Is Classical Education Obsolete?

aristotleAristotle has been “old” for two thousand years.

People will sometimes dismiss classical education as being old fashioned and out of date. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (an influential character in classical education circles) helped to establish the disciplines of logic and rhetoric…in the fourth century before Christ. By the time Jonathan Edwards was studying Aristotle in school, Aristotle had been dead for two thousand years. Now Aristotle’s been dead 2338 years. One might wonder what’s happened in the last three hundred years to strip Aristotle of his ability to teach us.

Aristotle hasn’t changed since the 18th century; we have. We are not committed to the same emphasis on the communication of values that Aristotle teaches in Nichomachean Ethics. We don’t appreciate the ancient languages that Aristotle used (and Edwards mastered), and our culture shows it. We have (evidently) abandoned the disciplines of logic and rhetoric, and we act like it.

But being an old idea doesn’t make classical education great. It’s great for a host of reasons. For instance, studying the writings of godless men like Aristotle helps to show us how God prepared the world for the first advent of His Son, politically, philosophically, religiously and otherwise. Additionally, the nature of men has not changed since Aristotle’s day, so his reasoning devices are as handy now as they were then…and they’re more novel because they’re so rarely utilized. Still more, the harmonization of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric with the stages of children’s natural development (which Dorothy Sayers nicknamed the Poll Parrot, Pert, and Poetic stages, respectively) is also quite helpful.

But Christians today are able to read Aristotle and take his thinking still further. Aristotle believed that education was about the development of certain virtues in the pupil, but he had no authority for the articulation of those virtues, or their definitions. The best he could come up with were reasonable (and well-reasoned) speculations…from the mind of a natural man.

Enter classical Christian education.

We want for our children to identify and love the true, the good and the beautiful. And we point cheerfully to God as the Source of this classical trifecta. Aristotle could only do this theoretically with a conception about the idea of God, but we can point to Christ and His Word. And we do.

Our fathers seemed to understand some things we don’t yet, as a culture. They found great help and value in the work of Aristotle and others of the ancients. And it’s a good thing they did, or we wouldn’t be where we are. And while the world is working hard to divest our culture of its culture, we point cheerfully to Greece and Rome and Philadelphia (1776) and say, “These are our people.” They weren’t perfect, and neither are we, but God has used them and continues to do so…for His purposes.

Let’s make them proud, equipping our little ones to advance culture for Christ…in all spheres of life.

Heroes of the Faith, and Naming the Secondary Houses

Last Friday I had opportunity to address the Raggants in our October assembly, and the theme was the naming of the secondary houses. What follows is an edited version of what I shared with them. Enjoy

The wise person will learn from the example of those who have gone before him. This is not unique to the Christian faith, although it’s especially important to us. We give assent to sacred Scripture, and it’s full of history and stories and examples for our instruction.

You may recall Hebrews chapter 11, where the writer of Hebrews catalogues example after example of faithful people from the Old Testament, and they were far from perfect. Indeed, many of those listed were guilty of grievous sins in their times, just like you and me. But God would still have us to learn from them, and they’re cheering us on as we now run the race of the faith. They’ve passed the baton to us, and we must run and finish our race well. And we may not be the ones to actually cross the finish line, but we must run our leg well and then hand the baton to the next generation of Christians who will come after us, and then they can work to transform our culture just like we are. That’s all very exciting, but it means that right now, we keep running.

Here at Evangel Classical School, we are not ashamed to tell you that you have a heritage (i.e., your history, your background, your culture and all of the different things the have influenced it). And it’s a great heritage! And we want you to love it! And that doesn’t mean that you have to hate everyone else’s heritage. Our world doesn’t seem to understand this. The world – and many false teachers today – are telling you that we’re basically all the same, that the brotherhood of man is universal, our forefathers were dangerous and narrow-minded bigots, and we’d do well to not be stuck in the past, to grow beyond their teachings and into this new and inclusive world. And, they say, if you don’t agree with this, then you’re just one of them – narrow-minded, dangerous and hateful bigots.

I would say that there are two big things that have contributed to this situation:

  • Our culture’s acceptance of other sources of authority besides God’s Word.
  • Our culture’s failure to learn from history.

And in this sense, and many others, we wish to be counter-cultural.

