My father, R.J. Rushdoony, frequently noted that culture was religion externalized; it was the outworking of religious faith. In terms of this we can also note that education is training in terms of a culture's religious faith. Education is not only in terms of truth, but in terms of assumptions (a faith) about how truth is known. Education is not, and never has been, about facts or data; it is about perspective, understanding, and an orientation toward interpreting data. Education is dictated by the religious faith of the educator. A changing faith alters meaning and produces a new educational dogma in the classroom.
Liberty and Education
Much of the education of the West has centered on the "liberal arts" curriculum. The word "liberal" comes from the same origin as the word "liberty." The "liberal arts" are, thus, those branches of learning dealing with liberty. Such a curriculum requires not only the definition of the nature of liberty, but also the more fundamentally religious understanding of why liberty is a worthwhile goal. A liberal arts education, then, requires a religious world and life view.
Liberty was virtually unknown in the ancient world. To the Greeks (and the Romans who imitated them), education's purpose was not liberty, but the serving of the needs of the state. Individual rights and needs were subordinated to those of the state. The so-called "rights" of the "democracy" of Athens were, in reality, the privileges of its oligarchs. Even the Apostle Paul's Roman citizenship did not prevent him from being imprisoned without charges for two years and eventually beheaded as a nuisance to the state.
Christianity opposed Roman claims, but not by disobedience. Christians simply acknowledged Christ's Lordship over that of Caesar. They even borrowed the term "gospel" from Rome, which had used it to describe the messianic coming to power of the emperor. The gospel was thus not just good news; it was the good news of the legitimate Lord and Savior come into His Kingdom. Early Christians went to their deaths rather than receive clemency by merely stating "Caesar is lord."
Christianity survived secular Rome and its total demands only to have a religious Rome claim to be the center of life and education. Religious Rome represented, as my father described it, a "new humanism," geared to ascendancy and control. Its scholarship reflected a return to Greek thinking in terms of Aristotle, not Scripture.1
The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was a radical break with Rome, but on more than just the doctrine of justification or the authority of the Roman Church. The Reformation was a stand by courageous men in terms of God's revelation of His Word in Scripture. The assumption that God had revealed Himself to men changed not just a few ideas in the West; it transformed the cultures it influenced. Modern science owes its origins to the Protestant Reformation. Technology was the result of a world and life view that man was to strive for dominion. Freedom from religious tyranny was applied in the political sphere; kings were declared to be subject to God's laws, not laws unto themselves.
The Enlightenment was an 18th century philosophical movement that represented a conscious move back to the ancient Greek humanism and its rationalism. The effects of the Reformation had spread so far that this counter-movement had far to go. The Enlighten-ment's early success was in Europe. The French Revolution and European rationalism were its fruits. The United States held out much longer.
The United States owes its origins to extensive religious migrations which began a generation after the Reformation and which continued for several generations. The dominant religious force in the early years was English Puritanism, which produced, arguably, some of the best applications of Protestant thought to society. Puritan thought controlled New England and had a strong influence, via Presbyterianism, in many of the other colonies. Much later, America's first great Western migration (to the Ohio River Valley) came from the descendants of these Puritan fathers. Insulated from Europe, America developed a very Protestant, scripturally-oriented culture. America's nature as a pioneering society established a more Biblically-based Christian culture than any in Europe. The United States was, in effect, the high-water mark of the Protestant Reformation. The effects of Enlightenment thinking had become evident early in 18th century America in those who were well read and influenced by its humanism, but others recognized its antithesis to Christian thought and rejected it. The mass of American culture was little influenced in the Enlightenment rationalism that swept Europe.
America's insulation from Enlightenment thinking was not complete, and its resistance began to erode, though slowly at first. Not too surprisingly, the opening was provided by the religious decline which began in old Puritanism's center, New England. Apostasy, in the form of Unitarianism, took root there. Pietism and other "spiritualized" forms of (or rather, limitations on) Christianity caused the church's self-conscious retreat from concern with culture, a trend that was readily apparent by the end of the 19th century. Christians retreated to a self-defined enclave, and humanistic ideologies of various sorts rushed in to fill the vacuum.
Many of the ideas which challenged the Christian faith and its American social structures were at war with one another. That is to be expected. Sin and rebellion are always destructive. Nature (and natural law) was presented as an alternative to God and His law. Darwin gave a supposedly scientific explanation of this naturalism but, in the process, destroyed nature as a source of law by making it wholly controlled by randomness. Nature was arbitrary, which meant it held no law; law became a pragmatic creation of man. Liberty was, of course, subject to new definition. Liberty became a freedom from moral absolutes. Some of the most prominent writers of the 19th and 20th centuries began calling Christianity itself the real enemy of freedom. When schools and families were found to be bastions of Christian thought, it was deemed necessary to society that schools be brought under the "progressive" leadership of experts. Without a strong and applied faith in Scripture, America put its trust in politicians and educators who increasingly took control of education, first in teachers' colleges, and eventually in every aspect of curriculum and administration. America's public schools went down the road that ended in their becoming state schools.
