On the Lordship of Christ: a Comprehensive Christian Worldview

Greetings from Evangel Classical School!

It’s hard to believe that we are staring down the barrel of April.  That’s a beautiful time of year here in the Pacific Northwest, but it also means we’re only five turns of the monthly calendar away from the first day of classes at ECS.  That’s crazy.  A few years ago people stopped telling me that the years go by faster the older you get, and I suspect they stopped telling me because it was obvious they didn’t need to.  Well, the months are passing quickly for sure, and we’ll be buying school supplies in no time.

As April approaches, so does April 2, by which day we have asked any families who are interested in having their children attend ECS this fall to express their interest on our Interest Form.  If you fit that description, please take a few minutes and fill out that form for us.

Finally, if you’re interested in asking more questions in person or discussing ECS or classical Christian education, we are having one more open house/open forum at the home of Chuck and Teresa Weinberg on Sunday night April 1 at approximately 8:15.  As before, all interested parties are welcome.

If you’ve spent any time on the ECS website, you will have noticed the dashing visage of one Abraham Kuyper adorning the homepage.  If you click on his nose (or any part of his head, I suppose), it will take you to this link.

Though we have a whole page devoted to Kuyperian Calvinism on the site, it is good to talk about Kuyper’s mindset and influence on our school. While trying not to duplicate everything from the bio page, I want to offer a bit more explanation as to what we find so compelling about Kuyperian Calvinism.

Kuyper famously said the following:

There is not an inch in the whole domain of human life which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!”

Now, most Christians will agree with Kuyper because his statement is thoroughly orthodox.  And yet its implications are, in fact, comprehensive.

Take work, for instance.  Many Christians believe that work is spiritually neutral.  It’s separate from what you do on Sunday mornings, so it’s not a spiritual thing.  Having a good work ethic and good reputation are fine, but what happens from 8:00-5:00, Monday through Friday is not the real, spiritual stuff of life.  The same thinking could apply to education, politics, etc.  Enter Kuyper.  Kuyper believed that if Christ is Lord over all the world, then that includes the Christian’s workplace.  He actually cares about widget making for the glory of God, because Christ isn’t only about His work in the Church, but rather everywhere, and in all spheres.

Christ’s control and care are truly pervasive (Colossians 1:16-17).  So the Christian dare not approach education, law, politics, church, nutrition, landscaping, finance or metallurgy as though Christ does not care; Christ cares more than anyone.  We, as the Church of Christ, are a strategic instrument that the Lord is using to effect His will in the world and beyond (Ephesians 3:10).

We at ECS hold in happy tension a premillennial eschatology and the fact that Christians are supposed to behave joyfully.  Although the world will progressively and morally decline in anticipation of the second coming of Christ and His subsequent millennial reign on the earth (spoken of in Revelation 20), the spirit of the New Testament commands to believers is in no way pessimistic or dour.  We are rather to be joyful and confident in Christ as we obey His commands to love one another (John 13:34) and represent Him in the world, even if the world will grow increasingly uncomfortable with our presence.

This was the mindset that drove Abraham Kuyper.  He believed that Christ is present and interested in politics, education and the Church, and Christians should be, too.  For that reason, he was very active politically, educationally and ecclesiastically.

Due in no small part to the work of Abraham Kuyper, church culture in the Netherlands was powerfully changed as Christians were educated and emboldened to represent Christ in all spheres of life.

This undergirds the vision of ECS.  We are passionate about helping our students to realize their place in the Church and the world as Christ’s happy ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).  And we want to equip them to do this with joy and effectiveness.  That sort of mindset will transcend occupations and will make an already-nervous enemy tremble.

What’s Next? Lots of Work!

Last Sunday evening many of us (i.e., the Committee and a number of interested families) gathered to talk about ECS and the classical Christian model of education.  While there were a number of things we discussed that would be worth reproducing for you here, there is a thick thread that runs through everyone’s task list: WORK.

And this is a problem, because we hate it.  We don’t like having work to do, and we definitely don’t like being told to do it.  We are accustomed to ease and given to laziness (which we call “efficiency”).  But none of that changes the fact that there is work to do.

Maybe you’re the father of a second grader and you’re thinking about homeschooling your daughter in this model next school year.  Perhaps you’re a recent high school graduate who wishes she were trained in the classical Christian model and who wants to make up for lost time.  Or maybe you’re a grandparent who would like to see ECS well-established by the time your grandson is ready for kindergarten.  It’s even possible (not as likely for those reading this) that you’re an eighth-grader who is thinking about attending ECS as a freshman, but are despairing because you have never studied Latin or formal logic.  Whatever the situation, you have plenty of work to do.  Why is that?

