Do We Need Transcendence to Plow Streets?

Neo-Calvinist praise from David Koyzis for Bruce Ashford’s contention that political liberals and political conservatives both lack transcendence:

Politics in the United States has, for some time, assumed a binary structure. On one side stand the Republicans, who represent conservatism. On the other side stand the Democrats, who represent progressivism. But what most Americans fail to see is that conservatism and progressivism are similar in one significant respect. Both ideologies are “moving targets” that lack transcendent norms, which leads to a nearly endless variety of social ills. It may, at times, be appropriate to be conservative, and at others progressive. But when these designations become normative, they become idolatrous.

This sort of observation seems to be tone deaf to the religious inflection of contemporary politics. Just remember all the national exceptionalism that appeals to the United States’ special (read divine) role in world affairs.

But this way of looking at politics also seems to be oblivious to the actual stuff of civic life, namely, ordinary affairs as opposed to supernatural aspirations. Would transcendence, for instance, really resolve the snow-removal crisis in Baltimore (thanks to our Pennsylvania correspondent)?

In Harford County, residents complained that their online snow tracker went dark overnight. Baltimore County officials fielded complaints from constituents who remained snowbound Monday. And some residents in Anne Arundel and Carroll counties griped about the pace of the cleanup.

But many residents also said they gained a greater appreciation for how their tax dollars are spent to carry out one of government’s most essential functions: keeping the roads functioning.

Facebook pages for nearly all of the area’s jurisdictions lit up with complaints and compliments for how snow removal crews were progressing.

For their part, elected officials don’t shy from public appearances during major storms, promising a diligent response and hoping to win political currency. And in Maryland, voters are typically more forgiving of any failures, said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist.

Not so where major snow events are more common. Crenson pointed to Michael Bilandic, mayor of Chicago in the late 1970s when a blizzard crippled that city for months.

“His snow removal efforts were so feeble he lost the next election,” Crenson said. Maryland voters “are likely to give their elected officials a pass.”

I understand the appeal of thinking the Lordship of Christ will fix what ails fallen life. After all, Christ is the great fixer. But sometimes, when Protestants or conservatives invoke divine or philosophical categories as the cure for political woes, I can’t help but think they have missed the point of politics.

76 thoughts on “Do We Need Transcendence to Plow Streets?

  1. No streets, plows, snow, complaining/praising citizens, or politics without transcendence. “The Lord God made them all.” Darryl, you seem just to be about “getting along in the world.”


  2. Do we need to be like the guy in this video to appreciate firearms or homeschooling?
    Do homeschooling and a “locked and loaded” motif always need to go together?
    Are public schools really a place for housing inmates?
    Will this guy and his devotees wind up in a Burns Oregan scenario someday?

    You are right, he is not Tim Keller, he is 10 times worse.


  3. I tried reading Ashford’s piece but it’s way beyond my IQ level – I’ll wait until someone provides a “For Dummies” version. Meanwhile I’ll just keep things simple by voting straight Republican and keep looking for Transcendence in God, Heaven, The Body of Christ, Scripture. etc.

    Baltimore isn’t currently on the list of cities people have in mind when “Redeeming The City” types talk about Cultural Engagement or Cultural Renewal – perhaps the time is ripe to fix this problem: Redeeming Baltimore!


  4. EB, does Swanson realize that if he can “pray whenever he wants, scream his prayers, wallpaper his house with the 10 Commandments” (no accounting for discretion and dignity, ahem) that perhaps America isn’t as anti-religion as he and his ilk otherwise suggest? Chicken Littles, heal thyselves.


  5. Is there some relativism in the word “transcendence” or does it mean “unique?

    Which is more transcendent, the idea that every round inch of my property belongs to me (no free riders) or the idea that it’s sin not to be our neighbor’s keeper?

    In the real world which I share with Muslims and evangelical Arminians, I shovel my own snow, thank you very much. But does it also snow in Christ’s kingdom?


  6. Darryl, I’m not sure that the @oldlife “stirring the pot” blog qualifies as a “quiet and peaceful life”, but keep up the good work.

