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What Does the Bible Teach About Education?

By Joel Settecase / 13-minute read

While Christians approach the subject of education from different perspectives and come to diverse conclusions, the Bible does present clear answers to questions like whose responsibility it is, what the curricula should center around, and the desired effects and goal of education.

With home education growing worldwide and about ten percent of American students enrolled in private, non-governmental schools, this seems like a good time to talk about education from a biblical perspective.

The endeavor of entering a discussion of how Christian parents ought to educate their children is one fraught with peril. Inevitably any discussion or teaching on the subject is going to step on toes and aggravate raw nerves of Christians with strong convictions on the matter. Even those of us who ostensibly consider themselves “Bible Centered” (which, according to the Barna Group only amounts to a paltry 5% of Americans) have undoubtedly had our views on education shaped by both Scripture as well as external influences, including memories (good and bad) of our own childhood education. If we were to listen to the voice of God through the cacophony of voices speaking about this issue, what would we hear him saying?

In a (now postponed) episode of The Think Podcast, my guest and I enjoyed a robust conversation about Christian approaches to education, although we did not answer the question many want to jump to: “Should Christian parents put their children in the public (government) schools?” This is the question many want to jump immediately to answering. However before we can answer that we need to see what God tells us in his word about three vital elements: the responsibility of education, the focus of the curricula and the goal or desired results of education.

I want to close this introduction with two quick thoughts.

First, note that just now I did not say we are going to look at the goal or desired results of education “for Christians,as though there were separate norms for believers that unbelievers would be free to accept or reject. Of course anyone may accept or reject whatever the Bible says (and we reject it to our peril), but if Christ really does possess all authority in Heaven and on Earth (and he does according to Matthew 28:18), and if the Bible is his word (and it is according to Luke 24:27 and John 5:39, etc.), then the Bible’s prescriptions for education apply to the whole of humanity, not just those who accept them. So there’s that.

Secondly, in terms of defining what education is, I roughly have in mind the definition expounded upon by Douglas Wilson when he speaks about the paideia of God (quoting the Apostle in Ephesians 6:4), which I loosely summarize as:

A system of teaching and enculturation that transcends (though not excluding) the formal schooling happening typically between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and that is built upon the foundation of, and in support of, a robust biblical worldview.*

I want the rest of the article to serve as a resource for parents and other Christians who are thinking (or want to begin to think) biblically about their children’s education. Under each of the three headers, I will list the answers and supporting biblical passages. Feel free to leave any comments in the appropriately-marked “comments” section below.

Who “Owns” Your Children’s Education?

Whose responsibility is it to education our children?

Fathers and Mothers

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

—Deut. 6:6-7

You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

—Deut. 11:19

Note: as a good New Covenant Theologian (as I am, which was pointed out by Joe and Jimmy on a recent episode of the podcast Doctrine and Devotion), I recognize that these commands were given to Old Covenant Israelite parents, that they would teach their children the commands of the Mosaic Law. Believers are not under that covenant or law, but the O. T. Law is instructive for us (Romans 15:4) and the pattern of parents teaching their children persists throughout Scripture into the New Testament, as we shall see.

Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching

—Prov. 1:8

O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth

—Prov. 4:1-5

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

—Eph. 6:4

Interestingly, the same verb (ektrepho) Paul uses for how fathers are to “bring up” their children is also used in Ephesians 5:29, when Paul commands husbands to “nourish” their wives as their own bodies. Husbands and fathers therefore have a special responsibility to oversee the educative environment of their homes (see also 1 Cor. 14:35, Eph. 5:25-26).

God Directly

God may directly impart wisdom or knowledge to people. Because Christians enjoy a personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, we enjoy the benefits of God teaching us (often through his word, and always in direct agreement with his word, when the instruction comes by way of other means).

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

—Psalm 25:4-5

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

—Daniel 1:17

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

—James 1:5

The Church

Just as parents are to foster the household of the immediate family as an educational environment, so also is the “household of God” a place where teaching and learning take place. In fact the leaders of each local church, the elders, are required to be men who are “apt to teach” (2 Tim. 2:24). Education is a mission of the church given by Christ himself in the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

—Matthew 28:19-20

And elsewhere, the Apostle Paul instructs the church to teach:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching

—Romans 12:6-7

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

—Titus 2:3-5

In that Titus passage, Paul essentially tells Pastor Titus to commission the older women to facilitate a kind of practical-theology-meets-home-economics-meets-marriage-counseling program.

