Our Reformed Educational Heritage

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return to God who gave it….And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” – Eccl 12

The truths of the Lord cannot be comprehended in books, or learned by study. If I have learned anything through home schooling, it is not to let the burden of too many books, too many projects take the place of what should be the primary focus – that of learning to answer Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”. This isn’t to say that facts and dates aren’t important to know. But a mind filled, with what will be in the end, only those things of the world, will be a life void of true wisdom and knowledge. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.” (1Cor 3:19). Martin Luther “created” the concept of schools, with a reformed Christian view, keeping the focus on a humble life lived for and to the Lord, as detailed by Gregory Hogan in the article, “Our Reformed Educational Heritage”. – Sharon

Our Reformed Educational Heritage
by Gregory Hogan
Source: http://www.natreformassn.org/statesman/00/edherit.html

What is the objective of Reformed education? The objective of Reformed education is the completeness, or fitness, or maturity of the student for the things of God (Col. 2:6-10).

The history of Reformed education is not one of institutions, but one of philosophy, of men’s ideas, and of confrontation with the mind of natural man. We can say it is more of a philosophical/theological struggle. The times in history when the Reformed mind was active in its attention to education, were times when societies were transformed by the truth of God. When the Reformed mind became complacent and dull, much ground was lost to the enemies of Christ.

Reformed education has a tone of militancy.
Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 speak of that militancy. We are to be involved in casting down arguments against our God, pulling down strongholds of sinful thoughts, and bringing all under the dominion of Jesus Christ. The discipline of our thoughts produces obedience. Reformed education is about obedience to Christ with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Reformed education is a battle. A battle to shine the light of God’s truth into every crevasse that sin or the fallen man reside, and to flush out every remainder of idolatry and ungodliness within us.

Reformed education has been affected by the times.
One of the battles is to separate ourselves from the cultural mindset of our times. Some of the issues that historically hindered Reformed education include its relationship with the state. Luther embraced the state, and expected the state to be the arm of Christian education and the sword of the Spirit. Another issue was the claimed neutrality of the mind of man in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Enlightenment’s mindset said that the mind of man could be converted through logic, reason, and proof. Also, Reformed thinking has been hampered by an ecclesiology that sees the Kingdom as being synonymous with the church.

Reformed education has always been about a struggle to achieve the biblical standard.
It will fall upon our successors to identify the areas where we failed to realize the effect of the mindset of our day, but the challenge is always to achieve the Reformed mind. A mind that is constantly reforming itself closer and closer to the biblical standard. From our heritage, we take the courage to look ahead with confidence that progress toward that quest will continue. We can see through the history of Reformed thinking that we are developing an even greater understanding of the issues of true theistic thinking. We are purging the church of the paganism that we have carried from our Greek and Roman forefathers. With the tools that have been given to us in this century, we are identifying the issues that lead to the true Christian worldview.

In this paper, I want to take a quick survey of the contributions and issues of Reformed education in the past, especially seeing the development of presuppositional apologetics (which I see as being the key to developing a fully Reformed mindset). Then I would like to point us in the direction for the future as Reformed education advances.

Universal Education Was the Idea of the Reformers
Shortly after Luther ignited the Reformation, he proposed a system of education for the Lutheran states.* That education included all classes of society as well as females. This was the first time that the idea of universal education had been advanced. He proposed a multi-tired system of grammar schools, gymnasiums, and universities. All was under the control of the state, with all children receiving at least an elementary education. His main thrust was to teach the children how to read the Bible and instruct them in the catechism, the state would teach everything else.

Luther did not see the basic conflict between state and church. State controlled education has always had as its goal the teaching of national loyalty and patriotism. Pounds, in his History of Western Education, praises the beginning of state schools by the Reformers: “This lay the ground work for later more complete state control of educational organization, purposes, and curriculum—all to take effect rapidly during the Nineteenth Century” (pp. 127-128).

