(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!