The collapse of the Western tradition in the United States, seen in the hostility to Christianity in government and education, and the elimination of “traditional” or “canon” learning from our institutions of middle and higher learning, provides a crisis and an opportunity for serious believers at the beginning of the third millennium. These essays are an invitation to think squarely and forthrightly about what the Christian agenda should be. I am taking up from two previously published essays. The first is my booklet, Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future, published by Transfiguration Press and available from Biblical Horizons for $3.50. The second is the essay, “The Great Hangover,” published in Biblical Horizons Nos. 74 & 75, available for $2.00 from Biblical Horizons .
I submit that to far too great a degree, Bible-believing Christians are allowing Roman Catholics and secular conservatives to do their thinking for them. Both of these groups advocate a return to the synthetic culture called “Western Civilization,” an unholy (and unstable) mixture of Greco-Roman paganism and Biblical religion. Many writers in these groups are brilliant and sometimes have penetrating insights, but this does not change the fact that what they advocate is basically a mixture of Baal and Christ. The so-called “canon” of Western literature is such a mixture, often including far more non-Christian work than Christian work. The situation as regards political philosophy in Western Civilization is, if anything, worse.
Because Bible Christians are often not highly educated, and often are rather easily intimidated, they find themselves drawn to conservative writers and thinkers. A few years ago, for instance, the work of a secular conservative, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, was all the rage in evangelical Christendom. There was virtually no critical interaction with this book.
The lack of a strong intellectual presence among Bible Christians in America has meant that the game has gone to Roman Catholic thinkers, and their fellow-travellers, by default: William Buckley, John Neuhaus, and Russell Kirk, for instance; and such publications as First Things, Chronicles, and Modern Age. These men and the many others like them have much good to say, but essentially they want to turn back the clock to a situation where pagan and Christian thinking is merged into the “Western” synthesis. To be sure, they tend to read the pagan Greeks and Romans through Christian eyes, creating imaginary Platos and Ciceros who did not ever really exist. But also, they do not take a high view of the Scripture, especially of the societal directives God spoke to Israel at Mount Sinai, and thus are much influenced by pagan ways, often without realizing it.
As mentioned above, Western Civilization is over. That is to say, the tradition of that civilization has been broken now by two generations of ignorance and apostasy, extending from the “Sixties” to today. Therefore, the question before us as Bible Christians is this: Do we strive to restore that tradition, or should we look to the Bible and strive to create something better?
I imagine most Bible Christians would answer that we should strive to create something better. Yet, as I myself look at the Church, the Christian education movement, and the world of Christian commentary today, I come to the conclusion that a good deal of deeper reflection is needed on this issue. Many Christian schools, for instance, now advertise that they offer “classical Christian education.” Does that mean “old-fashioned Christian education”? (which might be a problem in itself). Or does it mean “a combination of the best of the Bible with the best of the classical Greeks and Romans,” which is much more of a problem? Are these schools teaching Latin or Hebrew as a foundational tool for life? Is the school day organized liturgically around the psalter, and is music given as much prominence as language and literature?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, and in a sense I cannot know them. For one thing, all these schools are different, with different people involved in them. For another, such leaders as there are in this “classical Christian education” movement are certainly learning as they go, so what they advocated five years ago might be under revision today. My purpose in bringing the matter up is not to criticize these earnest Christian educators; far from it. They are probably doing among the best work in Christian education that is being done. Rather, I bring them up simply as a way to illustrate the overall concern of these essays. Perhaps some of those involved in the endeavor of Christian education will read these essays and be stimulated by them, as we all strive to lay a more solid foundation for future generations.
Moreover, I don’t believe that it is possible to restore the tradition we call “Western Civilization.” The attempt to do so is a waste of time and effort, tilting at windmills. As I pointed out in Through New Eyes, chapter 3, cultures are symbolic structures made up of a worldview (symbolizing the world a certain way) operating in a tradition. Once that tradition is gone, the culture cannot be put back together. Cultures are not like stones in a wall, which if it crumbles can be rebuilt. Rather, cultures are like Humpty Dumpty. When an egg and its yoke are broken, then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put it back together again. When a culture is gone — and ours is — the only valid possibility for the future is to lay the foundations for a new culture. Within the history of a culture, a Josiah can rebuild it; but when a culture is gone, new Abrahams are needed. When things fall apart, and the center can no longer hold, we must be Abrahams. Otherwise the rough beast will take over Bethlehem.
Well then, just what is “Western Civilization”? The term was apparently coined originally by G. K. Chesterton, himself a very insightful Roman Catholic thinker, around a century ago. It is as a culture declines that it begins to have names for itself, for it sees itself as already “in the past,” and thus objectifiable. I don’t know for certain what Chesterton meant by the term, but generally speaking, Western Civilization is a culture that grew up out of the classical world of Greece and Rome under the influence of the Bible. It is mostly a mixture of these two sources. At various times, one or the other has been predominant.
Now, what I have just written is a very general characterization. A very brief summary of the history of that civilization will show some of the ins and outs. Let us begin with the Apostolic Era itself, the time when the so-called “New Testament” was written. There have been those who have tried to argue that the thinking of the apostles was a Divinely-authorized synthesis of the so-called “Old Testament” with the best of pagan thinking. This is, frankly, rather easily demonstrable nonsense, but it crops up from time to time, so we can address it here. Supposedly, there is a new, more “inner” and more “otherworldly” kind of ethics and spirituality in the NT writings, over against the more “outer” and “this-worldly” thinking found in the OT. Now, nobody familiar with the Psalter and with Ecclesiastes would ever imagine such a thing. The so-called OT is every bit as “inner” and “otherworldly” as the so-called NT. And if we pay attention to what Paul and Jesus, etc., were saying, their message was every bit as “outer” and “this-worldly” as that of Moses and the prophets.
Or, supposedly the NT Greek word for “Church,” ekklesia, alludes back to the Greek city-state of five hundred years earlier. Gimmeabreak, woudja? The NT usage of the word ekklesia is completely and thoroughly grounded in the OT words for the organized assembly of God, grounded in concepts current in Israel from the beginning and actively present in the Jewish culture at the time the NT was written. It has nothing to do with how Greeks in another civilization had used the word five centuries earlier, except as the term coincidentally connotes many of the same concepts (a gathered people organized as a government). As regards ekklesia, the only thing that flowed from Greek civilization to the Jews was the sound of the word and its general applicability; the content came from the Bible and from the Israelite traditions. (For a full discussion, see my book The Sociology of the Church, photocopy available from Biblical Horizons for $10.00.)
All one might credibly argue is that certain philosophers and religious traditions in Greece had prepared the way for the Greeks to receive the Biblical revelation, so that many similar concepts are found among these Greeks. To argue this way, however, is to radically misunderstand both the Greeks and the Bible, as we shall see.
The early post-Apostolic Church was engaged in spiritual warfare with the Greco-Roman civilization, and was not interested in forming any kind of synthesis with it. Even in this time, however, many of the leading thinkers of Christianity were adult converts from philosophy, and they brought with them a great deal of pagan baggage. With the conversion of Constantine and the recognition of Christianity as true religion, things changed. Many people came into the orbit of the Church who were only scantily discipled, and with them came a host of pagan concepts and practices.
Meanwhile, as Christianity moved into the tribal cultures of Northern Europe, it was the Bible and not a Greco-Bible synthesis that took hold. Early European Christianity, during the troubled times called “dark ages,” sought to ground its social and political thinking directly on the Bible, without the “benefit” of Roman law and Greek philosophy. The result was great social progress (especially considering the barbarism of the tribes when they were initially converted).
As time went along, however, the Church became “rigid, corrupt, and obtuse,” to quote Page Smith. In the 1400s, we find a revival of interest in Greek civilization, a result of a new communication between Rome and Constantinople. Smith writes “concerning the newest intellectual fad — Greek thought and culture. The result was what came to be called Christian Humanism, a movement that sought to elevate man, the noblest work of the Almighty. One consequence was the inevitable diminishment of God. An infatuation with things Greek soon became a weapon against the stifling authority of the Church. If one considered the matter to a degree objectively, it was a most curious development . . . . The moment of high Greek, or, more accurately, Athenian culture, was as brief as it was brilliant. It lasted roughly fifty years. It changed nothing in the manner of men’s and women’s lives. I think it is safe to say that much as it enhanced the artistic and intellectual life of the race [which I question — JBJ], the world would be much the same today without it. The actual lives of the Greeks were as far from the ideal image of, say, Plato’s Republic (which was, in fact, a rigid dictatorship) as one could well imagine. The history of the Greek city-states is a history, in the main, of continual external wars and internal chaos.
“Moreover, the Greeks were an intensely proud and exclusive people, contemptuous of the barbarian (as they put it) cultures around them. What the obsession with Classical, and particularly with Greek, culture meant was that (using St. Augustine’s system) the city of man found a religion opposed to that of the city of God. That philosophy represented, to be sure, a substantial misreading of Greek thought. By a process of transmutation, the often wildly irrational Greeks were put forward as the exemplars of rationality, science, and reason.”
