Should Education be Religious?

Yes or no?

Foundations of Christian Education coverThe Word of God also indicates very explicitly that the education which the parents are in duty bound to provide for their children must be fundamentally religious. If fact, its emphasis is so exclusively on religious training that it almost seems as if it regarded this as the whole of education.

This finds its explanation in the fact that Scripture deals primarily with the religious and moral needs of man, that it regards religion as the most fundamental, the most basic thing in the life of man, and that it would not consider any education as sound and satisfactory that was not permeated with the spirit of religion.

—Louis Berkhof, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 29-30

And as Cornelius Van Til says, there’s no neutrality. Yes, even in education. As Greg Bahnsen told plenty of high school students, referring to the myth of neutrality they would encounter in the academic world: they’re not, and you shouldn’t be. Those who claim to be neutral and that you should be too, they actually are not neutral. And you, Christian, should not be because you claim the name of Christ. We should not attempt neutrality because of what God has said in Scripture.

So for those who answer that education should not be religious, that’s actually impossible. Every human being knows God, being made in God’s image. All people are without excuse, because God has made himself known to them.

Therefore, “secular” or irreligious schools are in fact not truly so. They, and everyone in them, like everyone else, are unavoidably religious.

The question “should education be religious?” is already assuming something: that education can be neutral. That neutrality is a possibility. But it’s not. The claim of Christ is comprehensive, total. To then claim that he can be excluded from anything, even education, is to not be neutral but actually against Christianity.

Religiously neutral education? To rephrase Greg Bahnsen’s line: it’s not, and it shouldn’t be.

The question is not whether education should be religious. The fundamental question is which religion. And at bottom, there are only two choices: belief or unbelief. Christianity, or anti-Christianity.

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Education Must Conform

Foundations of Christian Education coverWe are in perfect agreement with the Modernists on this point, the only difference being that, while we maintain that in the training of Christian children the education of the schools should fundamentally conform to the religious education of the home and of the church, they strenuously assert that the religious education of the home and of the church must be in conformity with the scientific teachings of the schools. To the oft-repeated complaint that many young people suffer shipwreck religiously in our colleges and universities and even seminaries, they simply answer that the Christian home and the Christian church are to blame, because they have not prepared their children and young people for the advanced views in religion that are now taught in the schools.

—Louis Berkhof, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 33

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Connecting Covenant to Education

Foundations of Christian Education coverIf theology drives methodology, and it does, then the particulars of Reformed theology must drive methodology. This is as true in theological method as it is with apologetics.

It must also be true of Christian education. What’s the Reformed foundation for Christian education?

If you are a Christian educator, what foundation do you stand on?

The fact is that in our struggle for Christian schools the doctrine of the covenant was always the great presupposition.

—Louis Berkhof, “Covenant: The Covenant of Grace and its Significance for Christian Education” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 66

Louis Berkhof points out that in the battle between the Modernists (theological Liberals) and the Fundamentalists in his day, serious-minded Christians naturally sided with the Fundamentalists since they believed the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. Yet, there was something to be desired. You see, they were Premillennialists (Dispensationalists). They denied that the covenant made with Abraham extends to us and our children, sealed by baptism. As he eloquently puts it, “Experience has already taught us that those who come under the spell of Premillennialism finally lose their covenant conception and turn to the position of the Baptists” (Ibid.).

Lose that, and you lose the “great presupposition” for Christian schools.

Why should Christian parents provide a Christian education for their children?

. . . the children of Christian parents should be religiously educated in view of the fact they they are covenant children, and that, when they were brought to baptism, their parents promised to provide such an education for them.

—pg. 66

Here’s where Reformed theology must be applied consistently. To flux or waiver on the theology will lead to a faulty method. Remove the foundations, and the building will come tumbling down. Theology must always be the basis for whatever you’re doing. And if you are reformed (adhering to covenant theology), then you should know the covenantal basis for Christian education. If your theology is Reformed, then your education should be Christian.

Sounding very much like Cornelius Van Til, Berkhof emphasizes Reformed theology’s relationship to Christian education. Specifically, the covenant of grace.

In what way does the covenant relation involve the duty to give the children of the covenant a truly Christian education? There are especially three lines of thought that suggest themselves here.

—pg. 76

Berkhof’s three lines of thought are “Adoption and the Honor of God”, “The Promises of the Covenant”, and “The Requirements of the Covenant.”

Regarding adoption:

Can we really suggest in all seriousness that in a world such as we are living in Christian education in the home, in the church, and in the Sunday school is quite adequate? . . . Let us ever be mindful of the fact that the King’s children must have a royal education.

—pg. 77

Regarding covenant children as heirs to the covenant promises:

Many children of God are even today living in spiritual poverty, though they are rich in Christ and heirs of the world, because they have not been taught to see the greatness and splendor of their spiritual heritage. . . . we must employ all the means at our command to unfold before their very eyes the treasures of divine grace of which they are heirs in Christ Jesus.

