Music and Classical Christian Education

Music is really important to us at ECS.  We recognize there is tremendous power in music, and it has been used for centuries for enculturation across religious and ethnic boundaries. This is by God’s design, and music and song are evidently near to His heart (See: Psalms 1-150).

So we sing. We sing every day. We start our day singing a psalm or a hymn in Matins; we sing in Bible class, Science, History and Music. We use song to memorize, to internalize and to express praise.

In a message entitled The Classical School and Music, Doug Wilson has helpfully articulated why classical Christian schools are committed to music. I commend it to you all, whether you’re committed to classical Christian education or would like to see the Kingdom of Christ advanced in our time.

To whet your appetite and borrow a quote, let me offer this quotation from Wilson: “We are in the midst of an educational reformation that must include music.”

Check it out.

Risus est bellum!

Keys to Student Success

My third grader (Ellie) is now in Mr. Bowers’ Latin class, and the learning curve for Ellie, my wife and me has been steep as we’re adjusting to the system, curriculum and language.  It has reminded us some things that bear mentioning, though they are not inspired.

A little bit every day is far better than a lot on two days.

 Our Latin classes only meet twice a week, but as a teacher of languages (Spanish and English) for over ten years, I can’t stress strongly enough the value of frequent practice.  Though we cannot immerse our students in a Latin-language culture, we can practice with them daily.  And the same thing applies to all of the disciplines.    Whether it’s the daily singing of the Acts through Revelation song, or the Mammals song, or the recitation of the Bible verse(s), or going through a stack of math fact cards, or reading the Bible, frequent and shorter times of study are better than cramming on Mondays or Fridays.  

Frequent and shorter is usually fresher and sharper.  

I know that my kids need breaks in order to retain their focus.  As students get older, they can go longer between breaks, but even the oldest kids (like us 30-somethings) need breaks.  Having your student recite the Bible verse or conjugations or declensions on a walk to the park is sometimes better than more formal, structured focused “school” time.  Playing the Bible class song in the car is sometimes better than at the homeschool table. You get the picture.

Happy Christian warriors have a life. 

We want our students to work hard at school and hard at home, but the “hard at home” part does not necessarily mean “long.”  Our kindergartners will not have as much homework as our secondary students, and that is by design.  But in no case do we want for our students to neglect leading robust, rounded lives for sake of homework.  Our intention is for the lessons they learn at school (academic and otherwise) to contribute to the roundness of their character.  

So, as you do the same thing, don’t feel guilty if you have your students abstain from any homework at all on Sundays, or if you send them outside to play with the neighbor kids before dinner, even if they aren’t finished with their math facts.  (Mr. Bowers is going to punch me….)  We want them to learn how to work diligently and hard, but this process is long (in fact, a generation long), and we know there are bigger things in view than punching the homework time clock.  When homework becomes busywork, we miss the point.

To be clear, I am NOT saying that they need to not return to their math facts after dinner (maybe, maybe not; that’s not the point).  But I am saying this: ECS is here to serve you, not the other way around.  We are assisting you in the enculturation of your children; you’re not assisting us.  When school is running your life, it’s time to revisit priorities. Of course, this all requires balance and wisdom.  Hard work is important, and so is robust, celebratory, vibrant living…even for kids. By God’s grace, with our collective faithfulness, our students will develop the work ethic we want for them…while finding time to ride bikes in the cul-de-sac.  

Risus est bellum!


Go for It!

The following post is the convocation address from Tuesday afternoon.

Or, Changing the World from a Basement, Part Two1

Today begins our second year of Evangel Classical School. We meet in a new location, a location that, we can be thankful, still falls under Christ’s lordship, seeing that He claims every square inch everywhere. The site is different but our goal remains the same: to fight the serpent, to fight our sin, and to change the world as image-bearers of Christ. This giant goal may be too tall or too far away from us, but we continue where we left off last June. We start year number two in basement number two.

On this first day we convoke the Raggants. Convoke or convocation comes from two Latin words, con – “together” and vocare – “to call.” We call together each worshiping-warrior in order to ask God to bless our work. Each student, parent, teacher, and board member sees a relentless stack of work ahead and needs God’s strength. At this convocation we dedicate each book and lesson plan and white board and soccer ball to God’s glory. We pray that He would make our labor fruitful, maybe even fun. We don’t do it because of tradition; two years of first days does not a heritage make. We don’t do it as a formal sacrifice, as if wearing our dress uniforms forces God’s hand. We do it both to remember and to rejoice that no part of our school could exist apart from God. We say it and we really mean it.

