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What Is Christian Education?
March 21, 2013
By Julie Yetter
What is Christian education? I once heard a wise saying that if you ask the wrong question you will get the wrong answer. I submit that this is the wrong question. This question presupposes that there is legitimate education apart from Christ, and that Christ, or at least his teachings, can be added to this pre-existing education like a methodology. As though, as in "classical" or "vocational" education, Christian education is just another of several approaches. However, the Scripture teaches that the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord, not that the fear of the Lord should be part of any good education.
Therefore, the real question is, "What is the definition of education according to God as revealed in his Word?" By beginning here, we lay aside all preconceived ideas of what education has come to mean in our secular experience and begin again, rather than stamp religion like a brand on a pagan cow.
There are 286 references to teaching in the Bible, 98 to learning, and 80 to instruction. This is obviously an important issue in scripture. These references do not include references to truth, the foundational concept of all true education. So, what does scripture say regarding the weighty topic of education?
In the opening chapter of the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, readers are exhorted that, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." The word fear in Proverbs 1:7 is the Greek word phebeo, which means to revere or esteem above all. The word revere in Webster's dictionary is defined as, "to show devoted deference as to one superior." What does this tell us about the aim of knowledge? That once gained, it ought to provoke in the student a humble respect for God. This, therefore, is the aim of gaining knowledge—of education. This is not just the aim of the Bible class, but of the entire educational process from infancy to old age.
Proverbs 22:6 instructs us to train up children in the way they should go, promising that it will keep them as they grow older. What is that way? Seventeenth-century philosopher, poet, and devoted Christian John Milton proposes, "The end of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents (Adam and Eve) by regaining to know God aright and out of that knowledge to love him, imitate him, and to be like him." (Ephesians 5:1, 1 Thess. 1:6)
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 supports this view commanding that we "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates." This is the foundation and ideal of the Christian education. Matthew 22:37 restates the mandate to love the Lord your God, adding with all your mind. Ephesians 5:1 and 1 Thess. 1:6 tell us to imitate Christ. These verses strike at the core of Christian education; training students that academics and worship are not adversaries but companions. Academics are in fact a powerful form of worship.
If this is true, then it requires that a Christian worldview permeate every subject. If imitating Christ is to be the result of learning, then the education provided must have as its aim the understanding of Christ's character and the application of it as he modeled it for us. Again, this cannot be relegated to just the Bible class, but must be the foundation of every subject for the subject to have purpose and meaning. The science lesson must reveal God as the great creator to be understood through His creation, and challenge students to see in themselves His image to be imitated as they become innovators themselves. The history curriculum must reveal the providential hand of an omnipotent God and ask students to look for and respond to that providence in current events and situations. In math, students should see the grand order and design of the universe by an intelligent God. Composition should challenge students to be eloquent communicators, as God is revealed as a creative, instructive, persuasive, and effective communicator.
If education is to have integrity and fulfill its true purpose it must not be so influenced by the world that it strips the substance from its very nature and stands only a shadow of itself. Education has a higher purpose than to help students get better grades, to get into a better college, or to get a better paying job. Education should provide a path for students to come to know God and prepare them for the life He has made for them.