In Geneva, Calvin proposed a state controlled system of education that would compel all children to be educated. He wanted all children to be brought up in learning and virtue. He saw the need for compulsion because he feared that the sons of the middle class would be used as workers and the sons of the wealthy would spend their time in idleness. The compulsory age was 5 to 14 years. Calvin himself wrote the Catechism that was to be used in elementary school. It proved too difficult for the youngsters, and he revised it during his exile from Geneva.

Calvin’s theology did affect his school system. In Foundations for Modern Education the author lists these as the theological foundations that affected Calvinistic education:

Calvin stressed the immensity and spirituality of God. Calvin wrote, “His immensity surely ought to deter us from measuring Him by our senses, while His spiritual nature forbids us to indulge in carnal or earthly speculations concerning Him” (Inst. 146-147).

Calvin, like Augustine, stresses the absolute sovereignty of God. God determines what is good and what is evil. This is a contrast from the intellectualizing of Aquinas, who emphasized the good of God over his will.

Calvin believed in the immortality of the soul; the Trinity; the depravity of man; and that redemption can only come through Christ. He also had a vivid consciousness of the devil.

To Calvin, the church is not made up of bishops and popes, but the elect, who appear to be in the minority. Divine Law takes precedence over secular law; and political officials are to be guided by the elect who rule in the name of God.

Even in countries where Calvinism failed to establish a position of predominance in church and state, it still affected profoundly the course of educational development. In France, there sprang up under Huguenot auspices not only a great number of elementary schools, but thirty-two colleges and eight universities, the latter of which took for a time a foremost place among the universities of Europe. In England, in spite of the opposition of the Anglican Church, Puritanism was the controlling power in both Oxford and Cambridge in the last years of Elizabeth’s reign, and even after it lost its superiority, it continued and still continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the whole educational life of the people.

It fell to John Knox, the leader of the Scottish reformation, to institute a long term and lasting system of education on a national scale. In Scotland, the Calvinistic style was more completely accepted than in any other country. So it was there that the Geneva ideal in education was most fully realized. Knox had spent some years in Geneva in intimate relationship with Calvin and was well acquainted with his educational plans.

In 1560, immediately upon the severance from the church of Rome, Knox and four other ministers prepared the remarkable First Book of Discipline as the basis of church polity. An essential part of the scheme was a system of educational institutions under church control for all classes of the community, which for breath and comprehensiveness had no peer among the educational proposals of the period.

Knox proposed that every church have a schoolmaster, if the church was too remote (where they meet only once a week), the minister or a Reader would take care of the instruction of the children in that parish. In the larger towns (especially those of the Superintendent), a college would be erected in which the Arts (at least Logic and Rhetoric), together with the languages be taught by an employed Reader, to whom an honest stipend would be appointed. Provision was to be made for the poorer children, and there was to be the establishment of great schools and universities.

The educational institutions of Knox transformed the country of Scotland to a place where even the simple plowman could discuss the finer points of theology. These reforms were so great, that in the 18th century, Scotland was the only nation in Europe where the majority of its citizens were educated.

By the 18th century, in most places outside of Scotland, education was a dismal picture. The classical languages were stressed with no relationship to life. Into this vacuum rushed the Enlightenment and its rebellion against all convention. Instead of the Reformed mindset, the mindset became one of Deism with its impersonal God and naturalistic view of the world.

The Development of Reformed Educational Thought in America
From the triumphant time of the Revolution to the disillusioned times of post World War I, Princeton was the center of Reformed education in America. When we think of Princeton Seminary, we think of three men that defined the institution, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and B. B. Warfield. Each man was a product of his times, but through their succession they held Princeton on the forefront of Reformed thinking. Though they wanted to be thought of as conservatives holding forth the unchanging light of the Calvinistic torch passed to them, they were thinkers that interacted with the currents and trends within and without the church. Hodge and Warfield faced a new note of militancy as issues were drawn in America and Europe.

Princeton was a distinctly American and distinctly 19th century exposition of classical Reformed faith. They spoke Calvinism with a distinctly American accent. With most other intellectuals of their day, they relied on a Common Sense approach to truth: they assumed the value-free character of scientific investigation; they were suspicious of high-flown ideas from the continent; and they took economic and political self-reliance for granted.

