“In Isolation Is Our Strength”: A Humble Dissent

immigrant school house
My summer reading has gone in fits and starts. But one book I have been enjoying quite a bit has been Muether’s recent biography on Van Til. I suppose a large part of my interest is that I inhabit and wrestle with the same denomination in which he did those very same things, the CRC. Whatever curiosity it satisfies to read of references to familiar streets, towns and area churches it also gives me some comfort to know that a figure like Van Til struggled in his loyalties. (One anecdote I found particularly stirring was his confidence to a friend a dream that he was called to the Spring Lake Christian Reformed Church and there stayed for the remainder of his days.)

A perusal of the Index reveals that one theme is peppered throughout, implying just how important it was for the man’s general vision. Van Til was nothing if not a stalwart for the efforts in Christian day schooling. Muether writes:

Van Til argued that children will remain in the church and another generation will arise only through an aggressive program aimed at the education of all levels…Van Til went on to suggest that the formation of the new church was a futile enterprise if attention were not paid to Christian education.”

Van Til pegged John Dewey (who was reared in a Christian home, by the way) as the “murderer of Christianity” and considered that evolution was the greatest contemporary threat to Christian education.

As I survey the state of things in our shared denomination, I cannot help to seriously wonder about the rather idealistic view—and I daresay quite over realized understanding—about parochial education Van Til seemed to have. He seems to suggest that if this thing called Christian education is in place it will be a bulwark for preserving one generation of covenant children after another. This further seems to suggest, as all such philosophy does, that it is not the ordained institution of the family which perpetuates faith in children but the red-brick building down the street.

If Christian day schooling is so vital to the project of preserving covenant youth specifically, and by implication, Reformed orthodoxy in general, why is the state of the CRC so dismal? It would seem that the Van Tilian philosophy of parochial education has been lost on this insular and ethnic denomination. As a deacon who has had to offer up prayers and take up the collection for that third rail in our circles called Christian education, I can attest that there is no institution the Dutch Reformed take so seriously as that of parochial education. I have often said that if the CRC took her confessional tradition as seriously as she dos her views on day schooling things would be much brighter. If they have failed their father in various and sundry ways over the years, they can rest assured that they have carried out faithfully this one rigorous commitment. Unfortunately for them, while he saw right through Barth’s new modernism and had American evangelicalism’s number like no one’s business, it appears to me that this was one thing the good professor got entirely wrong.

I am once again reinforced in my own theory that Christian education, at least in my neck of the woods, is merely an effort to maintain a largely cultural—not cultic—endeavor. It is what immigrants naturally do when coming to a new and strange land—they stick together. And insofar as education is misunderstood to primarily be an affective assignment needed to maintain cultural cohesion and not an intellectual task, the whole thing makes perfect sense. The Catholics and Lutherans did it.

The CRC routinely wrestles with the fact that they are so insular and almost impenetrable by anyone whose surname does not begin with a Van or Vander. They correctly know a church has to be more diverse than singular. But while they are well aware of their perpetual and disadvantageous isolationism they are seemingly at relative loss about how to solve for it. Chasing all the colors of Benetton, they employ endless politically correct efforts to increase diversity, from African-American spirituals in the Psalter to conferences by experts on how to, well, increase diversity (heaven forbid word and sacrament might have something to do with it). It is the PC version of church-growth. And the one effort which flies under the radar and continues to hinder is the leftover project meant to keep them isolated in the first place, namely Christian education. The children have sufficiently assimilated into the very culture their forebears sought to resist. (Sidebar: as one who descends from 1914 Roman Catholic Eastern European immigrants and has become quite assimilated himself as a mutt-American, it is not altogether obvious to me just what is wrong with not being Dutch Reformed.) And it has seemed to do very little to preserve confessional Reformed orthodoxy. Moreover, if Christian education has done nothing to keep assimilation at bay then all that is left as a rationale seems to be that which the two-kingdom doctrine gobbles up for lunch: there is no such thing as a Christian version of anything common. To my admittedly dim lights, it is not at all clear just what Christian education is supposed to do by the end of the proverbial school day.

There are two kinds of isolationism. There is the good kind that not only preserves what ought to be preserved but also understands how. And there is the bad kind, which only serves to keep some in and others out for its own sake. The personal warmth with which the latter carries out its task doesn’t make it less so.

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26 Responses to “In Isolation Is Our Strength”: A Humble Dissent

  1. Rick says:

    Good stuff.