For starters, parents are responsible for the education of their children.  Sadly, many parents abdicate this responsibility.  Others delegate it to a school, expecting for “education” to happen from 8:00AM to 3:00PM, Monday through Friday.  Others know better and strategically select a school that will effectively support them in the education of their children by reinforcing common biblical principles while loving academic content into their children better than they could as parents.  But regardless, the parents are responsible. And if those same parents are going to make good decisions, they must be well-informed.

The recent high school graduate should’t expect to fully understand the Greco-Roman mindset of the first century by reading one poem by Homer…but it can sure help.  To know better, or how to best prioritize your time takes work.  You have to learn what to learn.  Then once you’ve decided, the real work actually begins as you do read Homer and Virgil and Milton and Euclid and CS Lewis and study Latin and logic and more (or More).  Some would use that to excuse inactivity, because making excuses is easier than work.

Proud and well-informed grandparents are excellent ambassadors with contagious enthusiasm.  But if they want to be able to effectively champion the school or speak of it intelligently to others, they have to learn more.  We’re very glad to help, but it still takes work.

The student looking to enter the classical and Christian model had better be ready for (yup, you guessed it!) work.  Now the work is supposed to be hard and fun and rewarding and rigorous, but it’s still work.  If you can work hard and you’re open to the possibility of sacrificing the immediate gratification of straight A’s for sake of the greater, more lasting payoff of being able to use your mind, to handle the tools of learning as a homemaker or a widget-maker, and to be able to understand your place in the stream of Western culture, then you’ll be just fine.  We believe that these things make for better worshipers, and becoming a better worshiper takes work…for all of us.  But be working hard now, and be ready to work hard next year.

I write this first for myself.  I’m excitedly overwhelmed by the amount of work there is to do, and yet I know that this is a necessary and precious season in the life of our school that is marked by high dependence on God.  And we will be quick and glad to give Him the glory for the fantastic outcome (or shall I say, “process?”) we anticipate by faith.

As always, if we can better inform your work, or if we can answer any questions for you, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Risus est bellum.

 

Beauty: the Aesthetic Leg of the Pedagogical Stool

Greetings from Evangel Classical School!  I trust this finds you looking forward with eagerness to next week and the official start to spring.

Two things before I offer us all an aesthetic challenge.

  • Please remember that we are asking families who are interested in ECS to fill out the Interest Form on the school’s website by Monday April 2.  There is no obligation to enroll nor does this secure a spot in the school for those who do so, but it will help the Committee to make the most informed decisions we can in anticipation of our April 30 follow-up meeting (7:00PM at the Marysville Seventh-Day Adventist Church).  While you’re on the website, spend a bit of time looking around as there are some recent additions (e.g., the page on Kuyperian Calvinism).
  • Regarding these emails, we are modifying how you will receive them.  I suppose this is also your opportunity to opt out, if you wish (though you can do that any time afterward, too).  The new process will enable us to send this information from our website and post the information on the website in one act.

Very simply, you will soon receive a confirmation email from Feedburner.  If you want to continue to get these newsletters, please follow the directions (it involves a click of the mouse to confirm you’re not getting spammed by a machine).  From that point forward, you’ll receive these mailings via a feed rather than from me.

Also, I apologize ahead of time if you receive retroactive mailings of information I’ve already sent.  As we load past newsletters as posts on the site, you may receive them a second time as a feed.  If so, please disregard or re-read at your leisure.

Beauty: the Aesthetic Leg of the Pedagogical Stool

Many schools today – especially Christian schools – keep the pedagogical tools named Truth and Goodness clean and well-oiled.  They are effective and powerful for the development of young minds and the shaping of students’ worldviews and sense of morality.  They are useful for life after high school in the home, workplace, military or college. But by themselves they make for an incomplete education.

Perhaps it’s better to think of a pedagogical stool with three legs named Truth, Goodness and Beauty.  In most schools, the stool is wobbling on two legs because – if it’s present at all – the leg named Beauty is woefully stubby.

