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.

The New Old Way

Our school recently became a member of The Association of Classical and Christian Schools. They recently put the following video on the homepage of their website. It includes some history about education, an overview of the Trivium connected with Dorothy Sayers’ insight, as well as interviews with Marlin Detweiler (of Veritas Press), George Grant, and Doug Wilson. These 20 minutes not only provide a lot of explanation, the ideas–by God’s grace–may also change the next generation.

Big Minds Make Big Changes

The following exhortation was given at the assembly on January 10, 2013.

Wise people are willing to change their minds. A man who won’t ever change his mind, no matter what, will end up a fool.

Education is not confined to gathering information. Yes, we do learn by exploring unread pages and turning them upside down until a new (to us) truth falls out. We do learn by interrogating teachers until they open the doors of their knowledge store. In one sense, our brains are like baskets that can hold many apple facts. We should shake as many bushels of apples as we can from songs and sermons and science sound-offs. God created many things for us to know and enjoy. But collection is not the only path to education for students.

Part of the reason why hunting and gathering isn’t the only way to catch an education is because our minds are not straight arrows. We are image-bearers but, because we are in Adam’s family, we are bent. Even when we are aimed to hit the broad side of the truth barn, we often drift into the bushes. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that our minds are like open mouths and meant to close on something. Because of sin, we will swallow garbage as long as we have something to chew. We may throw up, but at least we’re not hungry.

To summarize: far too often, in pursuit of learning, we end up in the bushes chewing our own vomit. And we ask the band to start playing Pomp and Circumstance.

The Bible describes the character who won’t admit when he’s in a mess as one who is “wise in his own eyes.” Solomon wrote, “Be not wise in your own eyes / fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). The opposite of being wise in one’s own eyes is fearing the LORD. The wise-in-his-own-eyes-guy, or “wise guy” for short (note that we do not use this as compliment) has a worship problem; he worships himself. He sets himself up as the standard. His knowledge is the end all. Solomon also said, “turn away from evil.” This is not simply a generic exhortation to righteousness. It’s saying wise men change course.

A fool is convinced that he knows where he is going and that he’s right. He never asks for directions. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). The wise student has his ears open so that he can change his way if necessary.

I recently read an observation that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, shared with another company.

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. (at 37signals)

He wasn’t saying that we ought to change our minds about everything all the time. Mr. Bezos does not want Amazon customers changing their minds about what online business they shop. As Christians, we do not question bedrock “Thus says the Lord” truths. Jesus is God. Salvation is through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Evangel Classical School exists because the evangel, the good news, is true for eternal life. We are not allowed to change our minds about it.

At the same time, Evangel Classical School also exists because many of us have changed our minds about many things.

For example, I’ve spent most of my life being wrong about the usefulness of fiction. I thought all fiction was bad or, at best, a distraction for younger or weaker minds. Now I think that bad fiction is bad and that good fiction is marrow for the bones. A man who isn’t reading good stories will have brittle bones.

I have also realized in the last few years that I was wrong about the worth of Christian schools. They seemed to me to be wastes of time, offering half-pint truth collection on gun-free campuses used by panicky parents trying to protect their kids from bad things “out there.” Students may not bring guns to school but they always bring their hearts. That means that they still bring enough bad things. I now believe that Christian schooling done faithfully is one of the best ways to equip battle-minded worshipers, which includes equipping them in Christ for killing sin in their souls.

Even in the last couple months I’ve changed my mind about whether students should learn printing or cursive first. I’ve done a 180 degree turn on the value of individual school desks. A maturing person not only recognizes how much he doesn’t know, but also how wrong he’s been. People who are right a lot don’t just fill their minds, they change their minds. A lot.

You may need to change your mind about comma placements and crayon color choices. Don’t question the addition answers, but don’t be a diva acting as if you know everything about how to go through your fact cards or the best system to store them. You will be tempted to act as if you know more than you do. That will not only be proud, it will make you a stupid student because you won’t be able to learn anything.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” In other words, sticking to your guns no matter what is a sure way of shooting yourself in the foot. May ECS be a place of big minds, minds that change as often as necessary for growth in true education.

Changing the World from a Basement

The following is the address given by Sean Higgins during the inaugural convocation of Evangel Classical School on Tuesday.