    Zrim, “getting along in the world” is a reference to a line by Cornelius Van Til in A Survey of Christian Epistemology where he says,

    On the contrary, the Christian theist must claim that he alone has true knowledge about cows and chickens as well as about God. He does this in no spirit of conceit, because it is a gift of God’s grace. Nor does he deny that there is knowledge after a fashion that enables the non-theist to get along after a fashion in the world. This is the gift of God’s common grace, and therefore does not change the absoluteness of the distinction made about the knowledge and ignorance of the theist and the non-theist respectively.


  7. Zrim, I’m fine with getting along. No sneering intended. In fact, getting along is the essence of politics, a God-created realm of human existence. And in a fallen, pluralistic culture, as this world is, figuring out how to get along in a just way is mostly what the State is about.


  8. Our street remained unplowed from Sat to Wed. That was the day that the neighbors had had enough and busted out their pickups and snow blades.

    But don’t get me wrong — we have plenty of trascendence. Our deplorably gerrymandered districts transcend any efforts at political accountability.


  9. Terry, I read you in context and most self-proclaimed neos don’t usually commend “getting along.”

    Still, I smell the doctrine of borrowed capital, which always makes me wonder–if believer and unbeliever alike really do share their common creation and both draw from the very same reservoir of creational knowledge, how can either one of them be said to be borrowing anything? How does one borrow what is already his by created rights? What gives with all the fudging and finger crossing? Are unbelievers actual human beings bearing the imago dei or not? I’m sure you’ll say yes, but why do you then speak as if they’re second class with all that borrowed capital jazz?


  10. Terry has to play the “zealous/righteous/jesus juke” card like a half-tipsy white older uncle getting onto the dance floor at a wedding and telling himself: ” I will now begin to dance. I am dancing. I will keep dancing.”

    neo’s are so much fun


  11. E. Burns: “Do we need to be like the guy in this video to appreciate firearms or homeschooling?
    Do homeschooling and a “locked and loaded” motif always need to go together?”

    GW: Actually, I thought this video clip was rather tame, even somewhat humorous, in comparison with other video clips of him I’ve watched. But at the same time I agree that Rev. Swanson does play into the hands of certain homeschool stereotypes; like the stereotype that all homeschoolers own firearms, belong to the NRA, and look down their noses at parents who send their children to public school.

    We homeschool our son but have never owned firearms. (Though, living here in the Cleveland area, I will say that if we ever found ourselves stuck in certain sections of East Cleveland — with its prevalence of gang violence, drugs, Detroit-style bombed-out neighborhoods and abandoned houses — we might wish we had a concealed carry weapon with us.)

    Speaking of homeschooling, I recently wrote a blog post (pardon the self-promotion!) on the issue of how Christian parents should educate their children; one which I suspect Rev. Swanson would take issue with:


  12. Terry, Daniel 1. Nothing about “knowledge after a fashion,” only God giving Daniel learning and skill in all literature and wisdom through pagan instruction.


  13. Zrim, Nope. Daniel’s knowledge was different. He knew that God created it all and that God alone was to be worshipped. That’s why he got thrown into the lion’s den.


  14. No school of choice in Daniel’s time. Barely school of choice in our time. Not sure a coercive educational system is what you want to appeal to.


  15. Terry, you mean Daniel’s redemptive knowledge? Well, sure it was different but how it bore on his creational knowledge in such a way as to make it true knowledge and render those without his redemptive knowledge a “(creational) knowledge after a fashion” isn’t as obvious to some of us, especially since God himself doesn’t speak that way. Ouch. Is neo-Calvinism another way of improving on what God says?

    And on coercion, God sent him to the U of B to gain wisdom and learning, that is, if you really believe in sovereignty. Why does it always seem like you guys can never quite bring yourselves to admit something like that, as if it was at best just a necessary evil?


  16. Zrim, why isn’t knowledge that God is Creator creational knowledge? Knowledge of God as Creator is not “redemptive”. Sure, in this sinful age, you must be redeemed to have that knowledge, but Romans says they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20.

    Ah, the U of B, that bastion of a God-centered education. We should all strive for that.

    As for God not speaking that way. That’s what you say. Many of us see it quite differently. I can’t help it if you can’t read your Bible. Ouch back at you.


