Where Can We Turn?
If the evangelical and the Reformed communities are experiencing fragmentation in respect to educational philosophy and their employment of a pragmatic ethic, then where is one to turn?
Christian schools must follow faithfully the simple solution to this complex mess upon the American ecclesiastical landscape of Christian education. Succinctly stated, that solution is this: hold fast to the holy Word of God and the Confessional Standards that interprets that Word. Only the Holy Spirit’s power to use God’s Word and the Confessional Standards are to control the educational agenda and curriculum of the Christian school.
Sadly, many Reformed educational institutions to which we once entrusted our children seem no longer to reflect the historic truths of our faith. They lost our trust when theistic evolution was taught and academicians attacked male headship and its relationship to ecclesiastical office. But the issues of evolution and ecclesiastical office were only expressions of a deeper problem. By rejecting the historic Reformed view of Scripture, the so-called “progressive” element of Reformed educators had lost their infallible directive to integrate Scripture and the Confessional standards into the disciplines of the academic curriculum. Even if Reformed educators gave verbal assent to the authority of Scripture, they would conclude that there was absolutely no consent how to interpret the Bible. If the authority and interpretation of Scripture are questioned, then where does one turn for a model for educational pedagogy?
Whether consciously or unconsciously, the new breed of Reformed educators seems to have been left with one alternative which they have freely put into practice; it is the ancient secular method of pedagogy known as “antilogic” or utramque partem. Simply put, these terms refer to a method of resolving disputes by examining the arguments on both sides of the questions, without any reference to an objective criterion of truth or some standard of behavior.
For example, let’s say the Reformed Doctrine teacher is presenting the issue of ecclesiastical office to his class. During his lecture he will outline both sides—those who hold to exclusive male office and those who do not. He will point out there are respectful Reformed exegetes on both sides of the issues. Since nobody has absolute insight in the meaning of Scripture, then both sides should be held in respect. So the child walks out of the classroom confused about whether there is anything that he can have absolute knowledge about (the same conclusion is reached by the student as difficult issues are presented in the same manner in the other disciplines of the curriculum).
Meanwhile, the new breed of Reformed educators see this model as a healthy pedagogical method because, in the educator’s eyes, his students have been opened to a world of tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and pluralism in which no one can make a dogmatic claim of possessing absolute certain knowledge. In their view, reconciliation and harmony among believers as well as many in the secular non-Christian world are a possible goal. This model and method is nothing but Christian relativism. It is a disgrace to the standards of the historic Reformed faith.
Covenant and Education
In this mess, what is needed? Do we need a pragmatic vision? I would suggest, “No!” Do we need a charismatic leader to rally your troops? I would suggest, “No!” Do we need a curriculum that will establish our children as superior academic elites in American culture? I would suggest, “No!” Do we need an agenda that will transform secular culture as well as the lives of children as we turn the world upside down? I would suggest, “No!”
As we hold fast to the holy Word of God and the Confessional Standards of the Reformed tradition, we need to recall and embrace a Biblical truth that has long been at the heart of continental Calvinism. This truth is found within the person of God’s name; it comes from within the very fabric of God’s revelation to His people; it is descriptive of His binding personal relationship of fellowship and communion with His people—it is covenant!
At one time it was clear to the Reformed community that the Biblical notion of covenant meant “set apart,” “separate,” and “being a distinct and a holy nation unto the Lord” from the secular and pagan worldviews of the nations. If one truly grasps the Biblical view of the covenant, he will not be interested in fads or quick solutions. He will not run around seeking the wisdom of the most recent individual who has declared himself the new Reformed pope or the most recent movement which has declared itself as the new headquarters of the Reformed Vatican. Furthermore, those who understand the Biblical teaching of the covenant will not be so brash to claim that the covenant, rightly understood, dissolves all our problems.
Covenant is a revelatory word, which is not accompanied with the fanfare of human attention and self-declaration. Covenant describes God who, rich in His grace and mercy, condescends to a people and forms a bond of fellowship and communion in mutual love and faithfulness. It is an oath—a vow, a bond—of mutual love and faithfulness between the Creator and the creature. In this bond, the believer seeks no glory for himself in this world, he seeks no position of prominence and prestige at the table of political, social, and cultural shakers; rather, he lives within the parameters of the blessing and responsibility of the covenant itself.