Princeton was founded with very strong Scottish and conservative Southern influences. From the Scotch they received the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy as their apologetic. Alexander taught that the “common sense” of humankind could verify the deliverance of the physical senses and of intuitive consciousness (i.e., the moral senses). Common sense provided the basis for an irrefutable apologetic concerning the existence of God and the reality of biblical revelation.

As the 19th century thinking broke with reality and rationalism, the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy’s understanding of the relationship between the natural and spiritual mind failed to meet the challenges of the age. The Enlightenment had brought in strictly naturalistic or materialistic thinking; while Romanticism stressed the emotions or experience. The shared views of experience and reality that the Scottish Common Sense model depended on were no longer there. The thinkers of the age had ruled out God’s immanence, and by the end of the century had ruled out God altogether. The intelligentsia had rid their minds of any thinking that allowed for God. The foundations of the Christian thought process had all but disappeared in the academics.

Charles Hodge was one of the first to advance the ideas for a distinctive Christian worldview. Warfield took his ideas, and built upon them. Warfield set himself courageously to expose the fallacies of modern alternatives to historic Christianity, a task that he carried out in hundreds of essays and thousands of reviews. Warfield faced a different range of challenges than his predecessors, including the wholesale intellectual defalcation from the evangelical Protestantism that was a cultural given in the America of Alexander and Hodge. As Warfield confronted the modernists of his day, he saw the necessity of a Christian worldview.

Here is where we see the limitations of the British based mindset. It seems the British-American mindset was not to have distinct Christian institutions that would compete with the other institutions within a culture. This is not to say that Hodge and Warfield did not advocate Christian thinking and Christian principles in “secular” organizations. Yet, with their Scottish Common Sense mindset, they saw Christians principles advancing simply because experience would eventually prove Christianity as the superior way.

The Dutch-American Reformed mindset challenged the idea of neutrality. In Holland, Reformed thinkers asked, “Can Christians be in league with non-Christians?” They saw fundamental violations of the faith if they yoked themselves with labor unions and political parties that did not advocate explicitly Christian objectives. In the last part of the 19th century, the Dutch organized a parallel and competing set of Christian institutions. Reformed schools, universities, labor unions, associations, and political parties were organized within Dutch society. The leader of that movement was Abraham Kuyper, who was twice elected Prime Minister.

Dutch thinking defined the antithesis between the Christian and non-Christian institutions and causes. Many of the immigrant ministers from the Free University in Amsterdam began to challenge Scottish thinking of mutual common sense. By the end of the 19th century, the Dutch church had developed a strong relationship to Old School Presbyterianism at Princeton. Many of their ministers were receiving advanced training at Princeton. Though trained at Princeton, Dutch thinkers followed a Kuyperian approach to apologetics rather than the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy. Dutch ascendancy began with the shift at Princeton in 1929, and the formation of Westminster Theological Seminary. Machen was an Old School Presbyterian aristocrat with roots in the South. He studied in Europe and was a Princeton graduate. He basically held to the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy. Yet, in a significant move, he hired Cornelious Van Til, a disciple of Kuyper, to the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. Van Til was Dutch in his Reformed view. He had taught at Princeton briefly, and had a short pastorate at a Christian Reformed Church in Michigan before he received the invitation from Machen.

Van Til confronted the idea of Scottish Common Sense Philosophy and the view of shared reality of the Christian and non-Christian. He demonstrated that this is contrary to the Reformed faith, and even to the Westminster Confession. Van Til began to attack the idea of neutrality, and to draw the demarcation between the Creator and the creature. He showed the need to stress the antithesis of Christian and non-Christian thought, or theism and atheism. He taught the lordship of Jesus Christ over every area of human existence, and over every area of creation. There was no place that did not have to be brought into subjection to Jesus Christ. One area that Van Til was most insistent in was his application of a Christian worldview to the area of Christian education. He saw Christian education as being distinct from secular education. Christian education was to be a positive force, training the scholars to examine every idea in the light of the nature of God and the revelation we have received from Him in Scripture.

