Protestant Nurture – An Introduction to Christian Education
HARRY C. MUNRO (Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1956, 270 pp.)
The author of this book comes to grips with some fundamental problems in Christian education today. And he does it in a refreshing, stimulating way. In a lucid and easy-flowing style he develops his views with clarity and conviction.
At the very outset the reader’s interest is captured as the author points out that our western Christian civilization is facing a major crisis, that Protestant Christians have a calling and challenge to face up to it, and that they will have to approach it with a distinctive, Christian education. By this time a Calvinist who loves the Christian school is on the alert, wondering whether we are getting a militant defense and enlightening exposition of Christian education or another book on religious education as viewed in a liberal Protestant framework of thought.
We go on reading and find some more stimulating and challenging ideas expressed. The question is raised how the dim· ate of American theological thinking affects Protestant Christian education today. And also what recent developments in the psychology of personality have to say to Christian education. The author poses the pertinent question, how Protestant Churches must reconstruct their thinking in Christian education “to qualify them for their present educational and social responsibility.” The fact that we have a well-developed system of education in this country is not overlooked, but the alarm is sounded of a threatening secularism in the nation’s schools that is engulfing all of life. How are we as Protestants to face up to this situation?
These are all stupendous problems. They are, indeed, searching questions. Anyone who takes the Reformation and the history and future development of Protestant Christianity seriously recognizes that these questions must be answered if we are to know where we are going and what we are doing in the present situation. The author makes it very clear how he views the Protestant cause in relation to the contemporary scene, and it is not an optimistic outlook.
Challenging as the early chapters of this volume are, it soon becomes evident in them, to a careful reader, in which direction thought is moving. As a matter of fact reading of the table of contents already indicates the author’s slant on the issues raised. Here are the chapter headings. What is our human problem? What is the faith we teach? How is the Protestant faith propagated? How do persons grow? How do persons become Christlike? How are Christian education and evangelism related? How does the church teach? What is the curriculum? What is the American way in education? What are the growing edges of the movement?
But early impressions of the table of contents and statements here and there in the first chapters should not bias one, lest he fail to profit from several worthwhile ideas that should give us food for thought. Let us mention a few.
The title of this volume is suggestive. Notice that Christian education is referred to as nurture. And such it should be. By nurture we mean to bring up a child to maturity according to ways of child-life. The Lord has laid down certain developmental principles in child life which we must observe would we bring up a child rightly. We readily recognize this in the feeding and clothing of a child. But in practice, if not in theory, we so easily forget that this applies to other areas of child life too, namely, the emotional, the social, and the intellectual. Then too, with reference to home life we readily think of education as nurture. But when we think of education in school and church, it is another matter. Now a child suddenly becomes a receptacle for storing facts or an object of mental diScipline, or a being that needs training. No one denies the need for facts and disciplined thinking and action, but education is much more than these. It is nurture. So we are glad this book develops the idea of education as nurture.
The author advances the thought that recent studies in personality development have much to offer toward a better understanding of Christian education. This suggestion is well taken and is readily acknowledged by one with even a passing acquaintance with these studies. Unfortunately the author turns to a psychology which is thoroughly secular in its structure. His failure to regard the Bible as the highest and final authority concerning the doctrines of God, man, and the world ac-counts for his disregard of the scriptural doctrine of man as the Christian’s approach to psychological studies. But this failure does not negate the author’s contention that it is a common error in Christian education to consider a stuffing of the mind with adult facts and ideas misunderstood or not understood at all by young learners as good education. Even the Bible holds before us the teaching that personality is formed by truth understood (though not fully comprehended) and accepted.
There is another thought that occurs to one as he reads this challenging book. It is this. The author speaks of the goal of Christian education as becoming Christlike. This is easily interpreted in a purely moral or ethical sense. What the author emphasizes, however, is that the goal of education is personal, that is, what we try to realize in Christian nurture of a child is to be expressed in terms of personal qualities. They are such qualities as worship, love, security, fellowship, self-understanding, self-appraisal, self-control, stewardship, and the like. When these and similar personal qualities are the ends by which all learning and instruction are to be valued, we shall appraise and reappraise some things we have said and done in Christian education.
There are several more stimulating ideas advanced in this book. One that strikes home too is the plea for return to the family unit in Christian education, the task and responsibility of parents. But those mentioned must suffice.
Because of the excellent material in the book, it is the more to be regretted that not historic Christianity as reaffirmed and developed in the Reformation, but a Protestantism that has no place for the Bible except as a great religious heritage constitutes the key-note. A Protestantism based on doctrine grounded in the infallible recording of the Word of God is viewed as authoritarian.
