Let's talk about education.
In my last years in Vermont I served on the board of a regional Christian high school. One year the Chairman of the Board organized a retreat so we could all take a 50,000 foot view of the school and consider the question, "What kind of students do we want to graduate?"
It is a simple yet significant question for every parent regardless of where their child is being educated.
I recall how the school board noted the tension that comes from being a Christian school. On one end of the rope there are parents who basically say, "As long as my child loves Jesus it doesn't matter how well-educated they are." Then holding tightly to the other end of the rope are parents who say, "As long as my child gets well-educated it doesn't matter how strong his faith is. That will come later."
The tension of these statements exists not only in Christian schools but also in Christian parents. Is there an alternative view? I think so.
Take the first view, the "as-long-as-my-child-loves-Jesus" view. What exactly does it mean to love Jesus? According to our Savior this is what it means: "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word" (John 14:23).
Love for Jesus is real where obedience to his word is real.
Does that mean we obey Jesus just in overtly religious ways - going to church, tithing, and staying married? Or does it mean we obey Jesus in every way, all of real life? The answer is obvious to the Christian. To love Jesus with all your heart, your soul, and your mind is to obey him everywhere in everything. "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
Obedience to Jesus in religious ways is no less called for than obedience to Jesus in non-religious ways, even cultural ways. Love for Jesus calls for more than just understanding religious life, it calls for understanding the world. Such an understanding is what we call wisdom, or education, a word that comes from the Latin, educare, meaning "to rear or bring up" as in rear children.
Frankly, the "as-long-as-my-child-loves-Jesus" view is not at all Christian. One of the great sin entanglements (Heb. 12:1) for past Christians and future Christians has been and will be cultural disobedience - what the scriptures call worldliness. We will need to prepare our children to believe that they are not necessarily obeying Jesus because they only see movies rated PG. Is there not an obedience to Jesus in how our children will think about childhood celebrity? Is there not an obedience to Jesus in how our children will think about virtual friendships on social media? Is there not an obedience to Jesus in how our children will think about buying something just because it is on sale? Is there not an obedience to Jesus in how our children will regulate their career ambitions? Four times yes. Cultural obedience to Jesus requires an education that teaches one to think Christianly about all of life.
In a helpful lecture given during World War II, C.S. Lewis challenged his Christian contemporaries: “Every Christian…must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology.
Lewis' answer was right on: “If you attempted…to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. You are not, in fact, going to read nothing,…if you don't read good books you will read bad ones. If you don't go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions you will fall into sensual satisfactions. “
Lewis makes the case why three sweaty cheers for Jesus at a youth rally is not much of an accomplishment for covenant children given a mind, given divine law, given timeless wisdom, given a brilliant Savior, given the Holy Spirit and given God's two wonderful books - the book of nature and the book of scripture.
Now there is that other view: the "as-long-as-my-child-gets-well-educated" view.
The problem with this view is not that it relegates a child's faith to the backseat of the educational bus as if it will inevitably catch up later. Such presumption is silly, idolatrous and negligent of a child's faith which should be nurtured without a day to waste. But this is not the big problem. The deeper problem with this view is that it construes faith as practically useless in the real world.
This view tends to see faith as a private affair, like a special dress put on Sunday morning but then set aside the rest of the week. Why would someone see the Christian faith as such a little thing? Because they still see the "real world" as a world that does not belong to God. Seeing the Christian faith as a Sunday only affair is another way of saying we must approach the "real world" on terms completely outside of our faith in Christ. This is something but it is not Christian. The real world is God's world. The piece of real world a child and adult steps into every day is either a piece in rebellion before God or a piece being redeemed or reconciled by God - living accordingly is wisdom.
We must be cautioned if our heart desires children who just fit and function in the real world. We may just get our heart's desire and have educated children who succeed in a long rebellion against God.
The desire of a Christian parent will first and foremost be that their child fits and functions with God. The scriptures call this wisdom. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." This does not mean religious wisdom only. God's wisdom is for all of life in the real world, a wisdom that discerns within oneself and outside oneself the rebellious ways of doing all of life and the Christ-glorying ways of doing all of life.
Because Jesus is Lord over all creation He alone is worthy of our children's hearts and minds. May God grant us the grace to hold one another up and cheer one another on as we offer Him the godly offspring He seeks (Malachi 2:15).