  17. Zrim: God sent him to the U of B to gain wisdom and learning, that is, if you really believe in sovereignty.

    and for what eventual purpose – faith demonstration to the exaltation of Daniel’s God among them

    The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Whatever is not from faith is sin; and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him

    time will fail me if I tell of all the prophets who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions

    16 Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.Then the king arose at dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions’ den. When he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” 23 Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 24 The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children and their wives into the lions’ den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.25 Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound! 26 I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever. 27 “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”28 So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian. Daniel 6


  18. Terry, you’re a teacher, it’s your job to help me read it right. Step it up.

    Here it is:

    In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

    But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

    As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

    Show me where there is any undermining of pagan learning, according to plain reading. Sure sounds like God used it to give the boys knowledge full stop.


  19. Zrim: Bite your neo-Calvinist tongue.

    Hey Zrim, hope your doing good. Neo-cal? Don’t know helpful labels are; doubt the Lord cares for them; and anyway,befitting us fallen creatures, we just tend to deride each other by them. Probably just advantageous to stick to studying the Bible, listen to pastors and others teachers, listen to the Holy Spirit, pray, don’t have preconceived notions, study some more, then have faith and conviction from the Lord. Think that’s what Daniel did.


  20. Ali, how anti-confessional of you. But if God labels even himself, who are you to judge labels and their makers?

    ps Labels are great. What’s not so great is re-gifting label makers, just ask Tim Whatley.

    pps I’m doing well, thanks (not good).


  21. pps I’m doing well, thanks (not good).

    Ha. Thanks Zrim. Everyone has his job at OL! Are you trying to take cw’s!
    but to self-justify – maybe I meant are you doing good things?

    How are you?I’m well. [Misunderstood the question.]because well as an adjective which means in good health

    How are you?I’m good. [Misunderstood the question.]because good as an adjective means having moral excellence

    How are you?I’m doing good. [Grammatically incorrect.] because good is an adjective, not an adverb.

    How are you?I’m doing well. [Correct.] I’m doing fine. [Correct.]because well is an adverb describing how you are doing; because fine is an adjective which means being satisfactory or in satisfactory condition


  22. Ali, did pagans impart to you that grammatical knowledge (after a fashion)? Good thing you’re a believer, otherwise we couldn’t be epistemologically sure you know that a verb is really a verb. Or something.


  23. Sorry, Zrim, I don’t build my views on this subject on one passage, let alone a simple narrative. Perhaps you should do a crash course in C. Van Til. As for the Biblical text Daniel 4 might be a good place to start. The most prominent of U of B graduates seems to have missed something. I also doubt that you want to attribute Daniel’s “learning” in visions and dreams to the U of B professors.


  24. Terry, here’s a crash course on learning (from “Foundations of Christian Education”):

    “Non-Christians believe that the personality of the child can develop best if it is not placed face to face with God. Christian believe that the child’s personality cannot develop at all unless it is placed face to face with God. Non-Christian education puts the child in a vacuum. In this vacuum the child is expected to grow. The result is that the child dies. Christian education alone really nurtures personality because it alone gives the child air and food.”

    “Non-Christians believe that authority hurts the growth of the child. Christians believe that without authority a child cannot live at all.”

    “No educational content that cannot be set into a definitely Christian-theistic pattern and be conducive to the development of covenant personality has any right to appear in our schools.”

    “What sense is there in spending money for teaching arithmetic in a Christian school rather than in a so-called neutral school unless you are basically convinced that no space-time fact can be talked about taught unless seen in its relationship to God? When speaking thus of the absolute antithesis that underlies the education policies of our schools, it is not too much to say that if any subject could be taught elsewhere than in a Christian school, there would be no reason for having Christian schools.”

    “The only reason why we are justified in having Christian schools is that we are convinced that outside of a Christian-theistic atmosphere there can be no more than an empty process of one abstraction teaching abstractness to other abstractions.”

    “No teaching of any sort is possible except in Christian schools.”

    “The ground for the necessity of Christian schools lies in this very thing, that no fact can be known unless it be known in its relationship to God. And once this point is clearly seen, the doubt as to the value of teaching arithmetic in Christian schools falls out of the picture. Of course arithmetic must be taught in a Christian school. It cannot be taught anywhere else.”

    “…if you cannot teach arithmetic to the glory of God, you cannot do it any other way because it cannot be done any other way by anybody.”

