A Reformed Christian Perspective on Education

Is the purpose of Christian education to isolate or immunize students, to protect them from a secular culture or prepare them for it? Is it better to organize lessons by kind of literature, by history, or by theme? Should Christian schools be governed by the church, or by an association of parents? Can a Christian school be Bible-centered without a specific Bible class? Is it good for a Christian school to use mainly Christian textbooks?

These are the kinds of questions Donald Oppewal, longtime professor of education at Calvin College, explores in this collection of his own writing over roughly the last half of the twentieth century. Probably no other scholar has written as broadly on Reformed Christian education as this author on a variety of topics: differences among public and Christian education; the perspective permeating textbooks; the relations of church, home, and school in nurturing the young; the history of Reformed day schools; methods of teaching; the purposes of Christian schools.

The three-hundred-page book has five sections, each with an editorial introduction. The first section is a series of the author’s articles on differences between government-sponsored and Christian schools, views on authority to educate children (the parents? the state? the church?), legal battles on funding, and an extensive comparison of Christian textbooks with the viewpoint permeating secular textbooks. Oppewal composes a humanist’s educational creed (56–59) from the stated themes of Humanist Manifesto (1976) to show that secular textbooks teach a religion that contrasts point-by-point with the Bible’s portrayal of reality.

All of the issues in this first section are alive in culture today: the separation of government from religion, the separation in Christian schools of piety (singing, praying, Bible-reading) from “subjects,” the shared-time programs (public school teachers teaching in Christian schools), and the purpose of Christian schools, especially the purpose of families and churches in nurturing children. D. Bruce Lockerbie in Who Educates Your Child? frames this latter issue by suggesting that the home incubates a child’s faith; the church inculcates that faith; and the Christian school integrates that faith into a worldview that is “whole and wholly Christian.”

On that point, Oppewal frequently uses a distinction from Philip Phenix in this and other sections to show three aspects of religion: the cultic, cultural pattern, and commitment (25). Essentially the first is piety, or the rituals of faith; the second is the social practices of faith, which include historical patterns, belonging to a church, and so on; the third is “the gaining of a total view of life,” which “gives meaning and direction to the life of the holder.” This is the primary province of a Christian school.

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