Thursday, December 31, 2009

Puritan Classical Education Besmirched

Recently a Reformed magazine re-published Gary North's innocently titled "Classical Education." But the subtitle gives it away: Classical Christian Education is Like Marxist Christian Education, But a Lot More Subtle.

In his typical shocking manner, he contends that "at least a third" of Christian mothers have adopted a curriculum based on the worldview that endorsed homosexuality, polytheism, slavery, and female infanticide--pagan humanism.

Of course, being a short article steeped with unfounded generalizations and assumptions, it is not exactly clear what the author is condemning when he attacks 'Classical Education.' Such an education is a three-step process of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. And it teaches Latin. But it is the Latin that appears to be the focus of this diatribe:

"To force a child to learn Latin is to encourage him to accept the premises either of medieval Catholicism or the Renaissance"

The unspoken assumption is that learning a little Latin with edited sources will lead the child to read the entire Latin source--the sources being either the original Greeks and Romans or the medieval or Renaissance variations. Then the poisoning of the mind will be complete and humanistic elements will converge into a full-blown pagan worldview (or at least a severely retarded Christian world-view). As though that has not already happened before the popularity of Latin!

Assuming that the typical Christian has a weak grasp on the Biblical antithesis, this is a serious concern. And assuming that Latin is or can only be taught with the classics, this could be a concern as well.

Not only that, the poor near-sided Puritans imbibed the same sewage. North admits that the Puritans used the classical curriculum from the grammar schools to the universities (but fails to mention that Luther, Calvin, Knox, et. al. used it as well). More importantly, he fails to explain the cultural milieu in which the Latin (and the rest of the subjects) were taught.

The English society was homogeneous on a level modern Americans little comprehend. Even when the Puritans were outnumbered (most of the time), many of the laws and social expectations were strongly influenced by the Bible. The same schools that taught Latin, instructed in Bible reading, rehearsed the catechisms and reviewed the Sunday sermon. This religious instruction, integrated with the Protestant Gospel, included the work of the ministers (sermons, catechizing, weekly lectures and home visitations) and especially the household instruction, catechizing and devotions by the parents.

When the young are encircled by such a spiritual phalanx, learning Latin with edited texts was not a means to "separate Christian children from their parents." Not by a long shot.

On the other hand, such a culture no longer exists. And many self-proclaimed Christians are biblically ignorant on a scale that makes the Statute of Liberty appear like a toy doll. So, learning Latin (even without reference to the pagan sources at all) will do little and may even be harmful.

It is claimed that using such a method (or rather learning Latin?) for over 1800 years is a surrendering of education because it violates the Christian antithesis--isn't that what Van Til taught? Using the classical educational approach apparently imported "alien philosophical categories into the Church." Yet these 'categories' are never listed. And the historical "evidence" is vague at best. Many things are linked to unfaithfulness in the rise and fall of churches.

In fact, it is not exactly clear why using some useful tools of unbelievers (like learning a foreign language) is necessarily wrong or will necessarily lead to humanistic compromise. Much of the article is based upon a slippery slope assumption--a logical fallacy taught by unbelieving logicians everywhere. In fact, Aristotle first systematized logic--does that make it suspect? Perhaps the children learning logic may be tempted to read Aristotle?

Such an amazing effort to run Latin into the ground by asserting its negative affects in history leads to a curious logic: the last 150 years has seen the disappearance of Latin with a corresponding increase in secularism and decrease in confessional Protestantism. If this is the fruit of no Latin, give me Latin schools any day!

I do agree with him that a good dose of Calvin's Institutes is more needful than Latin. But then, do I have to have one without the other? Or cannot families and schools teach Latin and Greek (as they used to)?

More significantly, with all this hammering going on North has certainly hit upon something here. It is Calvinism that is needed now, not Latin. It is a renewed knowledge of the Law & Gospel thundered from the pulpit that is the crying need of the hour. To return to the good ol' days of educational superiority, families and churches need to ignore all the educational hype and turn to the good ol' confessions of yesteryear. Rather than hyping up the power of this or that curriculum or method, we ought to return our children to the lost tool of learning that should structure any legitimate method, the Puritan ABCs: Alphabet, Bible & the Catechism.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Ray/HSLDA Study on Homeschooler Achievement

"This post briefly reviews preliminary releases of the new study conducted by Brian Ray for HSLDA called “Homeschooling Across America: Academic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics.” The full study is scheduled for release in November 2009..."

(more here)

(for analysis of past studies, here)

Monday, December 7, 2009

IV. Means of Grace: Power of God

The previous installment demonstrated that the Bible was a beneficial instrument in the hand of the Spirit. Although God could use any means and transform man immediately, He choose to work conviction, conversion, growth, fellowship, sanctification--indeed, salvation as a whole--within the context of the Bible. The Spirit and the Word go together. Thus, to have more of the Spirit is to have more of the Bible.