[Page Smith, Rediscovering Christianity: A History of Modern Democracy and the Christian Ethic (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), pp. 32-34. Smith is regarded by many as the “dean of American historians.” This book of his is a curious mixture of good Christian ideas and extremely bad economics.]
Although the Greeks and their ideas came out in the open as opponents of Christianity during the Renaissance, Greek and Roman ideas had come to influence Western Christendom earlier. All along, the European tribes had admired Rome, and even as they used the Bible as their fundamental law, they also wanted to be “Roman,” thus calling themselves the “Holy Roman Empire.” In the high “Middle Ages,” the philosopher Aristotle came into influence in Western Christendom as a result of contact with Arabic civilization, where Aristotle had experienced an earlier revival. And, sadly, many Western theologians had all along perpetuated the Platonic ideas found in the writings of early Church mystics like Pseudo-Dionysius.
The rediscovery of Greece and Rome and the rise of modern paganism resulted in the growth of statist absolutism in Europe, which was briefly countered by the Reformation. The Reformation, however, did not make a complete break with classicism, as it should have. Roman stoic ideas of virtue and law found their way into almost every Reformer’s and post-Reformer’s writings (except Luther’s, who boisterously rejected everything pagan). Later on, the Puritans, who sought in so many ways to be consistent with the Bible, continued to educate their children in Latin and in Greek and Roman authors. Their grandchildren became Unitarians. No surprise.
(See two essays by Peter Leithart available from Biblical Horizons : “Stoic Elements in Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life,” and “That Eminent Pagan: Calvin’s Use of Cicero in Institutes 1.1-5.” See also, if you can find it, Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Flight From Humanity.)
All along, of course, the Bible had its leavening influence, but generally not at the top. People educated in the Bible as children often became liberals once they read the “classics.” Education and government remained heavily influenced by paganism.
(If you can find them, two excellent studies of the history of Christianity in Western Civilization are by Rousas J. Rushdoony: The One and the Many and World History Notes. Each of these has been published more than once. I no longer know how to obtain copies.)
With this brief background, let us now consider some factors in culture and civilization, as we attempt to do better than our forefathers.
OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 37
Back in Open Book 21 we discussed “The Enoch Factor.” Because that was several years ago (May 1994) and many people have begun reading this letter since that time, we shall return to the subject here and expand what we wrote at that time.
After Cain murdered Abel and was driven out of the land of Eden, we read that he had a son whom he named Enoch, and that he founded a city that he also named Enoch (Genesis 4:17). The city, we are told, was named for his son.
This was the first city ever built, but it will not be the last. The last city is the New Jerusalem, built by God the Father on the basis of the blood of God the Son through the power of God the Spirit, and “named” not for a son but for a Daughter: the Bride, Daughter Jerusalem. As Enoch was prince of the city of Enoch, so Christ is the Prince of the holy city.
A city named for a son has no future, for femininity is eschatological. Man came first; then woman. Man after man after man after man is no future. The idea of a city’s and a son’s having the same name is ultimately narcissistic, which is the same as ultimately homosexual, for the son is married to himself, to a man. The true City of God is the Bride, married to the Son King.
The first city was built on the blood of a murdered brother. The last city is also built on the blood of a murdered younger brother, the Ultimate Younger Brother, Jesus Christ. Throughout the Bible we see younger brothers replacing older brothers because the older brother is unfaithful: Seth replaced Cain, Isaac replaced Ishmael, Jacob replaced Esau, Joseph replaced his brothers, David replaced his, etc. Jesus was the last Adam, the final younger brother, and His death is the foundation for the City of God.
Enoch did not plant a garden and then let it grow into a city. In this he was setting a course different from God’s. If we follow the history of the garden concept in the Bible, we find that Abraham and the patriarchs worshipped at oasis-sanctuaries characterized by altars, trees, and wells. Later, these elements were organized into a formal tent-centered sanctuary, the Tabernacle, as a place of worship. Still later, the Tabernacle grew into the Temple, and the Temple is set in a city, Jerusalem. In this way, God grows the city out of the garden.
God grows His civilization up from the root of true worship in the Garden of the Church. From the Garden, that true civilization grows into a community of free land-owning agriculturalists. Notice now Leviticus 25 safeguards the integrity of individual land ownership, for instance. Only finally does that true civilization build cities. After calling Abram to set up true worship, God provided the Hebrews with 430 years before setting them up as a culture of free landowners. Another 443 years passed before David established Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.
For the wicked the progression is reversed. The city comes first, and it dominates the land, forcing the agriculturalists and other workers into slavery to the city, as was the case in the ancient, medieval, and early modern world and in modern socialism and communism. The ruler of the city also makes himself high priest and religious leader of the community. (Though it means next to nothing today, a remnant of this pagan conception is seen in that the ruler of English is the head of the Church of England.) Religion does not stand prophetically over against the city to challenge the city, but is a bureau of the city itself. The Garden-Church does not lead the city to new righteousness, but instead provides a rationale for whatever the city and its rulers want to do, acting as toady “court prophet.”
Enoch started with a city. That means he started with a tyranny. The city becomes a place that conquers and enslaves the “peasants” and “serfs” of the agricultural countryside. Because the tyrant-city has no root it cannot last, but while it lasts it is brutal, beginning and ending in murder (Genesis 4:8, 23).
Enoch’s sin was like Adam’s. God had told Adam and Eve that every tree was for them to eat (Genesis 1:29). Thus, they could figure out that the forbidden tree was only temporarily forbidden. Their sin was that they would not wait for God’s permission. Similarly, Enoch was unwilling to work patiently and grow a city out of a garden. He jumped forward and tried to seize the final fruits of generations of labor: the glory of a city.
For a variety of reasons, the heathen often make more rapid initial cultural gains than do the righteous. The heathen are willing to enslave other people to work for them. The heathen don’t take one day in seven to rest. The heathen expend no psychological energy in repentance and striving against sin. Thus, the wicked get there first. This is what I call “the Enoch Factor.”
City culture is “high” or developed culture. As long as people are scattered in small villages and towns, the more advanced aspects of trade and music and art and government do not develop. There are not enough musicians in one place to form a choir or orchestra. There is not enough division of labor to afford artists and large architectural works. There is no large seaport for international trade. Civilization is not complex enough for an extensive political structure to be necessary — the “elders of the gate” can do quite nicely by themselves. Only when large cities form do these things emerge into play.
Because the wicked bypass the earlier stages, or foundations, of true worship and free workers, they can create an enviable, advanced city culture before the righteous do.
We see the Enoch Factor in Genesis 4. Not only did Cain build the first city, but his descendants became “fathers” (experts, teachers) of the sciences of animal husbandry, music, and metallurgy.
The Enoch Factor means that very often great advances in technique (not in philosophy) come from pagan sources. Usually the heathen get there first, and then the believers come after. Practically speaking, what does this mean?
First, it means that in many ways the wicked lay up an inheritance for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22). They get there first, but it is we who inherit. God sent hornets ahead of the Israelites to drive the Canaanites out of their homes and towns, so that the Israelites inherited walled cities, houses, cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, etc. (Exodus 23:27-28; Deuteronomy 6:10-11). This means that Christians may participate in any civilization of which they are a part, and pay their required taxes, knowing that it is our children who will inherit whatever good is produced.
Second, it means that Christians must not be overwhelmed by the technological and artistic prowess of the heathen. In our society today, it is still the case the best artists and technicians are seldom believers. We know from the Bible, however, that they have no root and will burn out. Our city is built more slowly, but it will endure forever. As history matures, Christianity will more and more become culturally dominant, and more and more we will see Christians “getting there first” in the arts and sciences.
Third, it means that Christians often must learn technique from the heathen. How foolish would it have been for Israelite herdsmen to refuse to manage their animals well, just because it was pagan Jabal who developed many fundamental techniques! And how sad if David had refused to learn music because Jubal got there first!
Now think about what this may mean. Often pietistic Christians are critical of their brethren in the arts because artistic Christians rub shoulders with degenerate heathen. Indeed, a Christian artist may have to apprentice himself to a degenerate heathen. Are we mature enough to support our Christian brethren in this?
The arts are very powerful, because art enhances belief by means of emotion (glory). Thus, the Christian who studies with Jubal must be very careful and be sure to keep separate the study of technique from the adoption of a philosophical outlook. Still, greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world, and the Christian is called to take dominion in all areas of life. We can learn from the world, and should be bold to do so.
The proper context for study of the techniques of Enoch is the Church. We need the teaching and sacramental community of a local church as a support base, a garden, the whole time we are studying in the world. Apart from such a context, we run the danger of being sucked in by the philosophy of Enoch.
