Family Trumps School (so says Bavinck)

(Thanks to our Grand Rapids correspondent) James K. A. Smith offers that latest case (in a popular form) for Christian schools and bangs all the percussion instruments that neo-Calvinists have assembled up front in their churches for worship (see what I did there?):

Christian Reformed communities have long understood a commitment to Christian schools as an expression of the promises we make at baptism—to be the “village” that supports the formation and education of our children. In a tangible expression of “kingdom economics” (see Acts 4:32-36), the entire community shares the burden of Christian schooling. Older generations support younger generations through giving to the Christian education fund, grateful for the generations before them that did the same. Only such a gift-giving economy can make it possible for Christian education to be a blessing for all in the community.

Let’s be honest: Christian schooling is a high-investment, labor-intensive venture. It requires sacrifices and hard choices. And it’s increasingly countercultural to pursue such a vision.

But when it’s carried out in the best spirit of the Reformed tradition—when Christian education is an intentional, intensive, formative curriculum bent on shaping young people as agents and ambassadors of God’s coming kingdom—the investment proves to be wise stewardship.

So it turns out that Christian education is not just a 19th-century hangover. It bubbles up from the very nature of the church as a covenant community. It’s an expression of the core convictions of the Reformed tradition. And we might need it now more than ever.

For the Bible thumpers among us, this case still falls short of explaining why throughout most of redemptive history narrated in Scripture schools — a modern invention — were not part of the prophets’ and apostles’ instructions. Yes, I understand the implications of covenant theology and yes I admire the solidarity that Dutch Calvinists have exhibited in both the Old and New Worlds — really. But Smith, along with those who preceded, do not address the priority (even audacity?) of the family in the nurture of children.

And so I wonder what Smith would do with Herman Bavinck, a not-so-shabby neo-Calvinist, and what he says about how basic the family is to God’s providential care for his people:

The family is and remains the nurturing institution par excellence. Beyond every other institution it has this advantage, namely, that it was not constructed and artificially assembled by man. A man chooses a woman to be his wife, and a woman chooses a man to be here husband, but if things go well, they don’t so much choose one another as they are chosen by each other; by means of a secret bond, in a manner ineffable, they are brought to each other. Children are then born from their intimate fellowship, but those children are granted to them, having a different sexuality, a different nature, a different disposition — perhaps different than what the parents would have wished and, had it been up to them, would have given their children. The family is no fabrication of human hands; it is a gift of God, bestowed according to his good pleasure. Even though the family has existed for centuries, we cannot create a likeness; it was, it is, and it will continue to be a gift, an institution that God alone sustains. (The Christian Family, 105-106)

Behind the family and its very existence is the providential control of God. And Bavinck is clear that such divine sovereignty is responsible for the diversity of families — perhaps even to the point of allowing some families to opt for and others to opt out of Christian schools:

The community of the family brings with it a treasury of relationships and qualities. The relation of husband and wife, or parents and children, brothers and sisters, hardly exhausts this treasury, for the relationship that a husband enjoys with his wife is altogether different than the relations a wife enjoys with her husband, and the relations of parents with children differs from those between father and mother and the children together, and between each parent with each child, and in this way the same family life proceeds in even greater specialization, as the number of members expands.

This is the case not only with the relationship but also with the qualities belonging to each family member. Masculine and feminine qualities, physical and spiritual strengths, intellectual, volitional, and emotional gifts, age and youth, strength and weakness, authority and obedience, affection and love, unity and diversity of interests, all of these come together in one family, unified and distinguished and blended together. (92)

So would Smith and other proponents of Christians schools have us ignore such diversity and force it all into conformity to the teachers (members of their own families with each of the diverse strengths and weaknesses of those backgrounds) at the local Christian school?

At least one side of Bavinck said, “no”!

Therefore the nurture that takes place within the family possesses a very special character. Even as the family itself cannot be imitated, so too one cannot make a copy of family nurture. No school, no boarding school, no day-care center, no government institution can replace or improve upon the family. The children come from the family, grow up in the family, without themselves knowing how. They are formed and raised without themselves being able to account for that. The nurture provided by the family is entirely different than that provided by the school; it is not bound to a schedule of tasks and does not apportion its benefits in terms of minutes and hours. It consists not only in instruction, but also in advice and warning, leading and admonition, encouragement and comfort, solicitude and sharing. Everything in the home contributes to nurture—the hand of the father, the voice of the mother, the older brother, the younger sister, the infant in the bassinet, the sickly sibling, grandmother and grandchildren, uncles and aunts, guests and friends, prosperity and adversity, celebrations and mourning, Sundays and workdays, prayers and thanksgiving at mealtime and the reading of God’s Word, morning devotions and evening devotions. (106-107)

So why can’t we leave the decision of education up to the institution divinely appointed for nurturing children?