However, having more of the Bible does not boil down to simply knowing more facts about it, but, like that prophet of old, Ezekiel, we need to consume it into our spiritual bodies (Ez. 3:3). It should move beyond mental assent or even factual acceptance to a heart-felt zeal and motivation. The Word of God is our honey, milk, bread and meat (Ps. 119:103, 1 Pet. 2:1-3, Is. 55:2, 3a, Heb. 5:12ff.). As a matter of fact, our dependence upon the Word of God is our dependence upon the Word of Christ, for the two are one. We cannot live without Christ and His Word. Physical eating is necessary for physical living; spiritual eating is necessary for spiritual living. Feeding upon Christ is so closely associated with the Word, that to eat the Word is to eat Christ. Jesus declares as much:

"Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you...Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"...[Christ said] It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:52ff).

This means that any other method used by men or Christians to build up the Body of Christ, but bypasses this fundamental truth, is defective and contrary to Christ. Contrary to the Roman Catholic and Lutheran dogmas in which the physical eating of the elements in the Lord's Supper brings spiritual vitality, the Bible declares that the Spirit, through the Word received by faith alone, communicates the life of Christ. Christ declared that it is not the physical act that brings life but that His words bring life. Neither the Sacraments per se nor any other physical act brings spirit and life but only the Words of Christ.

Of course, all of the means, including the Word, depend ultimately upon the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Yet to create and sustain that union with Christ, one must believe in Christ as portrayed in the promises of the Word. For whatsoever is not done in faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). So, when we pray, fast, fellowship or worship-whatsoever we do--we cling to Christ as found in the Word. He is not separated from the Word, but, as demonstrated previously, is so closely related to it, by the work of the Spirit, that the Word is called milk, honey, bread and even life.

These truths alone should spur us to greater depth of knowledge and breadth of practice. The Bible is the bedrock of our life, yielding a framework of action, a direction in life, and motivation unto holiness. This truth should be instilled in our children so that they might value the Word highly and to hide it in their hearts (Deut.4:9ff.). Why would we wish to have less of the Word? We are sure to eat three meals a day (besides snacks and dessert), or to exercise our bodies, but we don't think twice about how we can arrange our time to hear, read, memorize, study, proclaim and practice the life-giving Word.

Perhaps we don't fully comprehend its power in our lives. Perhaps we are ignorant of how necessary it is for our Christian walk. To receive the Sacraments we need to discern the Christ of the Bible; to pray in faith we need to recognize God's will in the Scriptures; to hide the Word in our hearts we need to know the Bible as we know our car manuals; to lead our families and children we need to accept our duties as expounded in the Word; to fellowship with one another we need the confidence that unity is based upon the Scriptures. Every facet of our life should be hemmed in and supported by, nay energized by, that food which is sweeter than honey, more fulfilling than milk and taster than a fillet-mignon.

Perhaps we don't feel up to the task of feeding upon the Word. One may not be quick on his feet; another may take days to digest what he heard; still others may feel slow and ignorant. These may be true, but God knows what our frailties and weaknesses are and He knows we can learn from His Word. He gives us helps to expound the Word in teachings and actions. Friends, family and church officers are part of that Family given to us. Yet it is especially the minister who is the head chief (under Christ) in God's kitchen: it is his duty to prepare nutritious and tasty meals from that lovely and fruitful garden of the Word. His office is most important in the Household of God because his duty and responsibilities are intimately tied to the Word of God.

If you want to grow, mature and fortify your soul, you need that weak and beggarly vessel of God. Ephesians 4:12ff. explicitly declares this truth. If you wish to grow from the Word, then you must take seriously those whose specialty is that Word. Thus, Catechism classes, Sunday School, and Bible Studies (and any other means to achieve more of Christ & His Word) have been the mainstay of many churches. We would do well to use these times--or make new times (lunch, breakfast, special meetings, etc.)--to aid our learning and living out of the Bible.

The Bible does not come down from heaven onto our laps and through the miracle of osmosis generate spiritual maturity and perseverance. Rather, the power of God is manifested through imperfect vessels, especially ministers. And of the many tasks of the minister in bringing the Word of Christ to His people (counseling, teaching, writing, living, etc.), preaching is one of the most potent and important tasks.

[Next: The Foolishness of God]

Understanding the Means of Grace Series:

I.   What Are They?
II.  Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V.  Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cursory Thoughts about "A Christian Education Manifesto"

Recently a commenter on this blog asked if I would evaluate Israel Wayne's A Christian Education Manifesto (here).

Instead of a thorough evaluation of this document (which would include an in-depth examination of the author's other works), I decided to mostly take it at face value: after all, is that not the intent of manifestos? To summarize to the world what one deems important.

