This article originally appeared in The Renewanation Review® magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here by permission of Renewanation. For more information regarding Renewanation, visit renewanation.org.
To grow an apple tree, we plant a seed, not a cup of applesauce. The seed contains a new tree; applesauce is the derivative product of the fruit of the mature tree.
To grow a worldview, we plant the correct principles–the seed of the idea, not the product of the mature idea.
We err in our ‘orchards’ when we believe that teaching our children what they should think permanently impacts their worldview. We must train them how-to-think by equipping them with the tools by which to reason for themselves—the seed thoughts of all thoughts—the principles.
The sad fact is that the secular culture around us displaces our heritage of Christian principles with secular principles. It’s time to re-sow the eternal, absolute, unchanging Biblical principles of natural and moral law in the education of our children every day in every subject in every way.
What is a Biblical worldview? It is simply learning to see by the light of God’s Word in order to reason from Biblical principles, morally, politically, economically, socially, and governmentally about all of life.
How do we build a Biblical worldview into the hearts and minds of our children? God tells us to do so through daily education. In Deuteronomy 6:5-7 we are to impart our individual whole-hearted love of God to our children through His Word, continually, every moment of the day, every day of the year, “when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
We are to give our children a thoroughly Christian education. Is this even possible? Yes it is! But not if we give the secular state the role of “educating” our children apart from the light of God’s Word. If the state is allowed to “train up a child,” we will and we have, experienced the dark consequences. Even in our Christian homes and schools we allow much alignment of worldview with secular curriculum and methods.
The most successful model of Christian education on record is the Biblical-classical model of American education that built the original American culture by applying Biblical principles morally, politically, economically, socially, and governmentally. This Principle Approach[i] birthed our constitutional Republic, by God’s grace and purpose, as a refuge from tyranny for humanity. It achieved high levels of literacy and learning, and set the stage for the greatest period of liberty, invention, industry, and prosperity in recorded history.
Can Biblical-classical education methods be re-planted by thoughtful Christians today? It is mandatory that we teach every Christian child foundational Biblical principles. If we neglect this sacred duty, the secular culture will certainly inoculate our children against absolute truth, breed in them a deadly apathy, and instill the opposing worldview hostile to God.
Foundational Biblical principles are useful tools that contain the seeds of all other principles and produce a harvest of the knowledge and love of God. They are adaptable to any lesson, any subject, any issue, or any method of teaching. Because the principle is the cause, source, or origin of a thing, or “a general truth or a law comprehending many subordinate truths,”[ii] foundational principles create a whole context that becomes one structure of truth.
The first of seven principles[iii] is God’s principle of individuality. Notice, it is God’s principle of individuality that apprehends the dynamic relationship between a good and purposeful Creator and those invested with His image. This principle emphasizes identity and purpose – the very roots of our understanding of life. This profound and omnipresent principle should be identified in every subject as it cultivates the knowledge of God but also affection for God and for His goodness. Every individual child needs a name, a place, a passion, and a story. God’s principle of individuality gives all four – a unique and valued identity, a harbor of safety in a conflicted world, a love of all goodness, and a personal place in God’s providential history.
We can teach the youngest child the small rhyme, “God made me special, like no one else you see. He made me a witness to his diversity.”[iv] We can show the youngest child that history is really ‘Christ, His Story” – God’s relationship with man. We can show our students the reflection of God and his character in science and math as we find eternity in the stars and infinity in the numbers. If we fail to poise the hearts of our children towards Christ in every ordinary way, we leave space for man to be glorified in the void.
The Christian principle of self-government apprehends the freedom in, and responsibility of, bearing the image of God and conforming to His law. This second foundational principle shows that though we are free to self-govern, we are blessed and made perfect when we choose to be governed by Christ. How important to teach our children from the cradle this simple secret of success – consenting to be governed by God who knows best what makes us happy, free, creative, productive, and peaceful people.
