Friday, September 25, 2009

Cursory Thoughts about "A Christian Education Manifesto"

Recently a commenter on this blog asked if I would evaluate Israel Wayne's A Christian Education Manifesto (here).

Instead of a thorough evaluation of this document (which would include an in-depth examination of the author's other works), I decided to mostly take it at face value: after all, is that not the intent of manifestos? To summarize to the world what one deems important.

At the outset, it ought to be noted that the manifesto is helpful in certain ways. Presumably he is writing against the many lazy parents in Christian households. The copious proof-texting (in both a good and bad sense) could help many of these families get their acts together. It also heavily critiques the secular public school system.

1. Upon a short examination of the writer's credentials, it is striking that a man with no known theological training and examination thought he could write such a broad-sweeping manifesto single-handedly. In the council of many there is wisdom.

2. Where is the church? With such a conspicuous absence of such an important institution in the lives of all family members the manifesto ought to be re-titled: A Christian Family Education Manifesto.

3. Although claiming a Biblical worldview background, it is not at all clear that listing Bible verses with minimal commentary suffices as a manifesto let alone something part of a worldview. In what ways are these unique (?) elements of a Christian worldview?

4. Unfortunately, this spartan commentary lends itself to absolutist language, e.g., "Instruction of the young is given to parents and grandparents."--only, mostly, what?

5. Exodus 20:12 section clearly speaks to the modernistic mentality in education but seems to impugn all "government" education (however vaguely defined). A knowledge of Christian history will demonstrate otherwise.

6. The same section essentially calls the early church, Medieval church and Reformation churches well into the late 1700s 'socialists'. This seems to be a more modernistic Libertarian viewpoint that bypasses any historical dialogue. I may be in favor of localism in education but I would hesitate to label all of Christian education history as 'socialistic'.

7. 2 Chronicles 17:7-10 clearly ties the kingship with the priest and lay-leader's educational efforts to good effect. At the least, one should cautiously evaluate such Biblical evidence before announcing broad-sweeping declamations.

8. The Deut. 6:7 comment is brief and thus vague: what is a "24/7/365 discipleship paradigm"? In some homeschooling circles such language and proof-texting leads to a "homeschooling-is-commanded-by-God" doctrine (or at least it is the best educational option [and who wouldn't want the best for God?]).

9. Common grace is a concept that appears to be decidedly missing in this document. "A Christian parent must not turn the leading of their child over to someone who is spiritually blind." So an unbelieving piano teacher cannot instruct my daughter? A better question is to ask what is the Biblical basis of this assertion [see comments for clarification by the author].

10. I am glad that the revisionist approach to history is renounced. Unfortunately, in most Christian circles such revisionism still exists in the form of a Deistic interpretation of history that downplays any theological distinctions in Christendom (hint: how many know that America was substantially founded by Calvinism?).

11. What was suspect earlier (that only parents may instruct their own children) is now made explicit: "It is assumed that the father and mother are doing the teaching. No one else is mentioned in Scripture as having that role." No one else...not even ministers? godly deacons? what about catechizing children?

12. This leads to a point about equivocation: what is the definition of education? nurture? etc.? Either no one can educate other people's children (contrary to the Bible) or the author is using more than one definition without informing the reader.

13. Apparently the OT plays a selective role, hence the absence of Deut. 30:9ff: "So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel...gather the people together, men and women and little ones...that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess." The Great Commission comes to mind as well.

14. There is curious logic here as well. Proverbs 9:10 is argued thusly: "Government schools lack the fear of the LORD,therefore cannot properly transmit wisdom, knowledge,and understanding." Just fill in ignorant or unfaithful parents in place of government schools and similar reasoning can be invoked.

15. Such family-centric emphasis makes good Reformed and Presbyterian (and old-fashioned Reformed Baptists) wonder about the educational, modeling and instructional role of the whole community of God? Does not Titus 2 encourage the older women (no mention of mother here) to instruct the younger women. By commonality of principle (LCQ 99) the same would hold for men and boys.

16. A misunderstanding of statistics is a common problem in America. In this case the 65-88% number does not include the actual training accomplished (or not accomplished) at home and at church. If the families and churches are weak, then sending the child to college is a dangerous thing indeed.

17. The point about leaders leading by example with the training of their children is much needed. However, too many Christians ignore such leaders anyway, seeking out popular leaders or (inexperienced) young men with young children.

18. "Education must be predicated on the foundation of Christ, not on humanistic thought." AMEN.

19. Unfortunately, since this manifesto is not clearly Reformed, it is not clearly "predicated on the foundation of Christ." Calvinistic education is different than the run-of-the-mill education.

