My toddler daughter loves oatmeal. Sort of. She loves the flavors available — scrumptious maple sugar, apple, cinnamon roll, and (lest we forget) tasty vanilla. She loves the satisfying feeling that comes from appeasing those early morning hunger pangs. I hope she loves the time spent with her father feeding her. But sometimes she tries to take matters into her own hands. Literally. She’ll grab the spoon, dig into the gooey dish, when — horror of horrors — some of the oatmeal actually sticks to her pristine fingers! When such a calamity occurs, breakfast stops. Everything stops until I restore normalcy by removing the offending oatmeal and cleansing her fledgling digits. Only then can she return to eating with an indignant look that shouts, “How dare this oatmeal stick to my hand!”
It’s funny when the world of my two-year old daughter collapses because she gets her hands dirty. But it’s tragic when students who have graduated from Christian schools do the same thing — not with oatmeal, but with a culture that is craving Christ.
Too often, Christian educators send students into a sinful world woefully unprepared to deal with the sticky, sinful philosophies waiting to assail them. Such students may function tolerably until they realize that reality refuses to cooperate with their Christian agenda. Quite the opposite, the young minds soon find the sinful world is doing all it can to frustrate and destroy them. And so they simply stand stupefied, startled by sinful thinking that they never dreamed existed to such a patently pernicious degree. Many do not survive the ordeal with their faith intact.
How foolish and shortsighted, yet prevalent, is such a predicament in the body of Christ today. Perhaps we can see the lunacy of the matter a bit more clearly if we consider the fate of a soldier sent into battle with little or no knowledge of the enemy. How long would such a warrior last, however strong his patriotic zeal, with no knowledge of the enemy’s strategies, weaknesses, weapons, or positions? About as long as an auto mechanic who has no knowledge of carburetors and pistons, his only qualification being that he has driven cars before and never had a problem.
A fundamental cause of this problem may be the blind faith often required of students by Christian educators, parents, and churches. Far too many youths are told to shut up and sit down (both implicitly and explicitly) when daring to question the beliefs being passed down to them. Consequently, the sincere student is left with one of three options: 1) ignore the restrictions and continue to question silently; 2) shut up, sit down, and just cling to blind faith; or 3) reject the Faith entirely as being indefensible since even those who are teaching it are apparently incapable of its defense.
But should we be afraid of questions, even those queries that, if answered sloppily, would negate the truths of Christianity? By no means. In fact, we should welcome them. Jesus did. Certainly, he had His fair share of sinfully motivated questions from the Pharisees, yet He never failed to defend the truth, even if it meant confronting the interlocutor on the state of his own heart. Nor did His patience fail when challenged by Thomas’ inquiring mind. Far from it, he willingly showed the doubting disciple His punctured hands, feet, and side. The Puritan preacher Richard Baxter has rightly said that nothing is so firmly believed as that which has once been doubted.
So what are we afraid of? When students ask (and they should ask1 ), should not we, as teachers, parents, and pastors, be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us? Of course. God’s Word is clear. Yet we seldom are capable of answering. By failing to defend the Faith ourselves, we compound our sin by shortchanging our sacred trusts, leaving them ill prepared to obey the command themselves.
The solution to this inadequacy is simple. We must follow the example of Paul who very nearly persuaded King Agrippa to be converted. How many of our young people today could stand before rulers and “damn their treacherous flatteries without winking?”2 On the Areopagus in Athens, Paul poignantly demonstrated that if one is to defend the Faith, he must do two things: know the truth, and know the untruth.
Know the Truth
Jehovah told Hosea that “My people perish for lack of knowledge,” and we would be wise to presume He knew what He was talking about (Hos. 4:1-6). 3 Quite simply, we cannot defend what we do not know. A teacher cannot explain the theological basis for all truth and reality, if he himself does not know that the very nature of the infinite yet personal God is our bedrock of certainty. He cannot adequately respond to questions of the history of man if he has not first understood what God has revealed of His own eternal plans for redemption and mankind. He cannot adequately explain continuity in reality if he does not first comprehend the eternal One and Many that is our Triune God. On an even more obviously practical note, the teacher cannot adequately deal with questions of discipline if he is not first grounded in the covenantal nature of such actions. But knowing what it is we are defending is not enough.
Know the Untruth
When Paul stormed the gates of Hell on that hallowed philosophical hill of the Greeks, he knew his opposition well, as evidenced by his salient strategy. He cited phrases from the Stoics’ favorite authors to make his points. He invoked their own terminology to communicate truth. In short, he knew the fallacies he faced. He knew how they came to be, who espoused them, and why they were wrong. Knowing Paul’s intellectual acumen and academic training, we are hard-pressed to doubt that he knew their philosophical systems better than they did themselves.4 His is an example worthy to be emulated. “For a full-orbed Christian witness, we should strive to understand and be able to respond to those who would subvert doctrine within the church.”5
Barriers to Success
In spite of this simple, Biblical formula to success being so evident, we can anticipate barriers to implementing such a strategy. Don’t be alarmed, Jesus warned us about it. “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”(Jn. 16:33 NKJV).6
So what are the barriers and how do we overcome them?