When we turn from the arts to religion we find the same thing, only the contrast is much greater. If we can and should learn some techniques of art and science from the wicked, we should not learn religion and philosophy (a word for non-religion, at least traditionally) from them at all. God did not condemn the Israelites for learning how to play musical instruments or how to build cities and ships from the wicked, but He always condemned them when they sought to learn how to worship from the wicked. The great contrast was, and is, that the wicked worship via the works of their own hands: images and icons.
Philosophy, an icon of the mind, is more subtle than (idolatrous) worship through images. In the ancient world, there came a time when the wicked had matured in evil to the point where they no longer made obeisance to any gods at all, but only studied “the divine.” This is the development of “philosophy,” which came about in pagan lands at about the same time as the prophetic movement was raised up by God among His people. Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), Kung Fu-Tsu (Confucius), Lao-Tse, Plato, and Aristotle were roughly contemporary. Each sought to replace worship with contemplation, a further step of apostasy from God.
Each of these three was a Cain. Virtually from the beginning, philosophy was political philosophy, designed to support the city of man. Philosophy was to be the religion of the state, the new form of the “court prophet.” The quixotic pre-Socratic philosophers had rejected personal gods and worship, and had debated what “ultimate being” was like. Full-fledged philosophy arrived with Socrates and Plato, who sought to bring this horrible thinking into the city and persuade the people to stop worshipping personal spirits and refound their cities on the empty consolations of philosophy. The people had enough sense to reject Socrates’ Satanic temptation, putting him to death, and Plato decided to express such ideas indirectly in the form of cryptic dialogues. Eventually Aristotle was able to reconcile the city and the political rulers to the fundamental ideas of Socrates and Plato, and as the teacher of Alexander the Great, set these notions in motion.
The differences between Confucius, Plato, and Buddha should not blind us to their fundamental sameness. Lao-Tse, the Plato of China, advocated an inner contemplation. Plato advocated a new and more radically anti-God kind of political order, wherein contemplated abstractions such as The Good would replace the worship of living gods. Buddha took a more anti-political position, leaving the city to do its business while advocating a kind of dropping out of society. But this position is still in the overall context of doing philosophy (religion) in political terms. Aristotle, heir of Plato, managed to reconcile Plato’s radical ideas with practical politics, as Confucius, heir of Lao-Tse, did in China.
In a ghastly misinterpretation of reality, many Christian thinkers decided that the philosophy of Plato and his associates was an improvement over idolatry. Actually, it was something far worse. The heathen idolater still recognizes that persons govern his life, and he still worships these persons. While distorted, such a view of reality is far closer to the truth than is a philosophy that denies personal gods and rejects acts of submission and worship. Plato does not represent an advance beyond idolatry, but a deepening of it.
The wicked get there first. The heathen were the first to develop a full-fledged political philosophy. The Bible is concerned essentially with deeper matters, matters that form the basis of a true political philosophy. The Christians, however, became enamored with the philosophy of the pagans, and instead of developing philosophy from the Bible, adopted much of it from the wicked. They were impressed with the city of Enoch and were far too unsuspicious of it.
After all, they reasoned, if we can learn how to make flutes from Jubal, why can’t we learn how to govern from the heathen also? Isn’t it still just a matter of technique? The answer has to be a hard “No!” And for three reasons.
First, to learn political philosophy from the city is to learn it from Cain, not from Jubal or Jabal. Every city not founded on Christ is a city of Cain, an Enoch, a Babylon. Jubal’s musical techniques are two steps removed from Cain’s foundational political philosophy: (1) Jubal is a different person from Cain with a different talent; (2) We are only learning technique from Jubal.
Second, and more importantly, political philosophy (law, statecraft, etc.) operates in a different sphere from music, agriculture, and metallurgy. The latter operate in the area of dominion, the world beneath man. Politics operates in the area of man himself, the image of God, the social arena. And religion operates in the area above man. These three zones of life have different qualities, different languages, different psychologies. We can learn statecraft from the Greeks and Romans only if we start with the assumption that other people are merely things, like musical instruments.
If we realize that human beings are the images of God, and that man hates God, then we realize that all non-Christian political philosophy is founded on a fundamental hatred of other human beings, a hatred manifest in contempt. Rome, like Enoch, was founded on the blood of a murdered brother (Remus, slain by Romulus). Whether this event ever really happened or not, the story of it was Rome’s foundational mythos. Another part of this foundational mythos was the story that Romulus and Remus had been raised by a savage she-wolf, and thus that Romans were not creatures in the image of God, but in the image of the wolf. (Never mind that wolves are not really all that savage; they were thought to be, and that is what counts.) All non-Christian political philosophy embraces the idea that most people are to be slaves of the elite. Non-Christian political philosophy inevitably thinks nothing of going to war and killing thousands, even millions, of images of God in order to advance some scheme. Think of the thousands of teenaged Iraqi soldiers slain by Americans in Mr. Bush’s Gulf War, which was fought, he himself insisted, merely to keep down the price of oil! They inconvenienced us, so we slaughtered them!
Because human beings are images of God, and because human society is to mirror the fellowship of the blessed Trinity, the Bible contains as much (if not more) teaching about social matters (man to man) as it does about religious matters (man to God). Indeed, the Bible says that how men relate to God is displayed in how they relate to one another (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46). By way of contrast, the Bible says next to nothing about dominion over the lower creation. The ways to make musical instruments, the ways to yoke animals, the ways to refine metals, etc. — all these we can learn from the city of Enoch.
Third, one has to ask what is the actual content of the political philosophy that we are asked to borrow from the Greeks and Romans. The answer to that question shows just how anti-God their thinking was, for the classical (Greco-Roman — and Buddhist and Confucian) view was that the virtue of self-control makes us fit to rule and to obey the rule of law. Education and self-discipline are essential to overcome our natural tendency toward slavery. Now, what is so wrong with that? The answer is that it is totally Satanic. It makes man into God.
The Biblical picture is that it is not our control of ourselves, but our submission to God and His Word that makes us fit to rule and be ruled. However important and useful education may be, it is not the avenue by which we overcome sin. Rather, that avenue is faith-filled obedience. God tells us what to do, and we believe Him and do it, and that reshapes us. True society is formed not by a group of self-possessed mini-gods ruling everyone else, but by all people joining in obeying God’s commonly published and publicly available Book.
The older pagan still knew some of the truth. He had gods that were personal spirits, to some degree. Those gods occasionally spoke through oracles. He worshipped these gods, and obeyed them. To some degree. With the philosophers and political thinkers of Greece and Rome, however, comes a deepening of sin. The older personal gods are rejected as inadequate (which they were), but what replaces them is worse, for now man is god. Now nothing is worshipped. No higher power is obeyed at all. Instead, man supposedly follows something like “right reason,” whatever that is.
Self-control rather than God-control becomes the ideal. We can set Biblical religion and the older pagans on one side of the divide, and Greco-Roman philosophy and much of Christendom on the other. The God-controlled man is active, doing what God says to do. The self-controlled man is passive, contemplating timeless ideals or seeking mystical union with “God” in private. The God-controlled man is enthusiastic and joyful, singing and dancing, clashing his cymbals, guzzling wine in moderation, celebrating 80 feast days in a year (as in the Bible), revelling in marital pleasure (as in the Song of Solomon). The self-controlled man is sober and never lets himself go, never claps hands, rejects musical instruments, multiplies fast days, celebrates celibacy and virginity, etc.
Moreover, at the bottom of this matured evil was the idea that man is on a quest for God, a quest for knowledge about ultimate things. This is exactly the opposite of Biblical teaching, and in two ways. First, the Bible teaches that God has clearly revealed Himself and that He clearly speaks in the Bible, so that there is no need for any quest. Second, sinful man hates God and is not on a quest for the true God at all, but is rather on a quest for anything that will block out his innate knowledge of the true God.
Now, just what is all this “great classical literature” about? Homer is about the sin of man trying to make himself too big in the eyes of the gods, who then humble him. There is a truth here, but it is no different from the truth you’ll hear from any pagan tribesman anywhere in the world. Moreover, as much as anything else Homer’s gods are actually jealous of Achilles and Odysseus, and little else is admirable about these gods either. So, why should Christian children be subjected to Homer? Or, why Homer rather than the Gilgamesh Epic or the Kalevala? The sole reason seems to be that Homer is part of “Western Civilization.” But we are entitled to ask: Who cares? Why keep this baggage? Let college students studying the ancient world read Homer as a curiosity, but don’t use him in the attempt to form fundamental mind of the Christian future.
The great dramas of the later Greeks reflect a further move into the mind of sin and rebellion. Now the gods are brought into question by the “philosophical” mind. Fate, which determines a person’s life, is cruel and utterly unknowable, and the best we can hope for is some kind of quest for an answer — such is the fundamental message of the Oedipus cycle by Sophocles. Are the rest of these “great playwrites” any better? The perspectives of the Greek dramatists have virtually nothing in common with reality and truth. The Adventures of Superman comic books are more true to real life.
