What do you think of when you hear the word classic? Coke? ‘57 Chevies?
Beetho-ven’s Fifth Symphony? The early Beatles?
In the world of education, classical education means three different
things. Two of them won’t help us as we try to develop a distinctively
Christian approach to education—in fact, they can hurt us. The third
type of classical education, on the other hand, will help us educate
children who are capable of becoming leaders in the restoration of
When people talk about classical education, they often are thinking of
the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome, with special emphasis
placed upon the “golden eras” of Athens under Pericles or Rome under
While the art and literature produced in classical antiquity has great
value and we ought to study it, Christians face one problem in using
classical antiquity as the central point of reference in understanding
classicism. The problem is, of course, the paganism. Many Christian
parents rightly have a problem with an education that prominently
features the gods and goddesses of the ancient world, pagan myths and
heroes, etc. As a Christian classicist, I am not calling for a return
to the paganism of the ancient world, or any attempt to revive a
“kinder, gentler” paganism, as was partially seen in the Renaissance.
The second type of classical education is a compromise, so it is
sometimes harder to see the problems it brings. Here we see the basic
ideas, categories, and concepts of classical antiquity combined in
assorted ways with Christian theology and terminology.
Obviously, given the nature of biblical truth, it is the integrity of
Christian theology which suffers in the mix. An example of this would
be Thomas Aquinas’ attempt to combine the philosophy of Aristotle with
the theology of Christianity, resulting in a theology called Thomism.
In the field of education, a recent example of this would be the
educational theory of Mortimer Adler, which is unabashedly
Aristotelian. In his book Reforming Education, Dr. Adler makes the
statement that the liberal arts are neither pagan or Christian, but
rather human. This elevates the liberal arts into a religion of their
own, midway between Christianity and paganism, and superior to both.
Any consistent Christian educator must obviously reject Dr. Adler’s
statement, along with the world view behind it.
The third type of classical education—Biblical classical education—is
what we are looking for. It attempts to provide a timeless introduction
to knowledge, based not on the insights of great thinkers but on the
Bible. Once the student’s presuppositions have been formed and
instructed by Bible study, he is then set free to consider the breadth
and depth of human achievement—for example, what some call the “Great
Books.” The difference is that the student is trained to evaluate human
insights by the yardstick of the Bible’s teaching, not vice versa.
The classically trained Christian student doesn’t have to hide from
history. Without worshipping the past, he knows he can—and must—learn
from it. In fact, without these studies in history, literature,
rhetoric, and theology he will become a slave of the passing popular
opinions of our day, incapable of leading others back to the timeless
ways of God.
Modern Protestant educators, unhappily, have often tended to ignore the
past. Many evangelicals mistakenly assume, for example, that to
appreciate Latin you must be a Roman Catholic traditionalist. This
indicates just how much of our Western heritage we have lost—and must
recover. The Latin language is not the exclusive language of Catholics;
it is the language of the West. John Calvin and Martin Luther wrote
many works in Latin!
Because we have failed to educate our children properly, we have lost
touch with our own Founding Fathers—the everyday Christians and church
leaders of the past. While our culture has made much technological
progress, in the liberal arts our culture is almost completely at sea.
We have forgotten our heritage.
Consequently, this column is dedicated to helping homeschooling parents
develop a vision for classical education which will remain faithful to
the teaching of Scripture.
Our model for understanding culture—art, literature, history, etc.—will
be the apostle Paul, who was the first biblical classicist. Thoroughly
trained in classical languages, literature, and philosophy, he
consistently refused to trim God’s message to fit the classical pagan
mold. Yet Paul was never a “fundamentalist know-nothing.” We must
remember that Paul demonstrated in his writings a thorough knowledge
and use of classical culture. He knew classical poets (Acts 17:28),
classical playwrights (Acts 26:14), the language (Acts 21:37),
classical philosophy (1 Timothy 6:10), and so on. But as a consistent
Christian, his intention in all of this was no secret—to bring every
thought captive to the risen Christ.
What better time could we find for bringing our children to love and
serve Christ than the time we spend teaching them? But because a large
part of this work has been done before, it would be foolish to
undertake the work “from scratch.” Others have gone before us and
already thought through how to accomplish these tasks. Is it not better
to learn from almost 2,000 years of Christian civilizations—and learn
to avoid copying the mistakes of the pagan civilizations—than to try to
reinvent the wheel?
Many of us are therefore attempting to restore a sense of our Western
heritage to our children. It should go without saying that we will not
entirely succeed. We are seeking to impart an education to our children
which very few of us have had (including the writer of this column).
This should not discourage us.
After all, Rome wasn’t replaced in a day.
Was this article helpful to you?
Subscribe to Practical Homeschooling today, and you'll get this quality of information and encouragement five times per year, delivered to your door. To start, click on the link below that describes you:
USA Librarian (purchasing for a library)
Outside USA Individual
Outside USA Library