One malaise facing us in our struggle to prepare the next generation is that, like Lou Costello from the comedy duo Abbott and Costello, teachers often don’t know what they’re talking about. Unfortunately, unlike Lou Costello, most teachers won’t admit it. To be sure, many have education degrees. Many have studied the psychoanalytical methods of nurturing and building self-esteem in students. Many have even become familiar with a few words like postmodern and relativism. But when it comes to defending the Faith to the depths required by an adolescent’s inquiring mind, many educators fall short. Instead, educators often prefer to focus on the process rather than the product to define success.
What can we do? Simple — expect more. Too often in Christian education circles, we cater to a “struggling servant” mentality. Such a mentality rightly recognizes the heavy load often placed on under-paid Christian educators at home and in school. But such a mentality responds by relaxing the expectations to accommodate for the burden. Hence, we show mercy on the struggling servant by dismissing incompetence with an understanding, “Just do what you can, and we’ll be grateful for what we can get.” But are such allowances Biblical? “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me...for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”(Mt. 11:28-30).7 Struggling joyfully as servants for Christ is the Christian way of life. It does not require special accommodations but rather edifying aid in dying daily to self, taking up the cross, and following Him.
One way that an educator can address his lack of understanding is by becoming an avid reader. The teacher, who ceases to learn, soon ceases to teach.8 Another way is for schools to use in-services productively, not as rest times but as challenging and stimulating educational times for the teachers. In this way, individual teachers can be called to present facets of their particular studies to the rest of the staff who then begin to see the big picture in Christian education. Summers, the traditional offseason for educators, should also be viewed in a new light — as a time of rest from the daily grind of the classroom, but also as a time of recharging the intellectual and spiritual batteries for the next leg of the marathon. Summer should be when the teacher “goes to school.”
Let’s face it. It is the parents’ duty to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Consequently, it is ultimately the parents’ job to make certain their children are prepared to defend their faith against all attacks. We must strive then to make Christian education a parental rather than a professional enterprise.9
But many parents, if they were humbly honest, would confess their own inability to defend the Faith. In short, they are ignorant in these vital areas themselves, thus they seem lifeless, uninterested, or even afraid of what they cannot comprehend. Although some earnestly try to grasp a cogent understanding of the truth, many parents simply shrug their shoulders and mutter something pharisaical, pious, and paranoid such as, “Beware of vain philosophies.”
What can we do? Speak the truth in love. As educators are able, they should lovingly challenge parents to fulfill their divine duties in overseeing the education of their children. Schools should get parents involved intentionally, not just behind the scenes but also in the classroom. Schools or home education groups could sponsor seminars, perhaps led by teachers or members of the group on various philosophies and approaches to defending the Faith. Special speakers could address certain core issues thoroughly. In short, part of the longrange vision of any educational endeavor should be the education and involvement of the parents as well as the students.
Parents don’t ask. Pulpits don’t tell. Too many churches have abandoned their Biblical role of challenging God’s people to grow in the grace and knowledge of God and instead have resorted to pampering them in their plush pews. The pulpits offer milk exclusively in message, music, and ministry, depriving parents of the intellectual meat they need to do their divinely-mandated job. Seldom seen are preachers like Jonathan Edwards, generally assumed to be one of the greatest minds in American history.10 In his place, we find an affable business manager who can’t even spell existentialism, let alone denounce its devastating effects on the church.
What can we do? Parents, schools, and churches should form a symbiotic relationship, each fulfilling its role in the kingdom by assisting the others to do their duties. Churches should actively pursue pastors with intellectual acumen and the character to match. Elders should likewise be continually challenged to grow in their own understanding and ability to defend the Faith, although not necessarily through seminary programs. They are educators too, after all, and must be “able to teach” as a minimum requirement of holding the office.
Churches must take a stand on Christian education, breaking out of the pathetic and wimpy fog that presents atheistic education as one legitimate option among many at the educational buffet. Churches must teach fathers to take responsibility for the Biblical education of their families. As Steve Schlissel has said, preach to children, you get children; preach to fathers, you get families. Churches should take the initiative, perhaps in Sunday school settings, to train their people to know the truth and the untruths. Unfortunately, many families often accomplish this feat in spite of, not because of, the teaching of the church they attend.
Defending the Faith is not optional. Training the next generation to know the truth better than we do is only the beginning of our duty. We must be willing to dirty our hands if we are to be in the world but not of it. No matter the barriers, no matter the cost, our Commander-in-Chief has given us an order to be ready to answer every question. Enough excuses. Let’s get to it.
2. “God Give Us Men” by Josiah Gilbert Holland.
4. Dr. John Gerstner named Paul as one of the top five of the greatest minds in the Ancient world, if not in all of history. I see no reason to disagree.
5. Gentry, Kenneth L., He Shall Have Dominion (ICE: Tyler, TX, 1992), 31.
7. For a challenging look at this verse and others on the theme of being a disciple of Christ read Christ’s Call to Discipleship by James Montgomery Boice, published by Kregel Publications, 1986.
8. For a more thorough explanation of this thought see “The Teacher as Student” in The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum by R.J. Rushdoony (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1981), 132-135.
9. Adams, Jay, Back to the Blackboard: Design for a Biblical Christian School (Timeless Texts: Woodruff, SC, 1982), 79.
10. Edwards is a prime example of a minister with a fullorbed faith. His work often referenced applications to the sciences including his treatises on physics, biology, and — of all things — spiders. For a superb treatment of Edwards as a student read Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Ian Murray, published by Banner of Truth Trust, 1987.