Education as Covenant
Updated: Apr 4, 2019
“What, then, do we mean by education? Education is implication into God’s interpretation…To think God’s thoughts after him, to dedicate the universe to its Maker, and to be the vice-regent of the Ruler of all things: this is man’s task. Man is prophet, priest, and king. It is this view of education that is involved in and demanded by the idea of education.”
- Cornelius Van Til
At Rebel Alliance Media we seek to have a full orbed view of the Lordship of Christ. That is, that Christ has pre-eminence in every area of life. One area of life commonly ignored or misunderstood by Christians is education. How is the Christian supposed to think about education? Is there are “Christian” way of educating? How can Christian parents make Christ Lord in the education of their children?
In regard to education, we Christians far too often accept the myth of neutrality. There is, however, no neutrality in education. It is tempting to trivialize the differences (antitheses) between a Christian and secular humanistic view of education. “After all,” you might say, “facts are facts. All Children in school are learning the same facts and 2+2=4 can be taught by an unbeliever the same as a believer!” On the surface this may seem plausible enough. If, however, one sits down and gives any thought to the issues from a biblical worldview, it becomes easy to see the problems with saying “facts are facts”.
Are facts neutral? Cornelius Van Til makes the point that every fact has already been ‘interpreted’ (created) by God. There are no ‘brute facts’; things that have no relation to anything else. In an anti-theist worldview, conversely, there are no pre-interpreted facts. There is no ultimate reality outside of ourselves, therefore, we can organize the facts any way we wish! We see how this world view is causing havoc in our culture today. Opposing this idea, Van Til says that,
It is a satanic falsehood to say that a fact is a fact for everybody alike if it is taken to mean, as it is usually taken to mean, that there is a realm of space-time fact that is known to all men alike. The whole point in dispute between a theistic and a nontheistic interpretation of reality is this question, whether “facts” can be facts without being theistic. It follows then that to say that the facts are facts without saying anything further is to give yourself over soul and body to the mercy of the enemy… As theists our contention is that there are no facts but theistic facts, while the contention of our opponents, expressed or unexpressed, is that facts are facts whether God exists or does not exist. For us to admit this at the outset would be complete admission of defeat.
The unbeliever will never admit his reliance on God for a real interpretation of reality (facts), and so will never truly have ultimate meaning.
In consequence, one cannot learn in a neutral way. The pupil is either learning things which are rooted in the revelation of the true God and thus have ultimate meaning, or they are learning facts apart from God that have no meaning in themselves (it’s difficult to teach meaningless facts). In fact, everything a child learns, if not connected to the covenant God of scripture, moves them further away from God. Van Til says that when a child is taught a fact from the unbelieving worldview it "enables him, so he thinks, to get farther away from God. That fact will place the unbeliever before a whole sea of possibilities in which he may seek to realize his life away from God.” In other words, teaching a child from the point of view of ‘neutrality’, will actually take them further away from God. They are implicitly released from a reliance on God in said area of study. If the facts you are teaching your child are not coloured by a Christian worldview lens, you are not by default teaching from neutrality, but from unfaithfulness. Joe Boot remarks on the implications of a ‘neutral’ education:
Godless education denies that we are created in the image of God and are responsible to God, which entails the notion that human identity is a social construct and we cannot transgress God’s law. If man cannot transgress then he is not a sinner and if he is not a sinner he does not need Christ or the gospel. A child educated in such a view soon realizes he does not need to live and think in terms of a triune God of Scripture, but can think and live autonomously and for himself.
As parents we are constantly amazed how quickly and effectively our children learn. Why are we then surprised when they learn unfaithfulness from unbelievers?
We as parents and educators have to keep in mind that Christian education is being faithful to God. Truly, a plurality of ‘facts’ without the unity of God ends in no meaningful interpretation at all. Norman De Jong puts it this way:
The greatest challenge facing Christian education today is that of discovering the unity of all that is known, of formulating for our children a single mental vision, of bringing every tidbit of interpreted fact and every theory of explanation into subjection to Christ. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience to Christ” (II Cor. 10:4, 5). This all-encompassing rule of the King is further expressed in Colossians 1:16-17 and 18b, where Paul writes, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist … that in all things be might have the pre-eminence.” This submission of all knowledge to the preeminent Christ, then, becomes the prime concern of the Christian educational theorist, for Holy Writ demands nothing less.
In one sense, as parents or homeschoolers, we are all ‘Christian educational theorists’. We are to work towards teaching our children to discover the unity in the diversity of creation and bring it into captivity to King Jesus.
We can clearly see that the differences in educational theory are not peripheral. It’s not as if Christians can run a school, with the same curriculum as a public school, but with an added religious studies course (mandatory of course) and call it ‘Christian education’. The differences are foundational and at a worldview level. Everyone teaches according to an educational theory whether they realize it or not. Every educator has some purpose, design, and end goal drawn from their worldview that is driving them. Can one’s view of man (anthropology) affect the way they teach? You better believe it. Seeing a room full of sinners in need of new hearts is much different than seeing a room full of basically good humans who need to conquer one environment or another. Why don’t we put it another way? Will a teacher’s end goal change if they believe they have 20-30 little images of God as opposed to 20-30 random bags of carbon who can be shaped in the image of one of countless other gods? This is an antithesis. Speaking of a “god-concept”: would it have any effect on the content or curriculum or teaching styles of an educator if they believed the state to be ultimate? Reason to be ultimate? Science to be ultimate? Pragmatism to be ultimate? We have to come to the realization that education is a religious activity and thus will be in service to one god or another.
When you are teaching a child, whether in the home or in a classroom, keep in mind this antithesis. Connect everything you teach to the triune God of scripture and strive to think the thoughts of God after him. Not just in your bible class; but make sure to think consciously about your assumptions as an educator of your children. Teach them that all facts flow from God’s personal revelation. He is the starting point. Help them interpret the facts in the light of God’s redemptive history. The alternative is darkness.
 See The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope by Joseph Boot, 425-456
 Louis Berkhof, Cornelius Van Til, Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers, ed. Dennis E. Johnson (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1990), 16-17.
 Ibid, 8
 Joseph Boot, The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society, (Toronto: Ezra Press, 2016), 442
 Norman De Jong, Education in the Truth, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2003), 38