    “On the basis of our opponents the position of the teacher is utterly hopeless. He knows that he knows nothing and that in spite of this fact he must teach. He knows that without authority he cannot teach and that there are no authorities to which he can appeal. He has to place the child before an infinite series of possibilities and pretend to be able to say something about the most advisable attitude to take with respect to the possibilities, and at the same time he has to admit that he knows nothing at all about those possibilities. And the result for the child is that he is not furnished with an atmosphere in which he can live and grow.”

    That’s good for inspiring the neo-Cal crowd, but does it pass the gut check? If it’s true that nothing really happens in anything but a redeemed school, how did Daniel graduate with so much learning and wisdom? Why was CVT so frustrated with the state of Christian education by the end of his life since it didn’t look the way he thought it should? Could it be that with remarks like these nobody really knew what he was saying?


  25. Zrim,

    Yikes on those quotes.


    Did CVT and the neocals have a right understanding of the nature of man?


  26. Zrim, yep. Nice crash course. Sounds like we’ll just have to disagree.

    Take this one for example. “…if you cannot teach arithmetic to the glory of God, you cannot do it any other way because it cannot be done any other way by anybody.”

    CVT would say that “any other way” is merely “after a fashion”. Good enough so that you can get along in the world (balance your checkbook). It’s not in line with reality––a reality that has God as Creator. If you miss that or don’t learn that, you’ve missed and not learned THE most fundamental aspect of arithmetic.

    If you’re satisfied with “after a fashion” as the goal of education, then you’re not going to be convinced. I don’t think that’s what God calls us to be or to do. He says “Mine!” with no compromise. And that claim especially extends into the educational realm.

    Perhaps the Christian schools that CVT were frustrated with just didn’t get it. They became tack-on-the-Bible-and-theology schools that held daily chapel and inspired social do-good-ism and the preparation of full-time para-church ministry workers. Having become this there’s no reason for them to exist. Certainly such schools are not worth the tuition dollars. Nary a difference from the public school with an inspiring youth group at church.


  27. “James Young, explain the village atheist trap before I answer.

    Why so many questions?”

    Keep up the Socratic method 🙂

    Just teasing a bit.


  28. Terry, the problem is that all this “after a fashion” stuff does is score epistemological points. If the pagan cashier gives me correct change, isn’t that all that really counts? Maybe want to call that “just getting along” but that’s all the job entails and to be unsatisfied with it sure seems like too much worry. Who cares if she does doesn’t do it from faith? And if she doesn’t, the point isn’t that she doesn’t make change to the glory of God but that she is called to respond to the gospel to gain eternal life. That’s the problem with neo-Calvinism–it co-opts the gospel to be at least as much about glorifying God in temporal vocation as it is about gaining the life to come, if not more. True, provisional life matters more than the world-flight holy rollers assume, but eternal life is the emphasis of Christianity and neo-Calvinism undermines that emphasis.


  29. eternal life is the emphasis of Christianity

    yes. and doesn’t it begin now Zrim? … when he who hears My (Jesus’s) word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life

    God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son-This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. He who believes in the Son has eternal life- And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

    And -we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren-no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

    (sorry deleted scripture references by mistake, you can look them up)


  30. Zrim, perhaps that’s all that counts for unbelievers. Not so with believers. Remember, we’re talking about Christian education here. Of course, unbelievers need to acknowledge God as Creator and believe the gospel too, and they are without excuse. But it seems rather obvious to me that the covenant children ought to be fully educated in the Christian worldview, epistemology and all. Pity the poor soul who never wonders why 2 + 2 = 4.

    Thanks, by the way, for at least admitting to epistemological points. That’s the heart of the argument.


  31. Terry, eternal life is also the emphasis for believers. You’re sounding eeeevangelical and revealing the problem with neo-Calvinism–believers are good to go and onto more important things. Is it any wonder neo-Cal worship has gone to pot? Is it any wonder that your CRC has given a collective yawn to its confessional heritage in favor of the all important project of worldview, culture, and schooling?


  32. Zrim, where did you get the idea that “believers are good to go and onto more important things.” Catechism, church attendance, family discipleship, etc. are all still part of the picture in school and out of school. Perhaps it’s a leap based on some bad experience.

