A New Protestant Educational Theory: III. Religion, Learning and Creedal Response

Man’s greatest embarrassment in education today is his failure to find a satisfactory relation between religion and learning. Man is naturally, ineradicably religious. Yet he wants to free education completely from sectarian influences and therefore takes it out from under the aegis of religion. When he dismisses religion by sending it out the front door, however, it re-enters through the rear. He cannot escape his sense of divinity nor religion’s power.

Western man has been influenced through centuries of Western culture by the religions of the Western world, especially by Christianity. He is now extremely loath to separate completely his religion from his learning. Even after the Christian faith has ceased to exert its once strong directing influence upon Western society and its institutions, nevertheless man generally does not want to erect an impassable barrier between the two. Although he is convinced that religion by way of indoctrination is out of the question, he nevertheless would retain something of religion. It may be through a program of non-compulsory released time instruction or through a shared-time curricular program. It may be by limiting religion strict1y to the imparting of information about the various religious systems or by confining it to teaching religion as a subject, not a faith. Perhaps religion is no more than a course in human conduct or a training in the making of decisions. Yet even this residue of religion causes embarrassment. Even a minimal prayer causes offence, or at least gives people the occasion to be offended. The teaching of religion in the schools is either so Significant that it arouses controversy because of its power, or it is too insignificant to command anyone’s respect.

Man’s embarrassment with religion in the classroom and the confusing variety of educational experiences and theories is due to a basic difference in his views of religion and to an even more basic variety in his religious response. Religion is not an entity which we in the first place subject to the analysis of our theoretical thought, but rather underlies and determines our theoretical analysis. Religion places us right in the middle of the sea of life and therefore docs not allow us to stand on the shore in solemn and detached reflection.1

Therefore, before one sets forth the relationship between religion and education, he will have to see clearly the direction-setting role of religion and, more specifically, he himself will have to assume one or another religious pose. He will have to choose between two possible religious responses: either to serve the Creator or the creature. There is no third choice because the Creator and creature are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. Here, right at the start, the initial decision is made. This is his real commitment.

Therefore. in analyzing any theory of education, and any explanation of the relationship between religion and education, one has to ascertain just which religious response the person who is expounding the theory has already taken. Moreover, he who has seen the directive role of religion over education, when he sets forth his philosophy of education, should in all honesty indicate the nature of his own religious response.

His task should be to expose to view the religious commitment from which his educational labors proceed and show how his religion directs him all along the line. He is obliged to declare how religion and education are related to life, to Christ, to the Scriptures and to the nature of reality, how true knowledge of reality is possible, what the task of scholarship is and what constitutes the responsible freedom of the scholar. To show this he needs an educational creed.

Religion is all-encompassing. The creed, which would articulate the religious response. therefore must be broad in scope. There is no more justification in limiting the creed to the church than in separating the Word of God from life outside the church. Everywhere where man acts he is in fact responding to God. As Psalm 139 teaches, God is the great inescapable FACT of his life. An educational creed, accordingly, sets forth man’s response in the area of learning and education.



An educational creed is not identical with an educational theory. Creed and theory arc indeed related, but do not coincide. The creed should direct both the theory and practice of learning and education. It summarizes the basic Scriptural principles that are intensely relevant to education. That which one believes in his heart, he should confess with his mouth. A parallel might be drawn between the relationship of the church creed with the dogmatics of the church theologian and that between the creed for education and the theory of education. In both cases the creed responds to the voice of God that comes through the Word and hedges in the theoretical work of the believer.

It should be clearly understood that we are not speaking of religion as another term for theology. Religion is life. Theology is the theoretical formulation of a part of life, specifically, the life of faith. Religion is prior to. broader than, and determinative of, theology.2

The creed has both a God-ward reference and a reference to the world. It is the response part of man’s dialogue with God as well as a declaration of man’s acceptance of his mandate to “give a scientific account of the structure of creation and thereby to promote a more effective ordering of the everyday experience of the entire community.” In turning his face toward God, the believing scientist and educator expresses his faith and his “serious fear of God”; in turning his face to the world of men and things he accepts the task given to him in his office as God’s vicegerent over the creation. Man’s God and man’s work are the two foci of the creed.

The creed, now, is the product, not of an individual, but of a fellowship of believers. It is the expression of what the believers in community say unitedly. Even as the Word of Cod comes to all men, placing them all under its claim, so God asks of all who believe in him, that they respond to the truth in unison. God likewise gives them a communal task. Therefore, the diligent pursuit of theoretical thought must be done by a community of scholars who will aid all the people of God in their response to his mandate.

We need not shy away from the use of the term “dialogue” in seeking to explain the nature of the creed. The creed not only resays what God has first said, but it says it back to God. We should however see clearly who the parties of the dialogue are and where the initiative lies. We should perceive too that the nature of the initiating Word determines the nature of the word of response.

