To some, the phrase, “classical Christian education” seems like a misnomer, paradoxical even. The idea that we could educate and raise up Christian children by teaching them the ideas of pagans seems impossible. Yet, hundreds of classical Christian schools and thousands of homeschooling families use classical curriculum in their approach to raising Christian children. There are only three possibilities to explain this.
- The Christian parents are blind to what is actually being taught.
- The Christian parents aren’t actually Christians; they are purposely subverting the faith.
- The Christian parents are fully aware of what is being taught and how it helps them to raise Christian children.
Any one of these is possible from one family to the next, although I doubt that #2 happens often, if at all. It is more likely that many parents know what they are teaching their children, why they are teaching that to their children, and how it is helping them to raise up Christian children. Allow me to explain what those reasons are, not from a populist or worldly perspective, but from the Scriptures themselves.
The Bible is filled with what we might call platitudes, truths about God, His Creation, and His creatures. For example, we read multiple times throughout the Psalms the importance of waiting for the Lord, being patient and trusting in Him (Ps 25.21, 27.14, 31.24, 37.7, 37.9, 37.34, 38.15, 39.7, etc.) We also read truths about the wise dying like the foolish and leaving their wealth for others (Ps 49.10). Also, that when the rich die they take nothing with them and their glory does not go with them (Ps 49.17).<
The Bible teaches these truths as bare statements of fact (facts we should believe and trust). However, it’s not the only way we are taught truth. The Bible isn’t a list of rules, facts, truths, and commandments. It is a narrative, a story, through which these things come out. The truths we learn about God, His Creation, and His creatures in the Psalms are the results of the lives lived by the psalmists. The Bible chooses to teach us truth by declaring it in statements, as well as by revealing them to us through the lives of real people and nations.
Job is an example of wisdom literature through which God teaches us truths He’s already declared elsewhere. The Psalms (above) tell us to trust in God, to wait for Him, but Job lives that out. Job shows us what it looks like to trust in and wait for God. His faithfulness in trusting and waiting for God through his suffering often helps us to do so in ours.
Ecclesiastes is another example of this. How many readers remembered that God teaches us in the Psalms that the wise die like the foolish and leave their wealth for others, that none of it goes with them? However, many are likely to remember that Solomon taught us this truth in Ecclesiastes (2.11-16). Solomon had learned the truths of the Psalms written by his father, David, some 30 years previously–probably by singing them in his childhood and early adult life. Then, as king himself, Solomon was led in wisdom (Ecc 2.3) to live and experience these things himself. What David knew as part of his writing the Psalms, Solomon lived and experienced and was able to pen in Ecclesiastes.
Therefore, we can see that the Bible delivers truths to us both as statements and through the stories of Biblical characters and their lives. As we are able to experience the stated truths through the narrative stories of the Bible, so too are we able to appreciate truth as we experience the trials of characters in extra-biblical literature. We appreciate questions about murder and the death penalty in stories like Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, or questions about adultery, persecution, and forgiveness in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
This, then, is our apologetic for using other literature in teaching our children. God teaches us through narrative and story. We teach our children through narrative and story. We read classical literature and even some pagan literature, history, science, and philosophy because it allows us and our children to face it vicariously, rather than through actually becoming a pagan. In doing so, we can be assured that we are still raising Christian children because we are teaching our children to examine such literature and writing through the lens of Scripture. When the Bible teaches us how the Canaanites worshiped their false gods, it doesn’t just leave us with that information apart from a judgment on it. We examine all of the Scriptures and we know that the sexual immorality that took place in pagan worship is sinful and adulterous, or that offering your children on the fires to Molech is wicked and murderous. Likewise, when we teach our children about Roman or Greek gods and goddesses, we teach them how they were viewed by these ancient cultures and how to recognize idolatry in light of the Scriptures. Literature is then doing the same thing as the stories of the Bible with one exception: the stories of the Bible are historically and factually true. From this, we do not depart, and this is why the Scriptures are used as the lens through which we examine all other literature and arrive at the truths of God.
Some may ask, “If the Scriptures teach truth, why don’t we use Scripture alone to teach our children?” Obviously, this is a problem for everyone, including the asker of the question. Everybody uses other texts in teaching their children. We use math books, history books, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, English books, and others. However, it is less of a problem than it first appears to be. Moses learned the ways of the Egyptians and it was used in his leading Israel to the Promised Land. Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego were all learned in the ways of Babylon, and Daniel was famous as an advisor in that kingdom and the one that followed. The same can be said to be true of Ezra and Nehemiah. And, of course, we know Paul was learned in Greek and Hebrew ways, as he is known to have quoted Greek poets in his interactions with the Gentiles. There is also evidence that John was using Greek philosophical terms in his arguing for the legitimacy of Jesus as the Christ (Logos), and therefore reveals his familiarity with pagan Greek ways.
The truth is that we are created in the Imago Dei, the image of God. God teaches us through narrative and story so that we may learn the truths of Him, His Creation, and His creatures by experiencing them vicariously through others’ stories. If we are to live out the image of our Heavenly Father as parents to our own children, we can teach them the same way. We teach our children how to understand and respond to the evils (and evil philosophies) of this world by allowing them to examine them vicariously through other authors but in the light of the truth of God’s word. We do this for them just as God did this for us through Job and Solomon and others. This is the reason for God’s literature (the Scriptures) and for most books generally, that they allow us to interact with what life is really like before we have to experience it ourselves.