Speak diversity to conformity!

Advertisements

44 thoughts on “Family Trumps School (so says Bavinck)

  1. But church trumps family, if not in the Abrahamic covenant at least in the new covenant. It does not matter if your grandparents professed faith in the gospel, if your parents don’t profess faith in the gospel, then you will have to go without the efficacy of circumcision and thus have as your only hope that you are one individual among the all who are far off, AS MANY AS the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:39- 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” Church trumps both family and school because church is a “voluntary association”.

    Machen: In the first place, a true Christian church, now as always, will be radically doctrinal. It will never use the shibboleths of a pragmatist skepticism. It will never say that doctrine is the expression of experience; it will never CONFUSE THE USEFUL WITH THE TRUE, but will place truth at the basis of all its striving and all its life.

    Into the welter of changing human opinion, into the modern despair with regard to any knowledge of the meaning of life, a church will come with a clear and imperious message. That message it will find in the Bible, which it will hold to contain not a record of man’s religious experience but a record of a revelation from God.

    A true Christian church will be radically intolerant…. The intolerance of the church, in the sense in which I am speaking of it, does not involve any interference with liberty; on the contrary, it means the preservation of liberty. One of the most important elements in civil and religious liberty is the right of voluntary association – the right of citizens to band themselves together for any lawful purpose whatever, whether that purpose does or does not commend itself to the generality of their fellow men.

    Machen—Now, a church is a voluntary association. No one is compelled to be a member of it; no one is compelled to be one of its accredited representatives. It is, therefore, no interference with liberty of a church to insist that those who do choose to be its accredited representatives shall not use the vantage ground of such a position to attack that for which the church exists. . .

    Machen—When I say that a true Christian church is radically intolerant, I mean it presents the gospel of Jesus Christ not merely as one way of salvation, but as the only way. It cannot make common cause with other faiths. It cannot agree not to proselytize. Its appeal is universal, and admits of no exceptions. All are lost in sin; none may be saved except by the way set forth in the gospel. Therein lies the offense of the Christian religion, but therein lies also it glory and its power.

    Machen—You cannot expect from a true church any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. There are those who tell us that the Bible ought to be put into the public schools, and that the public schools should seek to build character by showing the children that honesty is the best policy and that good Americans do not lie nor steal. With such programs a true Christian church will have nothing to do. . . .

    ( “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” 1933)

    Like

  2. Mark, or church and family are overlapping spheres in ways school just isn’t even on the board (because the Bible has nothing to say about academics). In which case, maybe it’s a selective trumping, i.e. the church can compel parents to baptize, catechize and not to exasperate, but not much beyond that (which is a lot).

    Like

  3. Therefore the nurture that takes place within the family possesses a very special character. Even as the family itself cannot be imitated, so too one cannot make a copy of family nurture. No school, no boarding school, no day-care center, no government institution can replace or improve upon the family.

    Sounds like an argument for homeschooling.

    Did Bavinck really use the word “sexuality”?

    Like

  4. Bavinck praising family nurture does not contradict the notion that schools function in loco parentis>/i> on behalf of the family.

    Thus, Bavinck notes the Reformation idea that Christian principles guide such instruction:

    [Calvin] completed the Reformation and saved
    Protestantism. Calvin traced the operation of sin
    to a wider extent than Luther, to a greater depth
    than Zwingli. But it is for that reason that the
    grace of God is more restricted in Luther, less
    rich in Zwingli, than it is in Calvin. In the powerful
    mind of the French Reformer, re-creation is
    not a system which supplements creation, as in
    Catholicism, not a religious reformation which
    leaves creation intact, as in Luther, much less a
    new creation, as in Anabaptism, but a joyful tiding
    of the renewal of all creatures. Here the Gospel
    comes fully into its own, comes to true catholicity.
    There is nothing that cannot and ought not to be
    evangelized. Not only the church, but also home,
    school, society and state are placed under the dominion
    of the principle of Christianity.”
    Herman Bavinck, Katholicitet, p. 32

    “[Christianity is] not merely a principle of new spiritual life, but
    also an element, the most important element, of culture;
    …he [Calvin] resists every conception
    which tends to enclose the
    gospel within the province of
    the spiritual life, narrowly
    conceived, and thus to
    contrast it with life in the
    world and human culture.
    culture; to him the Gospel was good news for all
    creatures, including family, society, scholarship
    and art.”
    Evangelisatie (Utrecht, 1913), p. 30.

