The Berkhof We Don’t Remember (1)

Some time ago, I came upon a book in my library entitled Subjects and Outlines, by L. Berkhof. It is an old book, published in 1918. But in the form of short theses, it gives statement to biblical principles of life which are ever new and which most of our Reformed people have forgotten. Amid much debunking of Berkhof as a dogmatician (as if he considered his theology tradition!), we are glad to reprint parts of this volume and call ourselves back to our Christian task in creation. The first of these reprints concerns THE CHARACTER AND VALUE OF EDUCATION.

1. The character of Education

a. Education is a process by which one part of mankind imparts to another those intellectual, moral and religious ideas that constitute the accumulated treasures of past generations.

b. We may distinguish between conscious and unconscious education. A child’s environment in the family and in society, in church and state, the scenes that present themselves to his view and the words he hears, these all have a formative influence. But in a more restricted and proper sense education is the conscious effort of certain persons to enrich, to influence and to direct the lives of others by means of instruction and discipline.

c. The work of education should be based on a true conception of its object, the child. It should bear in mind that the child is created in the image of God, that he is endowed with faculties and powers that are big with promise, that he lies under the blighting influence of sin and that (if he be a child of the covenant) he is sanctified in Jesus Christ.

d. The aim of education is to develop those faculties and powers and enrich the child with whatsoever may serve to make him answer to the purpose of his existence, a life of true usefuless and joy in the service of his God.

2. The value of Education

a. The great value of education is often found in the fact that it increases the earning capacity of man. Now, it certainly does this as a rule, and we need not despise, but rather appreciate this boon of education. Yet its chief value can never be found in the material rewards it brings.

b. A greater benefit of education lies in the increased influence and usefulness of man. And to the man that has any ambition it certainly seems desirable to occupy an influential position. But even this is Hot the highest value of education. Great influence may be a curse rather than a blessing.

c. The greatest value of education lies in the fact that, if it is really what it should be, it develops in man the latent powers and faculties with which God endowed him, fills him with noble ideals, inspires him to move in a God-ward direction and fits him for a life of Christian leadership.

Our Commentary:

1. The italics are added for emphasis. The thought that the school is a sphere of life which has for its purpose the bringing to “development” (opening-up, unfolding ) all of the functions of the child is tremendous. In this day when Christian education has become a burden to many, it is well that we compare education to the warm sunlight which causes the buds to open in bloom.

2. But that we truly work at wonderful education, let’s heed Berkhofs emphasis on “direction”! It is true that God’s Word comes to us in creation and scripture and through the incarnate Christ. At the same time however, we must constantly come to grips with the fundamental problems of life in a manner which is controlled by Biblical revelation. May God help us to educate out of truly prophetic insight into the meaning of God’s Word-revelation, spiritually sensing its thrust for all of life!

3. Let education therefore be kingdom-culture activity! Let’s take Berkhof’s words about “life of true usefulness and joy in the service of God” and being “moved in a God-ward direction” and a “life of Christian leadership” to equip men and women to bring the Word in all its power to bear upon the whole of life! The two-fold “direction” of the whole of life is awfully obvious today. Let’s work and pray that education “unfolds” life in this world to serve the one true God! That way we truly “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” And that way education is a “blessing.”

Rev. Henry A. Venema is pastor of Roger Heights Christian Reformed Church, Wyoming, Michigan.