Over the last century and a half there has been a push across the world’s education systems to separate religious thought and education. It has become a sort of taboo in society, especially the “enlightened” society of the West, to underpin education with a religious foundation—especially if it is a Christian one. Enlightenment thought has usurped the use of the word liberal and corrupted its meaning to be nearly synonymous with the word progressive. This usage is, of course, a historical aberration which undermines the historic idea of education through the liberal arts.
The liberal arts are at the very core of Western ideas of education and formation. The liberal arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric themselves are formed upon the premise that there exists absolute truth in the universe. Modern or post-Enlightenment philosophical thought would subvert the idea that there exists any absolute truth in favor of the individual skepticism and moral relativism.
Education, in any circumstance, is a form of discipleship wherein the student is conformed to the image of the teacher. Whether it is a religious education or secular, the goal of a teacher is to replicate knowledge in his pupils so the knowledge may outlive himself. Based on this foundational concept, we must examine our own understanding of education, both as individuals and as the body of Christ.
The Scriptures tell us that we are to diligently teach the commandments of God to our children (Deut. 6:1-7) so that they may fear and serve him. God has given us a foundation of absolute truth in the Scriptures which must be our foundation in education, both for ourselves and for our children. God has laid upon his flock a duty to teach and form the flock into the image of the Good Shepherd.
Likewise, the Scriptures warn us of corrupting the word of God and our faith therein with the philosophies of men (Col. 2:1-8). The fullness of knowledge and wisdom reside in Christ. There, too, should we who bear his name reside. With all this in mind, we must consider who we have entrusted with the education of our children. We must consider if it is sufficient to allow our children to be taught secular “wisdom” day in and day out at the whim of public education systems, and then to “correct” the errors of the world’s influence on Sundays and Wednesdays for a few hours.
Some argue that Christian education in the United States really got its start in the 1980’s. Many correlate the beginning of Christian education with the boom of the Christian homeschooling movement and the establishment of thousands of non-public primary and secondary schools across the country. The truth, however, is that for nearly two millennia, what we now call Christian education was simply called education. Christian education is not, as some would argue, the innovation. Rather the innovations were made by those who would replace faith with skepticism and fact with relativity.
The innovations of secular post-enlightenment educational philosophies came to a head in the 1960’s when the United States Supreme Court decided the consolidated case of Abington School District v. Schempp, declaring the legally sanctioned reading of Scripture in public schools to be unconstitutional. This event was a catalyst, not for the advent of Christian education in the United States but for private/non-public Christian education, separate from the state funded education system.
As Christians, we have a duty to Christ and to his flock, to instill in our children a Christian worldview. It is not enough that they should be familiar with the Scriptures. We should seek to form our children in the image of Christ, so that they will look at and live in the world through the lens of the Scriptures.
The word liberal derives from the Latin liber, meaning the state of being free. A liberal education, or a liberal arts education, is the obtaining of knowledge which does not confine one to a specific trade or vocation. Instead, it imparts knowledge which allows one to think freely (within the bounds of the law).
The seven liberal arts are divided into two groups: the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). Each of the seven liberal arts allows for freedom within the bounds of natural law. As Christians, we understand that natural law is that which is instituted by God in the creation of the universe and is therefore absolute. True freedom can only exist within the rule of law, just as salvation, or freedom from sin (Rom. 6:16-19), can only exist within the body of Christ, who is the fulfillment of the law (Matt. 5:17-18).
An important aspect of Christian education is that all academic disciplines are connected. Many modern educational philosophers would have students believe that academics are insular, and that they do not overlap. They breed this idea that “maths are maths and arts are arts, and ne’er the twain shall meet.” However, the Scriptures teach us that all of Creation is connected, intertwined, and interdependent because Christ is present in all things (Col. 1:15-17). One cannot sever music from mathematics any more than one can sever logic from language. They are dependent, one upon the other, and all dependent upon the rule of law: God’s law.
Once we teach our children that all things must be viewed and understood through the eyes of the word of God, then we can begin to teach them to understand Creation. Once students learn that the laws of God are the divine principles that govern the universe, they can begin to understand how those laws govern nature and allow freedom to exist. But before any of that can happen, they must know the word of God.
Christian education is much more than correcting the errors of a secular education. It must be a concerted effort to disciple our children and mold them into the form of Christ. We must place the education of Christians in the hands of Christians. As one well-known Christian educator said, “We cannot continue to send our children to Caesar for their education and be surprised when they come home as Romans.”