Editor's Note: Ronald Kirk, long-time Christian educator, is Chalcedon's new director of Christian Education. With this issue Chalcedon introduces Ron's "Get Wisdom" series. It is uniquely adapted for either Christian professional or home schoolers in that it can be used with any Christian curriculum, by equipping the teacher with a philosophical command over the subject. In time, Chalcedon will publish Ron's series in separate installments as monographs. These will be of inestimable help to Christian teachers and home school parents.
"Get Wisdom" is for anyone who desires to integrate one's devotional life with every other activity as the Bible intended. Its goal is to begin to replace worldly thinking and practices, common in our day, with Biblical and historical Christian ones to help prepare practical Biblical scholars able to live a meaningful gospel life in every sphere of human endeavor. Surely, there is not one Biblical Christian who should not have the zealous desire to show himself approved, a workman not to be ashamed. Here is an opportunity to make a marked advance in that direction.
The historic American Christian method of scholarship is a powerful instrument toward replacing secularism with a Biblical view and practice in every area of life. Issues concerning psychology, education, business, management, law, family, church and civil government, the natural sciences, the arts are legitimate and necessary Christian concerns. For in these lie the institutions that will either undergird or hinder the gospel. "Get Wisdom" offers a Biblical method for taking these issues, and more, captive to the obedience of Christ.
Some aspects of this study are:
- Thinking Biblically: directing an American Christian philosophy of education based upon a pointed Biblical worldview and the best expressions in history.
- Understanding and acquiring the specific skills required to reproduce the American heritage of Christian character, liberty, and ability needed to restore the divine foundational institutions for the work of the gospel.
- Applying and teaching a Biblical method of scholarship for every subject whether for application or teaching.
When I first seriously sought an educational principle upon which to build a system of education, I asked the obvious question: How did the great men and women of Christian history acquire the character for their accomplishments in life? Taking the American Pilgrims as perhaps the classic example, I discovered a dual Providence at work which will serve as an educational paradigm for greatness of heart and accomplishment in ordinary people. This dual Providence is a profound belief in the Scriptures as the sole authority of life and living, coupled with a readiness to encounter hardship by faith.
A Historical Example
The Pilgrims as a body of believers were born in England of a deep personal and corporate conviction that the Word of God is the sole and fundamental source of understanding of life and living. The Pilgrims' Puritan brothers had not yet entirely discarded the notion that a godly community, the City on the Hill, could grow through external means through purifying the national church. The Pilgrims, however, under the teaching of the Reverend John Robinson, believed simply that they as individuals and a corporate body bore the responsibility and right to form their own expressions of worship and of life in general, upon Biblical grounds.
This choice of the Pilgrims for a more pure and independent worship brought innumerable hardships and excruciating suffering. For quietly gathering for worship in rural Scrooby, England, the Pilgrim congregation lost their jobs and farmlands, their very livelihoods. At the cost of everything they owned, they migrated to Holland. There these rural families, without commercial skills or financial capital, suffered terrible disadvantage in the mercantile economy. Moreover, the secular culture threatened to absorb their children. Therefore, they decided to embark for America. For many years, they suffered the effects of a pioneering venture in a wild land. Half their number died the first year.
Nonetheless, they reformed families, widows marrying widowers and in turn adopting children to maintain the essential foundation of a culture in the new world — the home. They reasoned civil government from Biblical principles. They learned to live equably among the "Strangers," those fellow colonists not members of their church, and the natives. The historic record shows that Governor William Bradford dealt quite hospitably with a Jesuit priest, including feeding fish to him on his fasting Friday, a Roman Catholic practice the Calvinists abhorred.1
Upon this foundation of the Bible and an overcoming faith, God endowed a structure and patina to the character of the Pilgrims which made them at once very tough, very sturdy, and yet gentle and peaceable, even with foes. The Pilgrims pioneered civil self-government. It seems they defined the loving home.
How to Train for Magnanimity
We parents and teachers may likewise apply ourselves to the dual educational principle — Scripture and discipline. We must equip ourselves with a Biblical fluency applied to specific areas of endeavor. (We will address this Biblical fluency other times.) We must then apply the Biblically grounded content to discipline. We introduce a measured level of difficulty into the child's life, appropriate to his development. Practice produces increased skill at any given level. The disciplined learning of anything new itself represents such a difficulty. Discipline is practice under an appropriate level of government. The parent and teacher's job is to determine the right level of difficulty — neither too easy to eliminate the challenge to character growth, nor too difficult, to frustrate and encourage quitting. One error loving parents often make is intervening prematurely to help a child, before the child has had chance to test himself. A parent doing a child's homework for him is no real help to the child's learning. Trials build character (Rom. 5:1-5). God sometimes leaves us walking on the water alone for a moment. Again, there will always be a wilderness time in discipline where success momentarily eludes us. Nonetheless, persistent faith prevails. Such trust is consistent with the economy of difficulty, for the Lord brings the increase of the investment in due season. Sometimes an adult's hand over the child's helps guide for a brief time, as corrected practice eventually will bring success. Then the child, by himself, tries again. Artificial devices to make the child more instantly successful actually weaken him and retard real growth in an overcoming faith. The Lord will reward patient encouragement and perseverance with an increase in His good time. Tried by persevering effort, true character forms, providing the child with Christ-confidence to attempt new and greater challenges.