    By the way, I just finished a 6 weeks Adult Discipleship class on the Canons of Dort in our Fort Collins CRC. Not all of us are yawning.


  33. Terry, from you: “Of course, unbelievers need to acknowledge God as Creator and believe the gospel too, and they are without excuse. But it seems rather obvious to me that the covenant children ought to be fully educated in the Christian worldview, epistemology and all. Pity the poor soul who never wonders why 2 + 2 = 4.” It’s that kind of juxtaposition that suggests it somehow isn’t as much for BELIEVERS to acknowledge God as Creator and believe the gospel as it is to ponder epistemological.

    Van Drunen makes an extended observation on the undermining of the doctrinal and ecclesiastical that comes with neo-Calvinism in his chapter in “Always Reformed.” It resonates with my own 15 years at ground zero. Whatever your experience off the reservation, I’m talking about the broader and pre-dominant trajectory which is decidedly a-confessional.


  34. Zrim, but that’s exactly what pondering epistemology is. It’s recognizing the connection of the realities of Creation (“the facts” if you will) to God, His being Creator, our finiteness as creators, and our fallenness. You can’t talk about any of those things without the Confessional foundation. Ground zero doesn’t practice Christian education as envisioned by C. Van Til. “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” As we’ve discussed before, neo-Calvinist transformationalism turns into social gospelism when it’s divorced from the Reformed confession and the antithesis. Van Drunen turns a symptom into a cause. I would suggest that the root is liberalism and broad evangelicalism rather than neo-Calvinism. Burning the wooden shoes meant burning Reformed distinctives. The Kuyperian project turns into social gospelism without the Reformed confession behind it.


  35. Terry, that’s the thing though. Why does a confessional tradition need anything more than that, i.e. the epistemological tradition? Do you really need the latter to know and understand the relationship between God and his creation? How is this not a way of undermining the confessional tradition? Does a kid who is taught that God made the world through his catechism really need a curriculum to bolster that?

    You say the obvious answer is yes, but I’m wanting to know why you think catechesis is so insufficient because that isn’t as obvious to me. If catechesis was good enough for the early church, why do religious moderns think they can and should improve upon it? And that’s really what the worldview problem seems to be, the influence of modernity on the church..


  36. Terry, when you talk about epistemology you sound like the “nice” Roman Catholic ladies, thus again giving more evidence of neo-Calvinism being the gateway drug to Rome and all that comprehensiveness.


  37. Zrim, epistemology (and ontology) flows out of the confession and catechism. It’s not an add-on to the Confession. Sure, all the big philosophy words aren’t in the confession, but so what? It’s the ideas that count. Christian education ties confession and catechism to the creational disciplines. C. Van Til even says in the Foundations document that if you teach religion everywhere a little bit, you may not even need to spend as much time teaching religion as separate Bible and theology classes.

    The flip side is that if you teach curriculum without the linkage to the confession, i.e. don’t make the epistemology explicit, then you reinforce the idea that the confession is irrelevant to the curriculum–which is where we are today in public education and which you seem to think is the ideal. The whole secular program suggests that God is irrelevant to public life, to the sciences, to the arts, etc. Keep your religion in your bedroom and in your church. Of course, that is where western culture is today. God, religion, the church are all private concerns.

    I suspect homeschooling was big in the early church. They had a fully integrated curriculum from the get go.


  38. Terry, I’d commend WA Strong’s “Children in the Early Church” which suggests otherwise, i.e. pre-modern Christians didn’t make the connections moderns do. I know, moderns have it all sifted out and do it better, but the pre-moderns sure sound like they were made of sterner stuff.

    “The early Christians lived in a society whose values were inimical to them in many respects. The pagan society around them was underpinned by a religion which they considered false, if not demonic; it was characterized by moral values they could not share; and it was entered into by an education steeped in paganism. So we might expect the early Christians to try to protect their young by providing some alternative form of education which would keep them free from the temptations and snares of the pagan world in which they lived. They had, after all, the example of the Jewish synagogue schools. But, rather surprisingly, the Christians did not take that course for several centuries. There was no fiercer critic of paganism than Tertullian (c. 160-c.225), but even he accepted the necessity for young people to share in the education on offer at pagan schools. His chosen image to describe the Christian pupil’s situation as he read the pagan authors whose work formed the ancient syllabus, was that of someone offered poison to drink, but refusing to take it (On Idolatry 10).

