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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“What Ellensburg Christian School education should be about” (speech: ECS community)

(Note: In the mid-1990s I served on the Board of Directors for the new Ellensburg Christian School. For a couple of those years, I was the board chairman. ECS was a pioneering effort on the part of several local families to provide a Christian education for their children. Our daughters were in college at the time but I was committed to Christian education so I served on the board. This is a speech I gave on one occasion to the parents, staff and children of ECS.)

PARENT ORIENTATION
September, 1996

As we begin our sixth year of operation we at Ellensburg Christian School have witnessed God do a mighty work among us. For those of us who have older children who have not benefited by an education at ECS, we are amazed at God’s goodness in raising up this institution. Margaret MacLennan has been here long enough to tell us that God is doing wonderful things in Ellensburg right now, and the Ellensburg Christian School is just one of his outpourings. As God raises up this ministry it is faced with increasing financial problems, educational problems and community problems. The Lord tells us we fight enemies not of “flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age.” And that is who is opposing what we are doing at ECS. It is fundamentally a spiritual battle. In line with this, allow me to share with you my vision for Ellensburg Christian School. I’ve talked about these ideas with the other board members and with the teachers recently, and Mr. Stein suggested I might share these thoughts with other parents as well.

We are commanded by our Lord to bring our entire thought life under the control of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:4; 2 Peter 1:31). All areas of intellectual activity are to be judged and evaluated and scrutinized by Biblical thinking (2 Cor. 10:5-62). The God whom we serve is a God who is not silent but who has spoken in a language we can understand, and who has acted publicly in space and time, and who therefore can be known through rational thought and observation (Rom. 1:203). God has acted and has communicated His will and His view of things in written form in order that we might know and understand. and then love and worship Him (Dent. 6:4-9; 28:58; 1 Kings 18:16-46; John 21.-24-25; Acts 1.1-3; 26.26; etc.)

God’s son, Jesus, has declared himself to be the embodiment of “truth” (John 14:64), therefore all truth, from whatever source, leads to the Christ. Consequently, the continual search to understand the truth in all of life’s activities is an activity of obedience and worship and leads inevitably to our blessed Lord (Col. 1:16-17, 2:2-45). We 20th century Christians have the traditions of the Apostles and the church fathers6 to guide us in a discerning application of Biblical truth to everyday life (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6)7. That’s why we are commanded to know and understand the infallible written word of God so that we might be discerning so that our faith might not be destroyed by “lawless” unbelieving thinkers–who, nevertheless, may be able to lead us to truth from time to time (2 Peter 3:15-178).

If “every thought is to be made captive to the Lord Christ” as Paul commands, then we must be discerning thinkers. To this end, we must know the thought forms of the world and be able to answer them with “gentleness and respect” as Peter says (1 Peter 3:15¬169). If we are to redeem our minds (Matt. 22:37; Rom. 12:210) as well as our souls, as both Jesus and Paul exhort, then we must teach our children to think “Christianly.”11 It makes no difference what our vocational calling is or what our intellectual gifts are or what our future plans are. The commandment to redeem our minds as an act of obedient worship is universal for all Christians.

John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Because we are a people of “the Word,” the Book (Neh. 8:8, John 20:30-31; Rev. 21:27), we Christians must train our children to be the best readers and writers and thinkers in our community so that they can defend and propagate the “entrusted” contents of the Book to their generation, as well as to the future generations (1 Tim. 6.20-2112). We do not want our children to receive the reproach given by our Lord to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but [on the things of] man” (Matt. 8:33). But rather, we want Paul’s exhortation to apply to our children (as well as ourselves): “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise” (Eph. 5:1513).

Paul is an example of the rigorously trained wise Christian who knew the pagan world view of his Greek/Roman culture so well that his faith could remain firm and his life a living testimony to his Lord. Paul was well-educated under a great teacher, Gamaliel, and demonstrated in his writing a thorough knowledge of the pagan philosophy and culture. He knew the pagan language (Acts 21:3714), he knew the pagan poets (Acts 17:2815), he knew the ancient pagan Cynic philosopher Diogenes, the Cynic (413-327 BC) (1 Tim 6:1016), he knew contemporary pagan philosophers (Acts 17:1717), and he knew the thought of Aristotle (384-322 BC). 18  In short, Paul was well-educated in the secular worldviews.19 This knowledge enabled him to be an effective “ambassador” for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).