    Does anyone besides me wonder why such a healthy number of Van Tilians were/are theomomists. I never understood the link.

    Is Muether’s biography a favorable one? What does he make of Van Til’s perspective on Christian ed?

  2. Zrim says:

    Rick,

    The link can make sense when you take into consideration VT’s rhetoric against the notion of neutrality, a charge theonomists routinely invoke against Two Kingdoms. But natural isn’t neutral.

    But Muether’s book makes it clear that VT wanted to do all he could to distance himself from the likes of Rushdooney and Bahnsen. He seemed to lament that they took his work and created such an aberrant system like theonomy.

    If you mean by favorable does Muether count VT as a giant to be loved, the answer is an unreserved yes–of course. Muether seems to report more on his views of parochial ed. I don’t pick up (yet) any sort of interpretation. In fact, if I had to say at the moment, it seems like a favorable one.

  3. Rick says:

    Ya give someone a “square inch,” they’ll take a square mile.

  4. Zrim says:

    Well done, sir.

  5. heldveld says:

    Interesting post as a graduate of a West Michigan “Christian Day School”, former member of the CRC and recent reader of Meuther’s bio of Van Til I can’t help but comment.

    I’m not sure why you assume that Van Til’s “aggressive program aimed at the education of all levels” only includes day schools and not the home as well. From what I remember, in his ‘Why I believe in God’ pamphlet he speaks highly of the influence his home life on his faith. So while he obviously did favor Christian schooling I don’t think it was an either or situation but rather both to form an “aggressive program”.

    As for the problems in the CRC, I don’t think that contradicts Van Til’s supporting of day schools. You indicate in the post that the CRC schools are largely cultural, so I don’t think they’re teaching the comprehensive Christian world view that Van Til had in mind. I think we could see that many years ago when he suggested they drop an atom bomb on science building at Calvin.

    Enjoy the blog, don’t always agree but you get me to think. Thanks

  6. Bruce says:

    I mostly like your stuff, Z. So, today I’m going to voice a disagreement. Because I like your stuff. Just not today.

    The main problem today, as I see it, and the main rationale therefore for an alternative institution (or alternative home setting, or what-you-will) for education–regardless of the merits of it a century ago–is that the present state system is the intentional purveyor of a different religion.

    Not merely different, but self-consciously hostile to the Christian religion.

    Do you say, “After his 8 hours abed, I will give my child a good 8 hours of Christianity today in all our activities, so that he will be well-prepared for the 8 hours of anti-Christianity he will get from the other side”?

    Sure, he’s getting “nature” there–just like he’s getting “nature” in the home setting. There’s plenty of nature to go around. Just like you salt your nature with nurture, so will the other side. Why would I send an impressionable babe knowingly into a lion’s den? To toughen him up?

    OK, makes about as much sense to me as advising all youngsters of both sexes to walk home from school through the red-light district, just to, you know, “get prepared” for life. Get adjusted to “the real world.” S’matter? this is logic 101.

    Should we send out the troops without basic training? Ducking bullets and learning to load the rifle at the same time sounds really fresh! After all, this will ensure that the best soldiers–the ones who survive–will form the core of the next wave of recruits.

    Somehow, I can’t imagine one of the 7000 sending his kid to Baal Elementary, or Molech H.S.

    I don’t think the error lies in the creation of an alternate institution, but perhaps (as RSC put it once) in making the Christian school an adjunct arm of the church, and an alternative means of grace.

  7. Zrim says:

    Bruce,

    Dare to be a Daniel (who was educated in the halls of Baal).

    What I discern in your response is the assumption that I allude to in the post: an over-realizing of one institution (school) and the under-realizing of another (family). It doesn’t matter how many hours South Elementary has my daughters, it will never trump the my ordination over them. I am always suspect that what may lie behind the fears you express is a certain degree of expectation that a school can, may and ought do that which we as parents are singularly ordained to do, namely, make, nurture and shape human beings. The school simply educates them, but we make them. That is a whole different project altogether. Could it be laziness on our part to do our job, farming them out to Mr. and Mrs. VanVanderVan instead?

    Moroever, I take great exception to the other assumption that what is getting programmed into them is a direct reversal of what they are taught in our home (and church). I think that relies on a lot of sensationalism, quite frankly. The Xian schools I know seem to promote plenty of stuff that run counter to my understanding of Christianity. Indeed, our secular school leaves me to do the work of instilling religion. I leave it to others to decide which is more conducive to truer religion.