And this is a statement that many schools make in a number of ways.  We live in an age of commitment to self, and moral relativism. (For ME, I think that killing a baby in his mother’s womb is okay if his quality of life would be less-than-ideal…for ME. And don’t judge me because I’m entitled to my opinion.)  It’s little surprise then, that aesthetics (or any formal training to better appreciate them) is largely an afterthought…or even a non-thought.  How on earth can we expect our students to appreciate music by dead guys when we have no grounds for telling them it’s worth listening to?

In The Case for Classical Christian Education, Douglas Wilson writes the following:

“The triad we want to urge in classical Christian education is truth, goodness, and beauty.  When it comes to aesthetic issues, the Christian world is horribly compromised.   One of the tasks of the Christian school is to help bring us out of this relativism by teaching students to love that which is lovely – in music, in painting, in poetry, in drama and in dress.  Whatever is lovely, Paul says, think on this” (187).

To say that an appreciation for beauty is neglected in the modern educational system is a gross understatement.  Is it any wonder that the budgetary axe falls at the root of the Tree of Fine Arts when those who are making the decisions tend to have little appreciation for the arts themselves?  The statement we are making with our checkbooks is that there is greater value in a touchdown then a downbeat, and and greater value in the applause of fans gathered in a gymnasium than a concert hall.  Students’ test scores continue to drop, and we wonder why.  After all, we’re educating our students with a strong emphasis on truth and goodness, right?  What more could there possibly be?

Where does this mentality come from?  Well, it should hardly come as a surprise.  Our society does not appreciate beauty like it used to.  Fine musicians have to play in multiple ensembles just to make ends meet; artists are stereotypically poor; Hip Hop artists that you’ve never heard of make more money in a night than Bach made in his lifetime…and 300 years from now they’ll still be listening to Bach (maybe not, at this rate!), while it’s doubtful that Lil’ Kim or Flo Rida will top many playlists (and yes, I had to look up those names).

Also from The Case, Wilson observes the following regarding clothing:

“Of course, we should dress for comfort, but the biblical view is that we should also dress for the comfort of others.  Today our natural tendency is to dress to suit ourselves.  In another era, students would dress to make themselves presentable.  Now students want to dress to make themselves at ease.  The former generations thought of others; we now insist on putting ourselves first” (186).

This is pretty indicting, but it also resonates with our own personal experience.  The same students who will proudly don a basketball uniform will insist that the wearing of a school uniform strips them of their right to express their individuality.

We are committed to growing in our students a sense of solidarity and a commitment to something greater than themselves in their attire.  As best we are able, we are committed to engendering an appreciation for beauty, whether in the aesthetics of our facilities or in formal musical training in the elementary classroom.  Our students won’t just sing a lot, we want to help them be able to read vocal music early in the grammar years.

And there’s more that we will do, if God wills.  But it’s not because we’ve arrived (we haven’t actually left yet), it’s because we’re committed to the leg of the pedagogical stool that many of our neighboring public schools have whittled to a nub.

Risus est bellum!

Who’s Using Whose Truth?

Good afternoon to you all from Evangel Classical School (in very early stages of development, but still a send-off point for my greetings, nonetheless)!  I hope yours has been a good week.  Before I try to encourage you all with a few thoughts on the teaching of truth, I offer a request for your input.

Many of you were at the introduction and information meeting on January 30, where we mentioned our plan to have a follow-up meeting on Monday night April 30 at 7:00 at the Marysville Seventh Day Adventist Church (that’s at 12012 51st Ave NE • Marysville, WA, 98271). So first, consider this your formal invitation to that meeting.

At that meeting we intend to announce more in the way of plans and logistics for next year, including which classes we’ll be able to offer and when.  But in order to do that, we need your help.

We are asking folks who are interested in our school to indicate as much on the school Interest Form.  It only takes a brief moment.  This expression of interest does not commit you to enroll your children; neither does it guarantee your children a place in the school; it’s only for the purpose of data collection.  But it’s very important; as you can imagine, it will go a long way in determining how we proceed.

We are asking that families fill out that form by MONDAY APRIL 2.  That will give the Committee four weeks to make the needed decisions, whether clear or difficult.

You may also be interested to know that we plan to have another time of conversation, Q&A and fellowship after the TrinityEvangel Church evening service on Sunday March 18.  The location is still to be announced, but the conversation will center chiefly on questions or thoughts that may have been triggered by the booklet Classical and Christian Education by Gregg Strawbridge.  It’s a loaded ten pages, and if you don’t yet have a copy, you may buy one of your own or let me know, and I’ll try to get you one.

And of course, feel free to pass along this information – or even this email – to your interested and like-minded neighbors and friends.

