Are you a pastor with families in your church who suddenly find that they are home-schoolers? Is your own family suddenly being schooled at home? I want to encourage you to view this and to teach it as a wonderful opportunity for all the families in your church.
Scripture states that all things cohere in Christ alone. The world denies this. If we think that we can successfully study maths, history, geography, biology etc. apart from an explicit Christian intellectual underpinning, then we have not grasped that all things, including all of these areas of reality, cohere in Christ alone. Christ is the Lord of all things as creator and as sustainer. As creator, because all things came into being through him (John 1:3; Col. 1:16). As sustainer, because they hold together from moment to moment only in Christ (Col. 17). We can only properly describe and teach any aspect of reality in relation to Christ. This does not mean that non-Christian thinkers and teachers can never grasp truths, since God is gracious to all. But the truths they grasp they can only maintain because the Christian faith that they oppose is in fact true. As Cornelius Van Til puts it, they live on ‘borrowed capital’ (Essays on Education, p. 63). When a non-Christian teaches, ‘the fact that he can and does teach is intelligible only because that which he assumes not to be true is actually true. He teaches, therefore, but he teaches by accident. He is able to teach because his own principle is not true and because the principle of Christianity is true.’ (Essays, p. 89). Evangelical Christians are used to this idea having a role in their apologetics. When we debate ‘Religion and Science’ we point out that science at its root was committed to discovering God’s laws in creation and that many at the beginning of modern science (and some still) only believed that there were such reliable laws because of God.
By contrast, when it comes to the education of children we all too quickly proceed as if Christ and most of truth can be separated with no harm to truth. But even the world knows that education is an ideological battleground. Perhaps this has become more apparent to us recently with the rise of overt ideologies in schools that even the most oblivious Christian cannot miss. A child I know counted more than sixty LGBTQ posters on the walls of her school. Sixty! Non-Christian thinkers have long known that schools are the best places to foster ideologies. Here is the philosopher John Gray explaining why it is hard for the state to provide education without conflict:
‘It has been too little noted by proponents of state schooling that public provision of education generates intractable problems where, as with us, society contains divergent ways of life with discrepant conceptions of the family and of personal fulfillment. The inner-city British Moslem does not take the same view of the role of schooling as does the secular humanist in Kensington, and it is unavoidable that an educational system provided by the state will become an arena for political struggle in which weak or ill-organized minorities will lose out and educators will be distracted from their central tasks.’ (Post-liberalism: Studies in Political Thought, p. 266).
Others like John Dewey are more optimistic about the role of such a school, and therefore more alarming:
‘One code prevails in the family; another, on the street; a third, in the workshop or store; a fourth, in the religious association. As a person passes from one of the environments to another, he is subjected to antagonistic pulls, and is in danger of being split into a being having different standards of judgment and emotion for different occasions. This danger imposes upon the school a steadying and integrating office.’ (cited in Essays, p. 56).
On this educationalist’s view the school exists to moderate the code that you have taught your children and to water it down by melding it with other competing codes.
The Scriptures teach that among such codes only Christ is the truth. Given the sole-coherence of all things in Christ, it is impossible to give a proper account of anything apart from him. Cornelius Van Til puts it like this: ‘Seeking to string beads that cannot be strung because they have no holes in them, with string of infinite length neither end of which you can find; such is the task of the educator who seeks to educate without pre-supposing the truth of what the self-attesting Christ has spoken in the Scriptures.’ (Essays, p. 16). This does not mean that Christ must be mentioned in every breath, any more than the dependence of an aeroplane on kerosene means that the fuel must be pumped through the cabin. But planes only work in relation to kerosene; take a plane out of its relation to kerosene and it will not get off the ground.
Even in a school where no single ideology is adopted ‘from above’ there is normally uniformity at least on the major barometer issues of the day. I would hope that Christian parents using such schools are making constant efforts to challenge the ideology by which their children are surrounded for the 10,000 hours of their school life. By that I include the barometer issues, but I mean something deeper too: exposing the incoherence of non-Christian systems of thought as a whole and across the disciplines, and showing what it means to consider every school subject ‘in Christ’. It is no small task, and perhaps some Christian parents are not even trying. Certainly many are struggling.
If that is you, and if you have your children unexpectedly at home for the coming months, why not view this as a golden opportunity to talk with them about the way in which the realities that they study in their different subjects only find their stability, coherence, and meaning in Christ?
What would that look like in practice? Here are some questions that you might discuss with your children, obviously not all for the same age and ability. Perhaps you might take one subject a day and at some point raise these questions:
Maths: What do the rules of maths not change? Where do they come from? Is God governed by them? Is there number in God?
Literature: What texts are they studying? What are the themes of those texts? What are those texts saying? What is a Christian perspective on what they say?
Science and (physical) Geography: How does the physical universe exist and continue to exist? Where did it come from? Can anything have no cause? What are the some of the laws that govern the universe? What is real beyond the physical universe that science observes?
Languages: Why are there many languages? How did Pentecost undo Babel? How did it not undo it? What does God think of the diversity of languages? What is his plan for every tribe and tongue and nation?
History: What was God doing for and through his kingdom in the period you have studied? What does that period of history teach us about human nature?
Religious Studies: What do your school teachers seem to believe? What are some of the debates in class? What have you said/could you say in those debates?
Art and Music: What does the Bible say about beauty? What is some of the art or music you have studied saying? Is/was/would Christian art and music be different?