of what science and history.

Though the primary intent is to give us discernment in religious matters, the Scriptures do offer some criteria for evaluating teachers:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30; ESV)

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.'” (Matt. 7:15-17; ESV)

These two passages give us two kinds of tests — Acts speaks to intellectual content and Matthew to practical outworkings.

In Acts we are told that false teachers draw men away from true doctrine. Good teachers, whether they themselves give glory to God or not, inspire us to praise. God’s general revelation should draw us to him (Rom 1:19-20). A teacher who knows his subject well and truly loves it can often lead us to see God in it even if he himself does not. I think, for example, of biologist E.O. Wilson (see this earlier book review). I do not agree with his belief in godless evolution, but when he speaks of his primary field, entymology, his delight in God’s smallest ceratures shines thorugh and though I am not big fan of insects myself, I grow to appreciate them and their Creator more.

Where Acts speaks to a teacher’s affect on us, Matthew addresses his own life. If I am reading a historian and find out that he was involved in eugenics programs, I am probably going to either drop his book or read it with a lot more discernment. I have blogged at length in the past about evolutuion and creation without coming to a solid conclusion. The one thing that has driven me away from Darwinian evolution in recent years more than anything else is  seeing how Darwin’s ideas played out in theology and philosophy. The consequences of the man’s ideas, in his own life and in those who took his ideas to their extreme conclusions, speak volumes about the ideas themselves (I discussed this a little in this earlier post).

If there is a general principle here it is: Be very careful who you let into your head. The rest are guidelines. There will not be one answer for all people. One may be able to read a book discerningly while another may be bothered by it. To sum up, the guidelines I am proposing are:

  • The abiity to discern grows with age and spiritual maturity. Those who are older, both chronologically and spiritually, will be able to make use of a wider variety of teachers.
  • Know what you believe. The better you are educated in your own worldview, the more you will be able to discern and avoid the fallacies in another’s.
  • Vet sources. Look at where a person was educated and what they believe.
  • Get to know your teachers. You can learn to trust particular sources.
  • Seek recommendations only from those you trust.
  • Look at outcomes in your own life. Does reading this person give you a greater sense of awe or does it pull you away from God and His truth?
  • Look at the outcomes in the teacher’s life and at how his ideas have played out through time.

Nebby

Was Charlotte Mason Reformed?

Dear Reader,

This is a bit of a sidebar to  my current series. I feel like I have discussed this topic many times over, but I am revisiting it for two reasons: I recently got into an online debate about it (I know, I know, stay away from forums) and I ran across some relevant quotes in rereading Charlotte’s second volume, Parents and Children. (Previous posts on this topic can be found here, here,  here, and here.)

In truth, the question is not usually “Was Charlotte Mason reformed?” I don’t think there are many people who would argue that yes, she was overtly reformed in the sense of positively propounding a reformed theology. The argument is usually that her church, the Church of England (CoE) in the late 1800s/early 1900s, was reformed and that she therefore was also reformed or at least that her outlook would have been in line with reformed theology.

It is beyond my expertise to examine the theology of the CoE of the time. My concern is with Charlotte herself and the statements she made. I will say that my understanding is that the CoE was intentionally very broad in its theology.  This is the position of Benjamin Bernier who writes extensively on the Anglican basis of Charlotte’s thought in a series of articles called “Education for the Kingdom” which have been published at Charlotte Mason Poetry (Part 1 of Bernier’s series can be found here; I discussed these articles previously in this post). Bernier says that:

“Among other important features of this context, one which helps us understand the contemporary applicability of Mason’s method to various religious backgrounds is related to a distinctive characteristic of traditional Anglicanism as an established church. The Church of England has always had a variety of currents flowing within it, often incorporating under the same roof groups holding conflicting opinions. For this reason, it has a long-established tradition of differentiating between essentials and non-essentials in Christian doctrine by limiting the essentials to that deposit of truth which can be shown to be commonly shared by all Christians, i.e. what all Christians believe at all times and in all places.

“This is essentially the same principle later identified by C.S. Lewis, another influential Anglican intellectual, who coined the term “mere Christianity” to identify it. It is this core of common Christian belief which Mason embraced from her Anglican perspective and used as a foundation to develop her interpretation of education for the children’s sake.” (Benjamin Bernier, “Education for the Kingdom, Part 1,” from Charlotte Mason Poetry, Feb. 18. 2017; emphasis added)

When examining at someone’s theology, it is important that we let that person speak for themselves and that we consider their words within the broader context of their writing. Which is to say, we can find quotes in which Charlotte sounds reformed, but we need to look at the range of what she has to say, not isolated quotes.