    Like

  5. cw l’unificateur
    Posted November 16, 2015 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
    Mark, pretty obvious why worldviewers prefer 19-teens Machen to 1930s Machen.

    Whose Machen is it, anyway?

    [As a side joke, I note that some Old Lifers disavow the later John Calvin in favor of the earlier. Nice racket you have going around here.]

    Like

  6. spheres or sets?

    As many as from a family who profess to believe the gospel are in a visible church, but you don’t have to be married or have children to “keep the covenant” or be a member of a visible church.

    Can a church be family friendly and also be a place of welcome for singles? Can a church be friendly to those without circumcision without being hostile to the circumcision? Can a church feature black gospel music without leaving off the psalms?

    I Corinthians 7: 32 I want you to be without concerns. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the things of the world—how he may please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world—how she may please her husband.

    “Kingdom mission and Christian community are not instrumental. They are not undertaken in order to strengthen and make families happy. The strength and happiness of families is an important thing. But the kingdom of Christ is larger than the family, p 163., Families at the Crossroads, Rodney Clapp, 1993

    Jonathan Malesic, Secret Faith in the Public Square (2009)—“Can Christians be witnesses to the truths of the gospel in a land where being Christian is a form of social capital? What about when Christian identity has become a brand? American public life easily converts Christian identity into something which saves a culture. … When being a Christian is thought to be politically useful, the true purpose of being a member of the public known as the church has been lost..”

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/gallery/2015/nov/07/ben-carson-house-homage-to-himself-in-pictures

    Like

  7. Because I don’t really disagree with that.

    It’s the content of the nurture that you contest. Bavinck has it under the dominion of Christian principles. You left that Bavinck hidden, that’s all.

    Like

  8. Mark, what is the biblical case for “school as extension of family”? And while I’m all for a cohesive local community where schools (of whatever kind, public to parochial) play a vital part, isn’t this idea of yours precisely where we get the problem of schools over-reaching and taking on parental roles, injecting “values-based curriculum” at the expense of academic vigor, etc.? Why not more restraint and limits on how we understand the nature of these realms and how they should interact, you know, sphere sovereignty? How is blurring those lines with “school as extension of family” conducive to sphere SOVEREIGNTY? Don’t look now, but your modernist Kuyperianism needs conservative tweaking.

    Like

  9. Darryl, yes, diversity in means/method (homeschool, Christian school). But you concede Bavinck would have unity in governing principle (Christianity).

    Like

  10. Mark: But church trumps family, if not in the Abrahamic covenant at least in the new covenant.

    Are you sure you want to contrast the Abrahamic and new covenant in that manner?

    Just asking, it’s a legit view, but I just wanted clarification…

    Like

  11. stop the presses, AGAIN an internet thread has failed to provide an exhaustive view of a theologian’s entire life writings, especially if he (quite often) rightfully and inevitably shifted a bit as he got older.

    Like

  12. vdm, m, you mean the kind of unity that resulted in the pillarized society that Kuyper advocated? Kuyper was all about diversity. The theonomists/neo-Cals in North America not so much.

    Like

  13. Kuyper is like dress-up Barbie, you can put him into any political and moral and theological stance you want as long as mommy and daddy pony up the money for the new outfit.

    I admire the life he led and a lot of his writings, and at the same realize there is no way on earth that another life will get a chance to happen like that again the way things are heading.

    Like

  14. And all I’m asking is that Holland would have even a .01% chance of getting a man with these credentials into high political office again before I believe it.

    Like

  15. Kent, I am not aware of any shift in Bavinck on this topic. Nor am I wanting an exhaustive recitation of the man’s theology. I supplied focused, on-topic citations just to make clear that Bavinck held to Christianity governing both family and education.

    Like

  16. How disconnected is the Academy from the “investment” to fund them?

    Let’s be honest: Christian schooling is a high-investment…

    …the investment proves to be wise stewardship.

    This seems like Smith needs to justify his existence. Not that I am anti-Christian schools, but does he really know how expensive it is? Is it a wise investment for a family of four to send all their kids to Christian education K-12 then 4 years of Christian University? Just from a dollars standpoint, the cost of room & board at my Alma Matter (BIOLA) was $35,000/year.