Few objections were heard from Christians, except for occasional tardy calls to "reform" the public schools. Many Christian churches had bought into the Enlightenment's rationalism in the form of modernism. Even conservative Christianity's retreat into pietism and antinomianism was followed by its virtual wholesale adoption of a pre-tribulation, rapture eschatology. All that was left of Christian culture was its traditional trappings, which fell with little resistance in rapid succession as the 20th century progressed. In expectation of imminent rapture from the decadence of the world, much of American Christianity saw Christian resistance or counter-measures as themselves acts of apostasy. "Thank God for all this evil," many repeated, "It means Jesus is coming back soon." A great mass of American Christians, who considered themselves conservative and Bible-believing, refused to enter the fight against secular humanism.
The forces of humanism thus rapidly filled the vacuum after American Christianity's cultural retreat. A counter-measure in the 20th century Christian schools, first begun by Lutheran and Dutch Reformed denominations, began exploding in numbers in the 1960s, fighting opposition from the state as well as established churches, some of which treated Christian educators as themselves enemies of the gospel.
What Christians Must Do
The advance of Christian education since the 1960s has been noteworthy. Unfortunately, the forces of pietism and antinomianism have reared their heads in many successful schools, some of which are content to be academically compromised spiritual safe-havens. Homeschoolers have led the movement for more radical reform of education. It is time for both types of Christian education to advance the reconstruction of Christian education and, thereby, Christian culture. Christian education in the U.S. has not matured. If it has, it is in trouble. I hope, rather, that it is currently still in its growing pains, and that its maturation is still well ahead of us. It has come a long way, based on the faith and dedication of many pioneers. Its hope for the future is in continued growth.
Christian education must return education to the Reformation perspective that Scripture speaks to science, law, government, and all else. When it has done that it must take such disciplines to the next level, developing them with a conscious desire to bring them under the dominion of Scripture and its Lord.
Christian education must go beyond teaching the Bible; it must make God's Word the touchstone of every discipline. Christian education must go beyond good theology (the study of God) to being theocentric (God-centered). It must, therefore, abandon its antinomianism and recognize all of Scripture to be God's eternal law-word.
Christian education must renounce "social studies" as a discipline of secular humanistic social engineering and teach history. In doing so it must not glamorize every evil civilization just because it built monuments to its greatness. History books are full of such nonsense. History is a battle between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan. The manifestations of the former are seen in Scripture and in His people of today; the representatives of the latter are legion. We can learn of the great ethical battle between the two Kingdoms, and our own standing therein, in the Kingdom parables of our Lord.
Christian education has much work to do in science. It is not enough to reject evolution; we must reject the whole philosophy of naturalism which controls psychology, sociology, anthropology, geology, etc. We must return to the understanding that created modern science, the belief that God's creation can be understood because He is a God of law.
Christian education must take language beyond the mechanics of sentences, and teach communication as a gift of the God who created us, revealed Himself to us, and describes Himself in terms of words. It is not enough to go back to the standards of the 1950s, or 1930s, the 1880s, or any other period. We must, ultimately, seek to surpass those eras. This process may take several generations.
Christian education must be towards a purpose. Providing a "spiritually safe" environment is a defensive and defeatist strategy. Children will only be safe if they are trained to be active warriors for the Kingdom of God and His Christ. We need young adults who are determined to carry on the pioneering work of Christian education and to pioneer more such efforts in every sphere of life and thought. We need self-governed, covenant-thinking, future-oriented servants of God who will exercise dominion in their own lives, families, vocations, and communities.
Christian education needs to raise up a generation that seeks freedom in God, not from God, one that sees the necessity of personal dependence on Him and the interdependence of men under His law.
Christian education is the beginning of an historic watershed, which seems primed to do great things. First, however, the Christian church must renounce the retreatism that opened the floodgates of secular humanism and even opposes, yet, any counter to humanism. The failure of the church began our problem. God has promised that the gates of hell shall not hold against the advance of Christ's Kingdom. All that is required is that God's people remain faithful to His Lordship, and reject man's quest to "be as gods." Christian educators are the Joshuas and Calebs before the Promised Land — ready to move forward in terms of God's Word. We need not wander in the wilderness any longer. It is time to move forward and see God's victory. By God's grace, that is what shall happen.
1. R. J. Rushdoony, A Christian Survey of World History(Ross House Books, P.O. Box 67, Vallecito, CA 95251), chp. 14, "The New Humanism."
Topics: Education, Culture , American History, World History