____________________________________________________________

Who’s Using Whose Truth?

In epistula, an email newsletter of Veritas Press, Larry R Stephenson, superintendent of Veritas Press Scholars Academy, wrote a pretty spirited email from which I draw the following quotation of Augustine:

Augustine said, “It is like what the Israelites did when they left Egypt and took all their gold with.” We take what God has revealed to pagans and give due recognition to the One who created it.

I thought that was a powerful statement. The world – and by default, public schools – teach lots of truth with a failure to “give due recognition to the One who” has revealed the truth…the Truth Himself.  Sure, two plus two is four, but is that the whole story?

It’s fair to ask whether an intentioned withholding of truth is truthful at all.  We don’t let our kids get by with this. “You didn’task me if I stayed there the whole night, Mom, so why am I in trouble?”  Yet we give the benefit of the doubt to schools, television stations, libraries…. They all have good intentions, just wanting what’s best for our kids right?

Probably not.  Because what’s best for our kids is a knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself in His Word and in Creation.  The world tries to explain away one, and militantly ignores the other.  (Side note: I watched about 90 seconds’ worth of a TV special that actually tried to use “science” to explain away the plagues of Egypt, and how they “naturally” triggered one another. Is that neutral?  Well-intentioned?)

We can teach all the truth that the world teaches (incomplete as it is), because it’s borrowing truth from us in the first place.  And more than that, we can teach the whole thing because we intentionally glorify the Giver and Source of that truth.

The world is working hard to undo what you’re doing.  We’d much rather be tag-team partners with you.

Risus est bellum!

You’ve Never Really Taken a Math Course…

Critics of the classical and Christian model sometimes wield the universal certainty of mathematics like a trump card.  “Two plus two is four for everyone, always, period.”  Even Christians will commonly use this as a defense for putting their kids in a school that eschews their family’s values or biblical truths, with a sort of what-difference-does-it-make kind of attitude.  Well, let’s examine this a bit more closely for a moment. One thing that really troubled me the first time I heard it was that I had probably never gotten beyond the grammar stage of mathematics.  In a very helpful series of talks on classical and Christian education by Mitch Stokes, Senior Fellow of Philosophy at New Saint Andrews College, he poked some holes in my thinking about the discipline of mathematics.  In a message dramatically-entitled, “Mathematics: How We’ve Missed the Whole Point,” he piqued my interest with the following:
“What if I told you you’ve never really taken a math course?  You’ve never really studied math, even if you’ve done many, many problems…? Math is a lot more than you thought it was.”
He went on to explain himself by suggesting that the following is true for almost all of us (I know it’s true for me):
  1. We don’t know where math in its current form came from.  We don’t know the history or the philosophies that undergird it or how much of a religion it has been in itself to so many cultures of the past…cultures on whose shoulders we stand when we punch a problem into our smart phone calculators.
  2. We have learned little more than a series of recipes and formulas that – when properly followed – will produce the correct answer the same way, every time…even if we can’t actually tell you why the answer is correct.
I can’t really argue against this.  Until recently, I had never learned anything about the significant role mathematics has played in the way Western minds have made sense of the universe.  I’ve been too preoccupied memorizing the quadratic formula.  Isn’t that more immediate? Urgent, even? What’s more, I still have no idea how the quadratic formula actually works…or where it came from…because I’ve never gotten beyond the grammar of mathematics. That’s right.  I took college calculus, but the best I could tell you now is that certain formulas can help you determine the area from one point to another under a parabola.  Big whoop. Sure, I use plenty of basic algebraic and geometric principles around the house, but even that puts me in pretty rare company. No matter how sophisticated the formulas I’ve memorized, they still comprise only the grammar of math.  That’s not to say that my six-year-old should know geometric formulas since that’s grammar stuff and she’s in grammar school; remember that the “grammar” of a subject refers to the basic or even factual information, as distinguished from the logic or rhetoric of the subject.  And the grammar/elementary educational level heavily emphasizes providing grammar students with the grammar of the disciplines.  But I digress. Given the way we teach mathematics, it’s little surprise that students so often hate math.  Stokes suggests that we entertain what it would look like if we tried to pull such a stunt in history classes:
“I’m going to put up some dates on the board and I’m going to attach names and events to it.  And that’s all I’m going to do. And what I want you to do on the exam is put them in order. Okay?  That’s it.  And we’re just going to do this for twelve years.  And then you’re going to go to college, and we’re going to do more.  List more dates, events, and people.  And then [you’re] going to go to graduate school.  And then you’re going to do that again, and again.  And that’s all you’re ever going to do.  You’re going to have this humongous timeline.  And that’s all we’ll talk about in history.
“Yay.
“Now, do you think that would end up making you hate history after awhile?”
But here is his point: that is exactly what we’ve done in math.  We’ve given formulas and recipes with little background or analysis, and we wonder why students so often despise it.  The reality is that if we haven’t gotten beyond the grammar in our own classes, we’ve never actually taken a math class. Neither is it surprising when there’s little student buy-in in math classes.  I have a hard time imagining Aristotle asking Plato, “Yeah, but when will I ever use this stuff when I get out of here?”  Mathematics, properly taught and understood provides a way to make better physical sense of a universe that God has, in fact, created in mathematical order.  Perhaps the question that our students sometimes ask is more intuitive than we previously thought.  Perhaps the best answer is not, “because it’s your job to learn this, and you’re learning how to discipline your mind,” etc.  Perhaps it should be, “Because I’m teaching you how to better understand God’s creation. And mathematics is only an example.  The truth of the matter is that being true to a particular discipline, and getting past the grammar of that discipline means spending time examining primary sources and asking lots of how and whyquestions…and even equipping our kids to answer those questions intelligently and persuasively, which we will be our aim at Evangel Classical School.