Many school years ago Solomon wrote that the end of a thing is better than the beginning. I did not graduate highly enough in my class to argue with him, but I do know that you can’t get to the end without a beginning. You’ve got to start somewhere. This is our start, a sunny first day of school, an historic beginning for Evangel Classical School. Lord willing, we’ll finish well, however long it takes us.

When the end is worth it, it’s worth getting going even if you don’t have everything in place. C.S. Lewis wrote,

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

Over the last few years, and especially over the last year, a growing number of us have realized how much there is to learn and, in particular, how much we, as Christian parents, have to learn. The simplicity of being made in the image of the Triune God means that we are to be mini-creators everywhere we go. Not only that, but we’ve also come to appreciate Abraham Kuyper’s declaration that rings out over a planet full of opportunities.

There is not a square inch [one thumb’s width] in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”

The world is Christ’s, we are Christ’s, and He would have us live everywhere and in all things for His sake. That means that building homes and governing nations should be done for Him, which means that math and history and politics must be mastered for Him first. We are to sing songs and write books for God, which means that we must learn how God made harmony and poetry to work in His world. It also means that we must learn how to read, which means that we must start with the alphabet and phonetics, which means we must learn how to sit still. Christ cares about it all, so we must care about it all.

Today is a small beginning. God admonished His people not to despise the day of small things in Zechariah 4. His people were returning home from exile and were charged to rebuild the temple as they anticipated the Messiah’s coming. With such a huge project before them, with so few raw materials and with so many enemies, God encouraged them that He was pleased for them to start small. Likewise for us, though the beginning is small, we trust that God is pleased with it.

G.K. Chesterton famously said that “[I]f a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” And here we are.

On one hand, our beginning is small, it is less than ideal. Our second greatest certainty is that we will do some things badly. So be it. Our greatest certainly, though, is that the opportunities are so great that we can hardly wait to get to work and try to catch up to where we should be. Christ is Lord everywhere so we have to start somewhere. Jesus has no jurisdiction clashes; you name it and He reigns over it. His reign covers everything He created and holds together in the universe; no principle or person is neutral. We want students who will grow up to laugh at any worldview that denies it. This is our Christ’s Lordship worship boot camp in a basement, as little as it may be.

On the other hand, it could be said that we already have too many good things to claim that this is hard. We have a delightfully suited-just-for-us place. We have more pencils than the apostle Paul. We have 30 years of a classical education movement ahead of us to learn from. We have families involved here who actually have lives worth sharing with students. We have a local church that supports us. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Institutes of John Calvin and beautiful chairs and a magical mascot that hardly anyone one knows what it is…yet. Considering how many things we have to be thankful for, it’s hard to say that we have it hard.

What makes it hard is that we’re entering a new field in the battle between good and evil, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. We are taking aim at the world system, at rebellion and unbelief, and we can be certain that the enemy would prefer us to sit on the sidelines.

Evangel Classical School is a front-line offensive campaign for Christ’s sake. From the first meeting of the school committee less than a year ago, we committed to fight and confessed that the first place we must fight is against the sin in our own hearts. We want to show the students how to deal with sin, to show them how to repent from laziness, fear, grumbling, and unbelief. By God’s grace we’ll kill our own sin first as we grow as disciples of Christ.

Isn’t that exactly what we want our kids, our students, and the following generations to have? More than brains crammed full of facts, more than grammar paradigms and dead languages and big textbooks and logic debates, we want our students to love God with all their hearts and minds and to believe that they are responsible to figure out all the ways that they can honor Him in the world no matter how crazy it seems! We want them to count the cost and then go to battle!

We don’t want our kids to want someone else to do it. We don’t want them to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We don’t want them to work in reliance on their giftedness but rather because they believe God. We want them to walk by faith, ready to deal with the challenges of the battle even if they don’t have all the resources. We want them to be starters and singers. We want them to be just like us, only better. We want them to have first days like this, only bigger.

We do not have everything we need. We don’t even know enough to know all the things that we need that we don’t have. As others have said, we are attempting to provide an education that none of us received in order to slingshot these young people into a life we are still learning to run. Whether they use five smooth stones or five Latin verbs, we want them to fell giants and fight the dragon. We want them to read great stories, as they learn to write great stories, so that they will live great stories. We know it’s right and we praise the Lord that He’s brought us to the first day of changing the world from a basement.

For this year at Evangel Classical School, and we pray for many school years to come, we cry Soli Deo gloria!