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.

Understanding the Holy Spirit

Eph 1:13-14 provides 4 descriptions of the Holy Spirit & His ministry that demonstrate His role in salvation and clarify a lot of confusion in the church today:

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

If you didn’t notice them, here are the 4 descriptions of the Spirit along with a link to the sermon I preached for each one:

I. The Spirit is the Seal of Salvation

Sealed in Christ
Sealed with Hearing & Believing

II. The Spirit is the Promised Spirit

A. Promise Required
B. Promise Revealed
C. Promise Repeated
D. Promise Realized
E. Promise Received

III. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit
IV. The Spirit is the Guarantee 

A. Guarantee that Obligates Full Salvation
B. Guarantee that Previews Full Inheritance
C. Guarantee that Anticipates Full Redemption

The Christian Inventory (Ephesians 1:7-12)

Ephesians 1:7-12 reveals 3 permanent possessions every Christ has in Christ. 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:7–12, ESV)


I. Redemption (v. 7) 

A. price of redemption: “In him we have redemption”

1. paid by the Beloved: “through his”

2. paid with blood: “blood”

B. result of redemption: “the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”

II. Revelation (vv. 8-10) 

A. capacity for revelation: which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

B. content of revelation: “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

III. Inheritance (vv. 11-12) 

A. inheritance secured: “In him we have obtained an inheritance”

1. secured by God’s predestination: “having been predestined”

2. secured by God’s purpose: “according to the purpose”

3. secured by God’s providence: “of him who works all things”

4. secured by God’s plan: “according to the counsel of his will”

B. inheritance realized

1. realized hope: “so that we who were the first to hope in Christ”

2. realized glory: “might be to the praise of his glory”

Pray for your pastor when he is “bogged”

As a preacher I found this statement from James Boice interesting and familiar:

Haven’t you felt that kind of discouragement yourself when you were in the middle of a particularly demanding job? I have. I often feel it when I am in the middle of writing a sermon. In fact, I have a term for it. I say to myself that I have “bogged,” meaning that I have bogged down. It is because the process of preaching a preparing a sermon is mentally and emotionally draining, and I frequently reach a point at which I no longer want to go on. If when I am felling like that I should receive an additional threat from outside, the combination of tiredness and fear or anxiety could easily make me stop what I am doing. We can fight against one enemy on one front, but it is hard to fight against two (or more) enemies simultaneously. (Nehemiah, 55)

The only thing I would change about this statement is that instead of often I would say weekly there is a point in my sermon prep in which I feel bogged. I hesitate to say this because I hate when pastors over dramatize their work, but it is hard to describe the mental, emotional, and spiritual energy required for faithful preaching. Sermon prep is very draining. The reality is that every pastor knows exactly what Boice is talking about. Each week the preacher must expect to press through the bog to get to the pulpit.

I say this as encouragement to those of you in the bog this week. You are not the only one who is tired and frustrated. As a Tom Hanks character once said, “it’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it.” Or, in a slightly more spiritual vein, the God who called you into His service will sustain you as you discharge your ministry.

I also want to exhort those who will be spiritually fed on Sunday because your pastor endured the bog. Please don’t make the bog thicker for him. Sure, you might have genuine complaints. I know for a fact that if you are reading this you have an imperfect pastor (especially if you’re from my congregation). But, more than likely, you also have a pastor who genuinely loves you even if he imperfectly demonstrates that love. Can you imagine if everyone in the church expected you to be all things to all people? Misplaced expectation can add layers and layers of mud to the bog of sermon prep. So does opposition. In fact, disunity and opposition are like pouring bags of cement into the bog. You can virtually guarantee an insufficiently prepared sermon by stirring up strife in the congregation.

So what can you do to help you pastor through the bog? Most importantly, you can pray for your pastor this week. Pray for his faithfulness, purity, courage, & illumination. When you get done with that, pray for wisdom, power, and love. At the same time, you can support him as a brother in Christ. You can do him a great service by treating him and his family (Don’t forget his family!) like friends not enemies. Don’t expect for him to possess every spiritual gift or preach like your favorite celebrity preacher. Appreciate the way God has gifted him and edify him so that he will be faithful in his preaching.

I am thankful to be the beneficiary of kind support such as this, and I can’t tell you how many times the Lord has used my congregation to pull me out of the bog.

If God is speaking to you, don’t listen…

God has spoken. God has revealed His truth in the Scripture definitively, clearly, inerrantly, infallibly, and sufficiently. There is a subtle and subversive danger in listening for another word, impression, or impulse. For one, the Bible doesn’t command us to look for more. Seriously, think about. Where in the Bible are we commanded to follow the private leading of God?  But there is an even bigger danger. You are probably listening to yourself not God. Daniel Doriani explains,

Uncontrolled meditation has few safeguards. Those who mediate hear many voices, not all of them divine. Recent readings and events weigh heavily. Worse, our hearts deceive us. Sinful desires and petty grudges contaminate our meditations. We are too blind to our ego, too ignorant of others’ needs, too prone to legalism, too dedicated to our own agendas to justify trusting our subjective impulses. The prowling mind can find evidence in almost every passage that what it wants, God ordains.

(Daniel Doriani, The Nature of Application, 28)

So how do we control our meditation and avoid this danger? By meditating on the object word of God found in the Bible. If God is speaking to you apart from the Bible then stop listening, because it is probably your own desires formulating the message. Don’t listen. In fact, stop looking private messages all together and join the Psalmist in saying, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps 119:7)

Kent Hughes on Holiness in the Christian Life

If your life is characterized by a pattern of conscious sin, you very likely are not a Christian. If some of your most cherished thoughts are hatreds, if you are determined not to forgive, you may not be a true believer. If you are a committed materialist who finds that your greatest joys are self-indulgence — clothing your body with lavish outfits, having all your waking thoughts devoted to house, cars, clothing, and comforts — you may not be a Christian. If you are a sensualist who is addicted to pornography, if your mind is a twenty-four-hour bordello — and you think it’s okay — you may very well not be a Christian, regardless of how many times you have “gone forward” and mouthed the evangelical shibboleths. Election ultimately results in holiness, but the process begins now. Are you concerned for holiness? Are you growing in holiness?


(R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990], 25-26)