Solomon grounds this educational undertaking on a key pedagogical insight (found in Proverbs 2:6).

For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Note the three words: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. These terms cover the wisdom books of the Old Testament just like wet grass soaks a boy’s shoes. Though they belong together and depend on each other, they can be distinguished. As a school we pursue all three, and now is a good time for us to consider why we need God for all of them.

Knowledge refers to the facts, to the data, the nuts and bolts, the ABCs. The knowledge of geography includes the names of cities and countries, locations of lakes and oceans and mountains, and their latitude and longitude on a globe. The knowledge of science includes birds and bugs, vertebrates and volcanoes. The knowledge of music includes the lyrics, the notes, the time, the tune.

No bit of knowledge exists without God because He created all things. 2 follows 1 when we count because God made the world and gave it order. Rivers flow into oceans, ocean water evaporates into clouds, and clouds carry showers of rain blessings back over us because it’s His business. He made the earth, put us on it, and gives us brains to collect what we see, hear, smell, and touch.

We stuff our student’s heads with knowledge, sometimes with knowledge that our younger students don’t fully understand. That’s okay because knowledge is true because God is true, and He understands. The knowledge of how to read, or knowledge gained from reading four thousand pages, or singing history timelines and Latin verb paradigms, won’t just evaporate some day because God is. All knowledge comes from God.

As students get older we work to develop understanding. It’s not enough to know things if you can’t tell how those things fit together, or don’t, or explode when you try. Understanding is the ability to connect and distinguish. Understanding sorts things into piles of good and bad, right and unrighteous, beautiful and meaningless.

All understanding, like the knowledge it counts on, comes from God. The only way to know good is to know the standard of good. Many schools look to the government for that standard, or at least a Congressional Subcommittee. We know that God gives understanding because He is the ultimate judge, the eternal being with perfect taste, and He sets the scales out on the table for us to use.

Our older students must seek God as they seek to learn logic, as they begin to debate and argue and find the acceptable. Acceptable to whom? Acceptable why? Who says? All of this depends on God. From His mouth comes understanding.

This leads to the third term, the most mature stage: wisdom. Wisdom does more than rehearse details and win debates. Wisdom lives the right way. A wise man puts feet to the facts, he adds sweetness to his speech. A wise man refreshes others around him. He doesn’t only know about how the cardiovascular system functions, he knows how to live loving God with all his heart.

Wisdom, true grasp of the principles, priorities, and practice of life, is not conferred because you finish a book or a class or a year of school. Those may be part of the process, but “the LORD gives wisdom.” Wise men depend on God; only men who worship God are wise. So the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). ECS is not about graduating smart students who simply know more. We desire to know more to understand better to walk in wisdom. Each stage orbits around God. Without God there are no sentences, no science, no sense, and there is no reason for school.

These three make a trivium trifecta, and we wage supernatural war by them. The serpent, Satan, would have us doubt God’s facts, abuse or at least be confused over what God says is good, and trash our opportunities to represent God’s glory.

So we begin this school year seeking His help and strength and favor. Education only happens by Him. And, Solomon says, it requires our work.

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

Receive, treasure, make attentive, incline your heart, call out, raise your voice, seek and search…then God will give it to you. You’ve got to go for it. If you don’t pursue God and go for wisdom then you will fall into foolishness. On this first day we gather to recognize our need for God and to ask His blessing. We also call you–students and parents and teachers–to give yourselves to the work.

Fear God, work hard, and He will make our year fruitful in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

  1. Last year’s convocation address referred to our meeting space as “our Christ’s Lordship worship boot camp in a basement, as little as it may be.”

A Summer Send-Off for Raggants

The following is the address that I gave the students of ECS at our end-of-the-year assembly. We thought it’d be an appropriate mental send-off for us all, so we’ve posted it here. Enjoy.

Well, Raggants, we are about to send you off to summer break, as our very first year of existence at ECS comes to an end. And we have learned a lot this year. We have learned that there is a difference between a direct object and an indirect object. We have learned that there are certain sounds that we never use at the ends of English words. We have learned how to properly punctuate dialogue. We’ve learned that before you get to break grammatical rules strategically, you have to first know them well. We’ve learned about the key millennial positions and their many implications.

