Do Alternate School Settings Fix All That Is Broken?

Most people think because I am anti-government schooling that automatically makes me pro-homeschooling or pro private school. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My experience with most (not all) alternate schooling is that it is even more dangerous because it hires teachers trained in Colleges who use a curriculum that is humanistic. This
means that, unless the prospective teachers have done the extraordinarily hard work of reinterpreting their humanistic training through a Biblical grid, they remain government school teachers even though they are working for a ‘Christian school.’ This results in alternate schools, that are supposed to be teaching a uniquely Christian and World life view to give its imprimatur upon a teacher who is teaching out of a humanist world and life view. Hence, what I am seeing in most the alternate schooling settings that I am exposed to are teachers who, like their government school counterparts, are not epistemologically self-conscious about their Christian faith. The consequence of this is that though they affirm the Christian faith they are still thinking and teaching as those who share many of the premises of the culture they are part of and so they do not have the ability to think, and thus teach in a theo-centric fashion. Christian school administrators hire these people because they likewise don’t know what it means to think with a Christian World and life view.

Another problem with non-government alternate schooling is that the curriculum that is used isn’t particularly ‘Christian.’ After 20 years of homeschooling I can tell you that a great deal of curriculum out there that is advertising itself as Christian isn’t. In many private schools the curriculum that is used is not much better then what might be found in government schools. As a result what happens in many educational venues is that you have people teaching who have not reinterpreted their academic discipline through a Christian grid teaching a curriculum that is not written from a Christian grid. This eventuates in students who are nice (because they are attending a place with a Christian ethos) but who are as captive to the presuppositions of the culture they are part of as their friends who go to government schools.

A third problem with non-government alternate schooling is that the parents, like the teachers mentioned earlier, don’t know what it means to think in a distinctly Christian fashion. This means that they don’t have the ability to hold the feet of rogue teachers and administrators to the fire. Sadly, my experience has been that many parents who home school don’t want to know themselves or don’t see the need for their children to know what it means to think as a Christian. This was brought home to me recently when a parent of one of the students I teach was queried by some of her evangelical friends about why she bothered to send her daughter to my Worldview class to read ‘those books that your daughter will never use.’ (We were reading Schlossberg’s “Idols For Destruction” at the time.) They thought the class didn’t have any practical value and they gave these parents a bit of a hard time. It was brought home again when a major metropolitan area near to me held Worldview conferences for 15-20 year olds for a week during the summers but could only garner 50 or so students every year. This community was well known for it’s Reformed presence but despite bringing in well known quality people to speak at these conferences there was not enough interest to keep the conferences going past a few summers.

A fourth problem with non-government alternate schooling is that for those who are trying to be epistemologically self-conscious about their teaching the support networks are limited. My personal experience over the years was that when I attended what was supposed to be support networks I left more frustrated by what I was hearing in relation to the education going on in homes then I was before I arrived. I quit attending these functions early on because I figured I didn’t need to go looking for frustration when I could find it everywhere around me.

A fifth problem is that there are very few Churches that are willing to stress the importance of decidedly Christian thinking. Parents who do not hear from the pulpit the importance and necessity of being able to think, in concrete terms, as a Christian aren’t likely to see its importance. Parishioners who are not taught in Sunday School or in mid-week settings what Christian History, or Christian Economics, or Christian theory of Law looks like aren’t going to see the issue as that important, and so aren’t going to desire it for their children.

A sixth problem is that most evangelicals really don’t believe in the absolute and exhaustive sovereignty of God. Without that foundational conviction, teaching Christian thinking is really not possible. All of Christian thinking begins and ends with the sovereign God, who because of His omnipotence, all facts find their meaning in Him. Similarly, the failure to see Christ as the risen epistemological Prophet-King, who, because of His work as High Priest, teaches us to think in Redeemed ways leads to a lackluster approach in educational efforts. For to many evangelicals Christ remains the Redeemer of souls but not minds.

Most of my (admittedly anecdotal) experience with the alternate schooling community in the broader evangelical world over the last 20 years has caused me to conclude that most of what is going on in alternate school settings is just another variant of government schooling. I have seen students and parents who don’t care, don’t know, and don’t want to know. I have met very few parents who provide alternate schooling for their children who realize how much work it takes for student and teacher alike to teach their children to become epistemologically self conscious so that they develop the ability to see the culture in which they are living. Even in families that pursue alternate schooling the assumption seems to be that it is not important to think Worldviewishly.

In closing I should add that most of the parents and students I have spoken of above who pursue alternate schooling are swell people. As long as one doesn’t talk about anything important they are delightful conversation partners. Many of them would give you the shirt off their backs to help you. Over the years I have been humbled many times by their kindnesses and support to me and my family. The challenge I have offered here does not speak to their overall niceness but rather to the urgency for them and their children to take every thought to make it captive to Christ.

So you see, the problem that we have in terms of seeing Reformation in our Churches and in our culture is not a problem that is only located in Government schools. The problem includes most of what happens in alternate school settings.

Assurance & The Objectivity Of The Covenant

Bret said It is the same kind of promise that was extended to Israel… both to the Israel of Israel and the Israel that was not of Israel. When considering the promise in light of knowing the whole story it is conditional to the reprobate and unconditional to the elect.

David responds,

Agreed, but then how does this establish personal assurance of salvation? The thing FV tries to do is to point to the sacraments and the covenant to establish assurance because they are supposed to be “objective”, but then it has a doctrine of the covenant that is conditional and includes reprobates, curses and the possibility of apostacy. But FV, not being a paragon of logical consistency, fails to see that it undercuts itself in making this very move.

David, I’m not FV so what I am about to say is my answer. I don’t know how the FV would answer it.

As a pastor I deal with two types of people when it comes to the issue of assurance. On the one hand I deal with believers, who realizing God’s great holiness and their own behavior in light of that holiness struggle haplessly for assurance regardless of how superior their Christian character is. They have trouble bringing themselves to believe that God can really forgive them. To these ‘naval gazer’ types
I first admonish them for looking so intently inwardly rather then outwardly but I also say, “Christ is for you and He has given the Sacraments to confirm that He really has forgiven you. Take and feast on Christ and know that you are accepted for the sake of the work for you of He who is conveyed to you in the Sacrament.” In short I emphasize the objectivity of the covenant. Luther made a move somewhat similar to this. When the devil would come to him and remind him of his great sins, Luther, being overwhelmed, would finally say, “It’s true, It’s true, but I’ve been baptized.” The covenant is objective.

On the other hand ministers have to deal with those in the congregation who need to hear a different emphasis because they are dispositionally relating to the covenant in a different manner. These are thus whose lives are characterized by a neglect of pursuit of holiness in favor or a pursuit of behavior that is inconsistent with a professing Christian. To these I need to remind them that the very same covenant that must be taken as rock solid assurance by the naval gazers is a covenant that offers no assurance to ‘the people of God’ who are acting like “dogs returning to their own vomit, and sows, having been bathed, to their rolling in mire.” Indeed that very same covenant that is a rock of assurance to the navel gazers who will look away from themselves to Jesus is a rock that will crush the libertines.

To the former I must tell them to rightly presume on grace. To the latter I must warn them of the danger of wrongly presuming on grace.

Now that can be made to look contradictory, as you have done above, but given how I’ve explained it, and given the fact that different people in the Church with different problems need to be spoken to differently I fail to see the contradiction.