The Christian Philosophy of Education
This selection is an excerpt from Handbook of Christian Education.
What is a Christian education? Although the term Christian education does not occur in the Bible, the Bible speaks of the moral and spiritual instruction of believers in general and of children in particular. It places a high value upon knowledge, both of God and of His works. It describes the moral and spiritual fruits of this knowledge and defines its ultimate purpose.
The present Christian school movement can be understood only as a part—certainly in these times a very significant and necessary part—of the total endeavor of Christian education. A full understanding of this movement requires an examination of the basis upon which its educational theory and practices rest: its philosophy of education. Accordingly there follows, first, a presentation of the basic beliefs of Christian education and, second, an application of these beliefs to the specific mission of the Christian school.
The God of the Bible is not a god of man’s own making or choosing. The eternal Creator of all things existed before man and exists independently of man. God, however, has revealed Himself to man, speaking through His Word (the inerrant, divinely inspired and preserved sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments) and His works. His self-revelation is the substance of Christian belief. What we call biblical Christianity is a system of certain basic truths that God has revealed. Among these truths, the following are fundamental to Christian education.
God Created Man in His Own Image
Of all created beings, only man is spoken of in the Scriptures as being created in God’s image. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:26–27). This creation of man was instantaneous—by a direct act and not by an evolutionary process. Possessing the divine image, man reflects God not only in his moral, intellectual, and emotional capacities but also in his aesthetic sensibility, social inclinations, and other qualities of his personality. To acknowledge this correspondency is not to claim a degree of deity for man but to recognize that man, the creature, uniquely bears the stamp of his Creator.
The Image of God in Man Was Marred When Man Fell Through Disobedience to His Creator
God created man for fellowship with Him. This fellowship was not to be forced but voluntary. Man, however, prompted by Satan, chose to rebel against God (Gen. 3). His rebellion, which we call “the fall of man,” brought all mankind and all creation under the dominion of sin.
All human beings, consequently, are born essentially evil, not essentially good, having inherited the evil nature of the first man, Adam (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12). All stand condemned before God because of their sin and are in need of a Savior (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Though the image of God in man was not entirely destroyed by the fall (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9), it was severely marred. The mind of the natural man, for example, is capable of intellectual but not of spiritual perception. He “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). On matters of the greatest importance to man, his mind is not to be trusted, for it has been impaired by sin.
God Has Provided for the Restoration of His Image in Man Through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ
This restoration is not accomplished by the fanning of a supposed inborn “spark of divinity” in the individual, as religious liberalism has traditionally maintained, but by the giving of a new nature. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [i.e., creation]: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Jesus Christ, the virgin-born Son of God, is the designer, creator, and preserver of all things and is to have preeminence in all things (Col. 1:16–19). He is the answer to those persistent questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Speaking of Jesus Christ, the Bible declares, “For of him [where I came from], and through him [why I am here], and to him [where I am going], are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
In Jesus Christ, God became man (1 Tim. 3:16), and, as the unique God-man, Jesus Christ is completely God and completely man. Though no man has seen God at any time (John 1:18), man possesses in Jesus Christ the ultimate and complete revelation of God (John 1:1; Heb. 1:2). Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, came into the world to redeem mankind by His substitutionary death on the cross (1 Peter 2:24; Luke 19:10; Rom. 3:24–26). His bodily resurrection proved Him the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) with power to save all who come to God by Him (Heb. 7:25). When He ascended, He gave gifts to the Church “for the perfecting of the saints” in the image of God (Eph. 4:7–12).
The Church is that group of individuals who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and who have openly confessed this faith (Rom. 10:9–10). The Church thus is not a building or even a denomination. It is the Body of Christ, composed of every true believer on the Lord Jesus Christ from Pentecost to Christ’s return (Eph. 5:25–30; Heb. 12:22–23). Although true believers are commanded by Scripture to assemble in local churches (Heb. 10:25), to be part of the true Church is not merely to be part of a congregation. It is not just to be religious or to belong to a religious group. It is to possess the life of God in the soul. The believer is made a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
From the moment a child is born, certain forces are at work influencing his development. As his inherited powers and tendencies surface and interact with his environment and his will, he takes on the characteristics of his adulthood. Human growth, however, does not end with physical maturity. Some faculties of the personality are capable of expansion and refinement into old age. Education, whether of child or adult, is the directing of this total ongoing process of development toward specific objectives.