The State (in the right circumstances) may provide some facilitation

Again, this deals with Old Covenant Israel, however it is instructive:

David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals...And they cast lots for their duties, small and great, teacher and pupil alike.

King David, as head of state, set up a worship music arts teaching program for temple worship. Note that David was not doing the teaching, nor were any of his governmental officials leading the department. Rather David set it up and entrusted it to faithful and gifted instructors, under God’s leadership.** Translated to modern times this may look like a government giving a public award or even a tax break to an arts program that seeks to instill the love of truth and beauty in its students, which would be in line with the responsibility of government (cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14) to sanction good behavior.

What Should the Content or Curricula of Education Be?

Education should found its foundation in the worship and reverence of the Lord:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

—Proverbs 1:7

As for the subjects to be covered, anything good, true and beautiful is fair game. Classically, students were taught according to the Trivium of subjects, namely Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. This format is followed by classical schools today. In my own perusal of Scripture I found support for inclusion of the following subjects. The list is not certainly not exhaustive but may be instructional.

  • Natural sciences. Adam’s first job was to classify the animals. Proverbs 6:6-8 encourages entomology as a source wisdom.

  • Biblical Hermeneutics. Jesus says one who has mastered the Old Testament and is also trained in the New Testament is like a man who “brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).

  • Philosophy and poetry. The Apostle Paul quotes from pagan poets and philosophers when he needs to demonstrate a point, indicating the value in this study (cf. Ti. 1:12, Acts 17:28).

  • Literature. Jude (1:14) quotes from the Book of Enoch, even citing the passage he quotes as an authority. Paul asked Timothy to bring him his books (2 Tim. 4:13).

  • Cosmology and Astrophysics. Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God. The study of the heavens ought to aim to find out what the heavens are saying.

  • History. Scripture is itself a historical text and is filled with commands for God’s people to “remember.”

  • Christology and Theology. Jesus tells his followers to teach disciples “All that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20), just as Paul tells Timothy to pass on “What you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 2:2) and to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:13) .

What Is the Biblical Goal of Education?

Ultimately, the goal is that the student would own his own learning and be able to test doctrines and studies himself, to discern truth from error. For example, the author of Hebrews admonishes the Hebrew Christians for their inability to have achieved maturity, calling them children in need of “milk” (Heb. 5:12).

The Berean Jews, on the other hand, took ownership of their own education and searched the Scriptures as soon as they heard the new teaching of the Gospel; Luke (the author of Acts) calls them “noble” (Acts 17:11).

Good instruction is life-giving (Prov. 4:13); as parents we ought to seek to educate our children in such a way that, when they are older, we will be happy if they stick with it (as they most likely will according to Proverbs 22:6). We want our children to become the kind of learners who intertwine their righteousness with their learning and become wiser still (Prov. 9:9).

Ultimately our goal is to ensure that our children are provided with the tools to become mature and complete through their studies, studies which are rooted in Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17) but which branch out into every area of God’s world, and studies which are supplemented by rigorous testing, which produces maturity (cf. James 1:4).

There are many more passages we could have cited and dissected, but this should at least provide parents with a framework for thinking robustly, from a biblical worldview, about these three pertinent questions as they seek to pursue their children’s education in a way that honors the Lord.

Notes:

*Wilson sees full-orbed Christian education as not being fully possible to achieve apart from a Christian civilization, but as a Postmillennialist he believes we are on our way there. As an Amillennialist I disagree with him. However, I do consider myself something of an “optimistic Amillennialist, to which, when I told that to Doug Wilson in a recent phone conversation, he replied, “Well, that works.”

**King David, the man of God and prophet, was himself “apt to teach,” and apparently enjoyed teaching children the fear (worship and reverence) of the Lord (Psalm 34:11).

This article by the Institute for Faith, Works & Economics helped me find the 1 Peter passage about government praising good behavior: Dr. Art Lindsley, “What Does the Bible Say about the Role of Government?”, tifwe.org, accessed on July 30, 2019, at https://tifwe.org/bible-role-of-government/.

