The piece by David Noe on Christian education (or the lack of it) has attracted a number of heated responses and none of them give much confidence that the proponents of Christian education are going to do something that is distinctly Reformed or decidedly educational. But these responses show the real weaknesses of w-w thinking and why their days are numbered unless they come up with more compelling answers and arguments.
Strike One: Noe’s piece has received much more indignation (Kuyper is turning in his grave) than it has reasoned response. Does this mean that Christian education is not interested in hard questions, only in passing on received ideas that can never be questioned lest we upset the dead? If so, I’m not sure these people are doing something that is genuinely educational, especially when it comes to teaching subjects like Shakespeare and chemistry on which Christians might have different ideas and about which Scripture is silent.
Strike Two: advocates of Christian education do not seem to notice that their practice is only generically Christian and not distinctly Reformed. (When they appeal to Augustine and Aquinas is Van Til turning in his grave?) They like to quote Cornelius Van Til who argued for an education based on a Reformed outlook. But what college or Christian day school has insisted on teaching Reformed theology, even to the Baptists and Evangelical Free Church students who enroll? Why is it that the more tenaciously an educational institution holds to the distinctness of Christian schools, the less Reformed they become? (Does question this make Dr. K.’s brain turn?)
Strike Three: advocates of Christian education invariably quote the likes of Van Til and Machen on the import of Christian schools. But the formal principle of the Reformation — sola scriptura — teaches that we are to base our faith and piety not on the doctrines and commandments of men but on the word of God. In which case, what kind of response is it to point out that Noe may disagree with Machen or Van Til? Machen was not the pope, not even the apostle Paul. He could have been wrong. Dr. Noe could be wrong. So if the advocates of Christian education want to be Christian and even Protestant, why not make a concerted exegetical case for Christian schools and colleges from the Bible, not from dead Reformed luminaries? (By the way, a wave of the hand to Deuteronomy 6 is insufficient.)
One aspect of this controversy that has yet to receive the attention it should is the difference between Dutch Calvinism and American Presbyterianism. Dutch Reformed Protestants, from the Afscheding to Dr. K., have insisted on Christian education and this reflects at least a European perspective on schooling that is foreign to the United States where public schools were always generally acceptable among American Presbyterians. Only for a brief period in the mid-19th century did Presbyterians entertain the idea of Christian schools. But the thought quickly passed and Presbyterians went back to the public schools where a generic Protestantism (via Bible reading and prayer) prevailed. Only after the Civil Rights legislation did American Presbyterians, primarily in the South, turn to private Christian schools, at least in part to avoid desegregation of public education.
The historical experiences of American Presbyterians and Dutch Calvinists rarely comes up in these discussions because Kuyperians have dominated conservative Reformed Protestantism in the United States, as if Dutch norms are the patterns for Yankees, Rebels, Farmers, and Miners. This is, as I’ve written before, one of the important features of David VanDrunen’s big book on two-kingdom theology — to show how Dutch Calvinism has dominated discussions of natural law and two kingdoms. Sometimes we need to pinch ourselves to remember that Reformed and Presbyterian churches existed before Abraham Kuyper and that they did not always do what he did. For conservative Calvinists who think Kuyper was merely following Bucer, A Lasco, and Ursinus, the idea that differences exist between the Dutch polymath and his Reformed forebears is alarming (and the source of most opposition to a certain seminary on the West Coast). But it is true. Kuyper was not the reincarnation of Calvin or Knox. That’s why they call it neo-Calvinism.