The purpose of Christian education is the directing of the process of human development toward God’s objective for man: godliness of character and action. It bends its efforts to the end “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17).
This goal of godliness presupposes the experience of regeneration. As education in general begins with physical birth, Christian education proper begins with spiritual rebirth, when the life of God is communicated to the soul. To say that Christian education proper begins with the new birth is not, however, to say that it is pointless before regeneration. The student can be provided with necessary awarenesses of God and responses to His Word so that when the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin he will readily and with full understanding accept Christ as his Savior. Timothy from childhood knew “the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). To make children and even unregenerated adults “wise unto salvation” is no less a legitimate function of Christian education today.
Growth in godliness proceeds step by step from regeneration toward full maturity “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5–8). This growth, like regeneration, is made possible by divine grace (Titus 2:11–13). It results from the emulation of Christ, who, as “the express image” of “the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3), is the visible manifestation of the divine nature that God has ordained for man’s imitation. As regenerated man continues to occupy his mind with the truth of God revealed in Christ, he is “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). His full conformity to the image of God in Christ—his Christlikeness—is the goal of Christian education (Rom. 8:29). This goal is pursued with the recognition that its complete realization awaits the full view of Christ in the life to come, when “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
The focus of the educational process is, of course, the student, a unique individual created for a specific purpose in God’s plan. He must be properly qualified and motivated if he is to perform his cooperative role. Without a regenerated, willing student, Christian education cannot carry out its purpose. Regeneration does not eliminate the old nature—what the Apostle Paul called the “old man” or the “flesh”—and carnal attitudes and inclinations can hinder spiritual growth. It is the student’s responsibility to bring with him a pure heart and a willing mind. With these and the proper instruction, his success is assured, for “the pure in heart,” Christ promised, “shall see God,” and the diligent search for knowledge, as for silver and hid treasures, will be rewarded (Matt. 5:8; Prov. 2:3–5).
In the Scriptures God has commanded two institutions to educate: the home and the church. As an extension of either or both of these institutions, the Christian school has a biblical mandate to educate.
The Bible makes clear that education is to begin in the home (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:7; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4; 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). It makes parents responsible for their children and charges them with an educational task.
The New Testament indicates that the responsibilities of the church include edification as well as evangelism (Matt. 28:19–20; Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 2:2). The scriptural representation of the church as a body—an organism that grows and matures—implies a teaching function for this institution. Also, the recognition of the gift of teaching by the New Testament (Rom. 12:4–7; 1 Cor. 12:28) assumes the necessity of teaching in the local churches.
The Christian School
Christians have a biblical mandate to educate in their homes and in their churches. In order to reinforce the educational ministries of these institutions or to protect their min- istries from secular interference, Christian parents or church members, acting either individually or in concert, may elect to form a Christian school. In doing so, they are acting from religious conviction. To deny them their choice of means in carrying out the biblical mandate of Christian education is to deny them the exercise of their religious convictions.
It follows that the education of children is the prerogative not of the state but of the parents or church members. Allowing the state to dictate the standards and procedures of Christian education jeopardizes the ability of parents and church members to exercise their educational prerogative, to perform their responsibility to God for the education of their children. The subjection of the Christian school to the control of the state or of any other secular agency is, in effect, the subjection of the Christian homes and churches to secular domination. It is a religious subjection, rightly regarded as vicious, for secular control (even when it may appear benign) is incompatible with the aims of a spiritual ministry.
The Christian School
The work of the Christian school is an extension of the Christian educational ministries of the Christian home and the church. Its purpose, therefore, is the development of the student in the image of God. This purpose determines both the content and the means of instruction.
King David exhorted his son, “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind” (1 Chron. 28:9). How perfectly David must have understood that the education of the child of God must include both the knowledge of God and the preparation for exercising that knowledge in service. Accordingly, in Christian education students are taught to know God and to imitate Him in His character and in His works.
