What We Believe- Article XII, Education

April 15, 2009

As we get further into the Baptist Faith & Message we are starting to tread upon articles that deal more with the day to day practicalities of Baptist living and not so much with doctrine as the earlier articles were centered upon.  This week’s article is concerned with how the Bible informs our beliefs on education:

XII. Education

Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. The new birth opens all human faculties and creates a thirst for knowledge. Moreover, the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people.

In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.

Deuteronomy 4:1,5,9,14; 6:1-10; 31:12-13; Nehemiah 8:1-8; Job 28:28; Psalms 19:7ff.; 119:11; Proverbs 3:13ff.; 4:1-10; 8:1-7,11; 15:14; Ecclesiastes 7:19; Matthew 5:2; 7:24ff.; 28:19-20; Luke 2:40; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 2:3,8-9; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17; Hebrews 5:12-6:3; James 1:5; 3:17.

I’ll be honest right up front: I don’t really know what to do with this.  There are parts I agree with, but there is also so much that I feel is either redundant or implied that goes over-and-beyond what is biblical fact and is more of personal opinion.

I will say that I fully agree that, “Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Both Scripturally and historically, Christianity has always promoted enlightenment and understanding.  The forced ignorance that the Catholic church promoted for so many years was thankfully corrected during the Reformation to return us to a place where we encourage and see poor, uneducated Galilean fisherman become powerful public figures overflowing with the wisdom of Christ (cf. Acts 4.13).  The empowerment and freedom that have come to so many through the ability to simply read the Bible is an astonishing testimony to God’s purpose for all men to be one in Christ and to benefit from the Holy Scriptures (cf. 2 Timothy 3.14-17).  Thus, when the BF&M speaks of “the cause of education” being “co-ordinate with the cause of missions and general benevolence,” I concur and support that statement for the above reasons.

As well, it is not that I don’t support what the BF&M says about “[a]n adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people,” or that “[t]he freedom of a teacher in a Christian [setting] is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ;” what I am fearful of is the broader application that the vague statements here can be used to make.  There are two ideas about education, particularly as it occurs in America, that I inherently reject.  The first is that Christians should be engaged in strictly Christian learning environments.  The second is that the public school environment should be friendly to Christian ideals.

First, as a father of an 8-year old, I find it to be a disturbing trend among many Christian parents to immediately choose to abandon public or secular schooling and instead place their child(ren) in private Christian and/or home schooling.  This is the sexy thing to do right now, but I am just not fully convinced that it is the best (or even a beneficial) practice.  First of all, very few parents are capable of providing the well-rounded education that a child needs to be able to succeed in the larger society once they reach college and beyond.  Teaching may look easy, but unless a student is incredibly gifted to start, there are often many bumps in the road that even trained teachers will struggle accomodating for, so much less will a minimally-trained, personal biased parent be able to deal with adequately.  Second, no matter what parents say or do, the non-sterile environment of the public school system is crucial to spiritual formation and is unable to be replicated by a bunch of kids meeting at the park or in church.  So many parents say that the child is not safe and receives too many harmful influences in the public school setting, but that’s real life lived in a fallen world.  The problem with kids growing up in the Christian fairytale land that we often create is that they don’t truly come to a full understanding of the horror of sin until they are old enough to get in real trouble with it.  A 10 year old coming home and saying the F-word for the first time is much better than an 18 year old drinking away their freshman year of college because they’ve never been out from under the guise of their Christian upbringing.  Of course this is hyperbole, but it is not so far from reality in most cases.

The second idea that I reject is that the public school setting should be more friendly/promoting of Christian ideals.  Parents kick and fight to keep “In God We Trust” in the pledge or to ban evolution from the classrooms, but often times these are just empty rituals that assuage their consciences to see performed and have very little bearing on what God actually requires of us.  The world is fallen, we should expect it to be fallen.  The arrogance of evangelicalism is that we assume the whole world should live up to the extra-biblical standards of perfection that we shout out from a bullhorn and yet suck at following even ourselves.  The ideal is not that our kids should be placed in a “Christ”-lined bubble; it is that we should be real parents, shepherding our children, living transparent lives in front of them, and demonstrating what the Christian life exercised in a fallen world really looks like.  Too many children are having to learn how to live as Christians on the fly as adults (or even worse, are simply abandoning the faith) because they grew up only seeing cookie-cutter, phony bologna “Christianity” practiced by their parents and the church, and so when the feces and fan interface, they are left totally unsure of what to do and doubting everything that they had always believed.  Parents rarely do their children any good by trying to “protect” them from the world.

Sorry to rant.  As you can see, I feel passionately about this.  The point of the matter is, as Christians we should be about education, but we need to be open enough to understand that God gave all knowledge and wisdom and all things worth knowing reveal the glory of the one who established them.