No Lines

The following exhortation was given at the assembly on February 7, 2013. You could also watch our grammar students share their Bird Sound-off.

One of the greatest challenges to me so far this school year has been figuring out how to grade K-2 coloring. I am not an arteest myself nor have I spent many years informing my expectations surrounding a seven year old’s coloring potential. Should grades be based on effort or outcome? If effort, how is that determined? Is effort counted by beads of sweat on their forehead? Is effort decided by how short the stub of crayon becomes? Or, if based on outcome, what should be the standard? Likeness to real-life? Uniqueness? Staying inside the lines?

These are good questions but they depend on so many assumptions. In particular, they all assume the existence of lines. What if there were no lines? How would a student know if he stayed in them? How would we even know what the picture was?

I don’t ask this as an extra-crispy philosophical question to bend our minds on a tired afternoon. (My point here is not, “There is no spoon.”). I mean it as a threshold into thankfulness. Let me come at it a different way.

In our Omnibus class we recently read three Theban plays by Sophocles. No one really gets to be happy in these tragedies, at least not for long. As our textbook pointed out, the reason the characters are so miserable is because their gods are unpredictable and uncaring. The gods of the ancient nations (and, for that matter, the gods of unbelievers today) cannot be trusted. They do not communicate clearly and they do not have anyone’s interests at heart except their own.

Sophocles’ protagonist, Oedipis, spends his days trying to do right but he is too ignorant and too outnumbered to defeat the gods. They are against him and will keep him from winning. At one point in the story Oedipis even gouges out his own eyes as a form of self-inflicted punishment. But nothing works and he finds no hope at all. He doesn’t know what to do, what is required of him, how to please the gods, or how to get out of his mess. In other words, he was trying to color a picture with no lines.

Christians simply must not take for granted how good we have it. This is part of the reason why our school is called Evangel Classical School. Evangel — a Greek to Latin to English word — means “good news.” Evangel is the gospel and it makes all the difference.

The gospel starts with God, the one and Triune God who created all things, including men. God revealed Himself to His creatures and gave them a standard, His law. Think about God’s initiation and clarity and kindness. He gave us lines, knowable and followable.

Carl Henry wrote in his work, God, Revelation, and Authority, that God gave up His privacy to give us Himself. Henry’s first thesis was:

Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality. (Vol 2, 17)

There are things that are mysterious, yes. (Henry’s third thesis was: “Divine revelation does not completely erase God’s transcendent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.”) There are things that are beyond us; God didn’t make us little gods. But He did make us to know Him, to learn about Him in creation (“The heavens declare the glory of God” – Psalm 19:1), to learn about Him in how He made us, to learn about Him in history, and to learn about Him in His Incarnation (“in [Christ] the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” – Colossians 1:19, the Word made flesh “has made Him known” – John 1:18). He wrote down the lines for us.

Tragically we didn’t follow the lines. Adam disobeyed but, even then, God didn’t run away into privacy and plan how to ruin us. He gave promises of a Savior, of a sacrifice who would pay the penalty for our failure to follow.

This is the evangel, the gospel, the good news. It is hidden from the proud but the humble can know the truth and can know how to have eternal life. We can know God. We can know what He is like. We can know what He expects.

Evangel acknowledges that man’s greatest problem is sin, not ignorance, and that salvation comes through Christ, not education. Any education that does not deal with a man’s soul, with his moral darkness, and hostility to the Lordship of Christ cannot properly be called an education. Education also cannot compensate for a man’s lack of righteousness before God. Sin affects man’s ability to think and perceive truth. Without the gospel, he cannot know the truth. Every man needs to trust and follow Christ.

Evangel Classical School exists because of these lines. ECS depends on the revelation of God as a just and merciful God. As Henry wrote,

Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator…. (Vol 2, 30)

God is sharing His own life of joy with us. He invites us in to participate in joy inexpressible and full of glory now while also preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison. He is not working against us and trying to keep us from attaining lasting happiness. He told us about it, paid and paved the way for us, and sent His own Spirit to dwell in us and strengthen us so that we’re sure to get there.

Evangel acknowledges what is “the power of God” to save the world. We desire nothing less than the transformation of men as those who have been resurrected to new life, declared righteous and being made more like Christ by faith. These gospel-made living sacrifices will not be conformed to this world but will necessarily challenge the gods of this age. We do our work as worship of the One who made all things and in whom all things hold together. We learn and sing and write and rope-swing as those who know the Savior, who hope in the transforming power of the Gospel.

