Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Story About Scholarship

As I traveled the road from general Arminian, Charismatic Dispensationalism to old-school Calvinistic Presbyterianism, I learned discernment.

I realized that if my view of my own precious salvation was wrong, then my general view of the Bible was probably wrong...and it was.

I then concluded that if my general view of the Bible and what it taught was wrong, then maybe the teachers instructing me were wrong on other counts...and they were.

Yet I did not decide to distrust everyone, but to be more cautious. After all, those who were wrong were wrong mostly due to ignorance.

As I traveled the road from rudimentary knowledge of history and science to fuller knowledge, understanding and application through a combination of church mentoring and collegiate training, I learned scholarship.

I discovered that scholarship involved paying close attention to detail, perseverance of investigation and discernment of fact from fiction. I also learned the language of scholarship.

I first stumbled upon these lessons the hard way with a college speech course in which I was called upon to defend homeschooling. Gathering my resources from fellow Christians striving to interpret life by the Word of God, I thought myself fully furnished for the battle. But alas, I was not. To the extent I rested my weight upon the historicity given me to that extent I stumbled. Significant points of my presentation were wrong. Some of the famous men I thought were homeschooled were not.

My teacher was kind enough to tell me I was wrong.

It got worse. As I asked around about books on the history of homeschooling, I found there were none, but that there were one or two books that included a page or two. I found one such book covering a multitude of reasons to homeschool, with an entire chapter on its history. Combining the lessons of discernment and scholarship I discovered major errors.

How? by actually checking the sources. I was kind enough to mail the gentlemen the documented corrections.

Later, other claims came my way. So I checked the sources.

I concluded the research on homeschooling academic success has been blown out of proportion to the actual claims from the research itself. The famous Rudner study was read and read carefully. Rudner noted his studies limitation within the first paragraph.

Then someone else kindly pointed me to the scholarly work of Dr. Brain Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). Being a well-trained man, his research was conscious of its own serious limitations from the start:

1. "The design of most research to date does not allow for the conclusion that homeschooling necessarily causes higher academic achievement or better social and emotional development than does public (or private) institutional schooling." ("The Evidence Is So Positive", The Old Schoolhouse, Dr. Ray, online)

[Translation: Most studies are not even designed to prove the academic superiority of homeschooling]

2. "Some of these scholars have also, rightfully pointed out the limitations of their studies. For example, Ray (2000b) 'This is not a causal-comparative study….background variables in this ex post facto study are not controlled in such a way as to make possible conclusions about the causes of academic achievement test scores being higher (or lower) than those of students in conventional schools' and 'one should keep in mind the limitations of representativeness and generalizability' in this study (p. 81). ("A Homeschool Research Story," Homeschooling in Full View, Dr. Ray, p. 10)

[Translation: Even Dr. Ray's own study admits it does not prove homeschooling superiority]

3. "Despite the fact that scholars who have conducted the studies have not claimed that research shows homeschooling causes higher achievement (or healthier social and emotional development), others have attempted to use research to obliquely attack both researchers of and advocates of homeschooling." ("The Evidence Is So Positive", The Old Schoolhouse, online)

[Translation: Dr. Ray and others have never claimed their studies proved that homeschooling caused higher test scores, but people still attack us personally]

What does all this tell us? It tells us that Dr. Ray carefully noted in his own research that his own studies do not and could not scientifically demonstrate that homeschooling caused better academic achievement than either public or private schooling. In fact, the studies could not and did not create any sort of across-the-board baseline to make such a comparison--one cannot compare apples with peaches. (This is partly so because the studies were voluntary; public school testing is not voluntary.)

At the end of the day, after my bad experience with so-called scholarship in theology and history, I find it refreshing that Christian men such as Dr. Ray state explicitly (although in scholarly language) the severe limitations of their own studies. I do not have to check their sources.

As I travel the road of the Christian life, my prayer is that more Christians will learn my story.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Year of Calvinism: America's First Black Preacher

Lemuel Haynes:

1) First black pastor ordained by a mainstream American Protestant church.
2) First black pastor for a white church.

He was born in Connecticut of a "a white woman of respectable ancestry" and an African father; he was abandoned by them. He grew up indentured until the age of 21. Although of limited education, he read voraciously, especially the Bible and theology books.

He became a Minuteman for the Revolutionary War. Then he was ordained amongst the Congregationalists (1780), serving three congregations until his death at the age of 80. He married. He wrote against slavery. And he was a vocal defender of the ancient ways: Republicanism and Calvinism.