(The ancient Greeks were not alone in developing drama, and the modern theater did not evolve from Greek drama but from the liturgy and miracle plays of the Church.)
If it be argued that the Greek poetic style of these writers is what makes them great: fine. Obviously that will not qualify them for use in Christian education and character formation. Those liberal arts college students who major in Greek can study ï¿½schylus’s poetic diction.
When we turn to the Roman writers, like Livy and Plutarch, the situation is only seemingly better. The model man for these writers is the self-possessed, stoic man. He is anything but the David of the psalms. And as for God, or the gods, well He or they are just plain absent. Reading this literature inculcates two false things: that God is not a player in the historical situation, and that the virtuous man is the stoic man. Such dangerous pagan literature can be appreciated by mature minds, but is just intellectual pornography for young minds, continually reinforcing the notion that man is the only god there is — which brings us back to pagan political philosophy.
The ancient theologian Tertullian asked “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” and answered “Nothing!” He was right.
The great evil of “Western Civilization” lies precisely in the compromise of Christendom with the political philosophies of Greece and Rome. The rejection of worship was allowed to have a separate space called “nature,” where political activity was thought to exist in a realm of contemplation, while worship, often perverted into religious contemplation, was put in a separate area called “grace.” The political thinking of Greece and Rome, which proceeded from the city rather than from the garden, from Enoch rather than from Eden, was allowed almost full sway in Christendom. The Bible was allowed some say, but not the comprehensive authority that God intends and demands. Roman law, or the “common law of nations,” was regarded as equal to Biblical standards and social teaching.
A long and far from finished struggle went on to free the Church from rule by the city, rule by the state. This struggle went on throughout the middle ages in the West and in the East. The Papacy gained ground in the West only by eventually becoming like a state itself, while in the East the Church usually became little more than a department of the state. Protestantism faced the same struggle in Germany and England, and Christians who refused to bow to the state-run “church” were persecuted from time to time. Meanwhile, Buddhist-like Anabaptist groups dropped out of society and rejected state-rule while also rejecting any call to form a Christian civilization on the basis of the Bible. Only in a few places did the Church become fully free from the city and begin to act as the foundation of civilization instead of an aspect of it. Even in the United States, however, most of the churches split during the Civil War, with southern and northern denominations where originally there had been but one. The Church still has a long way to go in understanding that she stands as the foundation of civilization, and not as a department of any culture.
Meanwhile, imbued with Greek philosophy, the Church continually turned away from worship to contemplation. The veneration of icons and images is nothing if not contemplation; there can certainly be no conversation with a silent picture. The original great “saints” were desert monks, who renounced God’s command to live in community with His people, and mystics who effectively did the same thing. (Biblical religion is not mystical but obediential.) The Lord’s Supper became something to contemplate rather than an action to do, and this was true even in Protestantism. Sexuality, music, and food (including alcohol) were viewed as dangerous, just as they had been by the Greek philosophers and by the early, stoic Romans. Contrast how the Bible exuberantly celebrates all of these.
If we look from the institutional Church to Christendom as a whole, the situation is far worse. Pagan notions of holiness, radically different from Biblical ones, led in the post-Constantinian churches to the adoption of magical views of the cross, the sacraments, images and icons, relics, holy men, and the land of Palestine. The last of these eventually issued in the horrors of the crusades, which were justified on the basis of evil and demonic notions concerning the supposed “holiness” of the land of Palestine.
Ignoring what the Bible teaches, Christendom too often kept the agricultural and other workers basically enslaved as serfs to lords and princes and cities. Land was held by the wealthy few. The desire to have land for oneself eventually became such an idol that huge numbers of Europeans came to the Americas determined to get land for themselves at any cost, and the cost was borne by the blood of the American Indians for generation after generation. The ideal of free ownership of land was denied to black Africans imported to the Americas. And where did all this come from? From Greek and Roman political philosophies.
Also from the Greeks and Romans came the notion that trade is a matter for the city or state to determine, denying freedom of trade to the worker and farmer and artisan. The Constitution of the United States wickedly authorized the federal government to set tariffs, removing from the citizen the right to buy and sell freely. Here we see again the Enoch principle that society flows from the city and its rulers instead of from the people and their lives. After all, where does the idea come from that the civil government should have the exclusive right to coin money or have anything to do with regulating trade? This evil notion is now advocated by supposedly-Christian politicians like Pat Buchanan. No Christian can righteously maintain that the power of the sword (the state) should be used to deny poor people in other lands the right to sell their wares to free people in America. Protectionism is cruel, vicious, and ungodly. The same can be said of trade embargoes, which do not shake the power of the rulers of the nations boycotted, but which do cripple the helpless and the poor.
Meanwhile, the political teachers in Protestant lands read their Plutarch and Cicero religiously, wrote under pseudonyms taken from Roman history, like Publius and Brutus, and built their monuments and governmental buildings after classical models. The natural result of all this reading in pagan (stoic) sources was a pervasive philosophical or stoic attitude in society at large. “Real men don’t cry.” “We should not have musical instruments and enthusiasm in worship.” “When his child was killed, he took it philosophically” — meaning that he showed no emotion. How far all this is from the Biblical picture of manhood and of worship!
We can rejoice that this grotesque mixture called “Western Civilization” is now coming to an end. Perhaps future generations will build from the Bible, instead of from the sheer Satanism of Greece and Rome. We can hope so. More likely, the future of Christendom will arise in lands not influenced by Greece and Rome, lands outside the monstrous compromises of Western Civilization.
Western Civilization partakes of what I call “the Nephilim Factor.” The Enoch Factor means that the pagans get there first. This is both a blessing and a danger. As a blessing, it means that they work out techniques of dominion over the lower creation that we can learn, and that they lay up an inheritance for us and our descendants. As a danger, it means that the high culture of Enoch becomes a temptation, so that we adopt not only dominical techniques but also social and even religious thinking from the wicked.
Left to themselves, the wicked always self-destruct rather rapidly. Each man wants to be god, and so there ensues a war of every man against every man. Lamech, the seventh generation from Adam in the line of Cain, was already killing the young people of his own day (Genesis 4:23-24). The supposedly wonderful civilization of Greece never amounted to anything for more than a generation, because the cities fought among themselves. We are told by the idiots that Athens was the cradle of democracy, but the supposedly democratic period of Athens only lasted a few years. (By democracy I don’t mean mob rule, but a society in which the people have a real say.) The real root of liberty and democracy is Israel under the Bible. Israel had a kind of democracy at least a thousand years before Athens did. It operated in the days of the Judges. It operated in the Kingdom when the northern tribes decided not to follow Rehoboam. It operated in the Restoration in the synagogues.
Unlike Athens, slavery was suppressed in Israel, the average landowner had a say in affairs, and women were honored and listened to (e.g., Deborah, Abigail, the wise woman of Tekoa, Huldah, Anna). In point of fact, many “primitive” tribal societies in the world are quite democratic, a point made by Chinua Achebe in his two fine novels Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. The strain of democratic and republican thinking that we find in the European early middle ages, which came to flower in Protestantism, has complex roots, but is mostly to be traced to the tribal governance of the Europeans as modified by the Bible; it had little if anything to do with ancient Athens.
But we were considering the short-lived nature of non-Christian civilizations. The Bible shows us a series of nations and empires around the near east, none of which lasted more than a century or two. China lasted as China for a long time, but through how many dynasties? Egypt went through upheavals and dark ages. Rome underwent two major revolutions, at the founding of the republic and then at its foundering, before becoming a world empire, and then would have fallen completely apart except for Christianity.
High culture naturally self-destructs apart from true faith. Lacking a true sabbath context, the increase of leisure time in high cultures eventuates in high amounts of psychic stress, decadence, and homosexuality. We see this in America today. Unless a high city culture is founded in the Biblical principles of true worship and free labor, it will collapse under its own decadence.
Paganism naturally self-destructs. That self-destruction was happening in the seventh generation from Adam, in the days of Lamech and of the prophet Enoch. Then something happened that galvanized and strengthened the pagan civilization: The believers began to intermarry with them. The Spirit-given strength and cultural discipline of the righteous were transferred to the culture of the wicked.
Genesis 6:2 says that the “sons of God saw that the daughters of men were good, and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” A variety of curious ideas have been set forth regarding this event. It has been argued that the sons of God were angels, or demon-possessed men, or tyrants, since “son of God” can be used for angels and rulers as well as for believers. In context, however, there is no support for these ideas, even if they are to be found in some Jewish fables. Genesis 5:1–6:8 is one unified narrative. We begin with the Godly line of Seth, which is traced to Godly Lamech the father of Godly Noah. At the end we are told that only Noah remained of the righteous in the entire world. The question that is obviously raised is this: What became of the rest of the righteous? The answer is clearly given: They joined with the wicked.