The Knowledge of God
The whole body of Christian educational theory rests on the recognition that all truth is of God. He is the God of truth (Ps. 31:5); His Son is the Lord of truth (John 14:6); His Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:16–17). All truth, whether discerned or undiscerned by man, springs from a single source and therefore consists as one harmonious whole. Consequently, God’s written self-revelation is the starting point of all ratio- nal inquiry and the guide to all interpretation of reality. No concept can be true that conflicts with the statements of the Scriptures. Conversely, no untruth is a legitimate support of divine revelation or has any place in the ministry of spiritual truth. A reverence for the God of truth compels a conscientious regard for accuracy in all areas of factual investigation and reporting.
Since it is the purpose of Christian education to develop redeemed man in the image of God, Christian educators must point students to the original of this image, God Himself. Students come to know God by studying His revelation of Himself in His Word and in His works. Of these, the more fully revealing of God is His Word; and, therefore, the Bible is the center of the Christian school curriculum. The Bible is not only the most important subject matter but also the source of the principles determining the other subject matters and the way in which they are taught. The presentation of biblical truth is thus not confined to a single segment of the curriculum—the study of the Bible—but is diffused throughout the teaching of all subjects. The teacher’s knowledge of the Scriptures controls his selection and interpretation of materials and determines his whole perspective on his subject matter. The Scriptures possess this privileged status in the curriculum, for they are the primary means of conveying the knowledge of God.
This knowledge of God implies more than just knowledge about God. Certainly an acquaintance with the facts about God in the written revelation is important. But the knowledge of God that is unique to Christian education is a per- sonal knowledge that begins with repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and develops through obedience to and communion with God. To know God is to be born into the family of God and to live in fellowship with Him (1 John 5:20; Phil. 3:10). It follows that without a student body composed mainly of students possessing this personal knowledge of God, no school can legitimately be regarded as a Christian educational institution.
Though the Word of God is the main source of the knowledge of God, both factual and personal, and therefore deserves precedence, the works of God are also an important part of the Christian school curriculum. The creation reveals the Creator, and that which reveals God is a proper study for man. Indeed, the Scriptures themselves invite man to consider God’s earthly handiwork and hold him responsible for recognizing in it the work of God (Job 38–39; Rom. 1:18–20).
Especially is God revealed in His rational creation, man, who having been created in the image of God is the highest of God’s works on earth. It is for this reason that the Christian school gives emphasis to the humanities: the study of man’s language, his literature, his artistic achievements, the record of his history, the logic of his mathematical reasoning, and other forms of his personal and cultural expression.
The natural sciences are not disregarded. The glories of the vast universe and the myriad wonders of man’s earthly habitation testify that their Creator is a God of order, of beauty, and of power (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). Though the study of nature has often displaced the study of nature’s God, even to the point of man’s worshiping the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25), nevertheless God Himself pronounced the material universe “good” and established its laws and processes as means of accomplishing His will for man (Gen. 1:31). The perfect suitability of man’s physical environment to his needs and the fact that God committed the earth to man to subdue and enjoy (Gen. 1–2; Ps. 8) witness to the goodness of God in His love for and delight in His human creation.
Accordingly the Christian school curriculum includes astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and related subjects because they provide a knowledge of God’s nature and His work in this world. In the curriculum of the Christian school, the voice of creation joins with that of the written revelation in praise of the glory and goodness of God.
The Imitation of God
In endeavoring to fulfill the purpose of Christian education—the development of Christlikeness in redeemed man—the Christian school teaches, as a consequence of the knowledge of God, the imitation of God. Students learn of God so that they may imitate Him. They are to become “followers of God” (Eph. 5:1).
In following God they imitate both His nature and His works. The imitation of God’s nature results in holiness of character. God commands His people to imitate His holiness: “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) is the expression of the holiness of God in the believer’s character. The imitation of God’s works results in service.
Service is the consequence of following the one who said of Himself, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto [that is, to be served], but to minister [to serve], and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The imitation of God’s works by the Christian student necessitates a continual emphasis upon the goal of service and a provision in the curriculum for instruction in skills and dis- ciplines that equip students for service. Academic subjects—whether in the humanities or in the natural sciences, whether general or strictly vocational—are studied not as ends in themselves but as means of improving the student as a servant of God. Such instruction includes not only mental but also physical training: instruction in the proper care of the vehicle with which God has provided man to serve Him. The student learns that bodies must not be abused or neglected but be de- veloped and disciplined for the service of God and presented to Him for His use and His glory (Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 6:20).
