The Purpose of Learning

By R. J. Rushdoony
August 01, 2003

It is a deadly error on the part of the Christian school to assume that its task is similar to that of the "public" or government schools with the Bible added to it. There are no common sets of facts that are shared by both Christians and non-Christians. If we simply reproduce the same facts, we reproduce the same religion of humanism as that of the state schools.

But, some might object, can we not agree that Columbus "discovered" America in 1492? As a matter of fact, we must dissent with the whole interpretation of that event. For us as Christians the facts are very different. Humanistic historians give us an economic motive, but Columbus had a very different goal. He was out to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah; his eschatology was postmillennial. The gospel had to be carried to the far corners of the earth. He also believed that some "lost" tribes of Jews might dwell in the unknown lands, and he therefore took along an interpreter of Hebrew on his first voyage.1 A Christian motive was present in virtually all the explorers, Pizarro being a notable exception. Louis B. Wright, in God, Glory, and the Gospel (1970) gives needed attention to this Christian motive in exploration, but none have yet studied its theological foundations. This Christian scholarship must do. The near coincidence of exploration and the Reformation is not an accident: both have a common theological source.

Facts and learning do not exist in a vacuum. There is always a context, and what that context is will depend on our religious faith and presuppositions. No fact exists in and of itself. When we ask the question, "What are the facts?," we are presupposing what the facts are that we seek. Thus the facts of the physical universe differ widely for a humanist, a Christian, and a Hindu. For the humanists, all factuality is a product of chance evolution: all facts are thus ultimately meaningless, and their only reality is a physical one, and an irrational one. For the Christian, all factuality is God-created and the product of His eternal purpose; all facts are thus totally rational, because the mind of God is behind them, and their reality is thus more than physical and natural. For the traditional Hindu, all factuality is really illusion, because nothingness is ultimate; all things are burdened with Karma, and their goal is release from the illusions of this world into final nothingness. What we call facts is determined by our faith.

What Is Learning?

What constitutes learning for us is also determined by our faith. Leonard tells us:

Learning itself is life's ultimate purpose. This assumption has grave implications. If it is true, anyone who blocks learning, especially in a small child, is guilty of an enormous crime. The crimes against humanity, like the causes men are willing to fight and die for, do not appear all at once, absolute and sharply defined. Crimes and causes emerge gradually out of the clay of human experience.2

As a humanist, Leonard sees the subject matter of learning in humanistic terms.

Glock and Stark see the new source of divine revelation as science:

There is a growing willingness to acknowledge that divine revelation is dynamic rather than static and that science may be the source of new revelations of divine purpose.3

They have no Christian conception of "divine revelation" in this statement. Their ideas come largely from Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man (1959). While they avoid commenting about the future of orthodox Christianity, their general tenor makes clear that they see little place for it in man's future:

The more fundamental question posed by the prospect of additional scientific knowledge about nature and about man is what its effect will be on the saliency of religion. If there is truth to the general theme we have been pursuing, there is the possibility that no one will care whether God exists or not because he will become irrelevant to everyday existence. If what can be attributed to God's will is made narrower and narrower, and if man's accountability for his own actions is found to be more and more circumscribed, religion seems destined to lose much of its power to inform and guide the human condition.4

By "religion" the authors obviously mean Christianity; they themselves write as religious men, as devout humanists.

For such humanists, learning will be either for man's sake, or for society's sake. Leonard speaks of learning for learning's sake, but his view of learning is humanistic and a smorgasbord of individualistic and collectivist standards.

A Humanistic View

In any case, a humanistic view of education creates a set of facts alien to God's world and in conformity to man's goals. To illustrate, before the partition of India, Jawaharlai Nehru, in his world history, had no desire to offend Moslems. As a result, in writing about the massacre of Armenians by Turks in World War I and earlier, he actually said that "the truth" about the matter was that, probably, the Armenians massacred the Turks! This flagrant lie is a kind common to modern historiography. Desmond Stewart, in Life's book on Turkey refers to the massacres as a power struggle "between Turks and Armenians of the possession of Anatolian lands."5

For humanists, in other words, facts are what their personal predilections require them to be. Buchanan has called attention to this aspect of current reporting on Africa. A riot in South Africa is a front-page story about the horrors of South African racism. In Ethiopia, students are killed en masse by dynamiting, or by throat cutting, and most papers say nothing about this and other horrors in black Africa. 6 The Christian must condemn evil wherever it exists, including himself, because his yardstick is not man but God and His Word.

Everything that the state school teaches is governed by an overriding premise, that man can be served, not God. Man can be interpreted collectively or individually, but, in any case, it is humanism.

The Christian View

For us, however, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." This must also be the goal of our education. We are called in Christ to be a royal and priestly people (Rev. 1:6). This means exercising dominion in every area of life and thought under God. As prophets in Christ, we declare the meaning of God's Word for all of life. As priests, we bring all things to the Lord and dedicate them to the service of His Kingdom. As kings, we exercise authority and dominion in every sphere of thought and activity in the name of Christ our King.

The ungodly live and educate in terms of the great illusion propagated by the tempter, that man is his own god, able to determine for himself, in terms of his own man-made laws, what constitutes good and evil (Gen. 3:5). For us, there is no such problem: God's law-word is our standard, and the Lord alone is God. We educate in terms of this reality.

Thus, we cannot allow any element of humanistic education to govern our Christian schools. Humanistic schools belong to the world of antichrist, and we to the world of Christ our Lord. We have different Saviors, and different plans of salvation. We have also a very different kind of education.

1. Simon Ursenthal, Salts of Hope (Macmillian: New York, NY, 1973), 171ff.

2. George B. Leonard, Education and Ecstasy (Delacorte Press: New York, NY, 1968), 216.

3. Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark, Religion and Society in Tension (Rand McNally: Chicago, IL, [1965] 1971), 290.

4. ibid., 306.

5. See Desmond Stewart, Turkey (Time, Inc.: New York, NY, 1965), 29.

6. Patrick J. Buchanan, "Hypocritical Coverage," in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, July 4, 1977, A-10.

Topics: Education, Philosophy

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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