This began to happen in the days of Enoch. We know this because Jude 14-15 quotes a prophecy of Enoch, a prophecy that is directed against the same kind of people Jude was speaking about. Jude was not writing about (Cainite) unbelievers, but about (Sethite) Christians who were apostatizing from the faith. Jude makes it plain that Enoch was speaking to and about the same kind of people in his day.
Enoch was born in Anno Mundi 622 and was translated in am 987. Suppose that the great apostasy began around the year 700 after the creation. At that point, in the seventh generation, the wicked were about to self-destruct. Instead of letting the cities of Enoch destroy themselves, however, the righteous decided to help them stay afloat. As a result, this evil civilization lasted another 956 years!
The sons of God (the Godly culture) saw that the daughters of men were “good,” just as Adam and Eve saw that the forbidden fruit was “good.” Pretty they may have been, but they were off-limits. The Spirit strove to prevent these marriages, for He is the Divine Matchmaker, but men resisted Him (Genesis 6:3). The result of these mixed marriages were the Nephilim, mighty men-of-old (Godlike men), men of renown (glory) (Genesis 6:4). The social mixture of believing and unbelieving thinking produces monsters. (It is not known what “Nephilim” means, but it may mean “Wonders,” according to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.)
Now, we must not doubt that such intermarriages took place exactly as the text literally states, but in terms of Biblical imagery and teaching, we should be open to a wider meaning as well. Although Cain named his city for his son, cities in the Bible are feminine (Daughter Jerusalem), and the wider meaning of the fall of the Sethites is that they became enamored of the “high” culture of the cities of Enoch. They decided that the Cainitic culture was worth saving, and lent their strength to that goal, just as far too many later Christians have decided to try and preserve Greek and Roman culture.
This is not mere speculation on my part. We see repeatedly in the Bible that the people of God are tempted by the luxuries and high culture of surrounding pagan civilizations. Throughout the book of Judges we see such envy operating. Many Israelites preferred to hang around Saul’s court than go out into the wilderness with David. It is a very tricky business to be a Christian in a pagan civilization with a high degree of artistic culture.
It is one thing to live in such a civilization, and even to serve it as Obadiah did (1 Kings 18:1-16) and as Joseph and Daniel and Nehemiah did (though their pagan kings converted); but it is another thing to try and preserve such a civilization from a just destruction. Christians need to ask themselves seriously whether they should be lending strength to conservatives who want to preserve the semi-pagan culture that is Western Civilization. My own belief should be clear by now: We should not do so.
Why has this mixed civilization lasted so long and been so impressive? Because of the admixture of Christendom in it. The intermarriage of Christianity and Greco-Roman paganism has indeed produced “mighty God-like men, men of glory,” but many of these have been great monsters. The vicious pharisee Andrew Jackson still adorns the American 20 dollar bill.
To be sure, there have been a few Godly “mighty men” in our history, but very few. With the connivance of the Eastern and Roman Catholic churches, and too often with the connivance of Protestants as well, scores of wicked monarchs and brutal warriors have oppressed the poor for centuries.
What amazes me is how much strength Christianity provided for this civilization when the Christianity that existed was so attenuated. One need read almost any pre-Reformational Biblical commentary to see how little the Bible was understood. People seldom went to church for centuries at a time, and when they did, they weren’t fed the sacrament. When they did get the sacrament, they only got the body and not the blood of Christ (as is the case in evangelicalism today, where wine is pointedly not served). Pagan practices like image veneration abounded. Perverted views of food and sexuality were commonplace. The teachings of a faithful Bible-fanatic like Martin Luther (hurrah!), who recovered the gusto of Biblical religion (food, wine, music, marriage, family life), were soon compromised by mysticism on the one side and intellectualism on the other. Yet, in spite of all this, Christianity has had a profound influence in “Western Civilization.”
The valid parts of that Christian history, especially the very early Church, the early middle ages in Europe, and the best of Protestantism, need to be preserved. But the Nephilim culture of Western Civilization does not. It is collapsing today, and we should say “Good riddance!”
As I mentioned above, the history of Israel involved several centuries as a church-without-a-culture, and then several centuries as a culture-without-a-city. To be sure, there was an informal culture around the church of the Patriarchs, but the civilization of free farmers had not yet come into existence. And in the second period there were, to be sure, walled cities, but the high culture of the days of Solomon had not arrived.
This history is like a hot-house plant. Israel did not develop within an already-existing high civilization, with all its cultural temptations. The history of the Church is rather different. The full empowerment of God’s people by the coming of the Holy Spirit meant that they were sent out into existing cultures to transform them, not that they were to go to a desert island and set up a “city on a hill.” The task was and is harder, but we have the resources to accomplish it: a completed Bible and the power of the Spirit.
The history given in the Bible should, however, inform how we speak into the already-existing cultures. The Church and her worship must be established, however secretly, first and foremost. That means a full Church life. No monks separating off to themselves away from the community. Vigorous psalm singing with instruments. Festivity and joy, not “forty days of fasting in Lent” and fasting every Friday. Weekly communion with real bread and a real glass of real wine. The teaching of the whole Bible, not just the so-called “New Testament.”
When the Church speaks to society, she must speak first of Christ, and then second of the liberty of the images of God. Slavery, the abuse of women, tariffs, state-slavery of people, and other such social evils must be second on our agenda. Wars of conquest, imperialism, colonialism, and the like must be opposed. Our heroes must be those who, like the Spanish priests, opposed the oppression of the Spanish conquistadors. We must be like the “little Englanders” who opposed the English imperial expansion, while promoting missionaries and free trade. We must not join hands with those who would give to the state the power to control the economy, and who would oppress the hardworking poor of other lands by raising tariffs. Christians within “Western Civilization” have stood up against such evils in the past, and such prophets should be our models.
The practical outworking of such an agenda will involve subtleties, of course, and men of good will may well differ over particular points. But the overall agenda should not be in doubt.
The collapse of “Western Civilization” provides an enviable opportunity for Christians at the present time, one that thus far they have not taken much advantage of. The development of “Christian Education” in the United States indicates a desire to provide a better future for our children, and promises much, but in most cases that promise is not yet being fulfilled.
God is easy to please but hard to satisfy. In terms of being easy to please, we can be sure that God is very pleased with the efforts of Church reformers and Christian educators. In terms of being hard to satisfy, however, a case can be made that there is not yet any true Christian education being done or advocated in this country — or precious little of it.
There are several reasons why I make this amazing statement, several reasons why Christian education has not yet fulfilled its promise. First of all, in times of crisis, such as ours, the human instinct is to look to the past for guidance. This is a trap. We are to look to the Bible, not to our past traditions. Many Christian schools (and throughout this discussion I include homeschooling) are really trying to do little more than provide a 1950s type of public school education. The curriculum has not been thought through from a distinctively Biblical standpoint, and there is no clear-cut vision of what kind of future such an education is designed to produce. A more recent movement in Christian schooling uses the word “classical” to describe itself, and while there is much to commend in this movement, there seems to be an emphasis on teaching Latin and the Western tradition as if these things could be revived on a more secure Christian foundation. I shall return to this matter below.
The second reason why Christian education has not fulfilled its promise is that modern evangelical Christians do not understand what human beings are. Human beings are not, as the Greco-Roman tradition teaches, homo sapiens, “thinking man.” Rather, we are homo adorans, “worshipping man,” something the Bible teaches and which the older pagans had not yet forgotten. Sadly, the Greek assumption seems to underlie most Christian education. Worship is basically left outside, and if included at all, is not foundational. As a result, education winds up being contextualized along a Greek, “thinking man,” model.
Which brings us to the third reason, which is that modern evangelical Christians do not know what children are. For the evangelical, one thing that the child is not is a worshipper. The Baptist will not admit the child to the full worship of God, the central worship at the Supper, until he is an adolescent and is baptized. The Presbyterian is no better. Because both groups, and the many others around them, fail to see the child as fundamentally a worshipper — claimed by God at baptism and invited to His table from that moment on — there is no way that they can structure education from this foundation. The Greek view of education wins by default: Education is structured ideologically rather than liturgically, and by implication Christendom is reduced to an ideology: “Christianity.”
Fourth, Christian education does not fulfill its promise because it is seldom tied to the church. The desire to have a growing and well-financed school, able to teach all grades and have decent programs, results a natural tendency to downplay denominational distinctives. No clear-cut liturgical foundation is possible under such cir-cumstances.
And finally, at the root of the failure of Christian education is the fact that the Church is still in dire need of reform. A liturgically based and liturgically contextualized education is not possible when the Church is not striving for Biblical adoration herself.
The reformation of the Church has been needed over and over again for 2000 years. Pretty soon after Constantine, the local churches stopped doing their work, and people ran after “holy men” and other teachers (often false teachers). In the Middle Ages, with the worship service in Latin people had to go outside the Church to get any Bible teaching, usually from friars who had no connection to the local church. Only with the Reformation did the Church once again become the center of life, but soon that also began to fall apart, so that in America today most Bible teaching takes place through parachurch organizations.