What We’ve Learned

We’ve learned that life begins and ends according to the will of God, whether in the pumpkin patch or the pasture, the stable or the sickbed.

We’ve learned that there is no god like the true God, that men know exactly how lost they are, and that they are clawing and scratching for the answers that we have, by God’s grace. We have learned that it is our responsibility to share the gospel with the world all the time, with our actions and our words. We have seen firsthand how powerful it is when Christians assemble together for worship, even if it’s only for five minutes to start the day.

And I think we’ve had some fun along the way, too. Would you agree? I love Tuesdays when we gather together at 9:00 to start our week of school-at-school, and you guys are all happy and excited to be there. I love meeting with the Omnibus students when we get to talk about what we have just finished reading over the weekend. Tuesdays are awesome.

So are Wednesdays. I love the energy in our car as we are headed to school, because Ellie and Abbie look forward to Bible lessons with Mrs. Hall and Art class with Mr. Van der Beken and hanging out after school while their parents exercise. Wednesdays are great.

And I love Thursdays when we invite in the Omnibus auditors, the adults who come out to the school to talk about the things we read for Omnibus. They come out not because they have to, but because they can. That’s pretty cool, and it makes Thursdays sweet.

I love that so many of you are sad right now…that school’s ending. Abbie [Sarr] said the one thing she doesn’t like about our school is that it’s ending today, and she was literally crying in bed last night at the thought of not seeing you all every day and not having classes…and I know from talking to your parents that she’s not alone.

I love singing with you all every morning. We’ve sung 36 different hymns in the 36 weeks of school, and we’ve done so 3 times apiece. That really adds up and makes a difference at church on Sundays.

I love playing soccer with you all at recess, throwing the football, playing on the swings, or out in the barn.

The field trips have been a blast, too, and not only because you are pretty well-behaved or I’m proud to walk around downtown Seattle with such a fine looking group of students. To me, there’s a deeper meaning to all of this, and it has to do with summer.

The Lordship of Christ and Enculturation

We have seen again and again and again the ripple effects of the Christ’s lordship. If Jesus is Lord over all the world, then that makes a difference in how we live during the school day, at home, in winter and on summer break. And this is the lesson that I’d like to revisit this afternoon and shoot you off into summer vacation like with the velocity of an under-inflated water balloon launched by overzealous teenage boys. (Have you ever seen those water balloon launchers that take three people to operate? And have you ever seen how water balloons fly if they’re not super full? Whoa!)

You see, what we are doing here at ECS is, in fact, a support and a help to your parents. Your education is their responsibility. And while we realize that the help we provide is important, it’s not everything. A child’s development is itself like a river, with a bunch of streams flowing into it. These streams may be things like, dinner time conversations, visits with grandparents, devotional times, time in front of the TV, time with the kids in your neighborhood, church, and so on. Well, for the summer, the stream called “school” won’t be flowing as strongly into the river of your development as it has the last nine months, but that doesn’t mean the whole river has a big beaver dam in the middle of it. No! You’re going to keep becoming who Christ is making you over the next (almost) three months, and all of the streams flowing into your development matter.

And when you realize that, you are able to approach all of life with a special energy and enthusiasm. Everything has value; nothing doesn’t matter. The time you spend shooting baskets with the kids down the street is time you’ll never get back, and it’s something that Christ is using to change the world! And He’s also using it to change you into who He wants you to be. So be excited and shoot baskets like a Christian, like shooting baskets and impacting your neighbors matters, because it does! The way you and your family barbecue and picnic, play and pray, work and rest all matters.

Fun and Battle Training

When we get together at ECS to play soccer, sing hymns, conjugate verbs, learn phonograms, memorize multiplication tables or factoids about invertebrates, you may think this is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. That’s great. It is fun, and we want you to have fun. It’s fun for me, too. But you know what I hear over the deafening giggles and Latin chants and rhythmic rattling off of the days of the week? I hear an occasional “BOOM.”

You see, when unbelievers get together in classes and study volcanoes or geography or Anne of Green Gables, the devil is not threatened. They may even come away with a greater sense of themselves rather than a greater sense of God, and miss the point of education altogether.