Those who argue either that Charlotte Mason’s theology was compatible with reformed theology  use one of two arguments (or, more usually, both). They either allege that Charlotte is in line with reformed theology or they argue that reformed theology is being misrepresented. I’d like to approach the topic by looking at some of these arguments:

“Charlotte Mason’s second principle doesn’t say what you think it says.” Charlotte’s second principle is often a stumbling block to those of the reformed faith. It is that which first raises the question in our  minds, “Wait, what is she saying? Can I really believe this philosophy of education if she is saying what I think she is saying?” If you are unfamiliar with it, that infamous principle says that “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.” The usual explanation of this principle is that Charlotte was dealing with the rigid class structure of her time which said that the children of the poor or the uneducated or criminals were inherently uneducable and were both morally and intellectually inferior. There are many articles which present this position including the note which Ambleside Online adds to the principle. It reads as follows:

“Principle 2 should not be understood as a theological position on the doctrine of original sin, but as a belief that even poor children who were previously thought incapable of living honest lives could choose right from wrong if they were taught. Charlotte Mason was a member in good standing of the Anglican Church of England, whose Thirty Nine Articles includes this statement: “Original sin stands not in the following of Adam, but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil.“” (emphasis added)

In other words, Charlotte was correcting a wrong idea of her time that certain children were less able than others. I agree both that this idea was present at the time and that Charlotte disagreed with it. I do not agree that Charlotte was not expressing an inherently theological position. Note that even in trying to defend this principle, Ambleside Online acknowledges that Charlotte was talking about morality as well as intellectual ability. Any time we are talking about morality, we are already in the realm of theology.

As I have argued in this post, Charlotte always views the child as a whole containing body, mind, heart and spirit. When she propounds her second principle, she has all these parts in mind and therefore she is speaking not just of intellectual ability but of moral and spiritual ability as well. From a reformed standpoint, if we wanted to counter the argument of her day — that certain children are morally and intellectually inferior– the answer is not to elevate the children of the poor and downtrodden but to bring down the children of the rich and privleged for we all are dead in our sins.

“Charlotte Mason believed in Original Sin.” This argument is closely related to the previous one (you will see that the editors of Ambleside Online make it in the quote above). I do not doubt that Charlotte did believe in Original Sin. The problem is that there are many definitions within Christendom of what Original Sin means and what the Fall did to man’s nature (I tried to give some idea of the range of Christian belief on the topic in this post). The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, does not see corruption in man’s reason (an idea which Charlotte clearly rejects). The core of the CoE’s position is presented in its Thirty-Nine Articles (the relevant portion is in the Ambleside Online quote above). There is nothing wrong in this statement in my view but it is not complete. Further examination shows that the CoE believes that man retains some kind of “formal freedom” to choose and do good. This formal freedom is a prerequisite for grace and allows man to cooperate to some degree in his own salvation (again, I discussed all this here). This is not the reformed position which goes beyond Original Sin is known as Total Depravity.

“Total Depravity does not mean what you think it means. Total Depravity is not utter (or absolute) depravity.” Which brings us to the next argument: that total depravity is total in the sense of affecting all parts of human nature but that man is not as evil as he could be. In other words, he is not absolutely or utterly depraved. Man retains some ability to do good (though, it is often added, not good that leads unto salvation).

There is some truth in this argument. We are not as evil as we could be and even unregenerate people seem to do “good.” The problem is in our definition of good. “Good,” I would argue, is defined by God. There any many things we do which seem “good” in the sense that they are outwardly in line with God’s will and law. If these things are done without faith, however, the Scriptures tell us that they are not truly good in the sense of being able to please God (Heb. 11:6).  Similarly, unregenerate people can be used to further God’s kingdom [for example, Jospeh’s brothers who sold him into slavery (Gen. 50:20) and Cyrus, king of the Persians, who is God’s instrument for restoring His people (Isa. 45:1)]. Their actions in so doing will be “good” on one level, but their actions are still sinful and they gain no favor with God by what they do (if that were possible).

While you can certainly find reformed people who say that Total Depravity is not utter depravity (see this article by R.C. Sproul; the PRCA, on the other hand, argues for absolute depravity), there is a gap between “not as evil as we could be” and “good.” Boettner says that when we are “not as evil as we could be”  we are not doing good but doing the lesser rather than the greater evil.  In other words, there is a false dichotomoy presented, either we are good or evil. In reality, there are not only two options, but there is room in between these positions.

Those who make this argument are, I think, being a bit disingenuous. There is quite a chasm between what Charlotte says (quoting that second principle again):    “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil” and a classic statement of reformed doctrine such as is found in the  Westminster Confession of Faith which says that we are dead in our sins and “opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil . . .” (WCF, VI, 4).  Charlotte presents “possibilities for good and evil” as if these are equal and balanced options. While there may be some difference among reformed people in what exactly total depravity means, it is not this.