Since religion is not the product of human culture and education, but rather the well-spring from which culture and education come, we should start with religion. In fact, we cannot but start with it. Whether we recognize it or not, whether we give all account of it or not, we are speaking from our religion. The fountain docs not stop flowing simply because we do not recognize it. At the same time, we have stated that religion is itself a response. Therefore, to understand it aright, we must know that to which it responds. We should get behind religion to know what produces it. But since we cannot do this On any position that is not itself religiously determined, the method is in the nature of the case circular. If, as we have indicated, religion is response and at the same time the well-spring of the whole of man’s life. we cannot escape its directing power even when we turn to reflect on that which has called it into being.

An educational creed, in giving expression to man’s response in faith to God and his functioning in office, will take account of both Christ and the Scriptures. While we cannot here consider all the various facets of the educational creed, we do want to reflect briefly on the place of both the Incarnate Word and the written Word. for together they constitute the divine action which brings about true religion in man. In other words, although religion falls into the category of human action, in order to explain it we must consider the divine action which makes it possible and causes it to be realized.

The creed can speak of Christ and Scripture because both have spoken of themselves. Christ has given us his “Christology.” The Scriptures present a doctrine of Scripture. Both are self-explaining and both are intertwined, for Scripture alone tells us of Christ and Christ speaks the final word on Scripture. One cannot ascertain the authority of the one without accepting the other.

Christ, the Word Incarnate, is the Renewer and Redeemer of the whole of our lives and therefore also of our theoretical thought. The educational enterprise, therefore, should be a wholehearted response-in-thanksgiving, a giving of living sacrifices to God. This is our reasonable service.

Scripture is “the integral or divine Word of Power by which God through his Spirit attaches us to and enlightens us in the Truth, which is Christ.” It is the Word that is able to make us wise unto salvation. It, the Word of God, is the truth that sets us free so that we are free indeed. Its entrance bringeth light. Its effective working produces both regeneration and faith. The Word, in short, is the means by which God through the Spirit produces true religion.

Scripture, the Word of God written, is the Truth. And prominent in the Biblical conception of truth are the components of validity and faithfulness. Truth as validity places its claim upon man; it is authoritative. Therefore the apostle Paul could accuse Peter and his companions that they “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). They disobeyed the truth. Truth as validity can be resisted (II Tim. 3:8). Truth as faithfulness, that upon which man can depend, offers to man the solid ground for his actions. He can trust it, for God is true, even though every man be found a liar (Rom. 3:4).

Since the creed is the response to the Truth as validity (die gultige Norm), it sets forth man’s responsive obedience. Since it is the response to the Truth as faithfulness (das worauf man zich verlassen kann), the creed sets forth man’s responsive trust,

God’s Word then is truth. The revelation given in Scripture is to be identified with truth in the most intimate sense. It sets man free. Truth as validity and as faithfulness is the dynamic power by which God lays hold on us and sets us in the truth.

The religion that is the voluntary response of man to this Truth and at the same time is worked in man’s heart, flourishes only when it remains open to receive. It must have ears to hear, and by all means let’ them hear. In listening and receiving, it receives life itself. The education that is based upon this religion can therefore never be the renewing power of life, for it itself has been renewed. Education based upon this religion finds its purpose not in defending and enhancing man’s right to declare upon discovery what the ultimate truth is, but to obey the truth he has first heard and now would declare to others.

A man’s religion, rather than his educational theory, determines his conception of truth. When one takes position on an autonomous religion, then he quite consistently conceives of truth, both of God and of the world, as a human quest. Truth becomes man’s discovery and is subjective. And when one stands in the Christian religion that acknowledges the complete sovereignty of Cod, then he of necessity conceives of truth first of all in terms of revelation. Revealed Truth is objective. It comes to man in the form of words, concepts, judgments and propositions which are true, that is, authoritative and trustworthy, whether man accepts them or not.

In terms of both kinds of religion there is place for the concept of the dialogue in man’s understanding of the truth. The question however is: does the dialogue merely increase man’s believing understanding of revealed truth? or does it pretend to increase the store of truth?

It is necessary, in appraising a certain theory of truth, to determine whether distinction is made between the Truth that is revealed and man’s approximations at declaring the “truths” of the world. Failure to distinguish between the Truth of revelation ( the first part of the dialogue) and man’s formulation of truth (the response part) causes endless confusion. Once man defines truth in terms of man’s quest and his attempts at formulation, there is no escaping the dilemma that he needs but can never find a final and absolute formulation of the truth. Then the truth is at best a forum of ideas where each has equal say, In the name of his view of truth as confrontation, man thinks to have escaped from being faced by God’s Truth as validity and faithfulness and to be bound no longer to confront fellow man with the truth. He loses both foci of the creed at one and the same time.

Once man has defined truth as man’s search, then he is quite correct in saying with Professor Shideler that no knowledge “stands outside the life of man and is untouched by human fallibility.” He “can never presume to claim that he possesses the whole and final truth without making himself an idol.” Possessing the whole and final truth is the privilege of God alone.

Moreover, on this basis it is wrong to indoctrinate, for if truth is exclusively a human quest, man by indoctrinating his fallible doctrine but reproduces and passes all his own falsehood.