20. In fact, this manifesto supplements the author's more explicit teaching in Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview. One glaring problem in that book is a dangerous dance with legalism: "If parents focus on giving their children a Biblical worldview, I can assure you, their children will excel in everything they do. It's that natural cause and effect of the blessing of God. When we obey, we are blessed; we we don't, we are cursed" (p. 150, cp. 43, 13).

This is the moral summary of the author's approach--implicit in this document but explicit in his book.

The explicit Gospel message that we cannot obey and are cursed already is missing. Christians are sinners saved by grace so that even when we 'obey' we do not 'obey' enough to cause any blessing (Rom. 7:12ff.). If such a message is not the cornerstone of Christian education then Christian children will either grow up hypocrites or renounce the faith in anger as too many already do.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Year of Calvinism: Consequences I

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Ideas have consequences. And these consequences are the fruits of history.

What has the history of Western Civilization taught the modern and postmodern man? Not much.
What has this same history taught many in the church? Very little it seems.

The reason for this is likely to be found in the wide-spread ignorance of such God-glorifying history. Americans especially are a-historical or even anti-history. Do we not make our own future? Why listen to the past?

Yet if ideas have consequences then history does have something to teach us. And in this Year of Calvinism it has much to teach the American churches. For Calvinism not only helped break the back of the Romish church (along side her Lutheran brethren), she became the ground-swell for political and social renewal.

Historically, the modern world--Modernity--began with the Reformation. Now more historians are publicly acknowledging what their older predecessors already knew: the substantive impact of Calvinism in history.

One recent book, The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe (Gorski), is an in-depth analysis of the social and political fortunes of two 17th-century European countries mostly influenced by Calvinists: Holland & Prussia. His understated conclusion is that the self- and communal-discipline (and theological underpinnings) of Calvinism greatly sustained and strengthened the cultural and political dimensions of these nations.

Another book, The Covenant Connection: From Federal Theology to Modern Federalism, is a collection of essays from various university professors exploring the Protestant roots of the modern democracies. It is Calvinism in particular that propagated the covenant idea as a social tool for greater good. From resistance to tyrants to state constitutions, the Reformers and their offspring substantially originated and expanded economical, social and political freedoms.

More significantly is the overwhelming acknowledgment that doctrine played a more significant role in the development of the modern era than previously admitted. Naturally, Christians should already believe that. In particular, the Reformational doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone was the pivot upon which societies moved from Medieval death to modern life.

Wherever man is the question of his individual standing before the Judge of the universe is forefront. How can I be saved? is the perennial question of the ages. Is salvation through law--mine, God's, the state's--or through faith? If the former, then wherever I am in life I turn that work or thought into an idol to save me. If the latter, then wherever I am in life I turn over to the Lord.

That is why the doctrine of salvation is so crucial: whatever man is doing right now will be impacted by his view of salvation. And that includes economics, science and politics...

“It is into Calvinism that the Modern world strikes its roots. For it is Calvinism which first reveals the dignity and worth of man. Called of God, heir of heaven, the merchant in his shop and the peasant in his field suddenly became the equal of noble and king."
John Richard Green, History of the English People

The famous German economist, Max Weber, proposed the connection between Christianity and Free Market labor almost one hundred years ago in The Protestant Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism. In particular, he noted the industriousness of the Puritans (Calvinists one and all) as an incentive that helped fuel Capitalism. Their sense of Christian vocation for any lawful endeavor in life coupled with their sobriety, thrift, stewardship and high ethics contributed greatly.

Furthermore, the Reformers allowed the proper use of interest for money (contrary to Romish practice) and the accumulation of wealth for families and their children’s children. This further stimulated capitalism.

"Without question, the doctrine of Calvin, in so far as it concerns lending at interest, ran counter to the doctrine of the Catholic Church. This was because Calvin did not believe in barriers between the spiritual and the temporal: he considered work and the serious exercise of a profession as praiseworthy, and therefore accepted the acquisition of riches as legitimate…" (Sée, Modern Capitalism)

Since the kingdom of God was wherever the Christian’s vocation in life was, those lawful activities of work and recreation were sanctified unto God. Wealth was not wrong if used for God. Even with no biblical guarantee of prosperity, the believer knew that the biblical ideals of hard work and thrift generally lead to plenitude. With an increase in money help for the poor increased. They were simultaneously providing for their family and loving their neighbor.

Historian, Lewis Spitz summarized thusly:

“…by instilling into the laboring classes a view of life that raises work from drudgery to a source of self-respect, Protestantism and especially Calvinism helped to build up a group of productive and reliable people, a solid base for a capitalistic society.” (The Renaissance & Reformation Movements, Vol. II, p. 557)

The believer was economically free.