The author advocates a progressing Protestantism, meaning by progressing a growing and expanding Word of God as interpreted by man. Christian education is the nurture of a child in this growing and expanding Word so that he experiences it in daily living and daily enriches his life to become more Christ-like. The author wants to take Christ seriously as the living Savior and Lord. But the words of Christ have no authority other than recorded history. Children must be nurtured to Christ-likeness, but they are not be instructed authoritatively in the truth Christ taught. They are to appraise what Christ said and did for their own well-being. Subjectivism and autonomy in Christian thought and life, therefore.
And what about the established educational program in our schools? It is advocated that something be done collectively and unitedly by the Protestant churches to reintroduce “moral and spiritual values,” in a rapidly secularizing public school system. Past attempts are appraised. Suggestions for more effective means are promulgated. But when all is said and done. Protestants cannot rest in the solutions. Christian education must be developed within the program of the church. Everything, including preaching, must be made educational. Then the Protestant nurture can hope for more desired results.
The liberal Protestant appears to see the problem, but he refuses to accept the only answer that can satisfy the need. The Christian school in cooperation with the Christian home and the Christian church can meet the need, with the Lord’s blessing. But the Christian school should consider that its educational program finds its justification in effective Christian nurture.
– CORNELIUS JAARSMA, Calvin College
We Are the Lord’s
Society for Reformed Publications, 1519 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids $2.50.
Here is another exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism by a minister in the Reformed Church in America. The catechism is dealt with in one volume, with a total of 175 pages. The reader will understand immediately that this sort of treatment in the nature of the case cannot be very exhaustive.
The book is intended for the young people’s societies or even for the catechism class. It is a brief but fundamental treatment of the basic aspects of our Reformed faith, set forth rather systematically. At the end of every chapter one finds a slate of questions which cover tho lesson pretty well.
Actually the book is a guide to the study of the catechism and does Dot supply all the answers to problems that arise in connection with it. It might even be said that the author has presented his material in a devotional form, rather than giving us a factual explanation. He has made elaborate use of Ursinus’ commentary on the catechism.
It might be a good idea to place this book in the hands of those who intend to do profession of faith or, better yet, to give it as a present in memory of that happy occasion. It can be handy as a reference work for those who cannot afford expensive commentaries as it lends itself beautifully to quick checking.
For those who have commentaries on the catechism or are quite familiar with its contents and basic meaning, this book offers nothing new. But it does not claim to have been written for that purpose either. It is recommended to those who are looking for this type of easy and convenient reference work in digested book form.
– L. MULDER, Neerlandia, Alberta
“Its History, Basic Principles, Its Fruit and Its Future, and Its Practical Application in Life”
BEN A. WARBURTON
(Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., 1955, 24 pp., $3.00)
My esteemed colleague, Dr. H. Henry Meeter. professor of Calvinism at Calvin College and now retired, has rightly observed
A book on Calvinism which would include the broad list of topics mentioned in this subtitle…would be a worthwhile contribution indeed. However, a cursory examination of the volume reveals that such is not the case. The book is rather a discourse on the American controversy with salient lectures of Augustinianism and other aspects of Calvinism thrown in for good measure.*
*The Banner, Sept. 16, page 1111.
I heartily agree with the judgment of Dr. Meeter, which means that the book does not live up to its title. Actually the discussion of Calvinism here offered is restricted to its theological and ethical ideas alone.
However, the treatment of Arminianism and its relationship to the well-known “five points of Calvinism” is excellent since the whole problem is placed in its historical setting. Doe point Warburton makes ought to give us pause as we seek to unearth and eradicate heresy in our day. I refer to the subtlety and ambiguity of Arminius in dealing with his opponents who did battle with him for the sake of purity of doctrine. For example, engaged to refute the anti-predestination views of the humanist, Dirk Volkers Coornhert, Arminius soon revealed that he was himself infected with the disease of Coornhert’s heresy. When accused he
stilled the storm which he had raised by pledging himself to teach nothing which was in any way subversive of the Catechism of Heidelberg and the Confession of the Church of the Netherlands. On the grounds of this pledge, he was permitted to continue in his office, but it was not long before it was discovered that the pledge which he had given was of little value, for further trouble was soon stirred up by some sermons which he preached on Rom. 9 wherein he more boldly questioned the teaching of Calvin and Beza (page 51).
It soon became evident that Arminius had been infecting the minds of students and citizens, thus forming a strong body of opposition to the accepted Calvinistic teaching.