Professor Shideler, who has made a strong plea against teaching religion by way of indoctrination and has stressed education as the training in making decisions, has pointed up the inadequacy of indoctrination on any other basis than that of the acceptance of truth that is given, but not taken, and revealed, but not discovered. He has also shown the net results of his autonomous religion. His religion led to his view of truth. His view of truth as subjectivity, a human quest, leads to the unhappy predicament: to each his own question, to each his own answer.

When we in obedience to Scripture conceive of truth as the authoritative and trustworthy Word that sets us free, then we find that indoctrination need not perpetuate falsehood, but just because it makes for a meaningful confrontation, can lead to the meaningful response of true faith. In this light indoctrination and decision making are not related antithetically, but complementary, The indoctrination has for its purpose the making of the decision. The indoctrination of the human formulation of the truth, done in conscious obedience to the Word of God, to the extent that it is true to the Truth, will elicit that decision in response which the Word, that is the power of God, effects. In giving man the Word, God placed in his hand the sword of the Spirit. He who takes this sword and passes on faithfully the truth that the Word is, need not worry that he is perpetuating error, inasmuch as behind his fallible formulation is God’s authoritative, trustworthy, and therefore unchanging Truth.

On this basis, to neglect to indoctrinate, is to he remiss in the very thing required to enable the person instructed to make the correct decision in response. Indoctrination then does not seek to pass on a human formulation of truth unchanged, but it does seek to transmit a human formulation that, faulty as it may be, is a response to Truth which, possessing its own authority and reliability, carries its own dynamic in itself. What man cannot do, nor may presume to do, the Word does: it sets man in the truth. It shows him who he is and what he should be in relation to God, man and the world. It touches everything. It both reveals and corrects.

Thus, although man does not know God or his Truth fully, in making his response of faith, what he knows, he haws truly. On this basis he participates in the forum of ideas, not to go in search of truth that, when found, is his own discovery, but to confront all men with the Truth which God first declared to him. To deny this is “to deny the very roots of Protestantism, and indeed of Christianity.”

The Educational Creed of the ARSS (Association for Reformed Scientific Studies) reads as follows:

Believing that Scripture reveals certain basic principle intensely relevant to education, we confess:

LIFE. THAT human life in its entirety is religion. Consequently, scholarly study unfolds itself as service either of the one true God or of an idol.

SCRIPTURE. THAT Scripture, the Word of God written, in instructing us of God, ourselves and the structure of creation is that integral and active divine Word or Power by which God, through His Spirit, attaches us to and enlightens us in the Truth, which is Christ.

CHRIST. THAT the Christ of the Scriptures, the Word of God incarnate, is the Redeemer and Renewer of our life in its entirety and therefore also of our theoretical thought.

REALITY. THAT the essence or heart of all created reality is the covenantal communion of man with God in Christ.

KNOWLEDGE, THAT true knowledge is made possible by troe religion and arises from the knowing activity of the human heart enlightened through the Word of God by the Holy Spirit. Thus religion plays its decisive ordering role in the understanding of our everyday experience and our theoretical pursuits.

SCHOLARSHIP. (a) THAT the diligent pursuit of theoretical thought in a community of scholars is essential to the obedient and thankful response of God’s people to the cultural mandate. The task of the scholar is to give a scientific account of the structure of creation and thereby to promote a more effective ordering of the everyday experience of the entire community. (b) THAT because of God’s gracious preservation of creation after the fall, men who reject the Word of God as the ordering principle of life provide many valuable insights into the common structure of reality; nevertheless, the central religious antithesis of direction in life remains. We therefore reject the possibility of the synthesis of scripturally directed thought with any other system of thought.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM. THAT scholarly pursuits are to be undertaken in the God-given freedom of a complete and voluntary submission to the Word of God and the divine laws that govern human life. The responsible freedom of the scholar must be protected against any constraint or domination of church, state, industry or other societal structure.

SUMMARY. THAT all scholarship pursued in faithful obedience to the divine mandate will heed the nonnative direction of God’s Word. will acknowledge His Law to which creation in all its spheres is subject, and will bow before Christ’s Kingship over all scientific work.

1 John Calvin said true religion “consists in faith, united with the serious fear of God, comprehending a voluntary reverence, and producing legitimate worship agreeable to the injunctions of the law.” As the words: faith, fear, reverence and worship indicate, Calvin conceived of religion as an action of response to God. Institutes, I, ii (ii). More recently Herman Dooyeweerd has said that religion is “the innate impulse of human selfhood to direct itself toward the true or toward a pretended absolute Origin of all temporal diversity of meaning, which it finds focused concentrically in itself.” It is “the absolutely central sphere of human existence, religion transcends all modal aspects of temporal reality, the aspect of faith included.” “Veritable religion is absolute self-surrender.” A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Volume I, pp. 58, 59.

2. Professor Berkouwer has said: “Theology’s task is not to reason out the mysteries of faith. – Theology does not stand above simple faith; it only seeks seriously, to study the Word of God in order to serve the congregation.” Christianity Today, December 22, 1981, p. 39.