It’s Something Different

Greetings to you all on behalf of the Evangel Classical School Committee. FYI, at some point in the next few months the Committee will officially pass the baton to the first Board of Directors. These emails will then come on the behalf of the Board, not the Committee.

A special “thank you” to all of you who attended the viewing of Trivium Sketches at the Weinbergs’ last Sunday night. We trust it was helpful and informative. There were a number of good questions from the crowd after the viewing, and each family who attended took home their own copy of the cleverly-entitled booklet Classical and Christian Education, by Gregg Strawbridge. If you were not able to attend, but would like your own copy, you may purchase your own via the link, or just ask me and I’ll see if I can provide you one for as long as we have some left. But you must promise to read it and share your thoughts or questions with the rest of the class. :)

Last week, you’ll recall that I sent a faulty link to the school’s webpage, so here it is again. That’s www.evangelcs.org. On the site, we’ve endeavored to answer some frequently-asked questions and share our vision, so I’d encourage you to take a gander if you have not yet done so.

I thought you might be provoked (in a good, thoughtful way) by some comments from Gregg Strawbridge, pastor of All Saints Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and author of Classical and Christian Education (mentioned above). (To be fair, there is more to the title, namely, “Recapturing the Educational Approach of the Past.”)

Strawbridge points out the following:

One can hardly think of education in the past without being impressed with learning and academic skills that far exceed our own. Pick up any book written before this century, and it will be a challenge to the ordinary college graduade because of the eloquence of style, complexity of sentence structure, and vocabulary. Even the common letters of the literate ‘uneducated’ in the last century stand out as supremely elegant. (1)

It’s hard to argue with this point because our own experiences only confirm it. Like most of you, I need to think harder and focus more intently when reading an old book. Now there are probably a few additional factors that play into this that Strawbridge doesn’t mention (e.g., those that contribute to the natural evolution of language; some verbiage is just antiquated). But generally speaking, it’s because I’m ignorant of the big words or can’t follow the sentences unless I break them down into small pieces. I’m a little embarrassed to say that, but it’s true.

In “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Dorothy Sayers pointed out that her generation was actually getting a poorer education that the one before. That was – to that point – unprecedented in history. Sadly things haven’t gotten better since then. And this comes as little surprise given that our approach to education has only gotten further and further from the time-tested model of our ancestors.

To be sure, there are other things at play here, including our society’s moral decline, but it is silly for us to continue to practice the same methods – educationally and otherwise – and expect a different result. We cannot reasonably expect for a downward trend in the quality of education to suddenly reverse unless we intervene.

Enter the classical and Christian educational model. Whether utilized at home or in a classroom, it saturates a millennia-old educational tradition with Scripture and endeavors to support parents in the rearing of a generation of worshippers who hone the skill of learning. It’s not a panacea, but it is compelling. And it is different from what most of us experienced in our own educational upbringing. If you want to know more about it, here is our resource page. You are also free to ask away; we’ll happily answer whatever questions we can to the best of our ability. (Oh, and “we” is the Committee.)

Risus est bellum.