    4 kids * 4 years * $35,000
    $560,000 to send you kids to college

    This hasn’t even touched the costs of 13 years of private Christian education just to get there.

    It’s conceivable that a family of four could spend over a million dollars just to “Christian Educate” their children.

    And what if a parent can’t afford that amount? There are only so many grants and subsidies until debt is your only option. Would it be wise for a low-income family to send their kids to 17 years of high-dollar education to saddle themselves (or their kids) with significant debt?

    But thank God the home is free and church is free.

    Like

  17. As James Haldane suggests in his commentary on Hebrews (p 245, Newport Commentary Series, Particular Baptist Press), the solution to the problem of the early covenant is not to find a better mediator for those covenants. The old covenant is the Mosaic covenant, and the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision is earlier and older than the Mosaic covenant.

    Kline argues from the covenant breaking of Israelites in Romans 11:17-21. If gentiles in the new covenant are grafted into the Abrahamic covenant, then we must not say that the new covenant is
    unconditional because the Abrahamic covenant was not unconditional. Verse 21: “he may not spare you either”.

    We have the promise of Romans 8:32 that all those for whom God did not spare His Son will be spared. The condition of this blessing (being spared God’s wrath) is Christ’s obedience even unto death for the elect alone . It is quite possible to warn folks ( He may not spare you either) without telling them that they have been born into the new covenant.

    Of course we all agree with Kline that not all humans were born into the Abrahamic covenant.

    Like

  18. a legit view, even by paedobaptists

    “John Murray’s Mono-Covenantalism”, by David Gordon, in By Faith Alone, edited by Gary Johnson and Guy Waters (Crossway,2006, p 121

    “I am less happy with .. the language of the covenant of grace, because this is a genuinely unbiblical use of biblical language. Biiblically, covenant is always a historic arrangement, inaugurated in space and time…..Once covenant refers to an over-arching divine decree or purpose to redeem the elect in Christ, confusion Is sure to follow….John Murray believed that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer. I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it.”

    “When Paul and the other NT writers use the word covenant, there is almost always an immediate contextual clue to which biblical covenant is being referred to, such as “the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8) The New Testament writers were not mono-covenantal regarding the Old Testament (see Rom 9:4, Eph 2:12; Gal 4:24).”

    Like

  19. Renihan—“Paul treats God’s dealings with Abraham by calling believers the children of Abraham and finding a greater meaning in the word “offspring” as relating to Christ rather than simply Abraham’s posterity (Galatians 3:7, 9, 16, 27-29). It is not ONE OR THE OTHER, as though promises were made only to Abraham and his natural children or to Christ and his offspring (Abraham included). It is both, each with its particular but related meaning in a typical or antitypical context.

    “And thus the kingdom and covenants of Israel were not the kingdom and covenant of Christ though they were driving towards his birth and revealing truths about Him all along the way. Old Testament saints were saved by the promise of one who was to come, and the covenant that He would establish. Consequently baptists do not use the kingdom of Israel and its covenants as the pattern for churches….

    “Looking to the parent-child relationship is a misdirected attempt to understand covenantal membership. Redirecting our attention to federal headship brings clarity …. We blame Adam, not our parents, for the curse. The Israelites looked to Abraham, not their parents, for a claim to Canaan and its blessings, and to the conduct of the king, not their parents, for tenure in the land. So also, children must look to Christ, not their parents, for a claim to his covenant….We are born under Adam’s federal headship, and no one escapes the domain of darkness until God transfers them “to the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14).

    http://www.placefortruth.org/placefortruth/article/the-case-for-credobaptism

    Like

  20. Charles Hodge—They say that he Church exists as an external society now as it did then. What once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church. As union with the commonwealth of Israel was necessary to salvation then, so union with the visible Church was necessary to salvation now. And as subjection to the priesthood, and especially to the high-priest, was necessary to union with Israel then, so submission to the regular ministry, and especially to the Pope, is necessary to union with the Church now.”

    “Such is the favorite argument of Romanists; and such (except for the pope) we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians. The fallacy of this whole argument lies in the false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church… The attributes, promises, prerogatives of the one, were not those of the other. ”

    “If this argument were true, we would have to admit that the true Church rejected and crucified Christ; for he was rejected by the external Israel, by the Sanhedrin… Paul avoids this fatal conclusion by denying that the external Church is the true Church… It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people.”