“Calvin also said similar things  — so it is okay if we do and/or you are misunderstanding what Calvinism is.” This again is a variant of the above argument which says that reformed position is being misconstrued. There is one quote  in particular which seems to circulate in CM circles and if often brought up in such discussions. It says that:

“In every age there have been persons who, guided by nature, have striven toward virtue throughout life. For they have, by the very zeal of their honesty, given proof that there was some purity in their nature. These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against judging man’s nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout life.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter III)

My goal is to give Charlotte Mason fair play and to look at what she says as a whole and not to take things out of context; we need to do the same for Calvin. The context in this case is really the entire argument he is making in his Institutes. The rest of the paragraph reads as follows (this is actually a different translation; above I used the quote as it appears in CM circles; below I am using the translation I own):

“Although we will explain what value this sort of virtue has before God more fully when we discuss the merit of works, nevertheless for the present we must say what is necessary for the matter we have in hand. These examples inform us, then, that we should not regard human nature as completely defective, since by its guidance some have not only done more than a few excellent actions but also have conducted themselves honorably the whole course of their lives.” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Elsie Anne McKee, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) p.80]

Though Calvin seems to leave place here for goodness apart from regeneration, he goes on to say in the next paragraph that there is “universal corruption” in the human race that is only restrained by God’s grace and that if He did not do so “there is no one who did not show by experience that all the vices . . .would be in him” (p. 81).  He goes on to speak of the reasons why some do good — fear, shame and honor among them — and to say that “the Lord restrains the corruption of our nature but does not purify it” (p. 81).

From here Calvin goes on to make clear that the goodness which seems to be in some men is a gift of God which He gives to some and not others. “Therefore, in our common speech we do not hesitate to say that one is born good and another is born bad, one born with a good nature and another with a bad nature; we still include both under the universal condition of human corruption . . .” (p. 82).

In the paragraph which was first quoted, Calvin says that he will return to this topic when he discusses the merit of good works and so he does. He reiterates that this goodness is a gift God gives to some — but note not all — unregenrate people at the same time calling such virtue “external and hypocritical ” (p. 336). This gift, however, appears to be a mixed blessing. In the next paragraph Calvin quotes Augustine who says that:

“‘ . . . they are not only unworthy of any remuneration [for their good works] but rather they deserve punishment because they contaminate God’s gifts by the pollution of their heart . . . They are held back from doing evil not by a pure feeling of uprightness or righteousness, but by ambition or self-love or by some other indirect and perverse consideration. Since their works are corrupted by the heart’s impurity from their first origin, they no more deserve to be placed among virtues than do the vices which deceive people because of some likeness and relationship to the virtues. To cut it short, because we know that the unique and perpetual goal of righteousness and uprightness is that God be honored, all that tends in some other direction rightly loses the name of uprightness. Since such people do not consider the goal which God’s wisdom has ordained, although what they do seems good in external action it is still sin because of its wicked goal.'” (pp. 336-37)

Thus while Calvin in the original quote seems to acknowledge that there is good that unregenerate people do, even to the point that he calls them virtuous and says that conduct their whole loves honorably, he ends by saying that these “virtues” are really vices, are sinful, and indeed deserve all the more condemnation because though a gift from God they are wrongly used.

I want to close by looking at some quotes from Charlotte’s second volume, Parents and Children. (No doubt there are many others which could be considered. This is the volume I have been re-reading recently so these are what are on my mind.) One I have already discussed in other posts is:

“But we live in a redeemed world, and one of the meanings which that unfathomable phrase bears is, that it is the duty of those who have the care of childhood . . . to foster the fruits of that kingdom in the children who have been delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace; that is to say, all children born into this redeemed world.” [Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, (Seven Treasures Publications, 2009) p. 40]

There is a lot in this little sentence; I will not reiterate it all here other than to say there seems to be a very odd idea about soteriology contained in this phrase “redeemed world.” You can read my previous post on this passage here.

At one point Charlotte herself seems to speak of total depravity:

“But the man who is utterly depraved has no capacity for gratitude, for example? Yes, he has; depravity is a disease, a morbid condition; beneath is the man, capable of recovery.” (p. 86)

Here Charlotte nods to the doctrine of total depravity (though she actually uses the word “utter”) but notice her definition of it: it is a disease from which man may recover. This is not the reformed view. The biblical view (Eph. 2:1) and that of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF, VI, 4; see above) is that man is not sick only but dead in his sins. One does not recover from death.

