A new crescendo
I am writing these words as the sun rises on this blessed gift of a Spring day, and as seven of my grandchildren are getting dressed and ready to head off to school. Yes, I am grateful that they’ll be heading off to Christian schools, where they’ll continue to be formed and nurtured by a Christian education that arises from a Christian understanding of the world, of life, of human beings, of truth and right.
As their grandfather, I am deeply invested in this discussion about the legitimacy of Christian education.
As a pastor-theologian, I am joining others in sounding the alarm signaling the astonishing rise in attacks against Christian education, coming not from the outside, but from inside the Reformed and Presbyterian community.
As a Christian cultural observer—which means (1) an observer of Christian cultural endeavors, and (2) an observer of cultural endeavors who is a Christian—I am reporting this morning that overnight, the whirring sound has reached a new crescendo.
The sound, that is, of our Reformed and Presbyterian forebears spinning in their graves.
Perched atop the pyramid of institutions purporting to provide Christian education, ensconced as Assistant Professor of Classics at Calvin College, Dr. David C. Noe is aiding and abetting the enemies of Christian education in this, our rapidly secularizing and paganizing North American culture.
We’re getting shot in the back, folks.
Yet, what the Reformed and Presbyterian community of Christian believers is experiencing today cannot even be called “friendly fire.” Friendly fire is any unintentional discharge or misdirection of firepower or other weapons of war, in an armed conflict, against combatants who are on the same side. The attacks we’re experiencing in this battle for the public, life-encompassing, light-shining, salt-seasoning demonstration of God’s sovereignty and Christ’s royal authority, are neither unintentional nor misdirected, though they are coming from combatants on the same side.
Cornelius Van Til
Meet one of our forebears whose application of the Christian faith to life lived in the academy, the marketplace, the laboratory, and the factory constitutes a legacy among Reformed and Presbyterian believers.
For the remainder of this blog post, I’ll invite you to read some of what Cornelius Van Til wrote about common grace, Christian education, and our calling.
The conclusion of the whole matter is this. There are two mutually exclusive principles for the interpretation of life. The Christian principle presupposes God who speaks authoritatively through the Bible, giving man basic principles for the interpretation of the whole of life. The non-Christian principle presupposes man who speaks authoritatively of himself. Psychologically, of course, the Christian must also begin with man. But he begins with man acknowledged as the creature of God. So, it is still true that the Christian interprets all of life in terms of God and the non-Christian interprets all of life in terms of man (88).
If God’s gifts of common grace such as “rain and sunshine,” are thus seen as being a part of God’s general call to repentance, then believers must also include that in their “testimony” to unbelievers. Believers have by grace repented from sin and undertaken their cultural task anew. They ask unbelievers to join them in a common obedience to God through Christ. “It is for that reason,” they testify, “that God’s good gifts are given you. We beseech you, in Christ’s name, be ye reconciled to God.” It is God’s longsuffering patience which would lead you to repentance that enables you to do all those things which “for the matter of them” are “in themselves praiseworthy and useful.” God intends to accomplish his ultimate end, the establishment of his kingdom. That is the reason why you are now able to contribute positively to the coming of that kingdom. The harps you make, the oratorios you produce, the great poems you have written, the scientific discoveries you have made will, with your will or against your will, all find their place in the unified structure of the kingdom of God through Christ. Now, then, in God’s name repent, for otherwise the Israelites will “borrow” your treasures and you shall perish in the Red Sea like the Egyptians (91).
And finally this:
The Reformed community, we conclude, must follow its own educational program. Much as it appreciates what is done by brethren of non-Reformed Christian persuasion, it is on the Reformed basis alone that a comprehensive Christian view of life can be set over against the world of unbelief. Only the Reformed view shows the full power of Christianity in meeting the challenge of the wisdom of the world and in offering men, with the pleading voice of the Christ who wept over the multitudes of Jerusalem, the reward of their labor for this life and the life to come. The Reformed community takes no delight in building alone. It takes no delight in living in ecclesiastical isolation. But if there is reason for it to live and to work alone ecclesiastically then there is the same reason for working alone educationally. And yet our hope is not to work alone forever. Our aim is the ultimate good of all who love the gospel and all those who should love the truth (92).
All of this cited from Van Til’s publicly available, Internet accessible, Essays on Christian Education (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974).