But when Christians do these things, it is nothing less than an assault on the kingdom of darkness. When we assemble for school, we’re training you for war…and you don’t even know it. What we are doing in training you to be happy warriors for Christ is a real threat to the kingdom of darkness. It is nothing less than a full-scale assault on the citadels of unbelief, hence the “BOOM,” as the enemy gates are pounded relentlessly.

All of your life, the kingdom of God will be in attack mode on the kingdom of darkness, and you’re a soldier in that cause. And that makes the devil really nervous…and it should.

Imagine if there were a bunch of North Koreans “peacefully” assembled in one of the pastures adjacent to ECS, and they were doing drills, training exercises, and maneuvers. That would make us nervous, and rightly so. And if they were having a blast in the process and passers by wanted in on their party, we’d find that even more troubling.

The leading of the Christian life is a powerful weapon in our cause. You may think you’re just going about your life, but as you’re going, the Father is making you more like the Son, and the Son is purifying you to present you to Himself pure and spotless as a part of His bride, the Church. This is something that Jesus takes seriously.

So what about summer? Well, if what I’ve said is true, then it doesn’t end with the school year, right? Only one part of it (albeit significant) takes a vacation: the going-to-school part. But the preparation for war goes on, nonetheless.

Raggants, if we are miserable, the devil is happy. You know why?

First, we’re disobedient, because Christians are supposed to be joyful. Second, there’s no chance than we’re going to draw anybody into the kingdom of God, because if being a Christian is all about boring joylessness, well? The world doesn’t need Jesus to be boring and joyless; they can do that without Him, right?

When we are miserable, we misrepresent Christ. So be happy this summer. Have fun. Have a lot of fun. God smiles at that, and the devil hates it. Just make sure you’re doing the right think along the way (i.e., no rule-breaking or disobedience to your parents with “fun” as the excuse).

I’m not saying that unbelievers can’t have fun. But what does their fun get them? Happiness for a moment? Maybe even a lifetime. I say, “BIG DEAL!” At the very best they can love the blessings they’ve been given. But we get to love not only the blessings, but the Giver of those blessings. Our fun and happiness become expressions of delight and thankfulness to God for His giving us good things.

So are you ready to put this into practice? In a moment we’re going party in such a way as to make the devil really nervous, as he thinks, “There’s a bunch of Christians up there having a whole lot of fun! I hope nobody notices.”

Well, here’s to a fantastic summer break living robust lives for Christ and growing in our knowledge of and love for Him. And by His grace, may others take notice.

–Mr. Sarr

Of Course We Are a Prep School

This is from Sean Higgins’ contribution to our recent Information Night.  Enjoy. 

A frequent knock against classical Christian schools is that they grow up into prep schools. These critics usually refer to a “prep school” as one that belabors study and grades and competition and success. A prep school defines success as high scores on standardized tests and graduates who are accepted at esteemed universities. The margin for error on these campuses is thin, just like their sense of humor.

I understand that “prep school” is a thing. But when the final bell rings, every student in every school has been prepared to do something. The question is, prepped for what? When it comes to Evangel Classical Schoolof course we are a prep school. We are preparing our students to worship.

We love Jesus Christ. We love Him as Lord and we love that He is Lord. His Lordship touches everything that He made and, “without Him was not anything made that was made.” In other words, nothing is not His. He controls it all, He cares about it all, and He commanded men to manage the world under His sovereignty. His wholesale Lordship is good for us since it means that everything on earth is on the table for us to examine and use and enjoy. Where do we begin as a school?

We begin with worship. We start by submitting to His Lordship. We don’t teach and test so that future graduates can take God’s place. We educate in confidence that God is in His place. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:8). Education built on any other than ground than glad obedience to Jesus, whether through ignorant neglect or willful denial of His Lordship, will crumble. ECS will only be as strong as we start by depending on Christ.

Then the doors to every classroom in creation open for our study. Whether we use a telescope or a microscope, all that we see serves Him. Every verse in every book of the Bible, every sound of every letter in the alphabet, every rise and fall of every nation, every meter of every Latin poem, it all belongs to Him.