    A friend of mine teaches at a Xian school. He had a troubled students who hauled off and hit him recently. The principal’s answer was to by-pass discipline, basing it on the fact that “we’re Christians and all about forgiveness.” It was a collosal confusion of the categories of law and gospel in the name of Christianity. Where were the howls about promoting something that runs afoul of the faith, you know, the same ones about how our kids are taught they descend from monkeys and Heather has two mommies? Meanwhile, you can bet your last nickel that kid in a secular school would have been dealt with correctly and swiftly.

    (BTW, the student went more nutty, got kicked out and everyone now thinks he’s got a demon. Dig far enough and I think the lynchpin is an absent father and single mom at wit’s end. Guess that ‘s not sensationalistic enough though. Good Christianity seldom is.)

    If we fear what might happen to our children in a secular school I hate to think what that says about how seriously we take our covenant duty to raise them up in the faith. My hunch is that this has a lot to do with the doctrines of creaturely comfort and ease that tell us our children are somehow entitled to not be bothered or disturbed. And I am at a loss as to what everyone thinks happens upon graduating Xian HS (or college) when they actually have to go out into God’s world where there is plenty that zigs from their zags. Is there something magic about the age of 18 or 22? I think the usual answer to that is, no, parochial education is simply getting them ready in their tender and formidable years. But that seems like a corollary of the over-realizing aspect I mentioned above, namely, that school makes human beings. No they don’t, homes do. Do we have a high view of the home or not? Do we really want to co-opt the role of the home like that, even if it’s the Xian school getting erroneous credit?

    Nobody–at least not me–is saying to dispense with common sense and, figuratively speaking, send our children through the red-light district. But I think that is an overstatemt, Bruce, and one reliant on said sensationalism.

  8. Zrim says:

    Heldveld,

    Thanks for the comments.

    Good clarification. These things are never black and white. It is not an either/or set up for VT at all. But I am thinking about how this has all played out over time. Dr. Stob who headmasters a Presby school in Florida and filled our pulpit recently conveyed that only 25% of his parents go to church. I think that says something very interesting.

    Yes, I think you are right, VT would be turning in his grave at the present scene. But that doesn’t mean his, ahem, presuppositions are without flaws in the first place. I know what Christians doing education is, but I still want to know what Christian education is. Seems like it’s as much a figment of imagination as evangelicalism is a vacuous concept.

  9. sean says:

    Timely discussion. I just got back from seeing my nephews. One of which is a junior at UCLA and the other(different sister) is leaving Christian High(actual name) and headed off to a local christian college. Now, here’s what’s interesting, the junior attended a private school, catholic, but it’s rather large and there was no culture transformation indoc. going on. As a result, he’s was both educationally and socially prepared to deal with a large multi-cultural, academically intense institution, he’ll graduate in a year (econ), he’s not dead, not been pulled over for drunk driving, not flunked out, no shotgun weddings,and has trapsed nowhere near the edge of apostasy from his rc roots. Very well rounded kid, not a believer but well on his way to being a contributing member of society.

    Nephew 2, nice kid, smart kid. Heading off to local non-descript christian college, even though he was accepted at UCLA, UCSD, and other highly thought of colleges. Why? because he’s AFRAID of secular people at a secular institution and what will happen to his faith. Big time indoc. in us vs. them evangellyfish view of culture from xian high ( and parents). Here’s what I find remarkable; He’s probably right in his fear of what will happen to him at a secular institution. Xian ed, has left him completely unprepared, except as a combatant, to engage the broader world and at eighteen he’s STILL not competent to successfully navigate a secular world, at a secular, successful, and as far as it goes, innocuous educational institution. The collapse of 2k, in his worldview, has relegated him to the christian ghetto. He ISN”T capable of dealing with a pluralistic world. So, he will continue to prolong his adolescence in what amounts to an extension of his high school, and at great monetary expense to himself and his parents. Great kid, has all the tools, but is probably right in assessing that he couldn’t handle it. Just sad, and financially, fairly devastating.

  10. Zrim says:

    Sean,

    At the risk of over-indulging the anecdotal, case and point. At some point the bubble has to burst, then what? The posture you describe is not at all an unusual result of what I think predominates the whole philosophy, or is at least a reasonable result of all the presuppositions. Granted, you see less of it around here as HS grads contemplate post-secondary studies (“What will happen to me, Auntie Em.?”), which may suggest that what informed Van Til’s own outlook had some important distinctions; I have always said that at least in Reformed camps one begins with a world-affirming doctrine and fear-free view of creation, whereas in broad evangelicalism you just don’t. But the more you see the Reformed succumbing to evangelicalism in general the more you do see the chicken-little piety you describe. Sad.

