“We also predestine and condition. We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future …
—Mr. Foster in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932)
“By real education I mean one that has no ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ nonsense. A real education makes the patient want what it wants infallibly: whatever her or his parents try to do about it. Of course, it’ll have to be mainly psychological at first. But we’ll get on to biochemical condition in the end and direct manipulation of the brain….”
—Feverstone in C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength (1945)
The Religious Nature of Education
Education is inherently a religious activity. It always presupposes some brand of metaphysics, a set of assumptions about reality and possibility. Non-Christian religions without exception assume that reality is all one kind of thing. They all posit the “continuity of being” perspective. So, in this view, all matter, spirit, man, and the gods are all manifestations of one kind of being or stuff. Any given thing may be higher on the chain of being, but after all is said and done, creation and “the gods” are all made out of the same stuff.
Christian theology rejects all this outright. Orthodox Christianity insists that the Being of God and all other beings are necessarily and eternally distinct. God is not creation and creation is not God. God exists necessarily and in complete independence from the things He has made. Creation, including man, exists only by God’s decree and is completely dependent upon God’s will and power.
Practically, this means that man can never become God. There is no hidden or potential deity, or the power to become deity, lurking in human nature. There is nothing man can add to his understanding, power, or knowledge that can move him up the ladder of being, away from creaturehood towards deity. Man will always be God’s creature. This was Pharaoh’s problem in the ancient world and is Harry Potter’s problem today.
Man, however, is made in the image of God. So it’s his nature to imitate God, but only as a creature. Man is responsible to imitate God in his relationships and actions. And God has given us explicit instructions on how we ought to go about this. They are found in the Bible. This makes the Bible central to true education.
The God Who Speaks Infallibly
That God should speak to man using words flows out of the doctrine of the Trinity. God, who is One in undivided essence, is three distinct Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These Persons exist in eternal love, fellowship, and communication. It is natural for the Father to reveal Himself in His Son, and for the Son to exist as the complete and final revelation of His Father—His Word or Logos. This also makes it natural for the Holy Spirit to be the living bond of divine Love from the Father to Son and from the Son to the Father. God is both self-revealing and self-communicating.
God created the world by speaking it into existence. God used words to assign man his role within creation. God gave us the ability to speak intelligibly to one another and to Him through words. God also uses words to reveal Himself to us, now, in the 21st century.
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 we find the extended Shema which is the classic text on biblical education. This is the mandate for education in God’s own words. Moses, speaking for God, first reminds us of the unity of the divine essence—“The LORD our God is one LORD”—and then of God’s requirement that we love Him with an undivided heart. Given God’s nature, we shouldn’t have other gods, nor should we allow our love for Him to be diluted by other loves and commitments. We are to love God with our whole being. Then Moses tees it up:
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deut. 6:6-9).
“These words.” God commands us to know, embrace, and teach very specific things. He doesn’t say, “Teach something like this,” or, “Teach along these lines.” Certainly His Word expresses truth that may rightly be recast in other words, but the first command is that we teach the divine word itself. Thankfully, the biblical doctrine of translation also allows us to teach God’s word in native languages [1 Cor. 14:6-28]. One warning: Too much reliance on our own summaries of what God has said can and does lead us into trouble. After all, His words are infallible… our commentaries aren’t.
“That I command thee.” We learn early that the word that God commands conveys content which is propositionally true. This content is neither distant nor upper-story “God-talk.” It’s real communication from our Creator which demands both faith and obedience.
“This day.” The word that God commands us to speak always reflects a historical context. This word may speak directly of historical events and usually assumes a historical framework. This is because God gave His word at a particular time in a particular place and under particular circumstances. It becomes important that we know something of that history to understand the word correctly.
“Shall be in thine heart.” The word must be in our own hearts before we may teach it effectively to others. (You can’t impart a truth to another that you don’t have yourself.) What’s more, the heart is more than mere affections. The heart is the religious center of man’s being. It’s the very center of our mind, emotions, and will. It is the fountain or the spring of all that we are. And it’s at this “heart level” that God commands us to embrace His word.
