What's Right about Christian Education Today
For Christian education in America, the "Battle is the Lord's," and the victory and glory belong to Him. In this knowledge, Rev. Rushdoony, the founder of Chalcedon, gave a great portion of his energies toward the support of Christian education. He saw the rapid growth of the Christian education movement as a very positive sign. He believed that this movement would lead toward the restoration in America of the Word of God as the standard of education and living.1 This movement is necessary, he said, because of America's long adoption of Pietism, the religious movement of the 1800s. Rev. Rushdoony observes, "As a result, relevance to the world and to knowledge came to mean secularism, and the church moved from a theocentric orientation to a man-centered and experiential emphasis. The result was a surrender of the world and of education to humanism."2 Today, because of Rev. Rushdoony's and many others' work, the educational landscape appears much brighter. We now see increasing expressions of Biblical thinking among Christian educators.
What Constitutes Rightness in Christian Education?
Religion expresses ultimate concern, and education primarily intends to school persons in the ultimate values of a culture.3 For the Christian, this means the knowledge of God, His ways, and His requirements of and provision for men. We will limit our consideration to several distinguishing characteristics of this ideal Christian education. First, true Christian education necessarily includes a thoroughly Biblical view of life in all areas of devotion and endeavor. "The function of education and of the curriculum was the preparation of man to glorify God, to enjoy Him, and to serve Him in and through a chosen calling."4 Second, Christian education ought to provide the skills necessary to take dominion over every area of life because of the Lordship of Christ.5 The hazards of godly enterprise associated with Christian dominion additionally require a sturdy character corresponding to faith. Third, Christian education must teach an understanding of Christian liberty and the skills needed to recover and maintain it. "A liberal arts curriculum is thus a practical answer to the question, What is liberty? And, How does a man prepare himself to be a free man?"6 Fourth, where Christian education is true to its mission, we ought to observe its good qualities in curricular materials.
A word regarding the nature of influence and change is in order. Change comes hard to human beings. God made us so. Too rapid change may be equated to revolution, destroying the old ostensibly to establish the better and new. However, revolution typically replaces the old evil with a new one. Thus, Biblical change is never revolutionary. Christians ought not despise the day of small things. Christians are to husband the soil, plant the seed, and let the Lord bring the increase in due season. To the degree that Christian education moves toward establishing its Biblical distinctives, Christian education is doing right. Therefore, with any positive sign of the Lord's work and its concomitant blessings, we ought to rejoice.
The Biblical Christian Educational Landscape
In order to answer the question What's right about Christian education today? we have sought opinions of a sampling of Christian worldview leaders and educators.
Without exception, our interviewees claim a rigorous adherence to Scripture as the sole foundation for their work. For example, longtime Christian pastor Dr. Kenneth Gentry, now Dean of Faculty and Professor of Systematic Theology of the soon-to-open Westminster Classical College in Elkton, Maryland, says that the school "is founded for the purpose of promoting life-long learning on the unshakable foundation of God's revelation in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments." Again he says, "we will endeavor to interpret political, economic, social, and civil issues from within a biblical grid, giving due prominence to the Law of God."
James B. Rose is founder and president of the American Christian History Institute and superintendent of the American Christian Academy Extension Campus, a home school support organization serving over 500 families in Northern California. Mr. Rose is representative of our interviewees' belief in the application of Scripture to all human endeavors:
My philosophy of education, methodology and curriculum is predicated upon the capacity of the individual to search the Scriptures for the Biblical principles of a subject, deduce inferences justly from Bible doctrine, expound these truths to the student through the subject, and record how these principles were applied to daily life and living.
Furthermore, Mr. Rose aptly observes, "There is a cause-effect relationship between Christ, Biblical Christianity and American liberty, self-government and private property." These principles have served as the basis of Mr. Rose's local and national educational ministry efforts for over thirty years.
The very existence of Reformed Christian worldview foundations is encouraging. Chalcedon itself is a pioneering work designed to claim the crown rights of Jesus Christ in every sphere of life and to educate toward temporal and eternal citizenship in His Kingdom. Furthermore, though numbers of adherents remain small, anecdotal evidence is encouraging. Ralph Barker of American Vision says he recently spoke to a lady who heard him speak over 15 years ago. His sermon on God and government prompted her now life-long active involvement in politics and Christian education. Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho and founder of Logos School and New Saint Andrew's College, says:
The central thing that Christian education has done right is to recover the concept of distinctively Christian education. The abandonment (on a large scale) of government education by Christians is one of the most heartening developments in centuries. We have moved from debating whether Christian education is necessary to debates over which form of Christian education best fits the biblical requirements. This is enormous progress, in my view.
Pastor Wilson has watched his Association of Classical and Christian Schools experience "remarkable growth over the last ten years."
The Nehemiah Institute founded by Christian manufacturer Dan Smithwick represents a fascinating development in Christian education. Mr. Smithwick, concerned over the lack among Christians of a Biblical understanding of the major spheres of life, formulated the PEERS test of Christian worldview applied to politics, education, economics, religion, and social issues. Although Mr. Smithwick has published his concern over the trend toward lower (more humanistic) scores from the PEERS test among public and mainstream Christian school students, the small but strong minority of high scorers (representing a more Biblical world view) is a good reason for hope. Indeed, the fact that the PEERS test itself finds increasing acceptance among Christians and Christian educators, in particular, is encouraging. Over the last three years annual sales of the Nehemiah Institute have doubled. Moreover, the Institute now receives requests for their worldview workshops from people who ten to fifteen years ago rebuffed Institute initiatives.