At the outset, it ought to be noted that the manifesto is helpful in certain ways. Presumably he is writing against the many lazy parents in Christian households. The copious proof-texting (in both a good and bad sense) could help many of these families get their acts together. It also heavily critiques the secular public school system.

1. Upon a short examination of the writer's credentials, it is striking that a man with no known theological training and examination thought he could write such a broad-sweeping manifesto single-handedly. In the council of many there is wisdom.

2. Where is the church? With such a conspicuous absence of such an important institution in the lives of all family members the manifesto ought to be re-titled: A Christian Family Education Manifesto.

3. Although claiming a Biblical worldview background, it is not at all clear that listing Bible verses with minimal commentary suffices as a manifesto let alone something part of a worldview. In what ways are these unique (?) elements of a Christian worldview?

4. Unfortunately, this spartan commentary lends itself to absolutist language, e.g., "Instruction of the young is given to parents and grandparents."--only, mostly, what?

5. Exodus 20:12 section clearly speaks to the modernistic mentality in education but seems to impugn all "government" education (however vaguely defined). A knowledge of Christian history will demonstrate otherwise.

6. The same section essentially calls the early church, Medieval church and Reformation churches well into the late 1700s 'socialists'. This seems to be a more modernistic Libertarian viewpoint that bypasses any historical dialogue. I may be in favor of localism in education but I would hesitate to label all of Christian education history as 'socialistic'.

7. 2 Chronicles 17:7-10 clearly ties the kingship with the priest and lay-leader's educational efforts to good effect. At the least, one should cautiously evaluate such Biblical evidence before announcing broad-sweeping declamations.

8. The Deut. 6:7 comment is brief and thus vague: what is a "24/7/365 discipleship paradigm"? In some homeschooling circles such language and proof-texting leads to a "homeschooling-is-commanded-by-God" doctrine (or at least it is the best educational option [and who wouldn't want the best for God?]).

9. Common grace is a concept that appears to be decidedly missing in this document. "A Christian parent must not turn the leading of their child over to someone who is spiritually blind." So an unbelieving piano teacher cannot instruct my daughter? A better question is to ask what is the Biblical basis of this assertion.

10. I am glad that the revisionist approach to history is renounced. Unfortunately, in most Christian circles such revisionism still exists in the form of a Deistic interpretation of history that downplays any theological distinctions in Christendom (hint: how many know that America was substantially founded by Calvinism?).

11. What was suspect earlier (that only parents may instruct their own children) is now made explicit: "It is assumed that the father and mother are doing the teaching. No one else is mentioned in Scripture as having that role." No one else...not even ministers? godly deacons? what about catechizing children?

12. This leads to a point about equivocation: what is the definition of education? nurture? etc.? Either no one can educate other people's children (contrary to the Bible) or the author is using more than one definition without informing the reader.

13. Apparently the OT plays a selective role, hence the absence of Deut. 30:9ff: "So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel...gather the people together, men and women and little ones...that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess." The Great Commission comes to mind as well.

14. There is curious logic here as well. Proverbs 9:10 is argued thusly: "Government schools lack the fear of the LORD,therefore cannot properly transmit wisdom, knowledge,and understanding." Just fill in ignorant or unfaithful parents in place of government schools and similar reasoning can be invoked.

15. Such family-centric emphasis makes good Reformed and Presbyterian (and old-fashioned Reformed Baptists) wonder about the educational, modeling and instructional role of the whole community of God? Does not Titus 2 encourage the older women (no mention of mother here) to instruct the younger women. By commonality of principle (LCQ 99) the same would hold for men and boys.

16. A misunderstanding of statistics is a common problem in America. In this case the 65-88% number does not include the actual training accomplished (or not accomplished) at home and at church. If the families and churches are weak, then sending the child to college is a dangerous thing indeed.

17. The point about leaders leading by example with the training of their children is much needed. However, too many Christians ignore such leaders anyway, seeking out popular leaders or (inexperienced) young men with young children.

18. "Education must be predicated on the foundation of Christ, not on humanistic thought." AMEN.

19. Unfortunately, since this manifesto is not clearly Reformed, it is not clearly "predicated on the foundation of Christ." Calvinistic education is different than the run-of-the-mill education.

20. In fact, this manifesto supplements the author's more explicit teaching in Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview. One glaring problem in that book is a dangerous dance with legalism: "If parents focus on giving their children a Biblical worldview, I can assure you, their children will excel in everything they do. It's that natural cause and effect of the blessing of God. When we obey, we are blessed; we we don't, we are cursed" (p. 150, cp. 43, 13).

This is the moral summary of the author's approach--implicit in this document but explicit in his book.

The explicit Gospel message that we cannot obey and are cursed already is missing. Christians are sinners saved by grace so that even when we 'obey' we do not 'obey' enough to cause any blessing (Rom. 7:12ff.). If such a message is not the cornerstone of Christian education then Christian children will either grow up hypocrites or renounce the faith in anger as too many already do.