So, to begin with, let us run down a list of some of the basic things the Church must do in order to give guidance and context to Christian education:
1. Set up classes and teach the people of the Church the content of the whole Bible — real classes with tests from time to time and a final examination — and not allow anyone to be a voting member who cannot briefly describe every book of the Bible.
2. Set up classes and teach the people the whole book of Psalms, teaching them the outline and structure and narrative progression of each of the Five Books, and test them over the contents of all 150 psalms before allowing them to become voting members.
There is no way that either of these things can be done with a couple of psalms on Sunday morning and a sermon + Sunday School lesson each week. Nor can most people learn this on their own; the suggestion is frightening to them. But courses could easily be constructed that pared these things down to the essentials, and in only one year the people could be fully equipped.
3. Return the Lord’s Supper as the gathering point of the service, around both Word and Sacrament, with real bread and real wine, and with children (baptized of course) included.
4. Teach the psalter musically so that it is sung, with instruments, as God has commanded.
5. Set up classes for officer training that work through the law of God and the proverbs, and allow no one to be an officer who is not thoroughly steeped in this Biblical material.
6. Do real Church discipline.
7. Learn to greet one another with a holy kiss, as the Bible commands repeatedly.
Now, until and unless the Church does these few very simple and easy things, there is no way she can give guidance and direction to Christian education, and thereby form a new civilization. But with these matters in place, or at least underway, a genuinely Biblical Christian education becomes possible.
True education flows from worship and back to worship, because that is how the world really is. True education is not merely a matter of learning the descriptions of reality, but is fundamentally a matter of learning to move as God has directed. It is song and dance. We start by singing around His table. We move out into the world, learning things and doing things, and then we return as more mature singers to gather at His table. In this way, all that we do and all that we learn are liturgically contextualized, set in a context of ever increasingly wonderful sabbaths week by week and year by year and age after age.
Any “Christian education” that is not thus contextualized is by its nature going to be merely ideological. Such education may view its ideological training as the foundation of all civilization including the Church, or it may view its training as parallel to the liturgical work of the Church. Either way, it has adopted the Greek model of learning, for the Christian model is that learning grows out of liturgy and worship.
Which brings us back to “infant baptism.” Every baptism is an infant baptism, for anyone becoming a Christian does so as an infant. Infant baptism is the sign that God has adopted the child as His own child, and that fact sets the context for Christian education. It is not possible to have consistent Christian education apart from infant baptism.
Which brings us back to “infant communion.” Baptism is admission to the Lord’s Supper, pure and simple. There is no Biblical foundation for setting up another requirement for admission to the Table of the Lord. The child from his or her earliest years needs to know that he or she is fully accepted at God’s family meal. It is in that context, and only in that context, that real Christian education can take place.
Apart from these truths, Christian education becomes a matter of taking some “neutral” children and giving them facts and tools. It becomes a matter of acculturating them into some kind of “civilization” that is not a Christian civilization and cannot be a Christian civilization because it does not have worship at its heart. Thus, this kind of Christian education consists of acculturating the child into an ideological civilization divorced from sacrament and worship. Inevitably it means treating the child as homo sapiens instead of as homo adorans.
One of the strongest aspects of “classical Christian education” is that it uses Dorothy Sayer’s version of the “trivium” as a model for educating children in three stages of life. The grammar stage, when facts are absorbed by sponge-like minds, is found in grammar school. Miss Sayers calls this the “parrot” stage, because at this time children delight to learn lists and to chant them. Lots of memorization can be done easily at this stage of education, which extends up to around the 6th grade.
The logic stage, when young minds like to argue matters out, is fitted for middle school. Miss Sayers calls this the “pert” stage, because at this time children begin to challenge authority in a small way, and to become argumentative. This is for the middle school years.
The rhetoric stage, when young people become interested in art and glory, is fitted for high school. Miss Sayers calls this the “poet” stage, for young men and women begin to notice one another and begin to become expressive. They want to beautify what they know, to make it impressive.
Many Christian schools have used this model for many years, though of late it has become a selling point with so-called “classical” schools. Useful as Sayers’s observations are, there is more to be said about the matter, because these three phases are actually part of a larger and more pervasive pattern of human life.
What are these three stages of life and education built upon? They don’t come in a vacuum, because education and life-training do not begin with learning facts. There are two prior stages that must be understood if we are to understand a Christian philosophy of education.
The first stage of education is simple assurance. When the baby cries, mother picks him up and cuddles him. God has ordained it that mothers and fathers cannot resist a child’s cry. God has ordained it that babies must be held to be fed. Children need constant holding and hugging and reinforcement for two years before they start to “bust out” and go on their own: the so-called “terrible twos.”
This is always where God starts with His people. He always assures them that He is on their side, that He loves them, that He cares for them. Grace always comes before any kind of law.
The second stage of education is story-telling. Young children before the grammar stage are alert to stories, and this is the time when stories are what they clamor for. “Tell me a story.” “Read me a story.” This is also where God starts. Building on assurance, God tells us stories before giving us His law. Genesis and the first half of Exodus come before the grammar stage of Mount Sinai.
The five stages of education are simply the five stages of the covenant as God administers it in human life and history, and in the liturgy of covenant renewal:
First, God announces Himself. “I am Yahweh Your God.” He says who He is. And in a larger sense, this means that He created us and therefore cares for us. He has claimed us as His own in baptism. He hugs and holds us. The announcement is made as the call to worship, inviting all of us reluctant sinners to crawl back into His lap.
Second, God says what He has done: “Who brought You out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of enslavement.” This is the basic story: the story from creation to fall to redemption to glorification. It is the story found over and over in the Bible. In the liturgy, it is the call to confess our sins and leave Egypt behind again, and receive His forgiveness and be transferred again into the Kingdom.
Third, God says what He wants us to know and do: All the laws and teachings. This is the service of the Word in the liturgy, and the grammar stage in education: the perfect time to teach children the laws and proverbs.
Fourth, God says that He will apply His laws and teachings to us, blessing us if we keep faith with Him, and punishing us if we don’t. This is the Lord’s Supper, the service of the sacrament in the liturgy, which is life to the faithful and sickness to the unfaithful. This corresponds to the time in education when children want to argue and debate what everything means for them, when they want to push the borders and bend the rules, when sanctions need to be applied to them, when they are uppity, or “pert” as Sayers says.
Finally, God commissions His people to take His ways with them and apply them as they take the promised land, which is now the whole earth. They are to find new ways to express His truths, and apply them to all the earth. In the covenants, it is at this point that we find the songs and poems that people learn and that they will carry with them as they go. In the liturgy, this is the great commissioning at the end of the service, when we are sent forth. In education, this is the stage of rhetoric, the stage of artistic enhancement of what has been learned.
(I deal with these stages in more detail in my study series Your Child in God’s World, six lectures with study guide, available for $35.00 from Biblical Horizons .)
In a larger sense, the whole first 20 years of life are the grammar stage, when the youth learns the facts and principles of life. From age 20 to 30, he works under the authority of someone else, testing the boundaries, learning the ins and outs, debating the usefulness of the old ways and suggesting new ones. From age 30 to 50 or 60 he can become captain of his own enterprise, applying what he has learned in his area of dominion. Finally, in the age of eldership, he has the wisdom to express what he knows in a way that others will hear it: He has finally learned rhetoric.
The Bible clearly sets out these age boundaries in Leviticus 27 and Numbers 1 & 4, and we are making an application of these age boundaries (which are “fuzzy” boundaries) to the phases of human life. To wit:
Age 1 month to 5 years: assurance and stories.
Age 5-20: learner stage: facts and laws, always taught in a context of love and of story.
Age 20-60: warrior stage, within which are:
Age 20-30: apprenticeship: beginning to make applications, beginning to wrestle with a calling.
Age 30-60: journeyman: full wrestling with a calling. (Priest retires at age 50.)
Age 50 or 60-: master: eldership; accumulated wisdom enables the man to know the best way to pass on truth (rhetoric).
Now, from what has been said I hope that it is clear that Christian education is more than merely learning something from the Christian middle ages about the trivium and its usefulness in educating children. If we separate the trivium from the foundations of Church (assurance) and Bible story, it becomes just a piece of humanistic technique.
Also, Christian educators need to realize that the cycle of the trivium that takes place before the age of 20 (from memorizer to debater to artist) is only preliminary, and that the entire cycle takes place within the context of grammar, memorizing, learning the heritage. The high school student is not so much an artist and he/she is someone ready to study art (music, poetry, etc.). Real creativity is something for later life, after learning the foundations.
We can see a picture of this cycling through the five stages if we look briefly at Biblical history, which is the biography of one man (Adam). To begin with, the first cycle, for Adam in his already-sinful infancy:
1. Genesis: This is a book of promises, which corresponds to God assurance of love for His people. Repeatedly God takes the baby in His arms and promises good things.