    “The young Origen (born c.185 AD)…is said to have received extra instruction in the Scriptures from his father, Leonides, each day before he set out for his secular schooling (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.2.7f.)…Here was a devout Christian father, later to be martyred for the gospel, who was nonetheless willing for his son to attend school, and follow the normal curriculum of the pagan classics. Origen himself became an enthusiast for secular education as a preparation for Biblical study, and in later life urged it on those who came to him for instruction (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.18.4: NE 192).

    “We hear of no Christian schooling outside the home in the early centuries. A century after Clement had written to Corinthian fathers and husbands to ‘instruct the young in the fear of God,’ the same pattern of family responsibility can be seen in Origen’s Alexandria. Christian parents were still content for their children to share a common education with their pagan neighbors, and the church was slow to copy the synagogue in providing an alternative pattern of schooling. Even when John Chrysostom (c.347-407) wrote the first Christian treatise on the education of children (On the Vainglory of the World and on the Education of Children), he addressed himself to parents, and said nothing about sending children to specifically Christian schools. The first Christian schools seem to have been those founded by the monasteries from the fourth century onwards (Marrou 1965 472-84).

    “It is worth asking why Christians did not take the opportunity to create their own schools. If we take the comparison with the Jewish community, one reason must have been that there was no need for Christian children to learn a sacred language; their Jewish contemporaries had to learn Hebrew. Those who spoke Greek could read the New Testament in its original language, and the Old testament in Greek translation. And the New Testament Scriptures were rapidly translated into the various languages of the Mediterranean. Further, Christians did not see themselves as culturally distinct from their neighbours. An anonymous writer of the late second century expressed eloquently how Christians were in the world, but not of it:

    For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by dress. For they do not dwell in cities of their own, or use a different language, or practise a peculiar speech…But while they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the land in clothing and food, and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful, and admittedly strange…Every foreign land is to them a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land.(Epistle to Diognetus 6.1-5: NE 55).

    “To set up their own separate educational provision would have been to withdraw from the common life they shared with their pagan neighbours. And, while they recognized the dangers and allure of paganism, the early Christians saw no need to do that. They let their children ‘share in the instruction which is in Christ’ (1 Clement), and they allowed them access to education for the wider pagan society. They were not trying to create a Christian ghetto, but to be salt and light in their world. Their attitude to their children’s education was an expression of this open yet critical attitude.”


  39. “We hear of no Christian schooling outside the home in the early centuries.” I think that’s what I said. And, for what it’s worth, where there is no educational alternatives, homeschools or private Christian schools, doing the work at home in a supplemental way is the best you can do. Part of “instructing the young in the fear of the Lord” is to make the sorts of connections and dependencies on God as Creator that CVT is advocating.


  40. @ Terry:

    In the interest of getting some interesting discussion going, what precise epistemological propositions are laid out or ruled out in the Scripture?


  41. Terry, no, you said homeschooling, which isn’t the same as schooling at home. One is a modern phenomenon, the other pre-modern.

    But you quibble. The larger point you seem to be missing is that if the pre-moderns made the kinds of doctrinal-epistemological connections you advocate then why no evidence in the form of schooling, the most obvious place to foster such connections? Why the mixing it up all Daniel like? Perhaps they knew the three Rs weren’t contingent on the three Persons the way moderns awkwardly want to maintain.

    Jeff, sorry to bore you.


  42. Terry, all that talk about epistemology sounds like a fancy way of talking about regeneration. 2kers are big believers in the spiritual differences between believers and unbelievers. What is much less clear, and the Kuyperians don’t help, is the creational differences.


  43. Zrim, I still fail to see Daniel as an example for us, especially in our society where there are great freedoms to exercise full religious expression. Better might be to ask what kind of schooling would Daniel have received if he hadn’t been forcibly exiled and what kind of explicit connections to God and his being Creator would have been made in such school.

