From time to time, when I am speaking about classical, Christian education, parents express concern that the pursuit of knowledge or academic excellence is in conflict with preparation for Christian service. These parents rightly desire to instill in their children a love of serving. However, this is not an either/or choice. Our children do not have to choose quality academics and thus reject Christian ministry. Nor do they have to choose Christian service and reject demanding studies. A classical, Christian education prepares our children to live a full, rich life of Christian service by preparing them to be leaders in any field. So, we must consider that these two aspects of our children’s development are not in opposition. Rather, the accumulation of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is designed to prepare them for future service in any calling.
Reflect for a moment on God’s preparation of Moses. I was doing a little research this week on Moses and the Israelites. Moses’ life was essentially divided into three periods of forty years. For the first forty years, he lived in the Pharaoh’s palace in Egypt receiving a princely education. Then, he spent forty quiet, meditative years tending sheep in the deserts of Midian. He spent the last forty years of his life tending God’s flock—the Israelites. It fascinates me that God did not consider Moses to be ready to lead his people until the age of 80! Similarly, Jesus, who had all knowledge and wisdom, did not engage in full-time ministry until age thirty.
I look at these years with my children at home in the same light. From birth to around age eighteen, we are intently focused on giving our children a wide and deep knowledge of God’s world through history, science, math, literature, languages, and philosophy so that they will be prepared for future service. When I interviewed for the Rhodes scholarship in my undergraduate years, I was groomed for the interview by a panel of passionate and committed professors who were not believers. At one point in the process, one asked me a practice interview question, “Why would a Christian apply for a Rhodes fellowship to study at Oxford University?” I was astounded by the question, and I still am today. After pausing for a moment, I replied, “I believe that God instilled in me a passion for studying English literature. I believe that He expects all of us to do our utmost with every gift that He gives.” I did not become a Rhodes Scholar, but the hours of preparation have borne fruit. Years later, as I work to help families pursue classical, Christian education, I have been so grateful for those years of rigorous academics.
Let us take a closer look at Moses’ “undergraduate education.” As a prince of Egypt, he had access to the knowledge collected by the most highly civilized nation of that day. He would have been exposed to multiple languages, art, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. In essence, he attended the Ivy League school of his day. Moses had to wait another forty years before learning how to make all of those gifts subject to the will of God, to the proclamation of His words, and to the worship of His person. If we focus our children’s education on learning to see God in all subjects, we will prepare them that much sooner.
For example, consider the study of chemistry. I am grateful for the Apologia Chemistry text that we use in the Classical Conversations Challenge program because the author of the text continually stands amazed at the way God has designed the world and teaches students to worship while learning chemistry. In my Challenge III class, we had a reverential moment of awe and wonder when we encountered the relatively simple idea of the density of matter.
When substances freeze and change from a liquid to a solid phase, they become denser. For example, if you had the proper equipment to freeze rubbing alcohol and placed the cubes in a container of liquid rubbing alcohol, the cubes would sink. This works for all substances save one—water. So, what is the big deal? Well, consider what would happen to life on Earth if lakes froze from the bottom up. The plant and animal life in them would die in winter. Eventually, all of the ecosystems that depend on the plants and animals found in the lakes would die as well. Finally, all life on earth would cease. As we quietly reflected on this amazing detail of God’s design, we worshipped God during chemistry class.
Okay, so we have considered the study of the higher sciences. Well, what about the use of a subject like philosophy? How is that related to Christian service? The other day, I happened to pass by a Challenge A class during the rhetoric seminar. They were obviously engaged in a passionate debate. I poked my head in for a few moments to see what topic had engaged them. I stifled a smile when I heard them hotly taking sides about whether or not God created sin, whether this was possible for His perfect, holy nature. I tiptoed away, leaving them to their discussion, but I cannot wait until they get to Challenge III when they will encounter the writings of church philosophers Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. They will be excited to learn that they are not the first to ask these questions and will gain much from learning what their wise ancestors thought about these important theological matters.
The pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that comes through wide reading, wrestling with ideas, and communicating these ideas through debate and essays is not pursued instead of Christian service. By no means! Encountering the artists, philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, and rulers who have gone before them prepares our children to be artists, philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists who use their gifts in service to God’s kingdom on earth.