Seek First the Kingdom – In Education

In this article Laurie Vanden Heuvel aims to portray Christian Education against the background of American education in the public school as well as the struggles going on among the eRe constituency. The author is the wife of Rev. Thomas C. Vanden Heuvel, pastor of the Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Holland. Michigan. Mrs. Vanden Heuvel teaches music parttime in the Holland Christian School system, and is also pursuing graduate study in religious education at Western Theological Seminary. Her article is another in THE OUTLOOK’S series of articles on Seek First the Kingdom.

This summer my husband and I were privileged to travel rather extensively through Europe, visiting many towns, museums, cathedrals, and countrysides which have playcd major roles in shaping the history of this world. Their structures and localities have cradled great men and served as funnels through which have flowed the mainstreams of historical thought and events bringing us to this present day with all its perplexities and challenges.

Crises here at home – But let us be honest and admit immediately that we face increasing crises in this land of ours. In the United States of America, responsible educated lawmakers have authorized the slaughter of thousands of unborn babies every day to cover the sins and please the whims of heartless parents. Responsible educated politicians in high offices have stunned the nation by their deceit and cover-up. Millions of young educated Americans have exchanged the marriage bond for free love so that today virginity is a joke instead of a prize. Christianity Today in its July 26, 1974 issue reminds us that Planned Parenthood is gaining an ever widening sphere of influence and this year “Population Dynamics” curriculum will be introduced in Pennsylvania public schools. What are population experts telling today‘s children and young people?

After the third child is born, both motheand father will have to present themselves at the hospital to undergo sterilization procedures. If the couple does not appear, or if only one appears, there will he no birth certificate issued to the third child, but instead a third child paper. The mother can be tattooed or marked to signify a third birth to any subsequent doctor. Instead of the missing parent, the child can be sterilized on the spot, insuring that his undue share of the gene pool will not be carried forward.” (Martha Willing, Beyond Conception: Our Children’s Children, Gambit, 1971, p. 174.)

D0 you call this “unreal”? Not at all. It docs not take a theologian to discern that the leadership of this country rejects God, exalts mall and pursues every avenue of communication and education, be it television, movies, stage, newspapers, magazines and most crucial—the public school classroom—to build a world of values and comforts to the glory of man. Unless we as Christians realize first of all, that those who dominate our entertainment industry, journalism, news media, liberal churches (of which there are legion) and public schools (where our entertainers, writers, news analysts, advertisers, scientists, liberal preachers, and teachers are trained) champion a view of God, of man, of created reality and goals for living which arc totally antithetical (contrary) to the revelation of God, we will never wave the banner for Christian education. There arc far too many Christians even in the Reformed community who, in Thomistic fashion, think that we can share much of secular thinking and then sprinkle a little of God’s Word on top like we sprinkle sugar over cereal. They fail to understand that there is no common mind between the Christian and the pagan (one who rejects God).

The Christian “hill”It is for this reason that some readers were deeply disturbed by an editorial in The Banner of March 8, 1974 on “Cosmonomia.” The article caricatured those who believe that there is such a thing as a Christian “hill” from which we can see reality truly through the spectacles of divine revelation. Ever since the article appeared, good Reformed Christians have been accused or pegged other good Reformed Christians as “proAACS” or “antiAACS” depending on their reaction to the “Cosmonomia” editorial. There has been “pandemonium” ever since the “Cosmonomia” article appeared.

The true fact of the matter is that the AACS insistence on the reality of such a Christian “hill,” a distinctively Christian way of looking at reality which is antithetical to the secular mind, is precisely the one thing we have in common with them. It is the conviction concerning that reality of such a Christian “hillthat inspired men of the Reformed Fellowship years ago to found the AACS movement, then called the ARSS. Where many of us in the Reformed Fellowship have parted ways sharply with them in the recent past is with the new leadership which presents distortions of Reformed doctrine concerning the Word of God, the Scriptures, the Church and the wrong definition of sphere sovereignty. Until they bring their views on these matters into line with the Word itself as expounded by the Reformed faith, they will never receive the support of most of us. And we do thank Dr. De Koster, editor of The Banner for his keen analysis of their divergencies on these matters. But the point remains, that we do share the common conviction that such a Christian “hill” from which to view reality truly (even though only in part) does exist.

Dear fellow Reformed Christians, have we not always confessed this? “Train up a child in the way he should go (the Christian ‘hill’) and when he is old he will not depart from it?” “In Thy light [the Christian ‘hill’] we see light.”In Christ [the Christian ‘hill’] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (concerning God and the revelation of Himself in created reality).

This is Calvinism – There is nothing new about this. Have we not always spoken of a Calvinistic “world and life view”? That is nothing more and nothing less than the Christian “hill.”’ The development of the concept is attributed to Calvinism because it was men in the Calvinistic tradition who most fully developed it in contrast for example to Lutheranism and other branches of the Reformation. But the concept itself, comes straight from the Bible. Pertinent to our discussion here is the incontrovertible fact that Christian schools in this country were founded on the conviction that there exists such a “hill,” such a Biblical perspective without which we cannot and may not carryon education because man is an intrinsically religious being.

This “religious” in man is not just another aspect of himself, just another “side” to his nature. It is the foundation of all the rest of his existing, his knowing, his feeling, and his doing. Christian schools have been founded on the conviction that covenant children must begin with the mind of Christ. They do not first exercise the mind of the world (the secular mind) and then add Christ on top of it. They begin by acknowledging that God is the Creator and Redeemer of the world, all the world natural sciences, psychology, moral choices, creativity, self-expression, government, history, mathematics, literature and all the rest. They begin by bowing before the demand that God be “all and in all.” These are their basic presuppositions and upon these their teachers build, training each child, “furnishing him unto every good work.”