That much cunning had been practiced by Arminius there is little room to doubt, and that he was equally dishonest is clear. “Posing as orthodox amongst the orthodox, he surreptitiously promulgated opinions the inevitable tendency of which was to undermine and overthrow the doctrines professed and to stir up distrust and dissension” (page 51).
I am citing this characterization of Arminius because so many of our contemporaries have not yet seen through the clever devices of the modern perverters of the Gospel. In a later issue of Torch and Trumpet I hope to devote an article to this phenomenon.
Before concluding this review with a recommendation that our Calvinist brethren study Warburton, I must call attention to a number of inaccuracies which mar the book. On page 25 we read, “Augustine would appear to have come into contact with Pelagius on several occasions,” when, as a matter of fact, Augustine was out of town when Pelagius and Coelestius passed through Hippo and they never did meet each other personally in this life (Cf. Paul Lehman, “The Anti-Pelagian Writings,” in A Companion Study to St. Augustine, Oxford University Press, 1955).
A more serious inaccuracy involving the character of St. Augustine is set forth in expressions such as these:
When a little more than seventeen years of age, Augustine plunged into a life of sensual indulgence and open immorality…and showed no distinction in anything except vice and the most sinful depravity (pages 30, 31). He had brought his mistress with him from Rome but she found some pretext for returning thither and he immediately procured another to take her place. We can scarcely imagine a life more depraved than that which he lived. ( page 32, italics added) It is quite. impossible to express all the depths of sin into which this man sank, (page 32).
Fact is, however, that Augustine confesses that he was in love with love when he went to the theater and witnessed the actors playing the role of lovers, and he fell into evil ways while idling away his sixteenth year at home (witness the pear-stealing incident). At seventeen (Autumn, 371 A.D.) he was already
attached to her who was to be the companion of his life for the next fourteen years, in a union which, though not marriage in the highest sense, differed from technical marriage rather in a legal than a moral point of view…and it served to screen him from the multitudinous temptations to vice that otherwise would have beset him. “I was faithful to her,” he says… (Cf. B.B. Warfield, “Augustine and his ‘Confessions’” in Studies in Tertullian and Augustine, Oxford University Press, 1930).
The overmastering passion and lofty ambition of Augustine was not fleshly lust but a love for philosophy, with which his heart was inflamed already at the age of nineteen.
Furthermore, the statement that “his mistress…found some pretext for returning” to Rome from Carthage is not accurate. Augustine after consultation with his mother sent her back since he was in a fair way toward the achievement of his life’s ambition and for that he had to contract a suitable marriage. He literally “tore her from his heart,” and she was so much in love with him that she remained true to him the rest of her life. Augustine did, however, take a second concubine since he found himself still unable to overcome his fleshly appetite. He could no longer conceal, therefore, from himself his abject slavery to lust. It is true: Augustine was a slave to passion, but that is not the same as living a life so dissolute as to warrant the opinion that a life more depraved can scarcely be imagined.
On page forty-two Warburton speaks of France as being “in the hands of the Jesuits” about the time that John Calvin fled France in the Fall of 1533. At this time Loyola was meeting secretly with three friends, students of the Sorbonne, and the king had never heard of him. The order was not organized until 1540 in Rome, and the Jesuits did not become a dominant political force until after the Council of Trent (1545–1563). Another instance of recklessness with history is the picture drawn by the author of the settlers of the southern states of our nation. Presumably they were “wild adventurers from Spain and Portugal” dominated by the spirit of papacy, and having “exterminated or enslaved the natives,” transmitted this spirit to their descendants, against whom “the freedom-loving spirit of Calvinism” asserted itself on behalf of the oppressed in the Civil War (cf. page 222).
Over against this I read in The Southern Presbyterian Journal (September, 1955) that “Francis Mackemie, a Presbyterian minister from northern Ireland…who is frequently designated the ‘Father of American Presbyterianism’,” in 1664 “organized a Presbyterian church at Snow Hill, Maryland” and “travelled throughout Maryland, Virginia…” “The first presbytery in the South was organized by Samuel Davies” in 1746, who did most of his preaching on the Virginia frontier. It is also a well-known fact that the American Presbyterians, all loyal sons of Calvin, split over the slavery question, the Southern branch calling themselves the Presbyterian Church in the United States, a denomination which has been a great spiritual force in our nation.
Lest I become tedious let me stop here, although I do wish to add that footnotes, bibliography and a more extensive index would also improve the book immeasurably.
For the rest, I must praise the author for his ability to generate enthusiasm and for his glowing presentation of the fruits of Calvinism in history. Would that more of our children were acquainted with their glorious heritage!
– HENRY R. VAN TIL, Grand Rapids, Michigan