2. Exodus: This is a book of story, wherein God keeps the promises He has made, after which God gives two things to delight His children: laws (which kids love to learn) and a wonderful architectural picture of the kingdom (the Tabernacle).
3. Leviticus: Exodus has moved us to the grammar stage of laws and facts, and this continues through Leviticus. Starting in Leviticus 10, however, we find a series of rules for uncleanness and abominations, which require evaluation in enforcement. God gives them some puzzles to solve, and some matters to debate about.
4. Numbers: Clearly the warrior stage. Organized as an army, Israel is called to pass judgments on other nations, and is judged herself for her sins. The uppity “pert” Israel is spanked many times.
5. Deuteronomy: The book of rhetorical enhancements. Moses takes the laws God gave and provides a wonderfully organized sermon on them to show the new meanings he has uncovered after 40 years of living with them. He also includes a song for them to sing generation after generation, and a prophetic poem.
This is the first cycle, all of which as a whole provides the childhood of Israel, the first 20 years so to speak, forming a larger stage of assurance or acculturation. After which we get:
1-3. The Pentateuch: The foundational assurance and acculturation for God’s people, including the formative stories and the basic facts and laws, for even though Numbers is warrior-stage and Deuteronomy is rhetoric-stage, they still deal mainly with laws and fall in the larger grammar-stage.
4. Judges, Ruth, Samuel: New stories, based on the larger foundation. These books deal especially with Israel apprentice-warrior stage, from ages 20-30. These stories are also a new warrior (logic, argument) stage for what follows with the establishment of the Davidic Kingdom.
5. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles: A new and much fuller rhetoric-stage section, the culmination of the previous history. Though all of these are highly rhetorical, yet we can also find the three later stages building on the history of Judges, Ruth, and Samuel:
(2). Judges, Ruth, Samuel: Stories.
(3). Proverbs: Rules (grammar).
(4). Psalms, Job: Wrestling (logic).
(5). Canticles: rhetoric of love in early life;
Ecclesiastes: rhetoric of wisdom at the end of life.
This second cycle lays the foundation for the third, the time of full warriorhood, from age 30 to the age of eldership. David’s warrior apprenticeship was over when he became king at age 30. Then he became a warrior-ruler, though he was to listen to the elders and prophets.
When we look at the first and second cycles from the standpoint of the rest of the Bible, we can see that as a whole they provide a foundation of assurance, story, and law. What follows in the third part of the Bible is almost entirely in the stage of mature warfare, which goes with our fourth stage of life and education. The book of Kings delineates that warfare and conflict, while the books of the prophets provide evaluations, which are hotly debated. This is the great time of argument and conflict in Adam’s history.
The age of warriorship ends in failure with the exile, but after God restores His people, He treats them as elders, as those in the rhetoric phase of life. No longer are then engaged in warfare and conflict, but rather they are scattered among the nations as witnesses. They now have a complete history/biography to tell, and this is their calling in the Restoration Era. The book of Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah (which is one book) is the rhetorical retelling of that entire history. In a sense, Chronicles and the Greek Scriptures (the so-called New Testament) are the rhetorical phase of the entire biography, the transformation of everything by mature wisdom.
Now, this survey of the Bible is not the only way to describe the educational sequence of the Biblical revelation, nor is it necessarily the most comprehensive. It is enough, though, to show that educating in terms of the times of human life is not something grounded merely in scientific studies of children, but is part of the warp and woof of how God deals with His children.
By “fundamental education” I mean those things that should be foundational to the education of the Christian person as homo adorans. We need to consider what things should be a normal part of the education of every Christian, whether or not he goes on to work in the intellectual areas of life. What are the things that the student destined to be an engineer or a postal carrier or an auto mechanic needs to be taught?
On the basis of the above discussion, there are some implications for Christian schooling that need to be highlighted. The first is the centrality of worship. That means a daily chapel service. There is no need for preaching in this service, since supposedly the child is learning information all day long. Rather, the focus should be on singing the psalter and Bible passages, and memory of the proverbs. Do this every day for 30 to 45 minutes, and by the time the child is out of the eighth grade, he or she will know the entire Psalter by heart. Why would we settle for anything less? How dare we settle for anything less? Yet, though I have read here and there in Christian school material over the years, I have never seen this advocated anywhere.
Second, we should take our cue from the Bible regarding what is important. Certain things stand out as very important in Biblical education: Bible content, music, martial arts. Certain things are obvious from their absence from Biblical culture: sports. I suppose most Christian schools do a fairly good job on Bible content, but what about music? If the second person of God is the Word of God, the third person is the Music of God, for Breath (Spirit) means the sounding of words out loud, which involves tone and timbre and rhythm, etc. It is pretty clear that worship in the Bible is musical (even if this is not much the case in American Christianity), and we are told that the Father seeks worshippers. The first goal of Christian education is to train worshippers, and that means to train musicians. It is clear in the Bible that the next thing people learn after they learn the Word of God is how to make music with it.
Now, a few people in this world are blind, and a few more are color blind. And a few people in this world are deaf, and a few more are tone deaf. But not many. Not nearly as many people are tone deaf as think they are. The vast majority of people can be taught to sing, and they can be taught easily if that teaching begins as children and is carried through.
I posit as an axiom of Christian education that music is given as much attention as grammar and literature. If “English” is taught for one hour a day, music must be taught the same. As grammatical theory is taught, so should musical theory be taught. As children write paragraphs, so should they do just a little bit of musical composition. (I know that musical composition is harder than paragraph and essay composition, but who knows what might happen if children were given a chance, at least occasionally?) If “great literature” is read and studied, so should great music be read and studied, and just as much of it. Finally, every child without exception should have a musical instrument, if only a guitar or a recorder, because the psalms command us to worship God with instruments.
Now of course, most such students will not grow up to be musicians. Most students will not grow up to write essays or work in the area of literature either. But music is far more central to the Kingdom of God than is essay-writing and literature. Biblical people were expected to be musicians; they were not expected to be able to read and write, because before Gutenberg, few people could or needed to.
The Father seeks worshippers, not intellectuals. It is fine to be an intellectual, but we must be worshippers. And in the Bible, worship means the whole-personed participation that only music makes possible.
High school students should be in choir all four years, just as they study literature and read Shakespeare and Moliere out loud all four years. They should sing through a curriculum, whether they ever perform it or not. They should know the great plainsong melodies, read and study the isorhythmic mass of Machaut, read and study the seamless polyphony of Ockeghem’s Missa Mi-Mi, do a bit of Josquin and Goudimel, wallow in Bach, and get a taste of Mozart, Bruckner, and some modern Christian choral music (such as is published by Fortress or Concordia, not the junk that is too often sung in evangelical churches).
They should study the courtship of man and woman in the sonata-allegro form; reflect on the changeableness of life in the theme-and-variations form; enjoy dance and conversation in the menuetto-trio form, and consider the return to sabbath after a day of work in the rondo form. Well, I could go on and on. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just consider what you might have learned if you had had a really Christian education!
Though it is seldom recognized any more, the fact is that no liberal arts and no science is possible apart from peace, and peace is only possible if there is a strong military presence that protects a nation. Americans, since they don’t sing the Psalter, are gut-level pacifists. When they have to, they go to war, and indeed they go to war even when they don’t have to. But whenever a war is over, American try to disarm and pretend that physical force is not really necessary as the boundary of civilization.
But it is. And the Bible teaches that it is. And the Bible teaches that every man should be armed and trained and part of an available militia, ready to defend home and hearth. (See James B. Jordan, The Biblical Doctrine of War, eight lectures, available from Biblical Horizons for $32.00.)
Biblical manhood is not connected with hunting or with sports. The great men of the Bible were not hunters but accountants; contrast Jacob and Esau. There is nothing wrong with hunting, but it has nothing to do with manhood one way or another. There is nothing wrong with many sports either, but we should note that while sports were an important part of Greek education, they play no part in Biblical training at all.
Biblical manhood is connected, however, with martial skills. At the age of 20, every man was enlisted in the militia (Numbers 1). When the trumpet was blown, every man was expected to show up to fight.
What does this mean for us today? Well, it has to be admitted that modern super-weapons are not the kinds of things ordinary citizens can be expected to possess or know how to use. But there are two kinds of martial arts that can and should be part of Christian education for men, and also for women to a lesser degree. The one is self-defense tactics, and here we can use the Jubal-techniques developed in oriental lands to good advantage: karate, tae-kwan-do, jui-jutsu, etc. The other is weapons training, which should include bow & arrow, spear, pistol, and rifle.
If these ideas shock you, you’ve spent too much time as a couch potato watching sports on television. Wouldn’t you like for your children to know these things? Don’t you wish you did????