Public school in America – Do you doubt that these presuppositions are true or important? Do you doubt that they make a difference? Do you doubt that knowledge and value judgments based on God’s Word arc important? Do you doubt that preparation for service to God is essential in establishing purpose in education in a day when millions of young people arc so purposeless?

If you do, take a look at the public school in America. (We are speaking here of the system and its foundational principle of neutrality. We are not speaking of individual teachers or students who may be Christians.) In the mass of products we see from the public school, we observe students rich in material goods, rich in a knowledge of data and skills, but impoverished in value judgments, in knowing who they are, what they are doing, why they are doing what they are doing, what the consequences are, what is their destination.

Dr. Frances Schaeffer has sketched for us in many books the despair that has closed in on the millions of products of educational systems around the world who, proclaiming “neutrality” in education, have worshiped the creature (man) instead of the Creator, and have ended up precisely where Romans said they would: “. . . because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever God gave them up to dishonorable passions . . . base mind improper conduct . . . haters of God . . . Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.”

Man is a religious being. So we can never say of any person that he is “godless” or “irreligious.” The issue is one of whether he serves the true God or a false god. Now the public school system in this country has proclaimed “neutrality” on the whole matter of religion; but, in so doing, advocates of this have created a religion all their own; and it is a religion of disinterest or apathy towards the true God; and in most cases it is a religion antithetical to the Bible’s teaching concerning God, man, created reality, and goals for living.

In days gone by there were enough teachers and administrators in that system who, if they were not themselves committed Christians, were at least proponents of the Christian ethic. But that day is fast disappearing. Now the “products” of that system are taking over; and now even many Christians in America who have never favored Christian education, are beginning to see what a commitment to so-called “neutrality” is actually yielding for them. They are seeing these products infiltrate the mass media and government so thoroughly that these products are shaping the American culture, including their own children, and precipitating a crisis of unparalleled proportions.

Charles E. Silberman – Between the years 1966 and 1969, Charles E. Silberman became Director of the Carnegie Study of the Education of Educators, a $300,000 study of American education commissioned and financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Silberman had written a bestseller, Crisis in Black and White. In 1966 he undertook a three year study of the American public schools, colleges and universities.

The product of Silberman’s research can be found in the book he wrote, Crisis in the Classroom. It is a lengthy dissertation on what he found in the public school classrooms, how he evaluates what he found, and what he recommends as a solution. Nowhere does he testify to being a committed Christian although he docs in many places give evidence of commitment to the Christian ethic (behavior patterns which have developed out of Christianity over the years). But Silberman’s evaluation of the crisis in the American public school system is basically religious. He says: “In short, the crisis is real [underlining mine – LVH] involving as it does the most basic questions of meaning and purpose—the meaning and purpose of life itself. It may well be a religious or spiritual crisis of a depth and magnitude that has no parallel since the Reformation.”

Paul Goodman, outstanding contemporary humanist, who himself has done much to shape the products of American education, was teaching a course on “Professionalism” at the New School for Social Research in 1967 when it finally began to dawn upon him that the generation he had helped to produce did not share or even understand the assumptions about knowledge and society that he took for granted.

“Suddenly I realized that they did not really believe that there was a nature of things. Somehow all functions could be reduced to interpersonal relations and power. There was no knowledge, but only the sociology of knowledge. They had so well-earned that physical and sociological research is subsidized and conducted for the benefit of the ruling class that they did not believe there was such a thing as simple truth . . . Then I knew I could not get through to them. I had imagined that the worldwide student protest had to do with changing political and moral institutions, to which I was sympathetic, but I now saw that we had to do with a religious crisis of the magnitude of the Reformation in the fifteen-hundreds . . .” (Crisis in the Classroom, Silberman, Random House, p. 27).

The solution which Silberman presents to the crisis in the American classroom is inadequate to say the least and a further perpetuation of the problem in many respects, but his analysis of the current situation is keen. It puts the finger right on the sore spot in American education—a neutrality which does not exist and cannot produce products to the glory of the one true God.

The right antithesis – There is a Christian “hill” from which we can see truly the works of God. It is a perspective which is totally antithetical to the secular mind. And we as Christians must continue to insist on an education which is reflective of such antithesis. But we must be very sure that we put the antithesis in the proper place.

The antithesis is not between Christ and culture, Christ and art, Christ and music, Christ and science and the rest. The antithesis is between Christ and the devil, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. Even though we know that Christ is the ultimate victor on the day of judgment, nevertheless he uses men, His children to combat the devil and all his hosts in this life. And that means He uses YOU; that means He uses ME; that means He uses our CHlLDREN to meet the devil head-on in every sphere (there are spheres—Calvinists have long maintained this) of life. Psalm 8 says: “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength . . . that Thou mightest still the enemy anti the avenger.”

We do not know when the day of final consummation will come. We only know that we are commanded to “work while it is yet day.” This is not an option. So, in order to “furnish our children” for that good work let us be diligent in our support of Christian education, not only financially but also verbally—commending when commendation is in order, and giving constructive criticism when that is in order. We have the comfort and confidence of knowing that we do not go forward alone:

“Lead on O King Eternal, the day of march has come; Henceforth in fields of conquest Thy tents shall be our home. Through days of preparation Thy grace has made us strong, And now, O King Eternal, We lift our battle song.

Lead on, O King Eternal, We follow, not with fears; For gladness breaks like morning Wher-e’er Thy face appears; Thy cross is lifted o’er us, We journey in its light; The crown awaits the conquest; Lead on, O God of might.