Another quite theological passage which might help shed light on Charlotte’s thought is a little earlier in the volume:

“[Jesus] is far from declaring that men can do no good thing, that He assumes always that man in his proper state of dependence on God has the power to do righteousness, ‘Whosoever shall do the will of My Father, which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.’ But the question remains, How, considering our actual shortcomings, can any of us be spoken of by Jesus as righteous here and now? . . . [Paul’s] answer was, that according to Jesus, a man is accounted righteous, not from consideration of his works, but from consideration of his faith in God. Human righteousness is not a verdict upon the summing up of a life, but it is reckoned to a man at any moment from a certain disposition of his spirit to the Spirit of God . . . Righteousness, in the only sense in which it is possible for men, means believing and trusting God.” (p. 74)

On its surface, this does not sound entirely bad. Notice in the first sentence that she says man is able to do right if he is “in his proper state of dependence on God.” It is a little vague but we could take this to mean that those who are regenerate, having been put in a proper realtionship to God, are able to do good. That is certainly a statement I agree with. I also agree that we are “accounted righteous” and that this is not done on the basis of our works. The last part of the paragraph is a problem, however. Here Charlotte seems to make our justification (when we are declared righteous) dependent upon our faith. Righteousness, she says, is reckoned to us at the moment when we have a right disposition (that of faith) and thus she is able to say that righteousness means believing and trusting in God.  I will acknowledge that there is some ambiguity here as to what Charlotte means but my reading of it would be that she is making faith the work by which we are declared righteous, a work which we are all capable of. (Neither is there any mention of the fact that it is Christ’s righteousness which is applied to us.)

I don’t see any solid reasons to say that Charlotte Mason’s theology was reformed or in line with reformed understandings. She was a prolific writer and I will acknowledge that there is much of her work I have not read. But from what I have read, my inclination is to take her at face value and to to sya that she did believe that children, all children regardless of regeneration, have capacity for good. Those who say otherwise, I believe, either misrepresent Charlotte’s ideas or misrepresent reformed doctrine. The Church of England of the time (and still today, I believe) was a broad umbrella. I do nto doubt that Charlotte was well within the confines of orthodoxy as the CoE defined it nor do I doubt that she was a sincere believer. But I do not think we can call her reformed by any stretch.

So where does this leave us? As I have said before, I think that Charlotte’s view of children is fairly integral to her philosophy of education. I also think that her approach is about the best single take on Christian education out there. But I do think we need to use it with discernment and to ask oursleves where her particular theology may differ from our own and how that it going to play out in the practical details.

Nebby

 

 

Reformed Christian Education: Practical Details

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.

Thus far I have tried to demonstrate that when we educate we place before children the things of God. Our expectation as teachers is that the Holy Spirit will use these things in their lives, for their salvation if they are not (yet) regenerate and for their sanctification, specifically for the transforming of their minds, if they are. Our attitude should be one of joy and delight as we also revel in God’s truth. We should view ourselves as those who, while perhaps a little further along, are also being thus sanctified.  With this under our belts, we are now ready to jump head-long into the practical details of education.

I want in the coming weeks to go through subjects one by one and talk about how and why we teach them. But for today we need to cover some of the boring background stuff. This is another methodology post.

As we move more and more into practical details of education, in some sense we move away from Scripture as well. We can and should look to the Bible to tell us what the nature of the child is, but we are not going to find much there about whether we should use worksheets or how to drill math facts or whether to teach American or world history first. We need to keep in mind the principles we have gleaned from Scripture, but, in matters on which God’s Word is silent, we then turn to the other resources He has given us. Among these I count science and observation, and logic or common sense. By science I mean the science of education and of the human mind including such things as studies that tell us how we learn or how our brains work. Observation is not quite so technical; it is simply the experience we have of our own children or of the child in general. God has given us all some measure of logical reasoning. While acknowledging that our reason has been affected by the Fall and  that we cannot always trust it, we should also make use of this gift in our efforts to discern what to teach and how to teach it. All of these things, of course, if there is any contradiction, must be subservient to the Word of God.  Nor should we hold them too tightly. We need to be willing to change and adapt or just plain admit we were wrong as we get new information.

We also don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Many have come before us and, while there is no one (not even Calvin) who is always right, we should make use of their wisdom. I have reviewed a number of books on education in the course of this study and will continue to pull from them.  On the theological/theoretical side of things two of my favorites are J.G. Vos and Cornelius Van Til. Vos’s book is very short, more of a pamphlet. Van Til has more to say though is main emphasis is not on the education of children but on  higher education.