Yes, Calvinism. Later when the newer class of anti-slavery ministers arose, they would try to use his legacy but gave up since his Calvinism would not dovetail with their liberal theology. He publicly preached against the new (now old) theology of universal salvation.

Ironically, his anti-slavery position was one of racial integration instead of the then popular view (amongst even white anti-slavery proponents) of sending them to Africa (supposedly a land of freedom). The introduction of the new biography sums up the entire matter better than I:

“Like a number of other eighteenth-century black authors...Haynes accepted a Calvinist form of Christianity. Indeed, Calvinism seems to have corroborated the deepest structuring elements of the experience of such men and women as they matured from children living in slavery or servitude into adults desiring freedom, literacy, and membership in a fair society. From Calvinism, this generation of black authors drew a vision of God at work providentially in the lives of black people, directing their suffering yet promising the faithful among them a restoration to his favor and his presence. Not until around 1815 would African American authors, such as John Jea, explicitly declare themselves against Calvinism and for free-will religion. By the standard of many in the twenty-first century, this Calvinist vision may seem tainted, since it presented God’s hand in evil as well as in good. Moreover, this black Calvinism scorned Islam …Acknowledging the divine providence both of evil and of good, these black Calvinists insisted upon the human obligation to shun sin…and to further God’s benevolent design. More than any of his peers, black or white, Haynes found in Calvinism a tradition of exegesis that could be leveled against the slave trade and slavery...By 1830, a new abolitionist exegesis was undoing the ideal of interracial unity that Haynes and his peers had seen in the Bible.” (Sallant, 4, 6)

If we are to have politically correct history months, let us at least pick our own heroes!


[More details:
Online biography: Sketches of... Rev. Lemuel Haynes.
Saillant, John. Black Puritan, Black Republican: The life and thought of Lemuel Haynes]

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

America Uncovered

On the Today Show this morning the hosts interviewed two next generation Americans: a photographer who snapshots publicly naked women and a woman who likes to be exposed.

Apparently, the photographer asked women to take their tops off while he took snapshots of them in public locales. The women he picked off the street claimed to feel "liberated" and "free".

Christianity teaches that nakedness has at least a two-fold significance: intimacy and sin. Intimacy is within the context of marriage and pictures our closeness with Christ (Eph. 5:29-32). With these women running around naked amongst strangers, it is safe to say it was not an intimate moment. Rather, it was a wanton display of sin.

Our physical nakedness mirrors our spiritual nakedness. Blushing is an inbred reflex of that fact. And it is rooted in our depraved natures. Our consciences know we sin and we excuse or accuse each other accordingly (Rom. 2:15).

And the excuse these people used was "liberation". It felt wonderful to disregard what they know to be wrong. It felt "free" to vaunt their pride publicly. Public nakedness is but spiritual nakedness without shame.

This is nothing new. Our advertisements, movies and books have been filled with people baring themselves for a few decades; this is only the next logical step.

And it is only a symptom. America's true nakedness is her naked disregard for God's Law. And her insistence that she can disrobe herself before God's tribunal without fear of retribution. She has forgotten the God of her youth and seeks out other gods to satisfy her lusts. America is not ashamed of her willful sin against the Most High, basking bare before her Judge without the righteous robe of Christ Jesus to cover her.

May God strengthen his church in America to stand against such spiritual pride. May the church preach the Law to expose America's self-righteousness.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Money for Homeschooling Will Fix America

I received a letter begging for money. But the begging was couched in less beggarly-language than other letters. It painted a gloomy socio-political picture of America's woes. Clearly things are moving from bad to worse.

But (the letter continued) there is hope for such abysmal times as this!


That "Christ-centered education, one-on-one discipleship, and the liberating principle of individuality." Of which very "few political leaders, schools, media sources, or even churches that would encourage something as transformational as homeschooling."

Movements abound, draining time, money and energy for the small faithful churches that fall under their shadows. They don't get the same promotional power of homeschooling. And apparently very few churches would encourage something as transformational as homeschooling--and that is a good thing. They ought rather encourage something as transformational as the Gospel.

On the other hand, homeschooling is on the rise. Everyone is jumping on this bandwagon. It is now a cultural phenomenon. And it does change lives--but then so do many other things in life.

What will change the world for the better? What is a veritable reformation of life? What is the hope for the future?

The Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And that Gospel is found in faithful churches with uncompromising pastors and zealous members--whether they homeschool or not.

Want to change the world, to have a better place for your children, to contribute to something healthy, strong and growing?!

Then support the Gospel. Join a Reformed church. A Calvinist church. Give them your money. Pray. Fast. Use the means of grace in conscious realization of your unworthiness.

And pray the Lord of the Harvest to come with power and grace.