For Van Til, a Reformed worldview would be impossible without Christian education. Though he spent his career in Seminary education, much of his attention went to the rising Christian school movement within the Christian Reformed Church. Van Til advocated a Christian view of all subjects, the necessity of a thoroughly Christian curriculum, and that education was directed to bring about maturity in the student for the things of God. To Van Til, the problem with man was not ignorance, but rebelliousness. Unregenerate man actively suppresses the knowledge of God, so the objects of Christian education are the elect.

We stand on the verge of the next millennium (and if Hodge was right we have 37 more to go). The challenge to the Reformed mind should be to continue the process of ridding the church of paganism, especially the paganism that resides in our thinking. Van Til has given us the tools to do that. By the tools of “no neutrality” and the “antithesis,” we can more objectively examine ourselves and extract from ourselves pagan thoughts and beliefs. He has given us the tools not to win the mind of rebellious man, but to destroy the refuge of his rebellion.

I believe church history will record the shift given to us by the Kuyper-Van Til-Rushdoony heritage as being as significant a shift as the one during Reformation under Luther-Calvin-Knox. We stand on the verge of not only a new millennium, but a new epoch of the church, an epoch when she will come into a new level of maturity as she rids herself of the childish things of paganism. One evidence of that epoch is the rise in home schooling that is motivated by a desire to train the godly seed of the elect to know the dominion of Jesus Christ over every area of the created order. This home schooling relies very much on the ideas of Van Til.

The threats to the future of Reformed education come from inside the church. First of all, the battle has always been for the Bible. We must carefully define and reaffirm the inerrancy, accuracy, infallibility, and authority of the Bible. The call today is for precision in our understanding of Scripture. It is only through a precise understanding of Scripture that we may come to that place of higher maturity.

We are threatened by our view of the state. Luther depended too much on the benevolence of the state to Christian goals. Some of Kuyper’s followers used his ideas to advocate a cradle to grave social order. There is such a thing as a Christian state, but we can never forget the basic antagonism that is between the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God.

In advancing a Christian worldview, we must return to a unified view of life. We have so long been affected by the Greek divergence of the physical and spiritual. Reformed thinking has been so attacked by pietism as to give us a schizophrenic view of life. We must resist pietism, and see life as a whole lived under the sovereignty of God. We must destroy the distinction between secular and sacred as we view life. We must reject the post modern mindset that says that we may hold several conflicting, but equally valid sets of truth in our minds.

Here is a direct challenge by a non-Christian author. William Boyd, in his book The History of Western Education described education in the 18th century:

It was a dark picture, and yet it would be a mistake to paint it so darkly as to obscure the gleams of promise in the background. The most hopeful feature in the situation was undoubtedly the fact that most people were under no delusions about the badness of the schools and universities, and were anxious to see them reformed. This made it easy for men of idealistic tempers to plan grand schemes involving radical changes in educational outlook, and for more practical men to attempt to bring improvements in the existing order of things, and in both respects much was done to make straight the way for the educational advances of the Nineteenth Century (p. 281).

Boyd praises the 19th century educational advances because of their increasing control by the central government and their objective to make the students good citizens of the state. Plato would have praised them too. We stand at a time where our culture is awakening to the deplorable condition of our educational system. The Enlightenment has run its full course, and all respect for convention and authority has been taken from our educational system. From the Reformed mindset we need grand schemes to be advanced, and from the Reformed mindset we need practical men to attempt to change the current order of things.

Rev. Gregory Hogan and his wife, Karen, have been married for 17 years. They home school their four children and are active in the arts. Greg has pastored for 15 years and has been a principal of two Christian Schools. Greg is now a City Councilman in Seven Hills, Ohio where he is advancing the cause for a fundamental rethinking of public education. He is the Moderator of the Ohio Reconstruction Society and a board member of the Association of Free Reformed Churches.

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