On the more practical side (though she certainly does not neglect theory), Charlotte Mason has been a major influence on my thinking. I feel this needs some explanation as it may seem I have spent quite a lot of time arguing against Charlotte’s ideas. If it’s not inappropriate to make the comparison — Jesus criticized the Pharisees because they were the sect whose ideas were actually closest to the truth. I keep harping on Charlotte Mason for the same reason — because she is actually the closest to where I want to be. I have not found any other  philosophy of education which fits so well with the Christian worldview and which is so distinctly Christian. Yet her Christianity is not mine (she is Anglican and I am a Reformed and Covenantal Presbyterian) and our very real theological differences make very real differences in our approach to education as well. Nonetheless, we are both Christians and what I am trying to do is what she tried to do — to build a philosophy of education based on my theology — and we will likely end up with a lot of overlap.

A final note before we leave the methodology aside — one of my informing ideas is that truth, God’s truth, can come to use through non-Christian sources.  When we are looking at the science especially but even the more philosophocal arguments, we must not neglect non-Christian sources. They should always be held up to the light of Scripture and taken with a greater degree of reserve but we should also not be surprised to find wisdom in them.

In this light, I’d like to end with a call. I have read some things but there is a lot more out there. If you have favorite books on education or things you think I really should read or consider, please let me know! I am in need of more input.

Nebby

A Teacher’s Attitude

Dear Reader,

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

Last time we looked at the expectation a teacher should have. Today I’d like to examine a very closely related concept — the attitude of the teacher.  My assumption in all this is that the attitude and expectations of the teacher can do more to facilitate or to undermine learning than almost anything else he does.

What we are going when we educate is to bring before students the things of God and specifically His General Revelation. Whether the students are able to receive this material depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s eternal purpose (all this is explained in more detail in this post). Last time we said that, as the outcome is ultimately dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit, that the expectation of the teacher should always be that God will work in each child to enable them to receive what is good and beautiful and true.

If expectation is about outcomes, attitude is more about our own day-to-day interactions with the student and the material. What we teach children is God’s revealed truth — whether the subject at hand is math or science or history or art or language, it comes from God and we can learn about His actions and character through it (See this post. My intent is to go through these subjects one by one in the upcoming weeks and to show you how each reveals the Creator. So if you are skeptical, stay tuned.).

The problem is that, in the midst of the daily grind, we often forget that the stuff we are presenting  to our students is all part of a bigger picture, a landscape, if you will, of divine thought and action. Teaching (and learning) math facts and spelling rules and Latin declensions is not always fun for teacher or student. Our students are not going to see the big picture and to exult in the glory of God as revealed in calculus or cloud formations if we cannot do so oursleves.

The antedote to the sense of drudgery which threatens us all is to remember our own place in the scheme of things. Education is the sanctification of the mind. That is something which happens in a special and intense way in childhood but it is not exclusive to children (again see this post for an explanation of the theory behind all this). Though as teachers we have some authority over our students, it is the authority of one who is further along in the process, not one who is outside it. If we are stagnating in the sanctification of our own minds, we are not going to be able to long help those who are growing in their own. All Christians, but perhaps especially teachers, need to be actively feeding their minds the good things of God and seeking His truth, goodness and beauty.

The attitude of the teacher then should be this: We need to revel in God’s truth and beauty as it is revealed to us in the subjects we teach.

Now here’s a big caveat: you can’t fake this attitude. If you don’t believe that what you are presenting to your students are the things of God, then you need to find or recover that perspective. Besides prayer, the best thing you can do to inspire your own sense of awe at what God has done is to study His works. The more we learn, the more we will be in awe of what God has done and the closer we will draw to Him. If you are not making progress, find someone who is. There is nothing more inspiring than someone who loves their work.

Last point of the day — if you have the right attitude, if you see God in what you are teaching, then you won’t need to beat your students over the head with how He is revealed in a particular subject. When a scientist truly sees the Creator in his work, this shines thorugh when he talks about his area of study. He doesn’t need to tell you all the time what God  has to do with physics; he can just talk about his work and you see how he delights in it. Not that it is wrong to ever point out the obvious (“see how God put the right king on the throne at the right time”) but we shouldn’t need to constantly state the obvious. If we love the Creator and we see Him in what we study, our own attitude will reveal itself in many subtle ways; we don’t need to draw attention to it and it may be counter-productive to do so.

The attitude of the teacher should be one of joy and delight in the things of God because he himself is growing in knowledge and because he believes that they are the things of God and delights in them. Of course, we are all going to have off days (and off years), but this is the ideal — to share something we love, because it is from God, with our students.

Nebby

Movie Review: Calvinist

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nebby

A Teacher’s Expectation

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nebby

 

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