30 Questions to Ask Your Atheist, Agnostic & Skeptical Friends & Family

By Joel Settecase / 7-minute read

This post is designed to go along with episode 17 of the Think Podcast. You can listen to the Think Podcast here on this site or find it on your favorite podcast app by going to this link.

The other day I received a comment on one of my posts from a friend of mine who identifies as an atheist. He was offended by my post (it was about how science is not accounted for by atheism), and his comment really made me think.

My goal isn't to offend anyone, but in the course of putting so much content out on apologetics, it's bound to happen. I want to equip believers to be ready for any questions that they encounter about their faith. I talk about how to answer questions a lot, but in this episode I want to change things up a little bit, and talk about how to go on the "offensive" without being unnecessarily "offensive," and ask a few questions of our own. Of course, it’s common for Christians to be confronted with questions and objections from non-Christians about the Christian message.

We need to be ready for such questions (1 Peter 3:15). But we also need to be equipped with questions of our own. After all, we aren’t the only ones presenting a worldview.

The atheist, agnostic or skeptic also has a worldview. And like most everyone, there are likely to be aspects of that worldview he or she hasn’t fully thought through. Encouraging an unbeliever to really examine their own worldview can be a powerful apologetic tool.

The goal is not to win the argument but to engage in meaningful dialogue, to seek "truth in conversation" (the Think Institute motto) and, if the Lord gives the opportunity, to point the person to the Good News about Jesus that alone can give them forgiveness and eternal life. I hope you enjoy this and, of course, "I hope it makes you think." 

What follows is content, slightly modified, that originally appeared on my personal blog.

Christians are constantly confronted with questions about the Christian message.  We need to be ready for such questions (1 Peter 3:15). But we also need to be equipped with questions of our own.

Encouraging an unbeliever to really examine their own worldview can be a powerful apologetic tool.

The Questions

Now, here are 30 questions for atheists, agnostics and skeptics (I go into these in greater detail in the podcast episode).

  1. Are you certain that God does not exist, or that you can’t know whether He exists?

  2. How do you know that?

  3. Did you use your five senses to come to that decision?

  4. Given that God is by definition a Spirit, how much sense does it make to decide whether He exists using your five physical senses?

  5. Did you use your reasoning to determine God does not exist?

  6. How do you know your reasoning is working correctly?

  7. Did you use your reasoning to determine your reasoning was working?

  8. Do you see the problem with that?

  9. The Bible says that skepticism about God is the result of a mind suppressing what it knows to be true. Have you ever tried doubting your doubts about God?

  10. The Bible contains hundreds prophecies fulfilled hundreds of years after they were written. How would that be possible without God?

  11. The Bible says that objective moral values are based in God’s morally perfect nature. Without God, what do you think they are based in?

  12. Jesus’ disciples went from being terrified of death, to being willing to die for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus didn’t rise, what do you think changed their mind?

  13. There are hundreds of varieties of unbelief. How do you know yours is the right one?

  14. Archaeology is constantly confirming the details of the accounts in the Bible. Why do you think that is, if the Bible isn’t true?

  15. There is more evidence that Jesus Christ lived, died and came back to life than for just about any other event in ancient history. If God did not exist, or Jesus’ claims to be God were not true, then how would you explain his resurrection?

  16. What do you think makes so many Christians able to live radically different lives from the way they used to live prior to becoming Christians–even to the point of forgiving their abusers for terrible crimes?

  17. One of the most basic principles of philosophy, confirmed by science* is ex nihilo nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”). Without God, how do you think everything came into being?

  18. The Bible says that we were created to live forever, and that death is an unnatural enemy, brought about by sin. If you are a naturalist who believes death is simply part of life, how do you explain why we feel like we ought to live forever, and why pain and death feel so unnatural and wrong to just about everyone?

  19. If your brain is merely the unplanned result of evolution by natural selection, aimed at survival and nothing else, what makes you think you can trust your reasoning to discover the truth, rather than just whichever belief is best for survival?

  20. If no God, why would anything objectively matter?

  21. If no God, why is there so much good in the world?

  22. If no God, how did our DNA get programmed with such incredibly complex language and instructions?

  23. Is everything in the universe really just matter and energy?

  24. If you just thought, “Yes,” was that thought made of matter and energy?

  25. The Bible says every good and perfect gift is from the Father above (i.e. God). To whom are you grateful for the good things in your life?