The imitation of God’s works by the student requires provision in the curriculum for the development of all the powers with which he has been endowed by his Creator and the di- rection of these refined powers into channels of godly action. One of these powers is creativity. Human beings have been given the ability to create in imitation of God. It follows that Christian creativity reflects God’s character and ways as completely as possible.
This principle affects not only the student’s practice of art but also his artistic discriminations. The Christian school is concerned with the improvement of his tastes. If the student is to imitate God in His judgment, to obey the injunction to “approve things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10), he must possess the aesthetic as well as the moral perceptions and inclinations to identify and prefer the best in this area of his experience, as in all others. To imitate God in His actions as well as in His attributes is to develop abilities into skills and exercise them as instruments of God’s will.
In the Christian school the manner, no less than the matter, of its teaching must be consistent with the purpose of Christian education: to conform the redeemed student to the image of God in Christ. The educational procedures and vehicles of Christian education in the Christian school must follow biblical example and norms.
A method is, of course, a means to an end, not an end in itself. Methods are chosen for their power and efficiency in accomplishing designated goals. In the Christian school they are chosen also for their reflection of the example of God, with the assurance that God’s methods are the most effective in carrying out His will. Christian methodology naturally rejects any method contrary to the principles of Scripture.
The Christian educator finds biblical warrant for a wide diversity of educational methods. In His teaching, Christ, the Master Teacher, used an amazing variety of methods and materials. In the Old Testament God taught man through a diversity of means. In the Garden of Eden, He used a tree to teach Adam. Since the Flood He has used a rainbow to inform the world that He will not again destroy the earth by water. The entire tabernacle was a prophetic object lesson, setting forth the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Biblical methods as a rule require some effort on the part of the student, though the effort need not be tedious. They provide for the discovering of truth (actually the revealing of truth by a God eager to reward diligent study), as well as for the reinforcing of learning, by man’s search (Prov. 2:4–6). The parables, for example, required a mental searching on the part of the disciples before their truths were fully revealed. That which is learned at the cost of effort is not soon forgotten, and God delights in blessing those who are zealous for the knowledge of Him.
The means of achieving godliness—the purpose of Christian education—is the imitation of God. The imitation of God by the student depends upon and conforms to the imitation of God by the teacher. The teacher in the Christian school stands in much the same relation to his students as Paul’s to his Corinthian converts when he wrote, “Be ye followers of me” (1 Cor. 4:16). The Spirit-filled Christian teacher stands in the place of God, representing God to the student. What the student knows of God is often what he sees in his teacher. “Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord,” Paul reminded the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:6). It is for this reason that the Christian school must pay careful attention to the character and conduct of its teachers. No school that is careless concerning the Christlikeness of its teachers can be sure to fulfill the purpose of Christian education.
Of course, a Christian school should be concerned about the professional as well as the spiritual preparation of its teachers. Knowledge of the student and mastery of the subject to be taught as well as of the methodology of its presentation are necessary for effective teaching.
Jesus Christ knew His students (John 2:25) and His subject matter and was competent in every legitimate technique of imaginative, resourceful teaching. He, therefore, taught with a commanding assurance and vigor that amazed the multitudes (Matt. 7:29). No amount of carefully prepared educational materials, whatever their value as tools, can compensate for the lack of a carefully prepared teacher: one who has followed the spiritual and professional example of his Master.
The position of the teacher is one of authority and service, and the two are intertwined. In scriptural leadership, he who leads must also serve (Matt. 20:25–28). In fact, he rules in order to serve. Christ, our Lord and Master, not only served mankind supremely in His death but also continues to serve His people. He can serve most fully those who accept His rule. Similarly the Christian teacher exercises authority over the student in order to serve the student in his quest for Christlikeness. The teacher’s ability to serve the student depends to a large extent upon the student’s acceptance of his rule.
The Christian school administrator exercises authority over both the teacher and the student in order to serve the teacher in his service of the student. The chief responsibility of the administrator is to provide an environment most favorable for the communication of Christ to the student. The teacher can function as a “teacher come from God” (John 3:2) only as the administration serves his needs and, through him, the needs of the student. Conversely the administration can serve the teacher and the student in the process of Christian educa- tion only as they submit to its rule. As a godly administration undergirds the ministry of a godly teacher to a responsive student, the goal of godliness in the student’s character and action is progressively realized.