We Love Scripture

And we know it is God’s objective, clear, unchanging and universally-applicable word. And what’s more…

We Love to Study and Learn from History

God is always at work, and history shows us how He has been at work in the world since it began. And although there is a lot of sin and hurt and suffering throughout history, we also cannot mistake God’s evident work in the details of every single event and life in human history. It’s so painfully clear! And it’s beautiful. And we know this, because we study Scripture!

We’re not the only ones who have faced these sorts of cultural and religious challenges. And we can learn from others who have done it well.

In this spirit, we’ve decided to name our secondary houses after four Protestant Reformers from four different European nations.

These Reformers all had hard lives.

Every one of them can teach us great lessons about changing culture. They lived and gave themselves to transform cultures with the gospel. Reforming the monolithic Church of the Middle Ages was a great undertaking, and these men did their part in that, and we stand on their shoulders.

They can teach us about faithfulness while facing adversity. They were all met with stiff resistance along the way, and they were loved by some, and hated by far more. They all four had political influence because of their faithfulness, and they can teach us lesson about what hills to die on. I would have loved to witness John Knox’s several conversations with Mary Queen of Scots, as these conversations usually involved her crying angry tears.

They can teach us what hills are worth dying on. Many in our culture today think big deal issues involve nail polish colors and which of the Jonas brothers is the cutest. These men were putting their very lives on the line for matters like justification by faith alone, and the translation the Bible into a language for common men.

Make no mistake: one major reason that we have the freedom today to fuss over nail polish and the Jonas brothers is because these men took a faithful stand on important matters.

Western Culture as we know it was profoundly impacted and changed by the work of these men, and as those who stand on their shoulders and who wish to transform culture ourselves, we must learn from them.

John Calvin

(1509-1564, died age 55)

What did he do?

French Reformer John Calvin was a pastor and a theologian in Geneva, Switzerland for about a decade, and he ministered in Strasburg with fellow Reformer Martin Bucer.

He first published Institutes of the Christian Religion when he was in his late twenties and many other works over the course of his life. He preached the Bible faithfully in Geneva and used his influence and the influence of the church to help shape the culture of Geneva, making it a destination and refuge for Protestants who were hungry for God’s Word.

Calvin is still regarded by many as the greatest mind of the Reformation, and he played an instrumental role in the English and Scottish Reformations as well, because it was not uncommon for Reformers to write to Calvin to get his council on difficult Reformation matters, theologically, politically and otherwise.

Why was it hard?

Calvin was met with stiff opposition his whole life. He had a few years of reprieve in Strasburg, but for the most part, he was hated by the community of Geneva although his influence was strong, and his intentions were good. People named their dogs after him, and he was never a voting citizen of Geneva, so his opportunities were somewhat curbed.

Beyond this, Calvin had a hard life. He dealt with the death of children (none survived infancy), and various health issues over the course of his life and ministry.

He died at the age of 55.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Members of Calvin House will be identified with the greatest mind of the Reformation, and one under whose leadership helped shape Geneva. Although Geneva is largely godless today, there are still profound echoes of his influence in the city, and his name still makes unbelievers grumpy. Laughter is war.

What is the Calvin House color? RED
Who will be the Calvin House advisor? MR. BOWERS

John Knox

(1513-1572, died age 59)

What did he do?

Scottish Reformer John Knox is regarded as the most influential leader in the Scottish Reformation. He was a fiery and passionate preacher, and a mobilizer of men. Knox was – perhaps even more than these other Reformers – a great leader. He was willing to lead others even at a very high cost.

Why was it hard?

In Knox’s lifetime, the autonomy of Scotland and its political leadership changed quite a bit. He met with great political opposition in his efforts to change Scotland. I’m not a Presbyterian, but under his leadership Scottish Presbyterianism was better established, and some of the work of Knox and other Scottish Reformers had a profound influence on the founding fathers of the United States. The documents they wrote, the way that they appealed to political leaders, and even their understanding of the relationship between the political and religious spheres all have echoes among us as Americans today.

Knox can teach us that there is a time for speaking up, even if it’s costly. He spent a lot of his life in exile on the mainland, even hanging out with his buddy John Calvin. He wrote an important and famous document which sounds even worse today than it did then: “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.”

One of the things I love most about Knox was that he was not afraid to speak the truth, even when it was hard and could cost him his life.

