Pastor Dennis Lewis addressed the Trinitas Christian School Parent Association at the annual meeting. His message titled, “Why Educate” encouraged all in attendance to see education as a means to know and love God more. A synopsis of his speech follows.
Recently my 4-year-old daughter asked me the deeply penetrating question that all young inquiring school attending minds ask, “Daddy, why do I have to go to school!” Now, while I would like to believe that her question came as a result of a deep and rigorous philosophical process of analyzing the great epistemological concept of “Knowledge” or how one obtains knowledge – I quickly surmised it was not. Her question was the fruit of a heart that was more interested in the pleasures of a day at home than plumbing the depths of the correlation between institutionalized learning and why we desire to know!
Still, I wanted to answer her carefully and thoughtfully. I wanted to give an answer that would challenge her little heart and mind. I wanted the weight of scripture behind my answer, yet I wanted the impact of my response to evidence the love and mind of Christ. And so, I replied by simply saying, “So that you can learn to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” Never one to be left speechless, she quickly replied, “But I already love the Lord.” The implied ellipsis of courses is then – so I don’t have to go to school! Maybe I should have said, “Because I told you so!”
But I think her question is a good one (and honest questions deserve honest answers). Why do we encourage our children to attend school and try their best to do well? Why do we encourage our children to learn? Why do we want them to think, read, and express themselves intelligently? Why do we educate?
If we have an Ancient Greek (Philosophical) view of education, we will be tempted to view education as the highest good. It is therefore not the instrument for the good, it is the good itself. So to say one knows Greek, Latin, Rhetoric, Philosophy or Math, is to say one has achieved the good. This then fosters a desire to know for the sake of knowing. Of course, that is not to say that the Ancient Greeks were not pragmatic educators. But I would argue that the more prevalent form of educating centered on knowing for the sake of knowing.
The view that’s most popular in our culture today suggests that we educate in order to achieve material success and an elevated social standing. Therefore, we learn math, physics, science, English, etc., so that we can become doctors, lawyers, professors, and political figures.
The problem with both models mentioned above is that they offer a man-centered view of education. If as a Christian educator you were to educate on either premise, at best you would produce nominal (worldly) Christians and at worse you would produce educated devils.
A thoroughgoing biblical, Christ-centered, Gospel promulgating view of education suggests that the reason we educate is so that we may know God! Therefore, we learn math, science, Greek, Latin, etc., not primarily to say that we know it, or primarily for the purpose of getting a good job. We learn those disciplines in an effort to train our minds (and the minds of our children) to know God.
I am convinced that this is the plain teaching of Scripture and no other passage speaks with more clarity on the matter than Deuteronomy 6. Moses is speaking to the Second Generation Israelites, who are on the plains of Moab and about to enter the Promised Land. He is giving them instructions on how to think and behave as a covenant community within the surrounding pagan culture – a culture I might add that possessed an established body of knowledge and a robust epistemology. As a necessary didactic tool (and as a competing philosophical tool), the Lord not only provided them a body of knowledge (Deut. 5:6-21,The Ten Commandments) but he also provided for them an epistemological foundation and referent for all forms of knowledge (Deut. 6:4, Himself).
The ancient Israelites clearly interpreted the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) along these lines. Paul exhorted Timothy to hold fast to the teachings he was given as a child (2 Tim. 3:14-15). The educational system that young Timothy benefitted from (both in content and method) and that Paul held him accountable to (again both content and method), was established in the Shema (Deut. 6:7). God commanded that the ancient Israelites teach their children diligently (method) and that their children learned God’s law (content). Why? So that they may know God (Deut. 6:4-5; 2 Tim. 3:16).
Deuteronomy 6 then gives us a model for “Why we educate?” by showing us who or what takes priority in Education and who is responsible for education.
Who or what takes Priority in Education:
We have argued thus far that the reason we educate is so that we may know God. If this is the case, then it is God who should receive the priority in the education process. Perhaps this may explain why scripture often states, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7, 9:10, 15:33; Job 28:28). The correct understanding of this world, both of God’s special revelation (the Bible) and natural revelation (science, reading, writing, etc.), rightly comes from a reverential awe (fear) and delight in the person of God. The more we fear God, the more we are given a desire to know Him and his creation.
We can take this a step further and state, that any form of knowledge or system of obtaining knowledge (school) that does not have God as its foundation for knowing, cannot then know anything rightly. Or the knowledge obtained from such a system void of God as its chief referent will be distorted. This is not to say that unbelievers cannot know truth or possess vast amounts of knowledge. It does mean, however, that the purpose and joy of knowing loses its significance when God is not the chief antecedent. Paul makes this point in 1 Corinthians 8:1-6 when he states that those who offer food to idols, though they have knowledge of what it means to sacrifice, do not sacrifice rightly because they are not acknowledging the one true God. In essence, God only exist, not idols (This is the point of Deut. 6:4, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” is a reference to the exclusivity of God. He is God alone). And since God alone exists, then he sets the parameters for knowing and being known.
To prioritize God in education is for us to explain and demonstrate how the character of God is revealed in every aspect of Education: What does geometry tell us about the character of God, or what does physics tell us about nature of God, or how does rhetoric advance the cause of the gospel in our modern era? If we take up the task of making God our primary referent for why we educate, we then encourage our children to be lovers of God rather than knowledge.
The Responsibility of Education
The responsibility of education falls on the shoulders of the covenant community. More specifically, on the shoulders of the parents who form the nucleus of the most immediate and intimate of all covenant structures – the family. This of course is seen in Deut. 6:7-9 where parents are held responsible for inculcating the knowledge of God into the hearts and minds children. But this is not to say that the task of educating our Children falls on the shoulders of the parents alone.
The commands of Deuteronomy 5 and 6 were given to the covenant community. And while the parents were given the primary task of teaching their children, the covenant community as a whole provided mutual accountability and assumed some responsibility in that task.
Let me end by taking this matter out of the Parochial School realm and bringing it into the “Process of Sanctification” realm.
Why has God ordained that we know? More importantly, why has God allowed us to know as much as we do? To be sure, the Noetic effect of sin has disadvantaged man to the point that it is difficult to obtain, process, and disseminate information. Yet, God has enabled us to advance in our thinking through science, the arts, and culture. The question then is why God gives us a desire for knowledge and allows us to know – though we are sinners prone to distort everything we know about Him (Romans 1: 19-23)?
In an attempt to answer these questions, we should start by considering Moses’ response to God’s self-revelation after the golden calf incident. Moses, as the covenant representative of the people, requests that God show him His glory (Exodus 33:12-19). Moses’ request for God’s presence to be revealed evidences a desire to know God. When God grants Moses’ request (Exodus 34:6-7), the first thing Moses did was worship (Ex. 34:8). This then is the point of knowing: So that we may know God and worship him rightly and that we may learn to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might.