Can young children understand such concepts as individuality and Christian self-government? Absolutely.
For instance, in the classroom when teachers invite children to give consent to abide by a “class constitution” specifying expected classroom behavior, the children freely choose to be governed by law when they understand it is established to protect and free them. They have the opportunity to reason through the “articles” of the constitution and test their appropriateness. They begin to understand that consequences are built into the laws of the universe. Children learn that they possesses the “title’ to their own individual consciences and that they possess this title by consent.[v] They learn experientially that exercising consent acquires a consequence, either blessing or something less than God’s best. By consent, children learn the reality of consequences, repentance, forgiveness and restoration. It is clear the devil didn’t make them do it and the dog didn’t eat their homework.
Internalizing a love of law and its benefits to protect life and property initially launches this happy classroom setting. When children are invited to give their consent from their own understanding of the possible consequences, the student may reason, “If everyone consents, my property is safe and I can be a successful learner.” The Christian principle of self-government illustrates the maxim, “I am properly self-governed when I’m governed by Christ.” Children learn that if they are internally governed under Christ, there is less external control necessarily exerted over them. They taste liberty.
These two foundational principles, God’s principle of individuality and the Christian principle of self-government are at the heart of the issues of life. They set the understanding of true Christian liberty in the hearts of children as a hedge against the deception of collectivism and tyranny in all forms. The first two principles, applicable in all of life, build the Christian character and the self-respect of the child.
Children of all ages respond warmly to basic principles as illustrated by a mother who visited our school with her four-year-old inquiring about enrollment. It was a “visitor’s day” with several high school girls organizing games with the children while the inquiring mothers toured the school. A few days later the mother of the four-year-old returned with a check for the enrollment fee saying, “I want to enroll right now.” What prompted the urgency? She continued, “Yesterday, I had a baby-sitter scheduled to play with my son while I hosted my Bible study. The sitter cancelled at the last moment, but when I picked up the phone to cancel the study, my son said, ‘It’s okay Mommy, I learned at that school how to be self-governed. Let me just play in my room.’” The astounded mother did just that and afterwards drove to the school with her check.
Yes, very young children witness to and absorb truth. The image of God is within them. They identify their own uniqueness and purpose as a property. They have a huge capacity for love and trust. Our children’s greatest need is to learn to direct their humanness properly towards God. Inculcating basic Biblical principles from the earliest age sets in place the pillars of a Biblical worldview that cannot be shaken.
Biblical classical education embodies a Christian view of the child as belonging to God, created in His image, and destined for immortality. It sees the purpose of education to enlighten the mind by the Word of God, to form the manners and habits of youth, to correct the temper, and to equip the child to reach his fullest expression in Christ. Biblical classical education rests upon providential history as the lens through which the wisdom of the ages is identified at the root of all knowledge. The Principle Approach is a methodology of teaching and learning that puts the Word of God at the heart of every subject in the curriculum.
Christian teachers and parents realize their God-given privilege and serious responsibility to enter into the hearts and souls of the children entrusted to us. We should enter only with the utmost respect of the Holy Spirit and with the wisdom to sow the seeds of absolute and eternal truths that form the Biblical worldview to serve throughout their education, their lives, and into eternity.
Carole Adams and her husband John founded StoneBridge School, a Principle Approach demonstration school in Chesapeake, VA. She now serves as president of the Foundation for American Christian Education and is the editor of its “The Noah Plan” curriculum. She is author of Classic Grammar, a literature based K-8 English program in the model of Biblical classical education. The Adamses have a son, two daughters, and seven grandchildren.
[ii] Webster, N. (2006). Facsimile first edition of Noah Webster’s An American dictionary of the English language. Anaheim, CA: F.A.C.E.
[iii] For a complete presentation of the seven Biblical principles of American Christian education see, a R.J. Slater, Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History: the Principle Approach, , p.88 ff.
[iv], Ibid, p.155.
[v] Ibid, p. 232.