    In my experience Catholic schools are top flight. I think I’d sooner pick one than your garden variety Protestant one insofar as what you describe seems to have won the day in our circles. I wonder what the Presbie minister, who told me I’d likely never be called to elder in his church with my kids in secular schools, would say if I had them at St. Pius X Catholic School? If all my years in one form of education or another have taught me anything it’s that the dirty little secret about education is that it doesn’t matter what kind of school one attends; what matters is whether it does education well. Parents could save a ton of dough if they understood that instead of indulging religious fanatasies about what is or is not happening from 7:30-3PM.

  11. sean says:

    Yea, I’m going to work on him. I told him to keep up his grades and I’ll see if I can work him philosophically and theologically toward a world-view that would allow him to move on and excel in accordance with his abilities. If I’m successful his parents can pass on some of the savings to moi.

  12. Jeff says:

    I am a high school Bible (sometimes History and English) teacher at an independent (non-church affiliated) Christian school in north Texas. I put together the curriculum I teach (systematic theology-9th, church history-10th, ethics-11th, apologetics-12th) and incorporate an extensive amount of Reformation confessional material.
    Can Christian schools be insular? Absolutely…sometime ridiculously so. As such, they are not Christian. Can they be havens for people looking to escape accountability, standards of excellence, and even “real world” grittiness? Yes, and they often are. But these things are indemic to a non-Christian approach to education. A genuinely Christian school will, of course, have its shortcomings…but it will also truly teach a biblical worldview of both confession and action.
    I also enjoy zrim’s material, but I think the assessment of public education in this piece is naive. The public schools leave it up to the parents to deal with religion? Hardly. This is where VT was right about Dewey and his monolithic offspring. Quality academics are to be had at most public institutions? Again, this is something which ought to be retracted. Check information on what “grade level” means now as opposed to 20-30 years ago…on what state standards for qualifying “excellent” schools are. It is certain that many (if not most) Christian schools do little better…but they do tend to do better.
    The Roman Catholics are consistently the best and have been almost since the inception of the Jesuit order. If Protestants could grasp a catholic confession (pie in the sky, I know), we would have grounds to do even better…remember, the Jesuits were the RC’s desperate response to an increasingly educated protestant laity.
    I think, as an aside, that the Dutch Reformed are isolated because of their view of ethnic heritage as much as anything.
    No serious Christian educator or school would claim any desire to replace the role of the family as primary teachers of the Faith. No responsible Christian teacher would turn away a student who gets nothing of the true Faith at home…not without doing his best to instill right doctrine. This is the functional reality of where we currently are. Zrim, if you saw and heard what most of my students get at home (and church) you might be wanting to occupy the classroom next to mine.

  13. Zrim says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for weighing in.

    To be sure, every school and every system have their faults. I would hope not to be as naive about secular education as many seem to be about CE. The effort to rack up who has more good points is futile. And I respect any parent’s decision in whatever choice they make–can he who would champion the ordination of the home say otherwise? I can’t say I sense as much generosity with regard to my own choice. I just want to challenge some of the assumptions I discern on the part of those who choose parochial.

    Having been on both sides of the lecturn in secular education, and having taught myself in a Xian school, I still say a lot of what believers think about secular education is based on more sensationalism than rational thought.

    “The public schools leave it up to the parents to deal with religion? Hardly.”

    Well, I can’t recall my daughters ever having a class on the sacraments or the Catechism. But if you mean than “there is no such thing as neutrality and uninterpreted brute facts,” I agree. But I am just not convinced that parochial education doesn’t muck things up just as much as secular ones. The funny thing seems to be that religionists cast a high wire for secularists to get things right and go batty when they slip, but wink at religionists for doing the same thing. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