  26. Where do you think the laws of logic come from?

  27. Are the laws of logic made of matter and energy?

  28. What evidence would actually convince you that Jesus Christ is God, the Lord, and the only Savior?

  29. How much do you know about the heart of the Christian message, AKA the “Gospel” or good news?

  30. Are you ready to learn more about Jesus? Start here with the Gospel of John.

Note:

In the comments on the original article, someone objected that this is a philosophical, rather than a scientific principle. Yet science corroborates it and even relies upon it. Scientists such as Lawrence Krauss and others have proposed that the universe could have popped into existence from “nothing,” but they define “nothing” as an energy-neutral quantum field. If you have to redefine nothing, you’re no longer talking about nothing. The principle of ex nihilo nihil fit, therefore, turns out to be as true in science (excluding God, of course) as in philosophy. Can you imagine how useless scientific hypothesis and inquiry would be if we expected things to suddenly, causelessly, just come into being from nothing?

The Biblical Worldview, Part 2: What Is Good?

By Joel Settecase / 5-minute read.

The Bible, and the God who has revealed himself in its pages, provides the only adequate basis for morality.

In Part 1, I explained that there are only three possible answers to the most basic question any worldview must answer, “What is real?” We saw that God is both ultimate (or infinite, a world which I might like even better) as well as personal, and that in relation to his creation he exercises the “Lordship Attributes” of Authority, Control and Presence.

Now we are close to having a basis for answering the second question every worldview must answer, “What is good?” I say we are close, but not quite there yet, because there is one further attribute of God’s nature that we must consider, the attribute of being relational, about which more in a minute.

There are various fields of study bound up with this question, from morality (right and wrong thought and action), to axiology (values), to aesthetics (judgments of beauty). These are all concerned with the question of absolute goodness (if such a thing as absolute goodness does in fact exist).

When we have answered the ultimate question of goodness, we will know if it is possible to also ask, “What are our moral duties and how do we know?” as well as, “What does it mean to violate the absolute standard of goodness?” Is beauty objective or merely in the eye of the beholder?” If there is an absolute standard by which we may make sense of morality, then we may also make sense of related fields of study.

Absolute, Relationsl Moral Standards Need an Absolute, Relational Basis

Morality cannot be subjective. If it were, we would only be talking about preferences, not morality. There would only be what is, meaning there would be my preference, and your preference, and their preferences, but no bridge between them and no scale on which to weigh them, no way to judge between them.

So morality must be objective, which is to say it must be absolute. Absolute morality requires a basis in an absolute prime reality. This prime reality must be absolute as well as personal. This is because moral duties are laws, and laws require a lawgiver. A lawgiver cannot be an impersonal force (e.g. gravity) or abstract object (e.g. the number four) but must be personal, someone who can make the pronouncement, “This is how things ought to be.” Absolute, unchanging laws require an absolute and unchanging Lawgiver. Certain non-biblical worldviews, which present a concept of God that is unitarian (absolute oneness) could perhaps account for absolute, unchanging laws, if they merely applied to an individual person interacting with himself.

Yet moral principles do not just deal with individuals but also govern relationships between individuals. Much of morality covers how people ought to treat one another. In the study of morality we are concerned not merely with unity but also with diversity. We are concerned with how individuals ought to treat one another in their relationships and interactions with each other. This is a question not merely of absolute unity but of diversity too.

In order to account for the existence of absolute moral standards that govern interpersonal relationships, the prime reality in which they are grounded must also be absolute, personal and interpersonal. There must be a relational attribute to God, or else any of moral standards for interpersonal relationships would merely be arbitrary.

For example, if God were a monad, as the unitarian religions (Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, etc.) believe, then prior to him creating, there would have been no interpersonal relationships at all. Any moral requirements such a God would have decreed would be the creations of his mind, but would not have been rooted in God’s own relational nature, since prior to creating God would have had no relationships.

It follows that, for absolute interpersonal moral standards to be absolute, they must be rooted in a prime reality (God) who is infinite without division (unbroken oneness), personal, and yet also interpersonal or diverse in itself. God’s nature, as revealed in Scripture, is such a prime reality.