—pg. 79

Then finally,

God requires of covenant children that they believe in Jesus Christ unto salvation and that they turn from sin to holiness, i.e., follow the highway of sanctification through life. It is a very comprehensive requirement, the nature of which ought to be well understood. Hence the need of Christian education. . . .

The life of the covenant child should ever increasingly become a true inflection of the life of Christ that is born within the heart. Nothing short of the perfect life is its grand ideal.

Now surely it needs no argument that children of whom such great, such spiritual, such heavenly things are required must be educated in the fear of the Lord. Christian education is one of the means which God is pleased to use for working faith in the heart of the child, for calling an incipient faith into action, and for guiding the first faltering steps of faith.

—pg. 80-81

The essay is excellent. It’s important that we be aware or conscious of the fact that theology needs to drive the way we do things. There’s a why before a how. We need to be conscious of what that theological foundation is. Theology must determine our approach to education. And our approach to education must be intentionally aligned with our theology.

If you are in any way involved in Christian education (that pretty much includes every believer), then I hope this read helps.

Covenant – The Covenant of Grace and Its Significance for Christian Education Louis Berkhof

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Education and a Divided Life

Foundations of Christian Education cover

The soul is a unit and education is a unitary process, aiming at the development of man’s essential nature into a harmonious life, full and rich and beautiful. But this end can never be attained, if the home and the church on the one hand, and the school on the other hand do not have the same conception of the essential nature of the child, and do not agree in the fundamentals of their teachings. How can an education that proceeds in part on the assumption that the child is the image-bearer of God and in part on the supposition that it bears the image of the animal, an education that is partly religious and partly irreligious, i.e., anti-religious, ever result in a life that is truly unified? It can only lead to one thing, and that is a divided life so strongly condemned by our Savior (Matt. 6:22, 23), a life with scattered energies and dissipated powers, swayed and torn by conflicting opinions, lacking in singleness of purpose, in stability and strength, and in that true joy that fills the soul which is consciously moving in the right direction.

—Louis Berkhof, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 32-33

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Reformed Perspective on Education

Foundations of Christian Education cover

If we are truly Reformed, we shall say that the will of God should determine our attitude to the Christian school, and that this will is revealed to us in his general, but above all in his special revelation.

—Louis Berkhof, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 28

In his essay, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School”, Louis Berkhof first summarizes some secular approaches to education, namely nationalism and evolutionary psychology. Then in contrast, Berkhof discusses the Reformed perspective on education. Here are some excerpts under that heading.

Who is responsible to educate children?

God has made known to us whom he regards as the responsible educators of the child. He has indicated this in his general revelation in nature in the orders which he has established. The gentile world hit upon the idea of parental obligation in the work of education. . . Athens placed the responsibility for the work of education squarely on the family; all its schools were private schools. And of the five rights of the Roman citizens, that of the father over his children was the very first. . . The home rather than the school was the center of the educational system. . . The children are born of the parents and therefore belong to them first of all. . . . Hence it is but natural that the parents should be the responsible educators, and that, if the parents should feel constrained to call in the help of others, these others should feel that they stand in loco parentis (in the place of the parents, ed.).

—pg. 28-29

Scripture itself also teaches that parents are the responsible educators.

God’s special revelation teaches us the same truth with even greater clarity. Negatively, it may be said that the Bible in speaking of the duties of the state never mentions the work of educating the children of the nation (cf. Exod. 18:22-26; Deut. 1:16, 17; Matt. 22:17-21; Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-15). It is a striking fact that even the Old Testament, in which God deals with the nation of Israel more than with the individuals that belong to it and consequently speaks primarily in national terms, always refers to or addresses the parents as the responsible educators of the children. . . . In the New Testament . . . when it speaks of the education of the children, it turns to the parents in the words, “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

—pg. 29

Because human beings are whole persons, and the whole of man is engaged in every activity, then the education process should be a “unitary process.”

It is utter folly to think that you can inform the intellect without giving direction to the will, that you store the head with knowledge without affecting the emotions, the inclinations, the desires, and the aspirations of the heart. . . . Again, in view of the fact that education is and should be a unitary process, we understand the absolute absurdity of saying that the school is concerned only with the head and should limit itself to secular education, while the home and the church make provision for the heart by adding religious education. We should never forget that the education which the child receives in the school, though divorced from religion, is nevertheless an education of the entire child and is bound to make a deep impression on the heart.

—pg. 32

I managed to scrounge up the essay in PDF format:

Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School

Since the table of contents for this book has been difficult to find, I’ll post it here:

Part One: The Necessity and Distinctiveness of Christian Eduction in Reformed Perspective
1. Antitheses in Education (Cornelius Van Til)
2. Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School (Louis Berkhof)
Part Two: The Doctrinal Foundations of Christian Education
3. Creation: The Education of Man—A Divinely Ordained Need (Van Til)
4. Covenant: The Covenant of Grace and its Significance for Christian Education (Berkhof)
5. Faith: Faith and Our Program (Van Til)
6. Authority: The Christian School and Authority (Berkhof)
7. Eternal Life: The Full-Orbed Life (Van Til)

The essays by Cornelius Van Til are available for free as the appendices to his Essays on Christian Education (which is recommended reading).

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