Why should you want to be in this House?

You should want to be in Knox House because of Knox’s courage and boldness, and because he was an excellent leader.

What is the Knox House color? YELLOW (From the traditional Scottish flag, not the color of cowardice).
Who will be the Knox House advisor? MR. SARR

Martin Luther

(1483-1546, died age 63)

What did he do?

German Reformer Martin Luther is credited with unofficially starting the Reformation when he nailed his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther recognized that what the Catholic church was doing was wrong, and he posted 95 statements against this particular practice in a spot where everyone could see it. This was dangerous, and it didn’t sit well with the Catholic leaders.

Luther went on to write and speak publicly against the abuses in the Catholic church, calling for reform of the Church. And when he wrote, he wrote in German so everyone could understand it!

He also translated the New Testament into German, which was a capital offense; previously in Germany it was only available for students of Latin to read when they could get their hands on it.

He also married an ex-nun (sticking it to the church), had a bunch of kids, brewed beer, and wrote great hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

His was the battle cry of the Reformation: Sola Fide! Faith Alone!

Why was it hard?

Just about everything Luther did was illegal or at least ill-advised. His speaking out about the abuses in the Catholic church could have cost him his job or even his life.

But behind Luther’s leadership, the princes and other political leaders in Germany took a stand against the forced worship in the Roman tradition. They respectfully faced political leaders and readied themselves for execution. Instead, they were allowed to read the Augsburg confession and Germany was never the same.

What can he teach us?

Martin Luther can teach us that some things are more important than life, including the truth of God’s Word, and the completed, satisfying work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Luther helped remind the Church of what it had officially forgotten centuries before: Christians stand justified before God by our faith in the accomplished work of Jesus Christ; we are not justified by works that we can do to impress God.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Those in Luther’s house will be identified with the Reformer who knew how to defy authorities who needed to be defied. Also took a famous and courageous stand at the Diet of Worms, which is a great story for another day.

We want Luther’s enjoyment of life, readiness to laugh, and those in Luther House will have good reason for doing so.

What is the Luther House color? BLACK
Who will be the Luther House advisor? MRS. HALL

William Tyndale

(1494-1536, died age 42)

What did he do?

English Reformer William Tyndale was the first to translate (much of) the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek languages. He did all the New Testament and a lot of the Old Testament. Like John Wycliffe before him, Tyndale believed firmly that if the Bible is the Word of God, then people need to be able to read it for themselves. And Tyndale himself did a lot to make this happen, and it was a very good translation. Tyndale’s own words comprise 84% of the King James Version of the New Testament, 75 years after Tyndale’s death.

Why was it hard?

Have you ever tried translating anything at all? Maybe you’ve done a Latin caput. You might be able to get the words down, but then giving an English rendering that makes sense or is good to read is a real challenge.

But for Tyndale, who was a scholar of the ancient languages, this was probably the easy part! What he was doing was illegal, and it was a capital offense (meaning it could earn you the death penalty) if you were caught with any of Tyndale’s English Scripture.

So the Catholic church firmly resisted Tyndale, because they believed that there would be a social backlash if the people were able to read the Bible for themselves.

What Tyndale and Luther believed was, in fact, correct. When people were able to read the word of God for themselves, quite simply, the Protestant Reformation was the outcome.

William Tyndale was the only one of our four house fathers who was finally betrayed and then strangled and burned at the stake by order of King Henry VIII. His last cry while tied to the stake was “Open the King of England’s eyes!” He was not only willing to die for the sake of Christ, he actually did.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Members of Tyndale House will bear the name of a man who faithfully labored to bring God’s word to English speakers in a translation as true to the original languages as possible. He faced a ton of adversity, even once losing much of his work in a shipwreck, but he kept going, believing his call to be from God. You Raggants need to be faithful to your task, too.

What is the Tyndale House color? NAVY BLUE
Who will be the Tyndale House advisor? MRS. BOWERS

A Final Word:

Heroes are still humans. As others have said, “The best of men are but men at best.” Just because we think these guys are awesome does not mean we think they were perfect. They all had plenty of errors, and so do we all. Wisdom requires that we learn from and follow their example, and they would hope that we would learn too from their errors and not make the same ones. They’re not perfect, but they are commendable, and may we enjoy a rich legacy as we work to reform our culture.