There are many worldviews, religions and philosophies in the world, yet only one worldview that has such a concept of God, and that is biblical Christianity. As Francis Schaeffer has said, the Christian answer is not merely a good answer, it is the only answer. This Venn diagram shows a sampling of the world’s religions and worldviews, and how they account for (or fail to account for) unity, diversity and personality:

Worldview Comparison Venn Diagram - Metaphysics FINAL FINAL!!! properly categorized WITH THINK INSTITUTE LOGO.png

Only biblical Christianity accounts for all three.

God’s nature is the basis for absolute morality

The God who has revealed himself in the Bible is absolute unity, absolute personality, and absolute diversity. He is one (united) in his essence and yet is three (diverse) Persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

These three share a name (meaning they share authority and Lordship), and yet each one is distinct from the others. These three have known and loved one another perfectly forever in perfect, infinite oneness, so it makes sense when Scripture says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). His very nature is love. His loving nature is the basis for how the three Persons of the Trinity relate to one another, and it forms the basis for his moral commands to his creatures.

Therefore God’s moral commands are not arbitrary, nor does he appeal to some standard beyond himself. The Greek Philosopher Plato wrestled with this, because he only knew the gods of mythology. Yet God is not like those “gods.” God’s very nature is the definition of goodness. He is magnificent, glorious and eminently praiseworthy, and he commands that his creatures live by his glorious standard (Mark 10:18). God’s goodness was reflected in his creation as he originally created it (Genesis 1:31).

Only the biblical worldview can account for absolute morality

Recall that God’s nature is personal, infinite, and diverse within himself (we might say “tri-personal”). This provides the basis for absolute morality. Because he is personal, he has a will. Because he is infinite, his will applies to all people, everywhere and at all time. And because he is tri-personal, it is in his nature to communicate; he has communicated his will to his creatures, in the Bible.

We may say confidently that the biblical worldview is totally unique in this regard, because it is the only one that can sufficiently account for unity, diversity and personality in its concept of prime reality. God, the infinite, tri-personal, relational God who is love, is perfectly moral, infinitely valuable, and gloriously beautiful. All the fields of study related to goodness find their basis and ultimate reference point in him; things are good, valuable and beautiful insofar as they are like God, who is all good, valuable and beautiful to the nth degree.

God has revealed mankind’s moral duties in two ways

God’s creation communicates his glory (Psalm 19), to the extent that men have enough knowledge about God to glorify him and give him thanks, and therefore we are without excuse for failing to do so (Romans 1:18-24). Failing to fulfill even this basic requirement, man goes on to sin in various ways throughout life, falling short of God’s glorious standard in every area of life (Romans 3:23). Although man was originally created good, the first man sinned, and all his children have been sinning ever since, suppressing what can be known about God from the world without and the moral sense within. However the moral sense, the conscience, does remain. The Bible says the “works of the law” are written on the heart of all people, and their, “competing thoughts either accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15).

The second way God communicates his absolute moral standards to us is by the Bible. The Bible teaches that creation’s greatest purpose is to praise God (Ps. 148:1-14), and man’s highest moral duty is to love God (Mt. 22:38; Jn. 14:15), followed by the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Mt. 22:38-39). The Ten Commandments were a baseline summary for the nation of Israel, and Jesus Christ deepened and expanded God’s moral teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and elsewhere.

The teachings of Christ are impossible to fulfill in man’s current sinful condition, which is bleak indeed. Because God is good, he must give sin what it deserves.

Immoral man’s predicament

The “wages” of sin, the Bible teaches, is death (Romans 6:23). Man’s predicament, then, is that by living life in disobedience to God, he is choosing death. There there is such a deep disconnect between God’s perfectly good nature and law, and man’s current immoral state, that it would be completely impossible for man to be restored to a right relationship with God apart from divine intervention. He is in the predicament of having an inner moral sense which drives him to desire moral goodness, while at the same time being morally incapable in his nature of choosing the good and pleasing God (Romans 8:8).

We will get into the solution to man’s predicament later in the series. However, before we do that, we must address the question of truth. After all, we are drawing our answers to life’s biggest questions from the biblical worldview—the perspective taught by the Bible. How can we know that the Bible is the best place to get those answers?