  14. Jeff says:

    Try being a Lutheran teaching Bible in an evangelical school. I once had a paper (which I lost, somehow) that created a bit of a stir in one of my education classes. I wrote how the mystical rationalism of American state education in fact does mitigate against ideas like sacraments, inspiration, catechism, and anything else which would bring the spiritual into the objective realm. I am sure we agree on your point about interpretive grids for facts, but I think those in public schools are presented with distinct if undeclared notions of sacrament and catechism, etc.
    Can someone who champions the ordination of the home dispute a choice made in that home? Yes. One can’t control those choices from the outside, but to offer a carte blanche notion that any decision made in a Christian home is therefore acceptable would give a pass to the millions who choose the facades that we call most evangelical churches…to the pitiful choices made in many homes regarding sacrament and catechism…and to choices made regarding education. Discipline, while largely lost, is still a mark of the church we should pursue.
    I am certainly not a “one size fits all” man when it comes to education. I do think it depends on the child and the home…sometimes traditional Christian, academy model schools are the best option…and sometimes they aren’t.
    I certainly did not grow up in a Christian home. I became a believer in high school. I’ve never attended anything but state schools, even (by choice) through my graduate degree in education. But, in the end, I chose a state degree in education because I wanted to be able to look my secular colleagues in the face when I said, “I’ve seen your system from the inside out, I grew up in it, and I’ve been trained to perpetuate it. That is why I want nothing to do with it.”
    Zrim, I would say along with you (I believe) that to be nominally Christian is worse than to be genuinely worldly. I would send my own kids to secular schools in spite of their Deweyan system if I thought basic education was still taking place there. But, on the whole, that education isn’t happening.
    There are good state schools, with excellent teachers/administrators and hard working kids. These people diligently work to hold their ground and be citizens of two kingdoms. But the system in which they operate militates against them by default. The fact that most Christian schools are superficial substitutes is a sad reality…but it doesn’t have to be. That is the big difference.
    One thing I often tell my students is to not buy into the notion that state schools aren’t insular and exclusive. Try teaching the real involvement of the Church in Western History and see whose bubble gets protected.
    Winking at religionists who don’t hold themselves to their own declared standards is as stupid as it is common. Sighing and and sending our kids off holding hands with secularists who deny all things Christian isn’t any better.
    I apologize for the length of my posts. I’m not good with soundbites.

  15. sean says:

    Jeff,

    Having attended both rc educational institutions and secular ones, my experience is, it’s not the rhetoric spewing forth from either the curriculum or the teachers that would give me pause. I would be primarily concerned that the hard disciplines were not being taught. Personally, I find it much easier to counter naturalism, secular humanism (where and when it parades as sacred dogma) and even, or particularly, alternative lifestyle championing. However, trying to counter bad scriptural exegesis, pro-god rallies, and works righteousness whether blatantly declared or reasonably deduced via activities undertaken and/ or expectations celebrated where others are diminished, is what I find difficult to counter. In my mind, this goes back to what Zrim has highlighted as a dereliction of duty on the part of parents to well, parent, admonish, and indoctrinate their kids.

  16. Zrim says:

    Jeff,

    Don’t worry about it, the length of your post helps make some of my own larger point: it’s complicated and a thing not easily solved. My problem is how religonists seem to think that it is, to the point of letting it creep into articles of faith…

    Article 14 of the URCNA Church Order, which runs as follows:

    “The duties belonging to the office of elder consist of continuing in prayer and ruling the church of Christ according to the principles taught in Scripture, in order that purity of doctrine and holiness of life may be practiced. They shall see to it that their fellow-elders, the minister(s) and the deacons faithfully discharge their offices. They are to maintain the purity of the Word and Sacraments, assist in catechizing the youth, promote God-centered schooling, visit the members of the congregation according to their needs, engage in family visiting, exercise discipline in the congregation, actively promote the work of evangelism and missions, and insure that everything is done decently and in good order.”

    Or take the anecdotal example of mine in which the minister told me I would likely not be ordained an elder in his church with my kids at secular schools.

    I have no problem with competing views on a thing indifferent. What gets me going a bit is when it is explicitly or implicitly conveyed that true piety necessitates one over the other.

  17. Zrim says:

    “I find it much easier to counter naturalism, secular humanism (where and when it parades as sacred dogma) and even, or particularly, alternative lifestyle championing. However, trying to counter bad scriptural exegesis, pro-god rallies, and works righteousness whether blatantly declared or reasonably deduced via activities undertaken and/ or expectations celebrated where others are diminished, is what I find difficult to counter.”

    Sean, you have said this before. I was trying to recall how you had worded it and couldn’t for the life of me. I think that is a fantastic point…probably because I agree with it.

  18. sean says:

    Zrim,

    I’m all out of clever, I’m rehashing my old stuff.

