Christian Education

Two recent events have me thinking about the importance of academics, reason, the Christian intellect, and educational choices. Both events involve my daughter, who attends a Classical Christian School in our area. The first happened at the mall, ironically, on a day when the girls skipped school to spend time with their grandparents visiting from out-of-town. My daughter was in line to buy a book from the bookstore when she saw a copy of Homer’s The Iliad on a shelf. We had a brief, but interesting, conversation about Homer, the Trojan War, and Phineas & Ferb (yep, you read that last one right). Without going into details, the lady waiting in front of us was more than impressed that my 3rd grader was conversant with Homer (and Phineas & Ferb). Not long after that, I was involved in a conversation about that same daughter’s Latin class. Again, those I was speaking took notice of the academic acumen of my 3rd grader.

To be frank, these two incidents were gratifying on a carnal level. Every dad wants to brag on his kid and it is even better when you don’t have to brag. “That’s right, a 3rd grader who knows Homer and translates Latin! Isn’t she impressive, and more importantly, aren’t I a great parent?” This is just sin, and there are pockets of my heart where this kind of sinful pride vies for sovereignty. Whatever your educational choice are for your children, you’ve got to watch out for these pockets of “I’m validated because of my kids education.” Ultimately, we–and our kids– can only be validated before God if we are justified by faith in Christ. The only identity that means anything–for eternity and now–is to be identified with Christ.

This, however, does not mean we shouldn’t care about our kids education. I don’t want to fan the flames of pride in my heart (or my daughter’s heart). Nor, do I want to craft a family identity based on our educational choices. However, I do want teach my kids to be learners because the Christian life requires learning. In fact, the word disciples simple means student learner.

In our situation, we have chosen to send our daughters to this particular school not because we are committed to a method of education (per se), but because we are committed to developing a Christian mind in our children. The method is not what drives our educational choices; biblical principles and goals are what motivate us. We want them to be “thinkers” so that they can submit their thoughts to Christ. In order for that to happen, they must accept the Gospel, which is why the Gospel is regular part of our daily conversations. In addition to conversion, we want our girls to have the mind of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 2:16).

In this same vein, J.I. Packer explains the 3-fold task of Christian reason (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 135):

  1. The first task is to receive the teaching of God.
  2. The second task… is to apply the teaching got God to life: to bring it into constructive relationship with out other knowledge and interests, and to work out its being on the practical problems of daily life and action–moral, social, personal, political, aesthetic, or whatever they may be.
  3. The third task of Christian reason is to communicate God’s truth to others.

I think that these three points are superb, and should inform the way you think about your intellect and your kid’s education. These should be the goals that are working for as you seek to raise of Christian thinker. Don’t serve a method of education, find a methodology that serves biblical principles and works toward biblical goals. I don’t want to boast in my kids’ education, I want my kids’ education to teach them to boast in Christ.

Reason & Revelation

Reason is indispensable for the Christian life because without understanding growth is impossible. God designed for us to be converted and conform to Christ through mind renewal. Romans 12:1-2 lays out the importance of the this process:

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.

As God’s truth permeates our minds, it imparts objective facts and it impacts our subjective thought process. In other words, God’s truth should fashion what we think and how we think. It provides us with the truth that we need to inform our thinking and to shape our wisdom. For this reason, and many more, an unreasoned Christian life is a deficient Christian life—the mind must be engaged.

That being said, we must never allow reason to rise to the level of authority. What does this mean? J.I. Packer incisively explains:

But all its many varieties spring from a single principle, namely, that the final authority for my faith and life is the verdict of my reason, conscience, or religious sentiment as I examine Scripture “what an open mind”, and measure it by what I have learned from other sources, historical, philosophical, religious and scientific. What under these circumstances reason and conscience say, what I find that “I feel”, that God says. (Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 50)

This kind of elevation can take place when theologians convene to determine what the historical Jesus actually said in comparison with what the Bible says, or when an individual Christian subconsciously decides that despite all that the Bible says about the trustworthiness of God anxiety is the proper course of actions. In both highhanded and everyday ways, we are prone to elevate our sensibilities to a place of authority.

The elevation of reason to a place of authority is a rebellious act and a devastating strategy for living the Christian life. Your mind (i.e., the way you think about life in its specifics and generalities) is bound by the will of God, not the other way around. At some point you must submit your reasoning to God’s revelation. As Packer contends, “those who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ are bound to accept the principle of biblical authority” (Ibid., 68).

If you won’t submit your reason to the authority of Scripture, you are walking by sight not by faith. This will never work because the Christian life requires faith. In fact, faith is the whole point of Christian reasoning. As God engages your mind with truth through the ministry of the Spirit, He is providing you with the content of your faith. If you don’t know what you believe, you don’t believe it. Your reason is not an end, it is a means to a god-ordained end—comprehensive and submissive faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reason is the servant, truth is the master, and faith is the goal.

Again, Packer’s perspective proves helpful:

Again, whether or not we call ourselves Liberal, we are all in fact inclined to subjectivism in out theology. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and the God-centered approach which the Bible makes to problems of life and thought is in the highest degree unnatural to the minds of sinful and self-centered men. It calls for a veritable Copernican revolution in our habits of thought, and is slowly and painfully learned. On the other hand, it is entirely natural for sinners to think of themselves as wise, not by reason of divine teaching, but through the independent exercise of their own judgment, and to try justify their fancied wisdom by adjusting what the Bible teaches to what they have already imbibed from other sources (“modern knowledge”). (Ibid., 70)

Slowly and, when necessary, painfully we must comprehensively submit our reason to the authority of the Bible.