Does God Care How We Educate Our Children?

After a brief sabbatical, I’m back to posting. But since I’m still in the fog of the newborn stage, and because new voices add depth to conversations, the next two weeks will be guest posts.

The topic of educational philosophies is one that is discussed often in our home, I suppose that’s what happens when two philosophy nerds get married. I was homeschooled, my husband was not, we homeschool our children, all of our close family does not, we have friends who homeschool, and friends who do not. I’m well aware that education is often a topic that causes people to see red; we put up our defenses quickly, and are quick to judge those who hold a different position than our own. Then again, there are many topics like this today. That’s tragic. The moment we refuse to approach a table of discourse, particularly with someone with whom we disagree, we lose. We gain when we can read and listen to arguments without taking disagreement personally, weighing reasonably, and not based on our emotional context. It is only through discourse, challenging questions, and facing disagreement that we can learn and think well. So I give you Anthony, one of the most thought-provoking individuals I know.

Anthony is a dear friend of ours. In fact, we consider him, and his wife and son, more family than friends. Many of our conversations circle around debating one another, disagreeing, and challenging one another. I’ve learned much from conversations with Anthony and his wife, they’ve sharpened how I think, and Anthony is particularly gifted in making you question your long-held beliefs until you can either defend them well, or abandon them as you realize they are inconsistent with your faith. This is a gift more people need in their lives. So, I share with you his writing. You don’t have to agree with him, but reading him (and Challies) should provoke you to think. My hope is that you will step away from these posts and ask real questions about education, its purpose, our duty as Christian parents in developing a consistent philosophy regarding it, and thus employing it as stewards of our children.


A Word of Thanks

I would be remiss if I did not first thank Lydia for giving me the opportunity to publish this piece on her blog. I know that she has poured years of effort into Oceans Never Fill and I’m genuinely honored that I’ve been given this opportunity. While I do not pretend to be as educated nor as talented of a writer as Lydia, I do hope that those of you who have read her faithfully over the years will find my installment to be worthwhile and helpful in some capacity. At the time of writing this paragraph, we have exchanged private messages concerning the direction and material contained in this article, and she has also offered editorial support. I want to offer my thanks and her due credit for helping put this together, and I hope that it pays off in the end.

Why I’m Writing

Tim Challies, a well-known Christian blogger, recently wrote a brief article entitled “What If God Doesn’t Care a Whole Lot About How You Educate Your Children?” As the title would leave you to believe, the main thrust is that Christians in recent decades have put an unhealthy emphasis on how we educate and train our children. The core of the argument is that it doesn’t matter how we educate our children but rather why we choose a specific way of doing so. He concludes his article by saying:

“I’m coming to believe that, though education is undoubtedly very important, what’s more important is not the decision we make, but the basis on which we make it. I’m coming to believe that when we operate by wisdom and conviction, when we pray fervently and decide boldly, God is eager and willing to pour out his blessings upon us and upon our children, no matter what direction we choose.”

I have no reason to doubt that Tim is following strong convictions. But I am also a strong believer in blind spots that result in inconsistent thinking. It’s something that we are all prone to and the only way our blind spots can be exposed is by having others point them out for us. I doubt that Tim will ever see this article, but I do hope that those of you who come across it and found his recent article to be wise and insightful will find this response helpful and offer you a different perspective on the issue.

This is going to be a two part series; the first article will primarily deal with a broad philosophy of education from a biblical perspective and will try to demonstrate from two texts of scripture that God commands parents to educate their children in specific areas and with specific content in mind. The second article will dialogue directly with Challie’s article and how it seriously ignores a deeper philosophy of education.