Other anecdotal evidence seems to reveal increasing good fruit. For example, a renewed interest in preserving the holiness of marriage has led to the active self-restraint of courtship replacing casual dating among increasing number of Christian young people. Several books encourage and instruct in courtship. Another area of Biblical Christianity invading the secular mainstream is the renewed recognition of the family as the primary and best socializing institution. Home school educators in particular are making a stand for training proper social skills the practical loving of one's neighbor as oneself.
In my own work as an educator, I recall that in 1980 the Christian worldview education market was small, and little methodology or curriculum existed. Instead, utilizing examples from early America's Christian era and contemporary applied Biblical scholarship, we first forged a basic curriculum and a covenantal basis for serving families. We also forged a small market for our educational offerings through teaching Biblical worldview concepts. Upon the obvious results we saw early on, more and more families desired those results and were willing to grow with us. We found very young children learning to read and write and speak with skill, without duress, and loving the work we asked them to do. We found they loved the liberty born of doing what is right. Scholastic Achievement Test scores indicated these students were on average one to two years ahead of the national norm, and often four years or more ahead. In 1994, the PEERS test showed our ninth through twelfth grade students scoring among the top scoring seniors nationwide. More importantly, we have seen our adult graduates make quiet but strong contributions to the communities in which they live. Most went to college. Almost all found excellence of achievement in their areas of calling. These former students are now rearing families of their own, ready to pass their Biblical character and accomplishment on to the next generation. Now, wherever we take our message, we find a growing, strong, healthy minority of folks, providentially prepared to receive it with joy and appreciation.
Where Christian education appears increasingly right is the founding of major Christian worldview colleges. Just as the colonists of the Bay Colony founded Harvard College to prevent an ignorant clergy, Christians today are founding new campuses. We already mentioned Westminster Classic College and New Saint Andrews College, both examples of self-consciously "classical" and Biblical institutions. Christ College in Lynchburg, Virginia has promoted a self-consciously Biblical curriculum for students for several years. Similarly, Patrick Henry College declares its purpose is "to train Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding." This they intend to accomplish through "a commitment to a high priority on biblical Truth, Christian character, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every aspect of instruction and college life."
The ideas of Biblical worldview education are spreading to other seminal and visionary organizations. Professor Walter Lewke, Associate Professor of education at the influential and venerable institution, Hillsdale College, says:
When I am able to effect a bridge between class work and Scripture, I do most heartily. Scripture knowledge causes me to be very careful in selecting class materials for my students. Being an academic psychologist I am most concerned that I don't pass on, uncritically, the skepticism, relativism, and secular humanism that run rampant through the American Psychological Association and through college and university departments of psychology.
The Association of Christian Schools International clearly represents mainstream evangelical Christian education with its 5,148 member schools with enrollments of over one million students internationally. ACSI's mission statement declares "Christian school students worldwide will acquire wisdom, knowledge, and a biblical world view as evidenced by a lifestyle of character, leadership, service, stewardship, and worship." Recent issues of ACSI's Christian School Education journal show encouraging expressions of this mission. For example, while still referring to the humanistic discipline of "social studies," one may find refreshing Dale Walden Johnson's exhortation that Christian educators "must obey the biblical imperatives in both word and deed".7 He cites the American Puritans as a positive example in taking the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:26 seriously and dedicating "themselves to dominating the entire culture under God." Similarly, another author cites the dominion mandate with respect to the necessity to learn mathematics as its instrument.8 In an article for an issue dedicated to language arts, the author informs the reader that "Human language is a unique gift from God to be used in the service of God." Moreover, he identifies the learner of language in Biblical terms.9 While yet somewhat sporadic, one may increasingly find such true Biblical orientation in the literature.
As to curriculum content, much work remains. We see the very healthy move toward original source materials and classics very much in evidence. These works are increasingly available. However, Christian education publishers have yet to produce a broad range of easily accessible materials.
A great army is growing: Christian educators acting out of deep conviction of the centrality of Christ and His Word, as against the vain imagination of man. While these men and women of God are yet few, their influence grows. These vocational warriors and their home education counterparts continue both to fill the devout home and to flow evermore into the mainstream. As the work ultimately belongs to the Lord and His Providence, we observe much that is right about Christian education and therefore maintain a good hope, for "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).
As a parting thought, consider James Rose's exhortation:
It is no accident that greater expressions of American Christian scholarship are emerging in this century to meet the need of Christian parents and teachers to think deeply and practically about educating their children. The need of the hour is for Christians to renew their mind and displace a servile fear of Satan and socialism with the proper fear of God and His immediate, ever present Providence.
1. Rousas Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1981), v.
2. Rushdoony, 12.
3. Rushdoony, 3.
4. Rushdoony, 8.
5. Rushdoony, 27.
6. Rushdoony, 4, emphasis in the original.
7. Dale Walden Johnson, "The Bible, Christian Theism, and the Integration of Social StudiesConfessions of a Christian Educator," Christian School Education 5:1 (2001-2002), 18.
8. James Schwartz, "Designing a Math Curriculum for Christian Schools," Christian School Education 5:4 (2001-2002), 6.
9. Robert Bruinsma, "Instructional Design Principles for a Language Arts Curriculum," Christian School Education 5:3 (2001-2002), 5.