The Place of Christ in Christian Education

There is in the state of Wisconsin a small, but well known city -Green Bay. This city is well known because it is the home of what used to be the most powerful and successful football team ever assembled in this country. The citizens of this city are avid supporters of their football team. So avid are some of them that they have inserted a clause in their wills which states that, in case of death, their season tickets are bequeat11cd to their children. Isn’t that marvelous? What a sense of satisfaction must be the possession of parents who know that when they die they will leave their children with season tickets to Green Bay Packer football games.

But there are other parents who are concerned to leave their children with a far greater legacy than football tickets. Their concern is well expressed in the words of Psalm 78:5–7.

For he established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which he commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know thee, even the children that should be born; W ho should arise and tell them to their children, That they might set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep his commandments…

You see? These parents are Christians. In the light of the Word, they believe that their children belong to God. In this conviction, they work and pray, trusting that their children will grow to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and as the Lord of every part of life. Thus, they would pass on a spiritual heritage by means of which their children will be led to acknowledge and live according to the principle that all things are of God, through God, and unto God.

To that end these parents established and nurtured their children within Christian homes. They have placed their children before the preaching and teaching of the Church. And they have provided their children with a Christian, that is Christ-centered, education.

But, from time to time, some of these parents ask themselves whether or not the education their children are receiving is Christian in reality or only in name. They do not ask this question in a negative, critical spirit. They ask it because they desire the well-being of their children, the fulfillment of their covenantal responsibility, the prosperity of Zion and the promotion of the Kingdom of God. Really, what they are asking is this: “What is the place of Christ in Christian education?”

This is a question which faces all of us, who are concerned to give our children truly Christian education. What is the place of Christ in Christian education? Some would answer—

Christ has no Place in Education

This, of course, was the expressed position of John Dewey. John Dewey was frankly anti-Christian in his educational philosophy. He denied any and all notions of a transcendent God. He insisted that man is central in education. Within man must be found the criterion for education, the motivating power of education, and the goal of education. According to John Dewey, we must exclude from education the idea of a self-existent God and the concepts of creation, sin, redemption, and sanctification.

From Dewey’s educational philosophy has come modern education’s notion of education as the promotion of continuous, unending growth. The goal of education is a better future society. Man has within himself the potential for the creation of that society. And it is the purpose of education to purify man’s environment so that progress toward Utopia may continue. If we only build beautiful schools, employ proper methods, provide adequate facilities, make education universally available and take away the hindrances to progress in the home and environment, we will arrive at that better society and education will have fulfilled its purpose.

Where does the Christ fit in? Nowhere.

It is important that we note this. Must we reject beautiful buildings, adequate facilities, proper methods, or the importance of home and social environment? Of course not. But we should recognize that we can have all this, engrave it with the name “Christian,” and yet have nothing whereby we may bequeath to our children a Christian heritage.

Christ has a Place in Christian Education

He is given a place in education by those who view Christianity as nothing more than part of American culture. According to this view as expressed, for example, by the Harvard Report of 1945, it is the duty of education to pass on the American culture from one generation to another in order that each generation may build upon and extend the culture of a previous generation. Many forces have gone into the composition of our American culture. One of the forces which has done much to shape our world is Christianity, which finds its focal point in the teaching of Christ. If, therefore, we would promote our common heritage, we must give Christianity and the Christ of Christianity a place in education.

This view of Christ’s place in education obviously is not satisfactory. But I would suggest that we come dangerously close to this position when and if we allow teachers to say to our students: “This is what your parents believed and you are to accept this as part of your common heritage. But you are living in the ‘now generation.’ Part of that heritage must be altered, other parts subtracted, and still other concepts added.” This is to relativize the Christ. This is to give him no place in education. This is to make education non-Christian.

Christ is also given a place in education by Roman Catholicism. According to Rome, the world -the secular realm—can, to a large extent, be correct!y interpreted by means of Aristotelian philosophy and logic. However, when that philosophy proves impotent, Christ is brought into the educational arena. But—and note this—the truths of Christianity are considered relevant and significant only when Aristotelianism has bumped its philosophical nose. Thus, in the Roman Catholic view of education, Aristotle actually overshadows the Christ. Christ has a place in education, but he must share it with the philosopher.