Some Concessions

Before I dive right in, there are two points I must concede. The first is that the scriptures do not explicitly prescribe to us how we ought to educate our children. In other words, there is no text that says “you shall educate your children under your own roof” nor is there a text that prohibits sending our children to the government for their training. I must also concede that I do not see schooling choice as an issue of sin. While I do find it to be vitally important and I am convinced that Christians who choose to public school are acting inconsistently in terms of worldview, I do not think that those who do so ought to be placed on church discipline nor should they be barred from the table

Work With What Ya Got

This debate amongst Christians is not a new one, nor is it one I forsee dying off in the near future. While I recognize that, as is the case with most theological and cultural debates, there is a spectrum of convictions on the matter, allow me some authorial liberty to lump everyone into one or two categories for a moment: pro-public school, and anti-public school. The former camp argues a point which I’ve already conceded is valid; that the scriptures do not explicitly command nor prohibit any type of education so we are therefore given liberty to choose whichever method we find is best for our family or particular children. The latter camp says that while it is true that there is no such text that prohibits or commands us in how we educate, we still have 66 books worth of data from which we can extrapolate and deduce a course of action. The latter group, in my mind, has the stronger point in this regard.

As Christians, we ought not make arguments from silence. That is to say, it is not a good hermeneutic to say that because the Bible does not prohibit something directly that we are free to do it. Instead, we ought to examine what biblical data we do have and reason from there. This is a fundamental apologetic that we utilize when engaging the world on issues and it ought to be the guiding principle for how we apply the Bible to our lives. By way of example, it is common for LGBT advocates to argue that because Jesus never mentions homosexuality it stands to reason that He was not against it. One counter we can make is that while it is true that Jesus never explicitly calls homosexuality a sin, He does defend the created order of sexuality throughout the gospel accounts. What pro-public school Christians want to do is tell us that because the Bible never condemns public education it is therefore permissible. But in so doing they are ignoring what is said about education.

Some Texts

Take, for example, the text that Challies cites from Ephesians. When Tim writes, “we have the additional goal of raising children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord with the expectation that they will come to faith in Christ,” he is directly referencing Ephesians 6:4 in which Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (NASB).” Often what Christians do is try to compartmentalize our training and say that while Paul does command fathers to bring our children up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, that has nothing to do with reading, writing, and arithmetic. But the word “discipline” here is translated from the Greek word paideia.  Paideia is used 6 times in the New Testament and in the King James is translated three times as “chastening” and once each as “nurture” “instruction” and “chastisement.” All three times it is translated as “chastening” in the KJV are found in Hebrews 12 and are all in regards to a chastening from the Lord. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told that “all scripture is given by God and is profitable for…[paideia] in righteousness (KJV).” So what, exactly, does paideia mean? Thayer’s lexicon tells us that it means more than just memorizing scriptures or even having orthodox theology. It instead refers to “the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals…).” Douglas Wilson says that paideia is a loaded word that is most likely describing an “enculturation.” In his commentary, Matthew Henry tells us that parents are to “not only bring them up as men, in nurture and admonition, but as Christians, in the admonition of the Lord. Let them have a religious education. Instruct them to fear sinning; and inform them of, and excite them to, the whole of their duty towards God.” Lastly, John Gill’s commentary tells us that parents are to raise their children “in the knowledge of divine things, setting them good examples, taking care to prevent their falling into bad company, praying with them, and for them, bringing them into the house of God, under the means of grace, to attend public worship; all which, under a divine blessing, may be very useful to them.” All this to say, there is much more depth to what Paul is admonishing parents towards than what most of us think. Paul is urging us to offer our children a distinctly Christian upbringing, not an upbringing in which our faith is adjacent to, or in addition to,  our cultural norms, but one in which our faith is central to every area of our life.