  19. Jeff says:

    I understand your points. The only thing I would add is this…if we are talking about an overextension of what a Christian school is supposed to do (replacing or adding to a biblical office)- or, if we are talking about examples of remarkably poor (I would say nominally) Christian schools…then one should look for other options. But, this does not have to be the default condition of Christian schools.

    As the third position in teaching faith and practice, I’m fine with my calling. I get strange looks and persistent criticism when I talk to many other Bible teachers about our curriculum…and those would be the kinds of schools Sean indicated, AND those would be the kinds of schools I would consider only nominal. Not because they disagree with my approach and curriculum…but because they don’t teach Christ and Him crucified in support of home and church.

    Quick question for application…if you had access to a school which promoted genuine theology (solas) and encouraged catechism and defaulted to the particular calling of the parent as primary spiritual teacher…would you still send your kids to the local public school?

    Kept this one a Little shorter.

  20. Zrim says:

    Jeff,

    Re your question (good one), my criterion for where I send is primarily to do with the quality of education. I know that may sound sort of subjective, etc. But, to my lights, education is about, well, education. Its mission is primarily intellectual. The criteria you cite is primarily affective. Complusory education is there to meet the educational needs of a student, and that can be done in your hypothetical school or a secular one…a Jewish one, a Catholic one, a Montesorri one, a home school, a charter school, a private school, etc.

    I do not consider it a school’s mission to promote the evangelical sola’s or covenant theology or the HB catechism; I consider that a shared role between the church and home. If a Baptist school did education well, and it was our only feasible choice, I would take it. I see no better option than a secular school to promote the notion of the home as being the primary spiritual teacher. Once we say a school is in the business of promoting religion in any way it automatically begins to usurp that notion by definition, to say nothing of intellectualizing religious belief. In other words, my kids will be better persuaded of true religion if I tell them it’s true than if Mr. VanVanderVan runs through the solas everyday in fifth period. True religion has an intellectual aspect we cannot ignore, but it isn’t primarily an intellectual endeavor…it’s an affective one. That’s why their mother and I brought them to the font when they were infants instead of looking forward to enrolling them in a Christian school one day.

    But even if we construct the ideal school along your hypothetical lines, someone will drop the ball somewhere and run counter our religious confessions, etc. And I think everyone would say, “Well, that happens, nothing is perfect, let’s press forward.” But when secularists drop the ball all of a sudden we must retreat into our educational enclaves before the pagans gobble up our kids. I guess my point is that no matter what choice anyone makes there will be something one must endure. And the golden rule about how to measure these things is simply, Are the educational needs being met? I like to think I can endure a lot–a Baptist peddling ghost stories he calls “the rapture” or a secularist going on about Uncle Spider Monkey–that’s life. But if neither one of them is teaching times tables or how to construct an essay it’s time to pull the plug.

    (When our oldest began kindergarten we had a PS around the corner and GR’s very own Sylvan CS right across the street from that. They were both highly convenient. But we deemed the PS “not conducive” to her best interests for various reasons. And since we aren’t Dutch we saw no reason to pay that amount to pretend to be. We opted for a charter school that was more incovenient. She spent one year there before our situation allowed us to move. And, like many families, where we moved had a lot to do with public school choice.)

  21. Jeff says:

    I see and understand your points. And I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree about some of the nature of education. I would say there is some acquiescence to the postmodern notion of community in your position, just in a more conservative direction than that taken by Christian schools which fail in their calling.

    My school (6 graduating classes) has sent kids to universities like UTexas, TX A&M, Northern Arizona, Texas Tech, U Colorado, Air Force Academy, U Arkansas, Ole Miss (and a few other state schools most people never would have heard of)…SMU, TCU, Baylor, DePauw (schools I consider nominally Christian at best)…Hardin Simmons, Dallas Baptist (evangelical schools)…and into community colleges and trades. Our lower school kids score from 2-4 1/2 years ahead of public school kids in our community. (Frankly, I hate standardized testing, but I tend to be an idealist). In the senior English section I’ll teach this coming year we’ll cover Macbeth, Wuthering Heights, A Passage to India, and Empire of the Sun in addition to my raking them over the coals in their writing skills. Some of those same kids will be in AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, and AP US History. Of course, I could go on.

