With two sons graduating from High School in the next couple of weeks – one from a Christian school and one from a “virtual” school – I’ve been thinking a lot about my God-given responsibility as a father to ensure that my children are educated in “the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). I take that to mean that I am to teach and discipline each child just as Christ would, were he physically present to do so.

But what does that look like in practice? How does that principle help us choose the right place, curriculum, and personnel for teaching our children?

As someone who was raised entirely in the public school system and who has subsequently used homeschooling, homeschooling cooperatives, online school, and a little bit of Christian school in my kids’ education so far, here’s my “vision” of what an ideal Christian education would look like. I know I’ll never find this perfectly in this world, but I’m looking for as much of this as I can in whatever method, or combination of methods, I choose.

1. The Bible is the foundation
The foundation of all education must be the Bible, not tradition, personal preferences, or majority opinion.

But what does that mean?

It means that the Bible is the content of some of the teaching, is appropriately referred to in all subjects, and is the measure of all that is taught. In other words, nothing contradicts the Bible and the Bible is positively taught.

2. The Gospel (not law) is central
We want our children taught God’s law, what’s right and wrong. We want them taught morals and manners. But do’s and don’ts must never be the priority. The Gospel must be the priority – what Christ has DONE. This means that:

  • The Gospel is taught throughout the curriculum.
  • The Gospel is believed, publicly professed, and lived out by the teachers.
  • The Gospel is applied in the administration, and especially in the discipline, of the school.
  • The Gospel is offered, indeed pressed upon the children at suitable times.

Whatever else our kids get from their education, they must get that the Gospel is the most important thing in all the world, far more important than good grades, good reports, or good morals. Whatever else they know, they have to know that they must be born again, that a Christian education does not make them Christians.

3. A balanced view of the world
We want our children warned against the dangers of worldliness. And that’s not so much about externals such as hair length, skirt tightness, and designer logos. It’s the far more subtle, dangerous, and largely hidden worldliness of the heart – individualism, materialism, pride, idolatry, vanity, haughtiness, etc, that we want to focus on.

We also want our children prepared for the world by equipping them with knowledge of what they will face in the world and how to combat it with biblical truth. We don’t want our children totally sheltered from the world and unprepared for going out into it. They must know and understand the world’s -ologies and -isms, in order to critique, combat, and replace them with the Bible’s worldview.

And, finally, we want our children to embrace and celebrate God’s work in the world. We don’t want them viewing this world as a completely terrible place full of nothing but disasters, death, and dangers. No, we want them to see God’s common grace at work in multiple places, creating much that is good and praiseworthy. This includes celebrating the unique strengths and abilities of the different races, ethnicities, cultures, and nations.

4. A holistic view of human flourishing
We don’t want to produce a bunch of geeks who have no heart for others and are of no practical use to anyone. Neither do we want to just produce a bunch of kids who can do lots of arts and crafts but don’t know how to think. We want a balanced view of human flourishing that seeks to multiply God’s gifts in the head, the heart, and the hands.

We want educators who value the intellect, but who equally value manual skills, and who want their pupils to cultivate caring and compassion for others. All these intellectual, practical, and relational gifts should be equally celebrated and cultivated, so that no kid feels inferior or neglected because they are not the kindergarten valedictorian.

That’s my vision for Christian education. What’s yours?

  • Perry Coghlan

    Excellent summary! Would you liken Christians who send their children to the anti-christian government schools participating in the modern day version of Molech (state) worship?

    • Richard Wolfe

      My children teach in public schools. To call public schools “Molech” worship is just a little short of insanity.

  • Al

    Can we be content with schools which do not hold to the reformed confessions as part of their statement of faith?

    • David Murray

      That would be the ideal, Al, but I’m afraid I know “Reformed Confession” schools that fail dismally to provide holistic education for their students.

  • Dan Beerens

    You may be interested in reading my list of flourishing outcomes: http://nurturingfaith.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/proposing-a-flourishing-index/

    • David Murray

      Thanks Dan. I’ll have a look at that.

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  • Adrian Keister

    I would definitely agree with your goals for a Christian education. I would also argue that the classical methodology of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is the best way to get there. Nothing trains kids how to think so well as knowing how a subject is put together. Knowledge is the nuts and bolts of a subject (basic facts), understanding is the logic of how those nuts and bolts fit together (this, together with knowledge, gives you the truth), and wisdom is, among other things, persuading others of the truth that you now possess and applying it to your own life.

    I’d also throw in Latin for training the mind; there’s nothing quite like it.

    • David Murray

      The classical education model certainly meets the needs of the head and helps kids who are intellectually gifted. As I tried to explain, I’d like to see additional elements for “heart” and “hand” in order to create a more holistic approach.

      • Adrian Keister

        Perhaps we don’t see classical education quite the same way. In particular:

        1. Classical education is by no means only for the gifted. In fact, I would say that for the intellectually challenged, classical education could well be the best method! They’ll have to go slower, to be sure. But any subject inherently has this structure of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; hence, the intellectually challenged as well as the gifted need to arrive at more-or-less the same spot.

        2. As for “heart”, I would say that classical education has historically been aimed at the whole person, at least in terms of head and heart. Not only have Christian practitioners wanted to educate the affections, but the ancient Greeks and Romans did as well. So all strands of classical education try to get at the heart.

        3. As for the “hand” aspect, the purely classical (with no explicitly Christian element) education has possibly fallen short, and not been incarnational enough. Witness Aristotle’s Physics, e.g. However, the Christian element of classical Christian education corrects that. Surely, if the student learns wisdom, that means actually going out there and doing the right thing. Is that not the definition of wisdom?

        Therefore, taken as a whole, I would still say that classical Christian education is the best thing going right now.