    Like

  21. Posted November 17, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink
    Mark: But church trumps family, if not in the Abrahamic covenant at least in the new covenant.

    Kent–Are you sure you want to contrast the Abrahamic and new covenant in that manner? Just asking, it’s a legit view, but I just wanted clarification

    hint–don’t ask him again, ignore him and he still won’t go away

    we can ask which kingdom “school” goes in, but not “family”…

    Like

  22. Mark, I have no clue what you think, you just keep copying and pasting all kinds of long quotes on here, which gets you your jollies, but is useless unless someone has an hour or so to spend reading all your copied and pasted long quotes with no personal context at all behind them.

    I was kind of wondering how you dismiss the Abrahamic Covenant as having nothing to do with the concept of a new covenant.

    Which is something that I have an interest in.

    Like

  23. D.G.,
    Not to defend Christian schools, but your reasoning at one point assumes something that you had denied in a previous conversation. You wrote here the following:


    For the Bible thumpers among us, this case still falls short of explaining why throughout most of redemptive history narrated in Scripture schools — a modern invention — were not part of the prophets’ and apostles’ instructions.

    If the above is the basis for refuting what was said, realize that you are assuming that the prophets and apostles heard and addressed all of the question that Christians throughout history would have. Thus their silence says that Christian schools is a non issue. But in a previous discussion, you admitted to me that new questions have arisen which neither the prophets nor apostles addressed when they were alive. Thus the refutation by silence in the Scriptures would not be an adequate basis for showing why the concern expressed above for Christian Schools is not important or valid. Rather, the refutation by silence to the Christian school issue is nothing more than an expansion of the Regulative Principle from worship to other areas of life.

    Like

  24. And seeing huge copy and paste jobs makes me grimace because 5 quotes are there and there will be contradictions or very vague conclusions about important theological matters….

    And then I grimace even more because the person copying and pasting has usually taken a black and white view on a matter (like Republication of the Covenant of Works) not even realizing half the quotes he copies and pastes like a fiend are in complete contradiction of his view.

    Like

  25. Kent—contrast the Abrahamic and new covenant in that manner…. it’s a legit view.

    Kent—not even realizing half the quotes he copies and pastes like a fiend are in complete contradiction of his view

    Kent—Mark, I have no clue what you think

    mcmark–So to recap, you don’t know what my view is, but you do know that my quotations contradict my view? (and this without reading my quotations?)

    So tell me, what is my view on “republication”?

    Do I have a view on “republication’?

    Because I quote persons with different views on “republication” (Mark Karlberg, Mark Jones, David Gordon), you know a. what my view is and b. that these quotations contradict my view?

    Like

  26. mcmark—The old covenant is the Mosaic covenant, and the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision is earlier and older than the Mosaic covenant.

    Kent—contrast the Abrahamic and new covenant in that manner…. it’s a legit view.

    kent—I was kind of wondering how you dismiss the Abrahamic Covenant as having NOTHING TO DO WITH …the new covenant.

    mark mcculley—I don’t.

    Charles Hodge— By the one, Abraham’s natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, Abraham’s spiritual descendants were constituted a Church.

    I do not dismiss the distinction between now visible churches and the not yet gathered assembly of the elect in the age to come.

    Like

  27. Curt, I don’t see an inconsistency. Advocates of Christians schools, if they are going to argue that they are required for Christian faithfulness, need to give a “thus says the Lord.”

    Keeping water out of my basement is kind of important. Doesn’t mean the Bible should address it or that if it doesn’t the Bible is not all that.

    Like

  28. D.G.,
    What follows in an implication is as much ‘thus saith the Lord’ as what is stated explicitly. At least that is practiced in other areas of theology. And I am saying that as one who disagrees with the above case being made for Christian schools. That implies that we do agree on at least one thing.

    Like

  29. D. G:Keeping water out of my basement is kind of important. Doesn’t mean the Bible should address it or that if it doesn’t the Bible is not all that.

    handling basement water is like everything else as a Christian- informed by the Bible and His Spirit egs- you don’t get irritable and impatience about it ; as a good steward,you take care of it quickly,properly; you don’t extort services of helpers, etc

    Not sure the advantage of such insistence that Jesus-loving is not a consideration alot of the time

    Like

  30. when everything is sacred, nothing is sacred

    is hell a set apart place?

    will those in hell one day say uncle and have a Reformed world and life view?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s