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The Battle for a Generation: Focus on Education

By R. J. Rushdoony
February 08, 2015

In an interview shortly before his death, film director John Huston expressed his pessimistic view of life. Many of his films expressed this perspective, and Michael J. Bandler describes Huston’s heroes as “losers every one.” Huston himself said, “We’re all losers. Not that I countenance death as a total loss, but we’re all going to die.”[1] In the United States, state schools include in their curriculum a “values clarification” emphasis which makes values and morality a subjective concern, not an objective standard, and they also include “death education.” One consequence is a high suicide rate.[2]

None of this should surprise us. In any culture, two things most clearly reveal the religion of that society, education and law. Every legal system is an establishment of religion, and education transmits the faith and skills of a culture to its children. The religious institutions, i.e, church, synagogue, temple, or shrine, often represent a past faith. Because of the institutional conservatism of religious organizations, the rites and forms remain when the faith is gone. Baptism, confirmation, and communion continue as before when the church is in reality humanistic. On the other hand, break-away churches often stress a limited aspect of the old faith: the forms of church government, a particular emphasis on doctrine, or a stress on religious experience. Wholeness is lost, and the new church is content to be a minor note in the culture rather than its shaper by the word and Spirit of God.

In the United States, the disaster to the wholeness of Biblical faith came with the rise in the early 1800s of “heart religion,” with its emphasis on experience rather than a commanding world and life faith. According to James Turner, “heart religion” had four specific elements and/or consequences, all with roots in the seventeenth century realm of English thought. First, was “the assumption that knowledge became reliable only when verified in experience.”3 Such a view meant that revelation had to be tested by experience. It also made experience the standard in many realms where a very great measure of learning and understanding are necessary. Thus, it undermined authority as well as traditional wisdom. The ancient use of proverbs, the crystallization of the wisdom of centuries, began to wane sharply. The Bible as revelation began to give way to the Bible as a handbook for experiential religion. The faith was thus privatized, and creeds were shelved.

Then, second, in Turner’s telling words,

This rejection of traditional authority in favor of truths validated in experience bore on a second trait: the sense that empirical truths were more reliable than those that transcended physical reality.[4]

Experience and the here and now took priority over the authority of revelation. A sound and thorough knowledge of and belief in Scripture was condemned as “head religion,” and “heart religion” was held to be alone acceptable. Such a perspective gives more authority to present feelings than to ages old revelation. It became routine to tell people that “head knowledge” and “head faith” were worthless and that what was necessary for salvation is a particular and dramatic form of “heart experience.” Because of this view, Christian schools in the United States were downgraded and often opposed.

Third, a major consequence of such thinking was to separate precise, logical, and exact thinking from religion and to relegate it to a secular sphere.[5] Religion thus became the realm of feeling and pious gush, whereas science became the sphere of intelligence and knowledge. Instead of theology being the queen of the sciences, it was no longer even a science. Instead of commanding the world and life perspective in every sphere, Christianity became a minor part of the social order, and, instead of shaping the culture, was increasingly shaped by it. Instead of being a catholic or universal faith, Christianity became a minor and provincial one.

Fourth, it was as a result held that “knowledge evolved historically.”[6] Anselm held, “I believe, in order that I may understand.” This equation was now broken and replaced by two others. In the church, it was “I experience, in order that I may believe,” and in the sciences, “I test, in order that I may understand.” Both approaches are experiential; both reject the primary authority of revelation. Both hold that all things must be brought to man’s heart or mind for an experiential test and approval.

At the same time, within the province of the state, certain parallel developments were under way. First, the state began to view education in messianic terms. The salvation of society was seen in terms of education, not regeneration. Instead of seeing salvation in terms of the new Adam, Jesus Christ, the statist educators saw it in terms of the learning given to the “natural” man, the old Adam and his humanity. The key to salvation was thus education, not regeneration. By imparting skills and learning to an unregenerate people, the state increased the power and potentiality of their sin instead of checking it. A depraved man with a machine gun is far more deadly than one with a bow and arrow. The norm in education has been the acquisition of data per se, not a person with faith having both learning and wisdom.

