A Truly Liberal Education
I'd like to talk now about the freedom of the Christian school. I know something about that, because I went to a Christian school. Indeed, I was the salutatorian of my eighth-grade graduating class. That means I was second from the top of my class, academically. But since my class numbered only three students, that also means I was second from the bottom!
I give thanks to God that I was permitted to be in that school. I am thankful for parents who sacrificed to send me there. And I am grateful for Audrey Gregory, my teacher, who was like a second mother to me. She opened my eyes to music, geology, and theology. She also opened my eyes to every imperfection on the walls of the corner of our schoolroom – to which it was necessary from time to time for her to consign me.
I received a truly liberal education at Willow Grove Christian Day School, and I want to tell you why I say that. The word liberal is not necessarily a bad term. We speak of the liberal arts, and that's not something reprehensible. The word is based, of course, on the same root from which we get the word “liberty”: the Latin liber, “free.” To receive a truly liberal education is to enjoy the liberty to think and act responsibly and effectively in God's world.
But there is a problem, and simply stated it is this: folks often view liberty as freedom from all restraint. The rationalism that characterized the eighteenth century – and particularly the French Revolution, with its “liberty, equality, and fraternity” – had that vision. For instance, there was at that time a concerted, though unsuccessful, attempt to break away from God's created order of the week – six days of work and one of rest – and replace it with a ten-day week. Then there are the anarchists, present in every century, who admit of no authority whatsoever.
You see, if liberty is defined in these terms, the urge will always be present to whittle down the restrictions. The transfer of man's allegiance from God to himself has placed an impossible burden on the individual. For, if God no longer provides meaning or determines right and wrong, then each man has some fearful decisions to make! In fact, he must either delegate his decision making to other people, or he must himself play God. But, when each man must make ultimate decisions, the conscience can only be bondage, not freedom.
Others have suggested that we ought to let the allegedly neutral state maintain order and rule the masses. But, because of man's natural depravity, this doesn't get us anywhere. The world has seen of late the utter bankruptcy of dialectical materialism. And, as far as the humanistic idealism of the so-called democratic nations is concerned, look at the yield: unbridled abortion, rampant immorality (both homosexual and heterosexual), and drugged societies.
It is wrong to link freedom to “neutrality.” There is really no such thing. Neutrality is worse than “a limp old lady leaning over to the left.” It is positively anti-God. The school system that pleads neutrality must, of necessity, ignore and oppose God. And it must, of necessity, teach its pupils to ignore and oppose God. This is not neutrality. It is atheism, virulent atheism. That's why we need Christian schools.
The need for change
Freedom must be understood against the background of the human condition: inherent depravity. The gospel of John (John 8:31-41) records for us a dialogue between the Lord Jesus and “the Jews who had believed him.” Jesus said,
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” and immediately they answered him: “We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus then replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
Elsewhere, Christ compares the human condition to that of a bad tree, which, though “free,” is not able to bring forth good fruit. And, in 2 Peter 2:19, the apostle characterizes people, apart from the grace of God, as “slaves of depravity.”
Now, then, the state school system will nod its head in assent – yes, there is a problem. But it will locate that problem in man's environment, rather than in man's nature, and it will seek to root it out by changing that environment. The world's new saviors are educators! (Take a look at Rousas Rushdoony's book, The Messianic Character of American Education.)
Man needs changing. The truth will make him free when he knows that truth. There's nothing automatic about it. It cannot be achieved through mere manipulation of his world. However, to say that man needs to know the truth doesn't mean that he merely needs to give intellectual assent to it. Satan does that, and he is anything but free! Rather, it means that man must give obedience to the truth of the gospel.
Freedom to obey God
You see, the freedom which the gospel brings is not merely freedom from eternal damnation. Right before Jesus said “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” he said “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31). In fact, he actually said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The one is a consequence of the other. Obeying the gospel command leads invariably to freedom.
A Christian school is not merely a school in which teachers and students are free to pray and in which a fourth “R” is added to Readin', Writin', and 'Rithmetic, namely Religion. A Christian school is a school that is free, because there God's people are free to abide in Christ's Word and are not bound to disobey it!
In a Christian school, the effect of this freedom is that teachers and students are liberated within the framework of God's law. Think of the freedom of the goldfish within the boundaries of the fishbowl! Nurture, not conversion, is the goal of the Christian school. It's not for outreach, but for “inreach.” It's for freedom, the freedom of the covenant community of God to obey and serve him. A truly liberal education – a truly free education – can be nothing other than that interaction between teacher and student, under God's Word of law and gospel, whereby both seek by God's grace to think and act as God intended. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He had in mind a transformation first of persons and then of society – not vice versa. The Christian school is a place for using the mind: “Love the Lord your God … with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). In the Christian school, God's Word illumines all the facts. For “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). We are to think God's thoughts after him!
True freedom is freedom not only to know, but also to act. The Christian school has a very practical, as well as an academic, curriculum. This is God's world, so we must put him in the middle, everywhere; these are God's people; he knows how both tick! This philosophy of education lets God's Word supply the principles and lets God's Spirit supply the illumination – of me, so that I might be truly free.
Thus, there can be peace in the Christian school, even though there are sinners in it. There are varieties of gifts, but one Giver. There will be no fear of a lack of ability in this or that student. For the community will love God with all its heart, and trust him to know what he is doing when he creates people not all the same, but with differences.
Further, the Christian school student will not be afraid of the microscope, as though a careful examination of God's world might somehow give the lie to God's Word – for “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The theory of evolution, for instance, must give way to the clear message of Genesis 2:7. The Christian school student may safely follow wherever that Word loads, knowing that it will not contradict a proper understanding of God's world.
The ultimate freedom
The Christian school looks forward to the ultimate transformation of the entire universe – freedom on a cosmic scale! I look forward to personal sanctification and entrance into the eternal kingdom of my Lord and Savior, yes – but also to universal renewal, to a new heavens and a new earth! For the Bible says, “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
The Christian school is free from the tyranny of both the majority (the lowest common denominator – “he who believes least is most correct”) and the minority (intellectual kidnappers). Replacing these bankrupt-alternatives is the Prince of the kings of the earth, and the blessed freedom of his law and gospel! How sweet it is! We don't buy this freedom and its resulting joy. It is ours by grace.
Some have compared Christian schools to hothouses – and the debate boils. Sure, there is some truth in that, for students in Christian schools are truly nurtured and protected. But let me leave you with another figure, in line with the freedom about which we've been speaking. Christian school students are calves released from the stall, too! For them “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2).
Let them run and leap in the sunny meadow. That is my picture of the truly liberal education, the truly free school.