    In freshman ST we’ll cover Bibliology, Theology proper, Christology, Pneumatology, Anthropology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. Sophomores will go from the 1st century to the Emerging Church in church history…juniors will be taught the Law / Gospel distinction as grounds for ethical application (focus on biblical principle rather than topical relevance for ethics)…and the seniors will do an intensive examination of postmodernism and the emerging atheistic irrationalism of people like Hitchens and Dawkins.
    In virtually none of those classes will the kids come from the Lutheran position I hold. I send them all home to discuss and decide with their parents.
    One need not suffer under a sub-par umbrella in Christian education…regarding theology or any other discipline.

    Hope this doesn’t sound like sour grapes. I appreciate the discussion and thought. Thanks again for the good work.

  22. Zrim says:

    Not at all, Jeff. All the best in your work, it sounds like a student could only benefit from it. Whether they benefit from mine (standardized testing) remains to be seen, but it sounds like as far as you are concerned I can put a dash in the “no” column. I can’t say that I blame you.

  23. Zrim says:

    “In freshman ST we’ll cover Bibliology, Theology proper, Christology, Pneumatology, Anthropology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. Sophomores will go from the 1st century to the Emerging Church in church history…juniors will be taught the Law / Gospel distinction as grounds for ethical application (focus on biblical principle rather than topical relevance for ethics)…and the seniors will do an intensive examination of postmodernism and the emerging atheistic irrationalism of people like Hitchens and Dawkins.”

    This strikes me as the sort of specialized curriculum of a seminary. I guess I am not clear as to why freshman students would need this. I have nothing so much against it as I wonder what the arguments for it would be.

    I think this may be a temptation in our circles to want our kids engaged in ways those training for a very specialized field would. I think it may betray just how intellectualized we can be; the charges against our intellectualism seem to stick sometimes. Again, covenant children are made by their parents who are situated in the visible church. The church has raised its covenant youth and perpetuated the faith without the above sort of curriculum. Are we in the business of making believers out ogf our kids or little students?

  24. Jeff says:

    It is nothing other than giving them the basics of our faith. How we got the Bible, how to best read it…who our God is…who we are vs. who we need to be…how we are saved…what we become a part of as believers…what we are to hope for as Christians. To specialized and intellectualized? Obviously it can be nothing other than survey and introduction. Would children much younger than this in past generations not have been catechized in these very areas?
    Being in the 10th grade (15 to 16 years old)and being familiar (again, on a broad level) with what has happened in the Church and world. Too intellectualized?
    Being a junior (the age in the general culture at which many statistical analyses begin to report radically secularized departures from Christian thought) and being familiarized with why Law and Gospel are important to us in all things?
    Being a senior and at the age of entering the larger culture via college or work and having been trained in basic ways how to share and defend one’s faith…helps one in belief or become a student? I teach only comparative points between Christian apologetics and other beliefs, not argument techniques.
    I won’t comment on this any more because it is clear we aren’t going to get any closer on our views than we already are. If you would ever like to come and talk with our students about what they learn and believe, you are welcome.

  25. Zrim says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Well, my intentions are really to get views out in the open and think about them, not so much get anyone to actually take my views. It’s more a thinking-out-loud thing.

    I am still not sure how any of that can’t be covered in a church class, etc. I wonder if it being in their schooling reveals how little we are doing it in the proper venue.

    I know it may sound like it’s coming from left field, but I wonder what this might say about our views on worship. If worship really is the “principle and primary good work of every believer” then how might that comport onto a Xian school curriclum that looks like seminary syllibi? If worship is the pinnacle exercise for believers, a worship both informed by and perpetuates a theology (i.e. a high view of just what is going on in worship), coupled with a churchly effort at teaching, what function does this sort of curriculum really have? Worship is what all believers do, whether or not they have access to this sort of specialized education for their youth. Seems like we are making up for something. Are our churches not taking up their teaching tasks so that we come to think that compulsory schooling should do it? Instead of putting so much effort into parochial schooling what about reforming our churches to do their work? What is left for the home and church to do if the school is doing so much of this?

    I have no doubt your students are getting something valuable, Jeff, I am just wondering about the appropriateness of the venue. I have this pesky thing about rules and bright lines, etc.

  26. Jeff says:

    Zrim,

    No doubt that there is more than a little “make up for weak ecclesiology” in what I teach. In fact, it is a major driving point behind what I do. Still, lack of doctrine is a reality in Evangelicalworld and (until churches come forward again with their pedagogy) I am happy to help counter what would end up being a generation sans knowledge of orthodox Christianity.

    Thanks again for the forum.

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