Corresponding to the practice of discipline for achievement is the principle of obedience. Parents must resist the contemporary, man-centered psychology which demands that parents must allow the child to choose what interests him and what he will therefore learn. "Train up a child in the way he should go." Children are sinners! They will choose what is easy. Parents must observe and correct selfishness whenever it appears. (Yes, good parenting is exhausting!) Successful practice of Spirit-filled obedience will progressively deconstruct the sinful flesh. It reckons the old man dead. The home, the first federal republic, is the perfect place to practice obedience. Not only must parents themselves model selflessness toward each other, they must require the practice by their children of it, so that it eventually becomes second nature. Magnanimity requires thinking in terms of the Biblical principle of love: What would love do? A child who throws a tantrum when told to do something reflects the exact opposite of magnanimity. Why do we obey God? We obey God because He is God, by faith, not because He explains every detail as to why a thing is good for us or not. Just so, children must learn to obey their parents so that, once grown, they will possess the skill to obey God.
Of course, as children are increasingly ready, parents must balance the requirement of obedience with appropriate instruction in the Biblical command or derived principle behind the requirement. At the appropriate stage of readiness for the gospel, Jesus told His disciples He called them no longer servants but friends, because He revealed His Father's Word to them (Jn. 15:15). Our children deserve the same dignity as they are ready to receive it (Mt. 19:14).
The fact that love does not always surrender to another's desire complicates training for magnanimity. For example, private property and its protection are Biblical principles. "You shall not steal." "You shall not covet." My property, therefore, ought not to be disposed according to another person's desire. I have a right (because it is right) to protect my property from damage or theft. However, selfless generosity is also a Biblical principle. "Why not rather be defrauded," Paul asks, than be litigious with the Christian brethren. Jesus said not to throw pearls before swine, that is, do not give valuables (especially spiritual gems) to those who will have contempt for the gift. These are the essential principles of property.
To implement these principles, ask, how must I handle my property for Christ? Am I willing to part with the precious possession for Him? Ought I to protect it for Him? Ask children in property disputes, "Who is being selfish here?" Usually both parties will be guilty of some selfishness. What would Jesus have us do to show love to one another? Selflessness ought to find some reward, at least in acknowledgment. Jesus says, "Well done good and faithful servant." Parents must learn to teach both truths, in theory and practice.
A great deal of wisdom is necessary then to apply the Biblical Faith. There may be times when one shares a valuable toy with an immature cousin for peace in family relationships. After a record of destruction, it may be proper to protect the property. Perhaps another toy may be shared without fear of its demise. Perhaps there is a time to share, and another time not to share. Life is a complex of actions and habits which form the Christian character upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to live well.
One more concern: Life is an art, built upon the practice of craftsmanship in it. Magnanimity will result from self-consciously applying its principles. Teach children the principles and sensibilities required for successful adult Christian living and responsibility. For example, tithe on life. Encourage a life-long love of learning with the undertaking of some endeavor which tests the frontiers of character and ability. Imposing new character-building challenges on ourselves spares God the need to bring so much trial to build us up. These challenges further help build the foundations of the gospel where we self-consciously apply Biblical principles in our accomplishment. The discipline of overcoming its material and relational problems brings character, wisdom, and accomplishment — greater nobility.
A general heroism will result when cultural selflessness grows. Selflessness frightens us because our experience seems to teach that no good deed goes unpunished. Rather, the Scriptures teach us to walk by faith. Consider the closing statement of the Declaration of Independence, which says: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Thus, our Founders practiced Christian magnanimity in a very practical way, promising to give up their very lives, liberty, and fortunes, in order to secure the same for others. A culture where one cannot out-give others is a culture where want tends to evaporate. America has long practiced generosity and magnanimity. If we will once more self-consciously apply principle unto practice, to our children, and ourselves, we may renew, maintain, and increase America's Christian heritage of magnanimity.
1. Gabriel Druillettes, Volume 36 of the "Jesuit Relations" (La Mission des Jesuites chez les Hurons: 1634-1650, as translated by Frs. Bill Lonc S.J. and George Topp S.J.), (Pilgrim Hall Museum Website, January 22, 2002)
- Ron Kirk