Second, by this means, the wholeness of man was lost. Instead of a redeemed man fully equipped with learning and wisdom, education now worked to produce a man equipped with specialized learning and data but whose character was of little concern to the educators. As a result, we have educated learned monsters. Basic to godly education is an awareness of man as created in the image of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism declares:

A. 10. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures. (Gen. 1:27–28; Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:24)

If we fail to educate in terms of the whole man, we warp men and society. Modern, humanistic education clearly disregards holiness. Its doctrine of righteousness or justice is humanistic and anti-Christian, as is its concept of knowledge. As for dominion, the goal is not the kingdom of God but of man, and it is thus also evil.

Third, the pattern for all men in Scripture is the new man, Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us

29. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29–30).

The goal is to be conformed to Jesus Christ, and this is God’s decreed will for us. The humanists ridicule this conformity in favor of their own, an egalitarian doctrine which reduces man to the lowest common denominator instead of raising him to the level of the Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ. In 1960, L. P. Hartley’s Facial Justice depicted a world in which the religion of equality had reached its logical conclusion. All men had to have standardized clothing and standardized plastic faces. Depersonalization was the law.[7] We see steps towards this goal already in laws which penalize any factual account of differences between religious and racial groups. In humanistic society the social demand downgrades man to the image of fallen men, in equality with all, instead of discipling him in terms of Christ.

Fourth, because humanistic education sees the “natural” or fallen man as the standard, it cannot tolerate a command moral law above and over man. It may tolerate Bible reading and more in the school, but its essential teaching is that all men must choose or create their own values and moral standards. Morality is seen as a subjective, not an objective, norm. Our values must serve us, not we the Lord. As a result, the sins of men become their values and their standards.

This means, fifth, that sin becomes a right, and humanistic education upholds man’s “right” to do as he pleases as long as no physical violence is done to any man, although this limitation is now disappearing. The enthronement of sin as a right is very much with us today in such forms as abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia, and its roots are all in Romanticism with its stress on the primacy of feeling, and the age of Revolution, with its belief that everything connected with the old order must be destroyed, and Christianity is seen as the epitome of the old order. An instance of the modern view of rights in the United States appeared in 1827, in Boston. According to William E. Nelson,

The contagion of liberty even led to claims of license for immorality, when one frequenter of “the Hill” in Boston “pretended he had a right to visit all Whore-houses…”[8]

In education today, we face two hostile worldviews, Christianity versus humanism. The humanists are clearly wiser than the children of light: they know that the command of the future requires control over children and education.

The Biblical faith is clearly and plainly set forth for us in Psalm 127:3–5:

3. Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
4. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
5. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with (or, shall subdue, as Ps. 18:47, or, destroy) the enemies in the gate.

The word translated as “speak with” is in Psalm 18:47 rendered subdue or destroy: “It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me.” Children are a trust from God. We must all say with Hannah, the mother of Samuel,

27. For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him:
28. Therefore also I have lent (or, returned) him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent (or, returned) to the LORD. (1 Samuel 1:27–28)

Children are a God-given inheritance for our conquest of the world for Christ. They are a means of subduing the earth and exercising dominion under the Lord. If we give our children to state or private schools which are not systematically Christian in all their curriculum, we are then giving the future to God’s enemies, and He will hold us accountable for laying waste our heritage. We thus must have Christian schools and Christian homeschools for the Lord’s children. We are commanded to “bring them up in the nurture and the admonition of the LORD” (Eph. 6:4). This is a necessary step for that great consummation of God’s will, announced beforehand for us in Revelation 11:15:

The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our LORD, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
  1. Michael J. Bandler, “John Huston,” in American Way, October 15, 1987, 134.
  2. Samuel L. Blumenfeld, “The Lethal Education,” in The Blumenfeld Letter, Vo. 2, No. 2, February, 1987.
  3. James Turner, Without God, Without Creed, The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1985), 133.
  4. Ibid., 134.
  5. Idem.
  6. Ibid., 135.
  7. Chad Walsh, From Utopia to Nightmare (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, [1962] 1976), 136.
  8. William E. Nelson, Americanization of the Common Law, The Impact of Legal Change on Massachusetts Society, 1760-1830 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, [1975] 1976), 90. Nelson’s source is Commonwealth v. Sosa, Boston Police Ct., 1827, n. 382.

Taken from In His Service: The Christian Calling to Charity, p. 15f


Topics: American History, Biblical Law, Dominion, Education, Family & Marriage, Government, Justice, Statism

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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