There is more than one reason why Switzerland and the United States have been free of armed invasion, but one of them is that everybody in the world knows that the Swiss and the Americans are armed nations. Everybody has a gun. That’s a good thing.
Sooner or later someone has to work up a grammar that revises the Alexandrian grammar that we use today. We say that the first case of the noun is the nominative and the first person of the verb is “I.” This is not really true, and is founded in the Greco-pagan philosophical perspective. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy has pointed out, long before we learn to speak, we are spoken to. The first form of the noun is the shortest: the vocative, the direct address. The first form of the verb is the shortest: the imperative, the command. If your baby’s name is “Robert,” he is going to learn, “Robert! No!” long before he learns “I think therefore I am”!!
Maybe someday somebody will get around to producing a true grammar — a Biblical one, not a “classical” one.
Until then, we still need to teach language. Happily for us Americans, English is now the international language, so that learning English enables us to function easily in the whole of God’s world. But what else should be taught?
Many Christian schools are returning to teaching Latin throughout the elementary grades, because though the foundation of English is Germanic, a large amount of our vocabulary comes from Latin via medieval French, and much technical language is Latinate in foundation.
For me this is not good enough. There are only so many hours in a day, and Hebrew is much more important. Hebrew is the language of most of the Bible, and Hebrew language thinking underlies all the rest of it, for the Apostles wrote in Hebraized Greek. Moreover, it is almost certain that Hebrew was the language before Babel, and underlies every human language as its starting point. [See Isaac E. Mozeson, The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals the Hebrew Sources of the English Language (Northvale, NJ: Jacob Aronson, 1995).]
The only problem with teaching Hebrew in Christian schools is that so few Christian teachers know it. That’s not a good reason for substituting Latin, however. Rather, it is a reason to think about what we could be doing in ten years, if we start now. For one thing, there is a lot of Hebrew language curriculum available from Jewish sources. Pastors should be able to teach from this, and using basic grammars, should be able to teach the Christian school staff.
Think of what we would be handing future generations if we could get this practice into play now. Imagine two generations from now what the Church might be like if most people could follow the God-given thought of the text of the Bible. Need I say more?
Well, then, what about other languages? The reason why learning a foreign language is regarded as a crucial part of a liberal education is that learning to view things from the standpoint of another language and culture sets a person free from the boundaries of his own. It makes him culturally free, and “liberal” means free.
I think that this is true, but I suggest that learning God’s Bible language of Hebrew fulfills that requirement in the best possible way. The person who can deal with Hebrew is in the best position to stand outside his culture and see it from God’s standpoint. Learning yet a third language is “gravy,” and something that most students will not be called to do.
I suggest that a year of Latin and a year of German in middle school would be wise as a way of increasing the student’s knowledge of English. There are English vocabulary-building curricula that use Latin roots, and this is enough to meet the argument that learning Latin is important for learning English. One year of Latin in the eighth grade, with the use of these vocabulary tools in the later grades, will do the trick. Of course, if some schools want to do more with Latin, that’s fine with me, so long as it is not at the expense of Hebrew or music. (An excellent English vocabulary-builder that uses Greek and Latin roots is Word Clues: The Voca-bulary Builder, by Amsel Greene, published by Glencoe (Macmillan/McGraw-Hill).
After that, I’d offer as electives for those who plan to go on to college, a half year of French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian. (I write for Americans here.) A half year of intensive work in each of these will provide familiarity, and if a student or his parents want him to learn one of these languages well, he or she can be sent to a language camp during the summer for full immersion learning, which is the only effective way to learn a living language anyway.
My major in college was Comparative Literature, and my father was a Professor of French Literature, so what I write needs to be read with that in mind. It is often argued that the study of great literature produces people of great minds and liberal spirit.
Great art, great music, and great literature have often been produced by, and appreciated by, very wicked and very narrow minded people. C. S. Lewis discusses this in his fine book An Experiment in Criticism.
Great literature does not make people holy and it does not make people wise. Only the Bible, and what proceeds directly from the Bible, does this.
But let me put this another way: Only in a Biblical context can great literature help people become holy and wise. The Bible alone is quite sufficient to make people holy and wise, but as the Bible encourages us to develop “rhetoric,” and thereby to glorify its content in many ways, the Bible can be “glorified” through truly great literature, which then can contribute to our holiness and wisdom.
Once we have created a liturgical and Biblical context in our school, it is possible to advance and expand that context by the study of great literature, music, and art. This means, though, that the literature we study must be literature that expands a Biblical view of world and life. Later on, an adult in college (or late high school) might be exposed to non-Biblical literature, but not during the formative years. There is no place of Homer or Hesiod, Sophocles or Euripides, Livy or Plutarch, Mark Twain or Artur Rimbaud, in formative education. Drop all these and instead read all of Shakespeare’s plays and lots of Moliere and other Christian writers as well. There is more in one Shakespeare play than in all of Homer, especially for the Christian.
Where does literature fit? Well, remember that the second stage of education is story-telling, and the last stage is rhetorical enhancement. Great literature tells a great story in a great way. We don’t stop with stories when we get to the grammar stage of life. After Sinai, there are more stories leading up to the rhetorical wonders of David’s Psalms and the books of Solomon. Then there are more stories, leading to the judgments of the prophets. Then there is the story of Jesus and of the Apostles, and the small fictional stories Jesus told, leading to the final reflective wisdom of the epistles.
At some point, the student needs to learn not just that there are great stories in Genesis and Judges, but that the story of Abraham is arranged as a large chiasm; that the books of Judges and Kings are each a large chiasm; that there is a kind of poetic rhythm in John; that the wise woman of Proverbs returns in Proverbs 31 and in the Song of Solomon; that the stories of Judah and Joseph at the end of Genesis go together as a contrastive pair; that Acts shows the apostles Peter and then Paul moving through the same stages as Jesus did in the gospel of Luke; etc.
At some point the student needs to learn why the latter half of Exodus is laid out as it is, as a recapitulation of Genesis 1. He needs to learn the rhetorical order of Leviticus: from sacrifice to flesh to blood to land. He needs to be put under the laws of uncleanness for a time during one year of high school, learning by experience what it meant to be cut off from various places (like the recreation room), what it meant to have to sit in a roped off place in chapel.
This forms the foundation for the study of literature. The student can read Tobit and Judith, Shakespeare and Austin, Moliere and Dostoievski, Scott and Stevenson and Cordwainer Smith. He can learn a little Roman history while reading Shakespeare, but there is no need to return to any conception of Rome as a source for civilization. He should read works that operate within a Christian worldview, or near to it. Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine is worth many Tom Sawyers. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince is worth a thousand Odysseys. But I seriously doubt if works that abound in allusions to Greek and Roman sources are worth the trouble of teaching in the formative years.
With Dorothy Sayers as guide, many Christian schools want to put a lot of emphasis on logic. Well, the study of informal fallacies is very useful, and like all true learning, also entertaining, but I question how much formal logic is needed. The traditional way of teaching logic is via geometry. The view was that logic teaches people to think clearly, and we need it because though man is homo sapiens (thinking man), he is afflicted by emotional passions that mess up his thinking.
I’m tempted to break out laughing when I read or hear this kind of thing. Some of the most narrow and irrational, prejudiced people I have ever known were fully trained in logic. All this meant was that they were able to strain out a gnat while swallowing camel after camel. It did not make them clear thinking in the least.
Man’s problem is not irrationality or emotionalism, but sin. It is sin that makes people distort the world around them, creating fantasy worlds in which to operate. As Romans 1 says, the natural man is fundamentally insane. He operates in a dream world that does not exist. When a person operates in the same insane dream world as everyone around him, we say that he is sane, while if he makes his own little world to live in, we say he is insane. The fact is that all are insane. Only grace, fleshed out in the life of rebuke that comes from living in the Church, makes people clear-sighted and clear-thinking. And when people are clear-thinking, they quite naturally are “logical” in their thinking.
So I don’t put much stock in teaching mathematics, geometry, and logic as tools of reason. Rather, they should be considered tools of life, and taught with simple, practical ends in mind. In today’s world, learning the tools needed for life means learning how to use computers.
Science should be taught the same way: practically. Science has to do with dominion over the world, and since most children will not grow up to be scientists, there is no crying need for science to occupy a large part of the Christian curriculum. It is far more important for children to learn about the world as the Bible sets it forth, as a place of meaning and beauty, than to understand the details of its inner workings. It is a complete waste of time and money, not to mention a total gross-out, to require kids to dissect animals. The time should be spent bird-watching and learning the songs of various birds. We don’t need to learn the details of the inner workings of plants — oh, a bit of it is okay — but rather the names of all the trees and plants and flowers in our area. Study the habits of animals, using the Proverbs and (judiciously) Bill Gothard’s books as guides. If a child is moved to go into engineering or industry, he will learn soon enough how a refrigerator works!
These articles were originally published at Biblical Horizons.
OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 36-42
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