We live in a day when people rarely take an interest in ideas or see
their importance to daily life. This widespread disdain for ideas has
produced a culture where “practical issues” constantly triumph over
In politics, theoretical questions like, “What is the proper role of
government?” or, “What implications does the tenth amendment have?” have
been replaced by a constant bickering over practical considerations
about who gets the many government goodies.
In the church, doctrinal issues receive very little attention while
practical issues like “contemporary v. traditional worship” produce
enough passion to split churches.
In our everyday discussions, rarely do you hear people address the
issues at the core of a disagreement. Rather, when someone wants to
clinch an argument they will usually begin with a phrase like “Yes, but
personally, I REALLY feel that . . . ”
A truly successful education will give a child the understanding that
ideas do matter and that most of our practical decisions flow out of our
understanding of the larger questions.
A child will be greatly helped in learning the importance of ideas by a
home life ruled by unwavering principles. By raising a child to obey
biblical principles and showing him through our own lives what it is
like to actively pursue obedience to these principles, we teach him that
ideas are important. He comes to learn that when the mind and the
passions conflict with each other, the mind rules the passions, and not
As this child grows older, investigating ideas and their consequences
will naturally become a pressing interest because he has been raised to
see their relevance. A child who has only seen principles followed when
they conveniently accommodate present whims will grow up cynical about
anyone who takes the search for truth seriously.
As a student grows older, a successful education will provide him with
the opportunity to see the importance of ideas to society and to his own
individual life. To provide this atmosphere, a student needs books that
grapple with the important ideas and issues central to human life. What
people think is crucial to the way they live and act. Many good authors
understand this fact and have written stories that show the significance
of ideas in the lives of their characters. These “great books” give us
the opportunity to discuss and gain an understanding of the moral issues
surrounding the lives of the characters presented.
When students read Sophocles’ Theban trilogy, they are utterly revolted
by Oedipus’ heinous deed. Unknowingly, he married his mother and killed
his father. However, real success comes when they understand the deeper
issue that Sophocles tries to get us to think about—whether Oedipus can
use his might and intelligence to significantly alter the course of his
Encouraged by his impious wife, Oedipus mocks the prophet Tiresias’
oracle concerning his awful deeds and boasts that his great intelligence
can outwit the prophecies of the seer. Yet, as the play progresses
Oedipus realizes that nothing he can do will change the fate he must
fulfill and, indeed, has already fulfilled. In the end, Sophocles shows
Oedipus’ willful attempts to affect his destiny as mere grist for the
great grinding gears of invincible fate. However, even as Oedipus’ fate
closes in around him, Sophocles does not let you forget that Oedipus is
still an individual with a will of his own—Oedipus’ own determined and
persistent choices bring to light his own ill-fated calamity! Sophocles
very skillfully presents the reader with the tension between man’s
individual choices and the fact that his life has been pre-determined.
A great writer, Sophocles presents this philosophical dilemma in a way
that helps even a child to feel the urgency and weight of the question.
After seeing Sophocles demolish Oedipus before the onslaught of an
unyielding fate, the students have a deeper sense of the significance of
the fact that we worship a God not only sovereign and Lord of the
Universe but also one who hears us when we pray.
For the ancients, Fate was merely an impersonal deity to whom it would
be meaningless to pray and the personal deities to whom one could pray
(Zeus, Hera et. al.) were as hopelessly subject to Fate as the mortals
themselves. Great joy ensues when students realize that the God they
pray to not only listens and deeply cares for them, but retains total
Great books ask the big questions, but the Bible provides the answers.
Even though they cannot provide us with any solid answers, the great
books play a tremendously valuable role. You cannot know the profundity
of the answers before you know the depth of the questions! As the
knowledge of the law brings us to the gospel, so the knowledge of the
richness and complexity of life leads us to fully grasp the virtue of
For a Christian, a successful classical education should not produce the
blind and directionless euphoria for the classics so well depicted in
the movie Dead Poet’s Society. Rather, the classics provide grist for
our own mill, and our mill has very sharp teeth!
A successful student will derive a deeper knowledge of the truth of
God’s word, in proportion to how deeply he looks at the questions life
places before him! This knowledge will give him the intellectual
confidence to go forth and bring all thoughts captive to Christ.