Two-kingdom doctrine correctly maintains that there is no more a thing called Christian politics than there are Christian salads. At first blush this contention seems quite bold in the light of the fact that American religion, for all its official mantra about the “separation of church and state,” really does believe religion is relevant to statecraft. In the midst of both soft and hard Constantinianism wherein politics are moralized and religion is politicized, it is no small thing to suggest that Christianity implies nothing about the cultivation of society.
But I’ll see that controversy and raise an eyebrow.
In his book A Secular Faith, Darryl Hart concludes his running argument that Christianity really is just as interested in the commonality of all created humanity as it is in a rigorous orthodoxy by making reference to Daniel’s education:
“It is the account of the Jewish prophet who learned the literature and wisdom of the Chaldeans and excelled in it to such a degree that he emerged as the wisest of the pagan king’s counselors. This learning was not simply the liberal arts, as John Calvin tried to explain it, but a language and literature that was infused with false and idolatrous ideas and beliefs, from the perspective of Israel’s cult. Just as for the Jewish people, throughout the ancient Near East cult and culture were so thoroughly intertwined that to learn a foreign language and literature was in some important sense an entrance into the religious beliefs of a different God…The fuller account of Daniel, then, the one before and outside the lion’s den, is of a man who had assimilated the ways, culture, and customs of a nation whose religion was false from the perspective of the Jewish people.”
In many instances two-kingdom doctrine seems to grind to a screeching halt when it comes to matters of education. Those who would otherwise contend that Christianity has no direct bearing on or obvious implication for matters common still seem to draw the line at the school house doors. Nose around long enough in the literature of a church which maintains that true religion—to the chagrin of David Kuo—ought not to be in the business of faith-based initiatives and one will invariably trip across equally vigorous dogma charging believing parents to the moral (yes, moral) duties of so-called Christian education. Dissenters beware—invoking liberty here seems to suggest immorality. But if Christianity has nothing to say about the making and maintaining of culture generally, it can’t possibly have anything to say about education specifically.
It is understandable why this may be the last frontier even amongst two-kingdomites. It is one thing to discuss categories that feel impersonalized or don’t seem to immediately affect us, like politics. But we can’t get any more immediate than children, those in whom we find caught up all our beliefs, values, aspirations, hopes and confidences. As parents we are duty-bound for their nurture and protection. Indeed, they are members of the covenant, and promises have been made to them. Yet, true as that may be, none of it seems to make up for the fact that the only thing needed for any common endeavor is natural law.
Could it be that the more immediate and delicate a thing is the more inclined we may be to pull the trigger on the conflation of law and gospel? Could it be that the more indelible a project the more tempted we are to forget that the only institution ordained to make human beings, for better or ill, is the family—not the media, not the state, not the church and not the school? When such a high view of the home is brokered to others simply because they have our children eight hours a day, it is easy to see how education remains the third rail even amongst those who would champion the notion of an expansive common sphere.
But if we want to be cautious to not over-realize what certain created institutions can yield, it is not immediately obvious why education should be given a pass. If politics, for all its potency and inherent power, can’t save the world but can only imperfectly regulate and maintain a proximate justice, then education, for all its influence and effect, cannot shape and create human beings. Just as the salvation of the world comes by the hand of God alone, it would seem that the making of human beings comes only by those whom he has ordained for such work. This seems to suggest that the moral imperative on Christian parents may be less to cut checks to parochial educators and more on them to perform their created and redemptive duties. Maybe where their children are educated is much more open to liberty while their parental charges become more strident.