Consider another text from the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 6, Israel is told to “teach [these commands] diligently to your children, and [you] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (ESV).” Deuteronomy 6 is a rich chapter in which Israel is called to remember the statutes of the Lord and to instruct their children in the realities that ground them. They are called to be diligent in their obedience and in instructing their children as to why they obey. Matthew Henry here says that 6:7 encourages parents to “do what they can to engage the affections of their children to him, and so to preserve the entail of religion in their families from being cut off” and concerning the Law “that good thing which is committed to us we must carefully transmit to those that come after us, that it may be perpetuated.” On this passage, John Gill says, “it is expressive of diligence and industry in teaching, by frequent repetition of things, by inculcating them continually into [your children’s] minds, endeavouring to imprint them there, that they may be sharp, ready, and expert in them…every opportunity should be taken to instil the knowledge of divine things into their tender minds

In these two texts, which are commonly used by homeschooling apologists, we can glean that Christians are told to be diligent in raising their children up in a holistic worldview concerning God and His laws. We are to make the most of each opportunity to flood their minds with the Word of God and teach them to understand it. We have a biblical responsibility to raise our children with the goal that they would not only fear the Lord and obey Him but know how to do so.

No Neutrality

So while Christians are instructed to raise their children in the aforementioned paideia, it is important to realize that we are not the only ones with a paideia. The world also has a nurture and admonition that they want to bring our children up in, but it is not the paideia of the Lord. Throughout his epistles, Paul makes it clear that outside of Christ we are not ambivalent or disinterested in God, but we are hostile towards Him (Romans 8:7) and we suppress His truth in our unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Paul tells us that before Christ we are “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2 KJV).” Jesus warns His disciples that they will be hated by the world because they belong to Him (John 15:18, Mark 13:13, Matthew 10:22).

While there is nothing in the above paragraph that a reasonable Christian would disagree with, what happens is that we often function as if we disagree. On this particular issue of education, we compartmentalize everything into our Christian life and our secular life that is somehow supposed to remain unaffected by our faith. Many Christians  criticize those who go to church on Sundays and then lead unaffected lives the rest of the week, yet it is a similar vein of thinking to send our children to Sunday School on Sundays and then send them to an anti-Christian institution for their “secular education” the rest of the week.

One analogy I make when talking to the pro-public school debate is asking them if they would send their children to a Muslim school. The answer is almost always “No!” In the example of a Muslim school, it is clear to all of us that Muslims have a wildly different worldview then Christians in terms of ther personhood of Jesus, the Trinity, salvation, and what submission to God really means. It only makes sense that a Christian would not opt for sending their children to a school that taught such contrary things to what they believe.

The problem, however, is that we have bought the lie that secularism is somehow a neutral ground on matters of spirituality and faith. What we fail to realize is that secular humanism is just as opposed to our faith as Islam, and it is the engine that drives the public education system in America. This opposition to the Christian faith is plainly seen in the heavy influence of Darwinism in biology classes, teaching sexuality as mere biology, and the active suppression of any religious expression in an official capacity. There could be a case to be made if public schools were simply absent of solid Christian educators providing solid Christian education, but our Supreme Court has ruled that the Bible cannot even be read before the start of the school day, let alone taught in a catechism class. It is simply inescapable that our public education system is actively teaching a worldview that is contrary to the Christian faith.

This is really where the Crux of the matter lies. If the role of the parent is to train their children in the Christian worldview, how can they consistently do so while sending their child off to an intentionally un-Christian institution? If Christians are to diligently teach their children the Word, how can we do so if we send them to an institution that doesn’t merely refuse to teach the Word but intentionally and explicitly teaches contrary to it? These are the deeper level questions that Christians ought to address when thinking about education; not just whether or not our children are well adjusted, successful, or socialized.

With some serious groundwork out of the way, next week I will dialogue specifically with what Challies had to say about education, and propose how Christians ought to be better thinkers about the whole discussion.

Anthony is a native to Charleston, WV where he currently lives with his wife Abby and son Solomon. He can be found on Twitter at @ARayWhitlock. He can also be reached with questions, notes of encouragement, or hate mail at anthonyraywhitlock@gmail.com.

One comment

  1. […] last week’s post I set out to lay some groundwork for a biblical philosophy of education. This week I want to  […]

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