Because truth depends on Christ, we can depend on truth. Because we can depend on truth, we can spread that truth to students even when they can’t yet explain how it all works. In fact, our youngest students love gathering truth-nuggets, or what is called the “grammar” of every subject. They sing events and chant facts for fun, all the while soaking up the basics in multiple subjects. This is the first stage, also known as the Grammar stage, where we stuff their brains with knowledge.

As the students mature they start to ask more questions about why things are the way they are and how such diversity survives, even thrives, within the universe. Around junior high, when the questions (and arguments) flow freely, we work through principles of logic and practice debating with the goal of discerning what is true and fitting. This second stage, referred to as the Logic or Dialectic stage, is where we train them to better understand the world.

Then, armed with an arsenal of truth and senses trained to taste what is good, the third stage involves developing the ability to put it all into practice, especially in written and spoken forms. This is called the Rhetoric stage when wisdom takes shape and puts on nice clothes before going out.

The whole process teaches students about learning and, even after thirteen years, we will only have exposed them to the tip of Christ’s created iceberg. Whether we are counting quarters or defending capitalism, practicing cursive or mocking Greek mythology, reading about the Caesars or obeying Jesus’ command to pay Caesar his money, all of it is part of education.

This is why we do what we do at ECS. Every school is a prep school. We are a prep school, but not primarily prep for college. We are a prep school for worship. We are worshiping Christ, growing up in Christ, and learning to sing about and steward all that He’s given us.

For more on the Trivium as part of classical education, read Dorthy Sayers seminal lecture, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”

And here is a longer version of our Vision of Education, or, how we want it to work at ECS.

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.

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, 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.

Perspective on an Assembly from a Parent and Board Member

The following is a guest post by Chuck Weinberg. He is one of our secondary parents and the chairman of our school board. He has agreed to offer his thoughts after our recent Christmas assembly. Enjoy.

It seems like it would be the farthest thing from my mind to be the chairman- “Cheer-man” of the board of a school. Of all the people who are possible candidates I see myself at the bottom of the list, but I guess God has a sense of humor.

With that role there are certain responsibilities and joys that come with the territory. Assemblies are one of those times.

The Christmas season brings lots of appointments on the calendar, lots of feasting, lots of gift giving and lots of events that can bring joy and sometimes sadness.

The Weinberg family has a unique place at ECS with John, our adopted son from China, learning English as a second language while learning Latin and logic, among many other things.

Recently we had the opportunity to go to the ECS Christmas Assembly and you never know what will come up in one of these kinds of events. To say that I am proud to be associated with the school is an understatement.

We arrived at the school and all the kids were lined up and excitedly ready to give us all the things they had been working on and learning. The material is probably way over the heads of the younger kids, just as “schoolhouse rock” didn’t make total sense until the day when, in school, I thought, “Oh yeah, I know what that means.”

The kids stood in a neat little row and as their turn came up they stepped forward and, often with excitement and some sheepishly, delivered the information they had been so studiously working on.

Invertebrates Sound-Off from Evangel Classical School on Vimeo.

John doesn’t participate in the “sound-off” portion of the program (which is for the elementary age kids) and so we, as a family, are not learning the parts of cells or all the forms of life along the way.

The program went by faster than the clock showed and to the kids I’m sure it was over before they knew it but the memory will last a long time.

I love that these kids get to stand up and speak in front of a “crowd” of people at such an early age. I can’t wait until the day when they are speaking to a room of 500 or 5000 and are so confident in their learning that it is a delight for them to share.

Today so many people have never had the opportunity to speak in front of a group and so they are afraid- not these kids. We are training future generations to be prepared for whatever life brings their way.

As a school and as parents our job is to train the next generation to be ready for what’s coming and to be sure there is much coming their way, but we pray and labor towards the day when these kids will be ready.

What a privilege to have the opportunity to be involved with the school at this time of its life. What a privilege to play a very small part in shaping future generations.

None of this could be done without huge sacrifices on the part of the teachers and staff of ECS. Being a pastor while learning and teaching Latin at the same time is not the norm, especially to 4-10 graders. Being a contractor and teaching art are not normally connected. Being a housewife and teaching other people’s kids math, music or reading is not what you normally see, but many are doing something abnormal today so that the outcome will be abnormally great in the future. Great things have small beginnings.

We would love to have all of you come to the next assembly. I am confident that you will be impressed with the work the kids are doing and be excited about what is happening in the lives of these future leaders.