To those who would charge that the desire of Ellensburg Christian School to train our students to be the best readers, writers and thinkers in our society (Ellensburg) is elitist and arrogant and, therefore, unchristian, I would direct them first, to the example of Paul and second, to the word of God in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25) where Jesus commends the faithful steward of the Lord’s talents:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of  many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (vs. 23; cf, Col. 3:17)

The charge of elitism against rigorous Christian thinking has its roots in American Christianity’s anti-intellectualism. The British Christian scholar Os Guinness has recently written,

“Living in a sensuous culture and an increasingly emotional democracy, American evangelicals in the last generation have simultaneously toned up their bodies and dumbed down their minds.” 20

Guinness goes on to state that at root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a “scandal” and a “sin.” It is a “scandal” in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious and thoughtful people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. And it is a “sin” because it is a refusal, contrary to the first of Jesus’ two great commandments, to “love the Lord our God with all our mind” (Mark 12:3021).

Conclusion

In 1980, Dr. Charles Malik, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and a father in the faith, spoke at Wheaton College in Illinois to the assembled evangelical students:

“I must be frank with you; the greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind as to its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough.”

Ellensburg Christian School must not be found wanting when those of us in positions of leadership give an account of our stewardship of the young redeemed minds you put under our care. Our commitment must be to provide, today, the godliest intellectual environment for our young Christian scholars to enable them to defend the gospel of our Savior tomorrow.
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1 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
2 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.”
3 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
4 “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.'”
5 “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasurer of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.”
6 The great Augustine (354-430) commented on Ex. 3:21-22 in the following manner: “If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said ought that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it… all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them … These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel” (On Christian Doctrine). It is encouraging for us Christians to remember that truth is where we find it, and God is not limited to believers only for promulgating truth. John Calvin (11509-1564) realized this almost 500 years ago when he wrote in his Institutes, “Whenever we come upon these matters in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. XX, Book 11, Ch. 15, pp. 273-274.) Calvin quoted from Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Galen, Cato, Cicero, Horace, Josephus, Juvenal, Lucretius, Ovid, Plautus, Pliny, Plutarch, Seneca, Suetonius, Virgil. Lactantius (240- 320), the “Christian Cicero,” wrote, “But it is easy to show that almost the whole truth has been divided by philosophers and sects. For we do not overthrow philosophy, as the Academics are accustomed to do, whose plan was to reply to everything, which is rather to calumniate and mock; but we show that no sect was so much out of the way, and no philosopher so vain, as not to see something of the truth…. On account of these most obstinate contentions of theirs, no philosophy existed which made a nearer approach to the truth, for the whole truth has been comprised by these in separate portions.” (Divine Institutes, VII, vii, Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. VII, p. 204). Clement of Alexandria (1150-215) wrote, “We merely therefore assert here, that philosophy is characterized by investigation into truth and the nature of things (this is the truth of which the Lord Himself said, ‘I am the truth.’), and that, again, the preparatory training for rest in Christ exercises the mind, rouses the intelligence, and begets an inquiring shrewdness.” (The Stromata I, v, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 11, p. 307).
7 “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions, just as I passed them on to you.” “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the traditions you received from us.” The Bible teaches that even unbelievers have truth which may be beneficial for our spiritual lives. Note the example of Moses and the pagan priest Jethro in Exodus 14, where Jethro counsels Moses on organizing the internal structure of the wandering Israelites. Note also, Rom. 1:18, “[ungodly men] have the truth, together with unrighteousness,” James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”
8 “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure positions.
9 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
10 “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
11 Harry Blamires, the British Christian thinker wrote, “To think Christianly is to accept tall things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God.” The Christian Mind (1963), p. 44. Os Guinness states that “thinking christianly is first and foremost a matter of love–of minds in love with .God and the truth of his world.” (Fit Bodies. Fat Minds, 1995), p. 1995.