It’s no wonder that Paul called the evangel of “first importance,” namely, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This gospel we have “received,” we didn’t imagine it. In this gospel we “stand,” it is our foundation and support. And in this gospel we “are being saved.” It is the hope of our lives (see also 1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

The evangel changes persons and peoples. Perhaps the reason we see so little transformation in our culture is because we have so little gospel. By faith, we at Evangel Classical School will not be ashamed, we will be thankful for the lines God has revealed and confident in the Lord of our lives.

Lessons from Socrates: Starting in the Wrong Place

I have a second grader at ECS named Ellie. She loves Star Wars Legos. If you’ve ever seen these Legos, you’ll know that many of them are detailed and specific, different from ordinary Legos. And if you don’t assemble them according to the directions, not only will you not have a clue what you’re doing, but what you manage to assemble will not resemble what is intended. But if the instruction sheet is available, even a seven-year-old is able to put together a veritable masterpiece.

So far in the Omnibus curriculum this year, we’ve seen repeated attempts on the part of natural men to try to make sense of the world apart from the Word of God, and it is like trying to assemble a 700-piece Star Wars Lego set without the instructions and expecting Jabba’s palace to magically and intuitively just come together. Natural men look to amoral gods to govern their morality. They attribute natural calamities to impotent gods. They recognize their own need for a savior, and look to other men or those same amoral, impotent, self-serving gods for their salvation.

As privileged Christians we can see the folly in this, but apart from the Word of God (read: the Truth) they were doing the best they could while hating the God who had written His Law on their hearts, giving them any sense of morality in the first place! This week and next we’re looking at a series of lengthy vignettes about The Last Days of Socrates, written by Socrates’ disciple, Plato. And it is at times both entertaining and frustrating.

Socrates famously posed the following question: “Is the holy approved by the gods because it’s holy, or is it holy because it’s approved?” (Euthyphro 10a). Hmm. Good question…if you’re a polytheist.

Socrates’ philosophy represents a flawed starting point: he’s operating under the assumption that multiple gods rule the universe. Further, these gods cannot agree with one another as to what is right or wrong, good or bad. If they do not themselves agree on what is right or holy, how could they possibly impose a consistent standard on mankind? And if there exists a standard of morality outside of the gods which they themselves must recognize, then who needs the gods? Why not just adhere to those objective moral standards ourselves without concern for the gods’ approval or judgment? Socrates raises serious problems for Athenian worship.

I am inclined think that Socrates would be satisfied with the Christian’s answer to his dilemma; Scripture saws the horns off the dilemma right off the bull. Holiness is identified not by what the gods love; neither do the gods approve the holy merely because it is holy (in fact, they disagree on what’s right or wrong). Rather, morality comes from the true, triune God, and what’s good is good because He calls it good; He doesn’t call it good because it’s good. Get it? When He is the source of goodness, he determines what it is good; nothing is good apart from Him.

To review, Christianity answers emphatically what polytheism cannot…and for several reasons.

The Greek gods cannot agree on what is good; the triune God knows know disagreement. Socrates offers as an example that a man prosecuting his father would find varying degrees of sympathy from Zeus and Kronos. (Zeus killed his father, Kronos). So how can the “gods” determine whether the prosecution of one’s father is acceptable or not? With the one God ruling, however, there is no disagreement, and the standard is clear, objective.

The Greek gods are subject to change; the true God never changes. The Greek gods often changed mood and mind. When man’s aim is the gods’ favor, it is a frustrating thing to be aiming at a moving target. Not so with the God of Scripture. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He doesn’t change his mind (Heb. 13:8, cf. Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6).

The Greek gods trickle out information in small, strategic portions; God reveals Himself in Scripture and in nature. By only answering questions when asked (and that in the form of cryptic oracles at best), the demons…er, gods keep men guessing. It’s awfully convenient if they want to changing their minds, or plan the destruction of their worshipers. Scripture however, is clear, complete, and constant.

So when natural man tries to answer the questions of the universe based on human reason and very limited resources (rocks, trees, popular opinion…), it inevitably leads to the wrong answers, whether inaccurate just incomplete.

Such was the case with Socrates. Some folks think that his dilemma refutes Christianity. But in truth, it presents no problem for Christianity at all. Socrates presupposes a falsehood: gods rule the universe. When we approach the question from the right starting point (namely, that the true God is One), it’s a whole different dilemma: Should man trust his own merit or the merit of Christ to meet the divine standard?

Finally, we get to try to make sense of God’s creation with the help of the divinely-given directions: Scripture. Jabba’s palace may finally come together with the help of the instruction sheet.

For what it’s worth, I’m thrilled that our students are getting the opportunity to train with these real bullets now rather than later. This is the sort of discussion that commonly rattles – or even defeats – many ill-prepared Christians today. Yet it is exciting that God has given us an easy defense if we would but heed His Word.