The Why Behind Christian Education

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A few years ago, I reviewed a book with contributors who make the case for their preferred choice for Christians and education. The major options—public school, Christian school, or homeschool—have strengths and weaknesses. Every school is different, and every child is different.

As I said in that book review, different conclusions on this matter shouldn’t lead to division in the church. Likewise, we shouldn’t overlook how economic realities often make one or two of these options difficult or impossible for many families.

Still, over the years, I’ve been asked why our family has chosen to go the route of the Christian school (with a brief exception of a year of homeschooling for one of our kids). Even though my wife and I have experienced both Christian and secular schools and have seen weaknesses in both—she grew up in a public school in Romania, and I went to a Christian school in the United States— it’s the overall approach to education that has led us to Christian education.

In a recent issue of Touchstone, Donald Williams lays out four theses on Christian education, which I will list and summarize below. Williams believes Christian education “has a critical role to play alongside the church and the home in transmitting the biblical worldview to the next generation.” Here’s why.

1. Secular education is an oxymoron.

Williams believes that the goal of a secular school—to provide an education that is religiously neutral—is impossible.

In order to achieve what we thought was the purely secular goal of vocational training, we discover that we cannot ignore virtue. But which set of virtues are we going to inculcate? On what basis?

He goes on:

Secular education is an oxymoron. It is a contradiction in terms. It cannot really be religiously neutral without implying that it does not matter which religion one embraces, or whether one embraces any. And if religion has no consequences, then it is trivial and unimportant. The harder education tries to be secular, then, the more it becomes secularist. Atheism and naturalism are subtly privileged, in effect, as the only truths that matter. And this privileging is unavoidable . . . 

2. You cannot educate a human being unless you know what a human being is and what he is for.

Williams believes “it is impossible to educate a human being apart from some idea of what a human being is, and there is no such concept that is not determined by whether or not we conceive of a human being as created by and related to God.” He explains:

Who are we? Why are we here? What are we for? Any educational system that does not start by asking such questions and that does not insist on having satisfying answers to them is doomed to futility and failure. Any educational system that has the wrong answers will at best fail to bring out the fullness of human potential and will at worst create twisted ideologues who will undermine that potential for others.

3. Human beings were created in the image of God to enjoy him through fellowship with him and to glorify him by serving him as his deputies and regents in the rule and care of the earth.

Williams has a robust view of creation, fall, and redemption, and he recognizes that even “Christian schools” can fail by offering a “truncated vision of human nature and human purpose.” At its best, though, Christian education should be different:

We want the education we provide as Christians to move us in the direction of wholeness, a wholeness informed by a biblical view of what humanity is.

4. Christian education develops the whole person to glorify God in every area of a whole life.

Williams’s final point makes the case for holistic education, which points us upward to God while also relating everything in life to God.

Education starts with anthropology, the doctrine of man. So Christian education starts with the imago Dei, the image of God. It starts, in other words, with Adam and Eve reigning over the Garden of nature, representing the Creator in his creation. What possible knowledge about that creation, its nature and its purpose, could be irrelevant or uninteresting to them?

Williams makes the case here for an education that is both Christian and classical in requiring critical thinking:

In a complex world that requires analysis, and a fallen world that requires discernment of truth from error, they had better be solidly grounded in the tools and methods of critical thinking. In a fallen world that requires discernment of good and evil, they had better be well versed in God’s revelation; they should be students and followers of Scripture, understood by the careful use of those tools of critical thinking, which are applied through sound hermeneutics in the light of the wisdom of the Christian tradition.

Recovery of Relevance

Williams’s conclusion lays out something we ought to all agree with, no matter where our children get “formal” education. As parents and church members, we are ultimately responsible for educating our kids. Let’s not shrink back from this task.

The church is the body of Christ, the Lord of Glory, and is made up of redeemed human beings created in the image of God to serve him in the whole scope of his vast and wonderful world. Therefore, there will be no recovery of relevance in the church until it is committed to an education that reflects these truths—that seeks to develop whole persons who will glorify God in every arena of a whole life. We have work to do.

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