12 “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.”
13 With these things in mind, Ellensburg Christian School students should first master the “grammar” of the subject being taught. This educational “trivium” was first modeled in medieval cathedral schools. In 1948 Dorothy Sayers wrote of this type of education in a famous essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Recently, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay has championed this pedagogy. The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) has embraced this methodology. “Grammar” is the basic language of a subject, such as, multiplication tables for math; dates, names and chronicled events for history, vocabulary and syntax for language, and so on. Foreign languages would be introduced at this level. Our teaching would emphasize rote memory in these early grades (e.g., K-5). This is why old grade schools were called, “grammar schools.” Next, ECS should emphasize “logic” in our subject areas. This is the drilling in how to think and reason, using rational analysis and formal syllogisms. Rom. 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–which is your spiritual worship.” 1 Peter 2:2: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Note Paul’s example in Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; 24:25). This is a “junior” high school (e.g., 7-9). Finally, we should offer a “higher’ level of education where we emphasize “rhetoric,” by which is meant “self-expression.” At this stage in their education, our students should have a foundation of facts, figures and formulas which they can apply to writing and speaking effectively and persuasively. There is a natural and strict progression of subject matter in our pedagogy: memory to analysis to expression. Acts 17:2, etc. This is, indeed, “high” school!
14 “As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ “Do you speak Greek?’ he replied.”
15 “as some of your own poets have said.” Paul quotes two Greek pagan poets in his address to the Athenians: “In Him we live and move and have our being.” This is from De Oraculis, a work by the 7th century BC Cretan poet/philosopher Epimenides. “we are also His offspring” is from The Phenomena, written in the 3rd century B.C. by Aratus (315-245 BC). Interestingly, the same line is found in the “Hymn of Zeus” (line 6) by Cleanthes (331-232 BC). In Titus 1:12 Paul again quotes from the De Oraculis in making a point about the wickedness of certain deceivers, and says in the next verse, “This testimony is true.” Note that these pagan quotations were cited with approval as expressing truth! In Acts 26:14 Paul tells Agrippa that Christ’s words to him on the Damascus road were, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” The educated Agrippa would have recognized the allusion to the play “Agamennon” (line 1624) by Aeschylus (525 B.C.). The line in the play refers to an old man (Aegisthus) fighting a losing battle against forces more powerful than he: ‘Kick not against the pricks lest thou go lame.” The educated Corinthians would have been familiar with Socrates and when Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:16 that “necessity is laid upon me’, yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” they would have recognized the phrase that Socrates used in his Apology (37) where he says he must travel around trying to disprove an oracle that said he was the wisest man, he was spreading the “gospel” of “self-knowledge.” Note also Socrates’ words, “I shall obey God rather than you” (29), Peter and John’s words as recorded by Luke in Acts 4:19. Socrates words, “I say to die is gain, for eternity is then only a single night” (40), Paul’s words in Phil. 1:21. Paul takes that which was familiar to his culture and uses it for the spread of the true gospel.
16 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” We believe that Diogenes the Cynic (d. 320 B.C.) is referred to in 1 Tim 6:10 when Paul writes of the love of money being the root of all kinds of evil.
17 “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”
18 To cite an example: In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul does business with Aristotle: “But the `natural man’ does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (2:14). When contemporary Christians read the phrase “natural Man” we tend to think of unregenerate man at his worst. But Paul is making an entirely different point here. He is talking about unregenerate man at his best. The word “natural” in the Greek language (psychikos) was a word that was coined by Aristotle, and used by him to refer to man (or soul) at the peak of his natural form–man the way he would look after he had arrived at Aristotle’s zenith of virtues (See, y’cikoz in TDNT, Vol. IX, p.661 (article by Albert Dihle)). Paul is stating here that this educated, sophisticated pagan does not know God, cannot know God, and does not receive the things of the Holy Spirit. The contrast which Paul is making is clear: We Christians have the Holy Spirit to guide us to a true understanding of the grand and glorious character and works of God as we apply our minds to His work.
19 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:20-21).
20 Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, p. 10.
21 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all our strength.”

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