The Biblical Basis for Education by Tom Garfield

Please don’t immediately or unconsciously reinterpret the title above as “The Basis for Biblical Education.” There is a profound difference. (Also please note that I didn’t say “The Biblical Basis for Classical Education,” even though, without much effort I think that argument can be made, but that’s not my point here.)


So, what’s the difference? As always, it comes down to what we believe about the world. If we believe that ‘knowledge’, i.e. all the stuff we all need to learn, is somehow neutral, then Christians should just take a number and wait their turn for presenting a case for “Christian” education. However, if Genesis 1:1 is true — God really did speak the heavens and earth into existence — well, that changes everything. Literally every thing. Many years ago I was asked by a friend who was a university education professor to speak to his beginning education class. He was a Christian and knew what I did for a living, so when he said I had carte blanche on what I’d say, I was delighted. I began by praising the students for their courage to enter the ministry and teach religious tenets faithfully every day. Since we were at the local secular university, I’m pretty sure the students thought I was either very confused or had brought the wrong speech.

Warming to my theme, I pointed out that as they were embarking on a teaching career, they must certainly be aware that they would be dealing with very religious themes. Regardless of what grade or subject they would be teaching, they would daily be instructing their pupils about the obvious conundrums of life:

Why am I here? Who made me? Does my life have any meaning? What or who defines ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? Do I have any responsibility toward others?

From the dawn of time, philosophers and religious leaders of every stripe understood these questions as not only being profoundly ‘religious’, they cannot be avoided in any formal or informal education system. In fact, historically education was all about these questions. Hence, it’s not a question of if religion will be presented to children being educated, it’s a question of which religion will be presented as truth. How does this actually work out in reality? Consciously or not, the parents of every child born on planet Earth immediately begin answering those questions for their sweet, little bundle. As every child grows and expresses vast amounts of curiosity, parents don’t stop answering those questions, but they may delegate others to help provide the answers, usually by enrolling their child in a school of some sort. There the child will hear a story told by his teachers. The story will seek to answer all those questions. Again, this is unavoidable, regardless of the school’s location, curriculum, size, or even its stated mission. A story will be told that will seek to answer those questions.

This naturally leads to what should concern every parent, particularly Christian parents…will their child be told a true or false story? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” This passage is not only the answer to the debate between the Creation story and evolutionary theory; if Genesis 1:1 is true, then the story will have a direction, purpose, cohesion, and even a happy ending.

All those questions above will get true answers. But what if Genesis 1:1 is presented as false, or up to interpretation, or just considered unimportant? Well, then, the story will give varied and conflicting answers, which are not answers at all, to those questions. Literally, anything could happen and might. Life is chaos and chance accidents. There is no wrong or right. We might as well eat, drink and seek our own pleasure, or misery, because death awaits us all. All is vanity.

There is no neutral, third option. The story we and others tell our children will either be true or false. Our children will grow up believing the Truth or a lie. Obviously the Bible has more than the first verse…but on it everything else is built. Because God made the world, the Bible not only answers the questions about who we are and where the world came from, but it tells the most wonderful part of the story — it tells of Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith. In Christ our lives and those of our children have eternal meaning. Only in Christ do we understand and teach that we live in a true uni-verse — all that we see, touch, taste, hear, and even smell tells a compelling and cohesive story. A story being told by an Author who knows our frames intimately.

Sadly, Christian schools too often tell a watered-down, incomplete story to children. They acknowledge that God created the heavens and the earth, but then treat all other consequential knowledge as some kind of bland oatmeal. This oatmeal, they believe, is commonly accepted by all educators, secular or Christian. So it’s up to us Christians to flavor the oatmeal for our students with ‘Christian’ condiments: Scripture as brown sugar and hymns as raisins! “Silly pagans, they just give their students bland, cold oatmeal. They probably even use 1% milk — we use the cream of daily prayers!” What nonsense.

Colossians 2: 2,3 “…God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

It’s not ‘oatmeal’, it’s Christ! In Him, we move and breathe and have our being, in Him all things hold together. If that means anything at all, it means that the story we, parents and teachers, tell to these precious children must be Christ and His Kingdom. So it’s not an option to seek to reveal Christ in history, in art, in math, in science, in manners, in eating, in music, in drama, in basketball…in our lives, lived before these students.

“For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (II Corinthians 4:6)

This is the story, this is true education.

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