What is the result of Rome’s view of education? Neither Christ nor Aristotle receive their due. The result is a process which is neither good education nor education which is truly Christian education.

Christ is also given a place in education by Arminianism as it comes to expression in American fundamentalism.

The Arminian concept of salvation is one in which Christ made salvation possible for all men when He died on the cross. But it is up to man himself to determine whether or not he will accept the salvation offered to him. The Arminian has a Christ who is limited by the will and the activity of man.

But this stance is not limited to the question of man’s salvation. It reflects itself in the Arminian’s entire world and life view. Because of his concept of salvation, in the Arminian’s concept of education Christ shares a place with man. According to this view Christ has a place in education, but this place relates only to that which is specifically religious. But, because man possesses a measure of autonomy, there is an area of neutrality where man can operate with a principle of interpretation isolated from the teachings of Christianity.

What is the result of the Arminian view-point? A type of education which requires a Christian teacher, but rests satisfied with this teacher if he leads the class in prayer, teaches the Bible texts and hymns, and points young people to the Redeemer. All the while this teacher is allowed to perform his academic chores from what amounts to a rationalistic point of view. And there are times when it appears that this concept of “Christian education” has not only crept but come thundering into our system of Christian education.

But such is not Christian education. It is secular education with the trappings of Christianity. If we are going to rest satisfied with this approach the day will come when the trappings will be seen to be nonessential; when we will be left with nothing but a secular education system groaning under the name Christian; when our reason for separate schools will have evaporated; when our grand-children will be attending public schools. And why not? We can pray, sing hymns, and study the Bible in our homes and churches. If this is our view of Christian education we are wasting precious money, time, and effort.

It is only the Reformed view of education which recognizes the proper place of Christ. According to the Reformed view.

Christ is Central in Education

Christ is central in the Reformed view of education, not because He has been put in the center, but because He is the center of Christian education.

Christ is central, first of all, in a consideration of the child to be educated. He belongs to Christ. He has been purchased by Christ. He has been renewed in the image of God and made possessor of true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Such is true only of the child of the covenant. But this is the child of whom we speak in our consideration of Christian education.

Christ is central, secondly, in a consideration of the goal of education. The child is to be educated for service in the Kingdom. Whose Kingdom? The Kingdom of Christ, for it is to Christ that God has said, “I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Psalm 2:7, 8

Christ is central, thirdly, in our consideration of the criterion of education. In training the child for Kingdom service we must seek to transmit to the child the meaning of creation. But, by whom was the universe created? By the Christ, for “All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.” John 1:3. And by whom were all things re-created, redeemed? By the Christ, for according to Matthew 3:15, he hath fulfilled all righteousness. Therefore, apart from Christ, creator and recreator, it is impossible to know the meaning and the significance of the creation order. “He is before all things, and in him all things consist.” Colossians 1:17.

Christ is central, finally, in our consideration of the motivating principle in education. It is only through faith in Christ that the child can truly know. It is only through faith in Christ that the child can be moved to realize the purpose of Christian education, namely, service in the Kingdom of Christ.


Obviously, we may not and cannot exclude Christ from Christian education.

But it should be equally obvious that we cannot rest satisfied having given Him only a place in education. To give Him only a place is to give Him no place at all.

Christ must be given the place in the education of our children. For only when Christ is central will God and His Word be central. Only when Christ is central in education will our children be led to acknowledge that all things are of God, through God, and unto God.

True! To give Christ only a place through prayers, Bible readings, and the singing of Christian songs is easy. And to give Christ the place by permeating every field with his truth requires exhausting effort. But, unless we are ready and willing to put forth that effort, the day may come when we leave Our children with nothing more than football tickets. And, really, that isn’t enough.

Rev. J.B. Hulst is professor of Bible and college chaplain at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.