“Thou shalt teach them diligently.” God requires dedication, energy, and striving from us. And He requires us to speak His words to our children in all kinds of situations: when we sit in our homes, when we rise up or lie down, when we’re moving down the road. We are not to teach half-heartedly or hope that our children will learn through osmosis. As parents we are to recognize and create opportunities for instruction. God’s word speaks to every aspect of life and He expects parents to communicate this in no uncertain terms to their kids.
“And shalt talk of them.” As we teach God’s word, we are also to talk about God’s word. This means God’s word requires both explanation as well as application. This isn’t because the word is inadequate, but because God’s purposes require human interaction around His word. He speaks His word to us and He wants us to speak it back and forth to one another so that all the diversity of our personality, our talents and gifts, our personal history and experience, can work together to unlock their richness. This is something we are to do until we take our last breath.
Teaching God’s word then, is necessarily an interpersonal process. It can never properly be reduced to a formula or put on auto-pilot. Parent and child, teacher and student, must be able to discuss and converse as real human beings, each of whom bears God’s image in a remarkable and distinctive way.
“Thou shalt write them.” We are to acknowledge God’s word both socially and politically. The text says that we are to write them on our doorposts and on our gates. The home and civil community are in view in this text. The home is to be more than shelter for individual believers living out their private lives with God. The family, as a covenantal community under the authority of Christ and His word, is supposed to acknowledge and serve the Triune God in all of its functions and activities. This would include work and play, eating and drinking, teaching and learning, sex and romance. Christ is to be Lord of all. The “city” ought to acknowledge the word of God as well. “Gates” is an obvious metaphor for comings and goings, but probably means more than that. The city gates were where the elders and judges sat in both courts and counsels of government. Christians are required to take along God’s word when they are elected to city hall or when they go to the polls to vote.
The Goals of Christian Education
The goal of the Christian life is “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever” or as John Piper renders it, “The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.” Education in God’s words should be a joyful thing, but the joy must be rooted in God. Seeking God’s glory means seeking His praise and exaltation, not as an afterthought, but as our heart’s primary desire. To love God with our whole hearts must be the goal of Christian education.
Having said that, we must remember that God has given humankind a particular role within creation. We are made in God’s image and were created to be stewards. In Christ, we are renewed to serve as prophets, kings, and priests. We are to know God’s word and interpret the world in terms of it. We are to be stewards of and develop creation in terms of God’s word. If we do this well, we bring God’s healing power to the world through the education.
Education without God
When public schools outlaw Christianity, they are left with the religion of materialism or pantheism—or with some kind of fusion of the two. In any case, the God who should loom large as ultimately reality becomes impersonal and silent. The God-less curriculum offers no absolutes or meaningful values—just opinions. On these terms, public education has no transcendent reference point. Education then, in whatever form it takes, will serve the immediate or pragmatic pleasures of those who teach—or of those who pay the teachers. When the parents are the primary educators, they will focus on the needs and values of the family. When State-paid and licensed teachers are the primary educators, they inevitably focus on the needs and values of the State. This shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Given the nature of non-Christian thought, this means that non-Christian education, whether materialist or pantheistic, always assumes the continuity of being. That is, such education will have as its goal the deification of man, whether individually or collectively. Thus, whether by ritual or technology, whether in his own person or in the State collective, man must, inevitably climb the chain of being to become God.
What Huxley and Lewis both foresaw was an educational system administered by a State which had broken free of God. Both men concluded that, in the name of deifying the child or at least keeping him happy, the educators would end up deifying the State. But that State, having made itself God, would end up turning on its citizens in the most cold, ruthless, and terrible way imaginable. As in Orwell’s 1984, the State would end up serving only the Control Grid’s lust for power.
Christian education, by comparison, is a much more modest and less pretentious process. It centers on God’s infallible word. Its goal is the service and glory of God. It lets man be man and children be children. Its fruit is social stability, decentralization of the learning process, and personal freedoms the State hates with a vengeance. In serving God, its serves the student, families, and the broader culture very well indeed.
For Further Reading:
Rousas J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many, Studies in the Philosophy of Ultimacy and Order (N. p.: Craig Press, 1971).
Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1981).
C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, or Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of school (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001 ),