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The positive case for Christian education

January 2021 | by Jonathan Gulliford

In a recent edition of ET, Andrew Rowell wrote an article, ‘Have we lost our vision for Christian education?’ He ended with this: ‘Tragically, our national education system is fast becoming a vast machine for the promotion of liberalism, atheism, agnosticism, and godlessness.’ Nevertheless, Christian education remains a divisive issue, sadly among Christians just as much as unbelievers.

When we set up Immanuel Christian School in a small village in South Gloucestershire in 2013, we were told by a Christian friend that they would not be sending their children to the school because we ‘would brainwash’ them.

Another parent told us that they weren’t interested because we didn’t have the sports facilities that other schools did. This is true. We don’t have large grounds and our annual expenditure in 2019 was £106k – a miniscule sum compared to what is pumped into children’s education in the rest of South Gloucestershire.

Both those responses provide a clear answer to Andrew’s question: we have lost our vision for Christian education.

For those parents who are interested in Christian education, the reasons for their interest are varied but broadly fall under two categories.

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Firstly, they want their children protected from the godless agenda of the state. Secondly, they want Christian education because it best suits their children. This latter group are not committed to Christian education in principle, rather it just suits their circumstances.

Is this what having a vision for Christian education is? In the rest of this article I want to set out the positive reasons why God’s people should be unashamedly enthusiastic about Christian education.

Wow children with God

Parents are responsible for the education of their children. That is the clear teaching of Scripture and it (so far) remains a principle enshrined in UK law. As Christian parents we should have one overarching goal in the education we provide: we want our children to be wowed by God.

Children have an immense capacity for wonderment – a capacity we easily lose as adults. Natural delight in learning and being amazed at things is perfectly understandable. We are creatures made in God’s image, inhabiting God’s world – the more we see and understand and know about the God who made us and it, the more bowled over we should be.

Education should therefore give children a sense of the wonder and glory of God. God is a God of language and communication, and our study and learning of these things should always bring us back to the relational God who devised the idea of communication.

God is a God of structure and order. We see this in the world he made through the rules put in place and upheld since creation. These rules are described in mathematics. Indeed, mathematics points us to the awesomeness and orderliness of the great Creator who designed everything according to his perfect plan.

The same goes for other school subjects such as geography, history, chemistry, physics, and biology. It applies to the hands-on creative subjects covered in design technology and music where we marvel at beauty and reflect a small bit of the creativeness of God.

Any Christian teacher who has seen a child puzzling over a STEM project (Science, Technology, Engineer & Mathematics) with amazement in their eyes will know that education is a fantastic opportunity to turn that child’s thoughts to the great God who is the focal point of all learning.

Give children a God-centred worldview

A second goal is to give children a God-centred worldview. Every educational institution provides education based on a worldview – there is no such thing as a neutral approach.

I have often said Immanuel School is a Psalm 8 school. This psalm gives us a correct worldview or framework for living our lives. It starts with a proper view of God: ‘O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.’

This evokes praise and wonder. It then moves to a proper view of mankind. Compared to God we are nothing – ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?’

But the psalm also exalts man in relation to creation: ‘Yet you have made him a little lower than God and crowned him with glory and honour.’

Mankind is defined by his relationship to God (‘a little lower than God’) rather than his relationship to the rest of creation. The evolutionary worldview has turned this completely on its head and defines mankind as just a little ‘higher’ (more developed) than other animals. Man’s closest relative is not a chimpanzee, it is God.

The psalm continues to set out mankind’s role in God’s creation – ‘You have given him dominion over the work of your hands.’ This is our God-given authority – to rule creation under the lordship of God himself.

This is the God-centred worldview that should underpin the education of our children.

Show children the necessity and sufficiency of Jesus

But the teaching of this psalm doesn’t end there. The fact is that none of us lives up to this psalm. None of us ascribes to God the glory he is due. All of us usurp that glory for ourselves and we do not rule God’s world as good stewards of what he has given us and all things are very much not ‘under our feet’.

The psalm points us to the one to whom the whole world will be subjected. Hebrews 2 clarifies that this is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who makes all things new and puts all things in their proper place to be used as God created them to be used.

A Christian education will point children to the Lord Jesus Christ – the one who lived and died in the place of his people so that they could be truly wowed by God.

There are many negative reasons why we would not want our children educated in a liberal, atheistic, agnostic, and godless system. But as God’s people we should not only respond to the negative; we should also embrace the positive.

Pray for Christian schools. Support Christian schools. Where possible, send your children to Christian schools. May God raise up such schools in every town and city in our land.

Jonathan Gulliford is elder at Grace Church, Yate, near Bristol.

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