[Recent books include:
The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism
The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe
Revolution & Religion: American Revolutionary War & the Reformed Clergy
The Covenant Connection: From Federal Theology to Modern Federalism
Law & Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformation on the Western Legal Tradition ]

(read more here)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Bubble Will Burst

In conservative circles there has been much talk about the economic bubble--that artificially inflated economy of debt. And the leadership in Washington is making it worse by not telling the whole truth about the dangers of excessive debt-spending.

When the economy goes too far with hype and lies it will burst, leaving hundreds of thousands of people in economic ruin.

Just like in the churches.

For decades, the American religion has been prosperity and too many churches have jumped on that bandwagon. And it is not just economic prosperity that is taught. Many churches and social leaders teach different types of prosperity: personal charm, social status, familial superiority and spiritual perfection.

This artificially inflated bubble of super-spirituality--the hype and lies--will burst, leaving hundreds of thousands of Christians in spiritual ruin.

May good churches with good doctrine and practice, be there to pick up the pieces.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

White House Being Sued

Obama's "fishy" fishing for opponent's names. Fox News, here:

Monday, September 07, 2009

Year of Calvinism: America's First Black Poet

Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806?) was the first black poet published in America. Considered the father of African-American poetry, on Christmas of 1760 he published, “An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries.” He was also a “committed Calvinist versifier,” rejoicing in the redemption found in Christ instead of dwelling on his condition of slavery (The Journey Back, 5).

Although not much is known about him, his story is beautiful nonetheless. Near the end of his life he spoke to a convention of blacks in New York (late 1786). Here are some soul-searching comments from a man who lived his whole life as a slave to man but was never a slave to the world, the flesh or the Devil:

“The apostle Paul says, 'Servants be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling in singleness in your heart as unto Christ: Not with eye service, as men pleasers, but as the servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart: With good will doing service to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatever thing a man doeth the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.' -- Here is a plain command of God for us to obey our masters. It may seem hard for us… If you are proud and stubborn and always finding fault, your master will think the fault lies wholly on your side, but if you are humble, and meek, and bear all things patiently, your master may think he is wrong, if he does not, his neighbours will be apt to see it, and will befriend you, and try to alter his conduct. If this does not do, you must cry to Him, who has the hearts of all men in his hands, and turneth them as the rivers of waters are turned.

“Getting our liberty in this world, is nothing to our having the liberty of the children of God. Now the Bible tells us that we are all by nature, sinners, that we are slaves to sin and Satan, and that unless we are converted, or born again, we must be miserable forever. Christ says, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, and all that do not see the kingdom of God, must be in the kingdom of darkness… Now you may think you are not enemies to God, and do not hate him: But if your heart has not been changed, and you have not become true Christians, you certainly are enemies to God, and have been opposed to him ever since you were born… The Bible is a revelation of the mind and will of God to men. Therein we may learn, what God is. That he made all things by the power of his word; and that he made all things for his own glory, and not for our glory. That he is over all, and above all his creatures, and more above them that we can think or conceive -- that they can do nothing without him -- that he upholds them all, and will over-rule all things for his own glory. In the Bible likewise we are told what man is. That he was at first made holy, in the image of God, that he fell from that state of holiness, and became an enemy to God, and that since the fall, all the imaginations of the thoughts of his heart, are evil and only evil, and that continually. That the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. And that all mankind, were under the wrath, and curse of God, and must have been for ever miserable, if they had been left to suffer what their sins deserved. It tells us that God, to save some of mankind, sent his Son into this world to die, in the room and stead of sinners, and that now God can save from eternal misery, all that believe in his Son, and take him for their saviour, and that all are called upon to repent, and believe in Jesus Christ.

“If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves. Let me beg of you my dear African brethren, to think very little of your bondage in this life, for your thinking of it will do you no good. If God designs to set us free, he will do it, in his own time, and way; but think of your bondage to sin and Satan, and do not rest, until you are delivered from it. We cannot be happy if we are ever so free or ever so rich, while we are servants of sin, and slaves to Satan. We must be miserable here, and to all eternity, I will conclude what I have to say with a few words to those negroes who have their liberty. The most of what I have said to those who are slaves may be of use to you, but you have more advantages, on some accounts, if you will improve your freedom, as you may do, than they. You have more time to read God's holy word, and to take care of the salvation of your souls. Let me beg of you to spend your time in this way, or it will be better for you, if you had always been slaves. If you think seriously of the matter, you must conclude, that if you do not use your freedom, to promote the salvation of your souls, it will not be of any lasting good to you.”