A Christian philosophy of education can benefit all Christian families, because all Christian families must educate their children. By some means, they must provide their children with information and abilities that will prepare them for life in the world. Christians should ask themselves, “Does God have anything to say that bears upon the subject of education? Does God say anything that should influence my decisions as I educate my children?” The answers to these questions will help us begin the task of developing a Christian philosophy of education.
What is a Philosophy of Education?
A philosophy of education is a set of first principles that forms the ground for all that we do in education. These first principles seek to answer a variety of questions such as “why and within what parameters will we educate?” They provide the impetus that drives teachers, administrators, parents, and students, giving meaning to their roles and responsibilities. These first principles state what educators believe is foundational, what they can infer from those foundations, and what they cannot compromise. They provide direction and keep educators aiming toward certain goals that, when achieved, will allow all involved to say, “We have been successful.”
A Christian philosophy of education necessarily starts with the Bible. After all, we are Christians asking the question, “What is a Christian philosophy of education?” We accept the Bible as authoritative because we are Christians. If we want to know what God’s opinion is about something in this world, we go to the Bible by default, and we accept what it says. So the foundational principle in our Christian philosophy of education is that the Bible is authoritative for Christians. This naturally leads to a question that directs the development of our philosophy of education: “Does the Bible have anything to say about education?”
At the least, the Bible teaches us that education should include a biblical worldview. A worldview, in simple terms, is a way of viewing reality. For instance, some people view reality as if God did not exist, and this belief influences how they interpret the world and everything in it. On the other hand, a biblical worldview presupposes the existence of God and the truth of Scripture. It accepts what the Bible says about reality and integrates the Bible’s teaching into every area of life, including work, entertainment, social experiences, family relationships, and education. In education, young and impressionable learners are intentionally indoctrinated and ingrained with information and skills that will affect everything they do for the rest of their lives. Cornelius Van Til defines education as “implication into God’s interpretation,” which is just a fancy, philosophical way of saying that education is teaching students to see the world as God sees it (Johnson, 44). It is, above all else, providing young minds with a biblical worldview--namely, that this is God’s world and we should see it as he sees it.
History is the record of God’s involvement in time. Science is the study of the composition and patterns of the universe, created and held together by God Himself. In the realm of language and literature, the gifts of communication and creative expression are among the most precious bestowed by our Creator. In the field of mathematics, the orderliness and logic of our minds depends in every way upon the absoluteness and orderliness of the Creator. Since this is God’s world, the facts of history are the work of his providence, the facts of science are his creation, and the facts of language are his gift. Van Til said, “There are not because there cannot be other facts than God-interpreted facts” (Warfield, 22). In order for education to possess truth and integrity, it must lead us to interpret academic facts according to God’s point of view. Education must presuppose a biblical worldview.
Cornelius Van Til in his Essays on Christian Education reminds us that non-Christians do not acknowledge this worldview:
“He too may be an artist, a scientist, or anything else that is open to him at his time of life. He does not believe that the creation lies under the curse of God. He does not believe that Christ, the anointed of God, has lifted the curse from off the ground on which he stands. He does not think of himself as made in the image of God. Every fact of the universe with which he deals does, as a matter of fact, belong to God, but he assumes that it belongs to no one. The last thing he will think of is to do all things to the glory of God” (4.)
The first chapter of Romans explains the effects of misinterpreting the testimony of God’s creation. The creation manifests God’s eternal power and divine nature, so that human beings are without excuse. Unfortunately, they did not glorify God or give thanks to him. Their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. They claimed to be wise but became fools. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things instead of the Creator. The result was moral reprobation and condemnation. This is a scary thought for Christians who must educate their children in school systems that do not acknowledge a biblical worldview.
Covenant Theology and Parental Responsibility
In addition to biblical authority and worldview, a Christian educational philosophy should consider the role of covenant theology. Covenant theology recognizes that God’s covenant with human beings is an organizing theme of the Scriptures.
Today, through Christ, covenant families are descendants of Abraham, having been engrafted into the covenant. This covenant continues for them today. He has promised to be our God, and the God of our children, and our children’s children unto a thousand generations. However, there are conditions to this covenant, namely the commands to love God and our neighbors. In Exodus 20:5, God ties the commandments and the covenant together, asserting that his covenant blessings upon succeeding generations require obedience to these commandments. Deuteronomy 6:4 explains how these covenant blessings were to be perpetuated.
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon 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 gates.”
In picturesque language, God says that there is no sphere of life that should escape the teaching that the Lord is our God. This teaching should be constant and pervasive. It should be so ingrained in our hearts and minds that we should be obsessed with love for God. Moreover, the covenant responsibility for passing on this godly obsession rests uniquely and necessarily with parents.
All this begs an application: In the course of our children’s education, are we as parents ensuring that they are constantly and pervasively taught to love God and man? Parents are the means God has chosen to perpetuate his gracious covenant unto a thousand generations of those who love him. They are to teach them day and night, when sitting at home, when taking a walk or going for a drive, when putting children to bed and getting them up in the morning. Parents are to keep love for God constantly before their eyes.
The children of Christian parents belong in God’s covenant by default. They already have access to many of the blessings of God’s covenant, because God is their God. This place in God’s covenant installs children into the covenant community we call the Church. It is, so to speak, the support group for all those who are partakers, through Christ, of the covenant promises. God is our God, our children’s, and our church community’s. We are all in this together.
This principle of covenant community gives vision and mission to church educational programs for youth. Parents who have baptized their children take a vow in the presence of this community to teach them the doctrines of our holy religion and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In many churches, the congregation also vows to assist parents in the Christian nurture of their children. In so doing, the congregation affirms that parents are not alone in their vows before God. Though responsibilities of the covenant may seem overwhelming at times, we have the body of Christ to strengthen us, provide support and guidance, build us up in our faith, remind us of a biblical worldview, and help us keep covenant with God. The church does this by continually reminding parents of their responsibilities, by bringing those who privately, publicly and home school their children together into one body, by providing fellowship and encouragement, and by providing youth programs in which children meet other covenant children, learn of God, and participate in godly activities. The value of belonging to this community is profound.
For some churches, the covenant community also provides a biblical foundation for forays into Christian school education. Louis Berkhof drew that connection:
"Advocates of Christian education have always maintained that the Christian school is an outgrowth of the covenant idea and is absolutely necessary in order to enable the child to appreciate his covenant privileges and to understand the solemn significance of his baptism in the name of the triune God. They are convinced that the Christian school, as well as infant baptism, finds its main support in the doctrine of the covenant" (Johnson, 65)
Historically, many Christian schools started as a reaction to the decline of spirituality and morality in our public schools (among some other far less "noble" reactions). However, such a reaction falls short of the biblical ideal. Churches should not start Christian schools because they do not like public schools, or because, if all else is equal, they believe that children should be in a protected environment. Churches that start Christian schools should do so because they have vowed to help Christian parents fulfill their covenantal and parental responsibility to teach their children a biblical worldview.
Biblical authority provides the foundation for a Christian philosophy of education. A biblical worldview implies the scope of education. Covenant theology suggests that parents are the guardians of a biblical worldview for their children. Since this is God’s world, and education is an inherently religious task, parents are to pass God’s view of the world on to their children. The covenant community is responsible to assist parents with this task. All this gives poignant meaning to passages such as Ephesians 6:2, in which parents are told to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord, and to Ps. 78:1-2:
“O my people hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old – what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from our children, we will tell to the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commandments.”
- Johnson, Dennis E., Ed. Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers.Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1990.
- Van Til, Cornelius. Essays on Christian Education. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1971.
- Warfield, Benjamin B. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948.