Covenant life, or in our case, covenant life applied to education, is to live from Him, through Him, and to Him (Romans 11:36). The focus of all of life is God—the triune God of the Bible. Every single subject taught in the academic curriculum is to be studied as having its origin from God, its content through God, and its end to God. I like to refer to this as the “covenantal Christian educational circle”: from, through, to God. At the heart of applying the covenant to Christian education is the eschatological nature of God; the subject matter begins with God, and it ends with God (Revelation 1: 8, 11)!
The Goal of Education
For example, from the covenantal perspective with respect to the field of mathematics, our goal is not to have a Christian Noble Prize winner in mathematics; our goal is not to have a Christian mathematician on the Board of NASA; our goal is not to have a Christian mathematician as head of the mathematics department of MIT.
What is the goal? What is the purpose of learning mathematics? Well, if it is not to achieve a prestigious honor or high position in technology or academics, then is the goal merely to be able to do the basic financial functions of the home? Absolutely not! You learn mathematics to understand the incredible simplicity and mysteries of God’s world, and to understand every mathematical question, problem, and answer in covenant relationship with God—that everything—to repeat—is from, through, and to God. Herein is the goal; to live in covenant with God when applying mathematics to any level of our life recognizing that all mathematical propositions hold together by the Word of God’s power (Hebrews 11:3).
Whether the believer is applying mathematics to his personal and family budget, or he has chosen mathematics as his field of vocation (from school teacher to engineer), the believer allows his covenant identity in Christ to totally define the discipline. In this context, as the covenant is understood, the issue is not the position you hold with respect to men, but whether you are performing your task in a self-conscious, covenant manner with your God! In the final analysis, it is only God that counts.
Our covenant youth must be educated in the context of a curriculum in which the Biblical conception of covenant is at the heart of the integration enterprise. In Genesis 2, God introduces His reader to His covenant name. In fact, the name of God, Yahweh “Lord” is introduced. In chapter two, we begin to read the phrase, “Lord God.” In Genesis 2:7, we read about the actual creation of Adam; the text says that the “Lord God” breathed into Adam and he became a living being. Adam is given life from God in covenant with him. It is God’s covenant name that gives him life. Adam has no existence, or to say it more generally, man has no existence unless God in covenant creates man.
There is no biological aspect of Adam’s existence without God creating him in covenant relationship (natural sciences). Once Adam is created in time and space, Adam is a being in history. Adam has no history unless God in covenant creates him (historical sciences). From this point, he enters into communion and fellowship with his Creator; he has no communication skills unless God in covenant creates him as a creature of language (language arts). Hopefully, you are beginning to grasp the point; there is absolutely no existence or integration of life without our God in covenant with us.
Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, into the heart of God’s covenant activity as Creator is the Lord of the covenant, His beloved Son, Jesus Christ! As the Scriptures will tell us, in Him is life—there is no biological aspect of God’s covenantal act of creation without Christ. As the Scriptures teach us, Christ is the Lord of history—He is the focus and center of history, and thus, humanity’s existence in time
and space has no meaning outside of Christ. As the Scripture instructs, at the heart of God’s communication and fellowship with Adam is the condescension of His Word, which will be most intimately made known in the second person of the Godhead, the Word of God!
Simply put, you cannot do biology, history, language arts, or any other discipline in the academic curriculum without integrating covenant and Christ into the subject matter!
Christ, without covenant, reduces Christian education to imitation and moral platitudes, whereas covenant, without Christ, will reduce Christian education to social relationships (human relationship bonds) which will attempt to recover the social and psychological harmony of humanity under some type of transformation of culture.
On the other hand, Christ, with covenant, defines a Christ centered education in complete devotion of directing our youth to the inheritance of our triune God in all His cosmic integrated glory! Union with the exalted Christ is our only true end in Christian education!
Herein, lays our hope, trust, confidence, and faith as a pilgrim people against the mess in the secular world as well as the mess in the evangelical and Reformed worlds of education.
Dr. William Dennison is the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Georgia.