    Jeff, an initial very simple response (for now) is simply that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. The fool has said in his heart that there is no God. Is it a corollary to say that all learning apart from God is ultimately foolishness? We could move to ideas of God’s law (speech) setting the boundaries of Creation (the whole Dooyweerdian enterprise). If that’s the way things are (revealed to us in scripture) doesn’t that say something about how we ought to know things.


  44. Terry, of course he loses his example-ness when the point is the virtue of redemptive schooling. But that’s not the way to read the Bible. The way to read the Bible is like this: Look, there’s Daniel getting a pagan education and God unreservedly commending his learning. Now what? You seem to work pretty hard at explaining it away, even speculating on what it would have looked like if what actually happened didn’t in order to get even more antithesis. Heavens. But here’s the thing about the 2k reading–you can have your antithesis and world-affirmation too.

    So I wonder what “in the world but not of it” really means to neos?


  45. Darryl, me promoting “Dare to Be a Daniel”? I think that was Zrim. What are you talking about? Frankly, I don’t really like that song. Way too moralistic.

    Zrim, not explaining anything away. Just recognizing the unusual circumstances of Daniel. Where were his parents? Where is his rabbi? Surely, the normal education of covenant children involves them learning that God is the Creator and all of reality depends on him and that he is providentially active in history. Ideally, the study of Creation (in the disciplines) just naturally incorporates this reality. I suggest that in our society where there is freedom of religion and other things that it is a very natural conclusion to conduct the education in the context of that religion.

    And for the record, world affirming is different from Creation affirming. I assume you meant the latter. “In the world” indeed means that we participate in society with unbelievers. You misunderstand the Kuyperian project. Labor unions, newspapers, universities, political parties, etc. aren’t meant to get us out of the world, rather they are the way to engage that part of society/Creation along side other worldviews. American individualism raises its ugly head again. You call each one individually to participate in the society as individuals along side other individuals of different worldviews.

    Education is a different beast in my opinion. Young people are being formed. They don’t need to be formed by non-Christians. Seems crazy to me. It’s not appropriate to consider children missionaries. (Most Reformed churches require a seminary degree.) Now if a Christian teacher wants to teach in a secular school that seems perfectly fine to me if that’s what they’re called to do.


  46. Terry, creating any redemptive version of creational tasks (labor unions, schools, and newspapers) only ever looks like an attempt to draw the outer edges of Christian bubble in more expansive ways. What would look like actual engagement is, well, engaging those things simply as they are, perhaps merely bringing to the table a particular perspective. I understand your high ideals as a neo-Calvinist, but you talk about the worldview project the way the Callers do paradigms–it’s an idea that exists and looks good in your head but in practice just never really works out.

    Human beings are formed primarily by their families, only secondarily by other institutions including their teachers. It’s ascribing far too much power to educators to suggest any sort of co-opting of that primary role. Ask any classroom teacher who is expected to fulfill some sort of parental role just how limited their actual powers are. You speak the way the big governmenters speak about education. Crazy is relative. But much agreed on the missionary tack–schooling is a child’s vocation and is about his/her own best interests, whereas missionary work is in the interests of others.


  47. Zrim, the tasks are Creational plain and simple. I’m not sure what “redemptive version” is. But I do stick with the Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation paradigm. Each is comprehensive and covers all reality. Anything created thing “as they are” is in a fallen condition and is not right “as they are”.

    You see there’s no Christian bubble here. You keep thinking that the Kuyperian enterprise is the evangelical or fundamentalist one. There’s a full engagement of all of Creation. You know…”not one square inch”.

    Say what you want about the power of educators and the educational system. I think you’re wrong about that. Pop culture, schools, professional athletics, and now social media have molded Americans for the past half century or even more. There is very little resistance by believers as far as I can tell despite Ted Cruz saying “God bless the great state of Iowa” and “to God be the glory”. And, yes, the Christian school movement today is largely gutted of it philosophical underpinnings.

    Wrt the missionary issue–the most common objection I hear from many Christians is that Christians need to be in the public schools as missionaries bringing the salt and light of the gospel to our community. I’m not sure I hear you saying that exactly, but you see once again that the witness is individual rather than corporate. Christian institutions are corporate salt and light.


  48. Zrim, just to add one thought. One of the purposes of the public education historically is the melting pot and the homogenization of various disparate immigrant traditions. I think you can document that fairly easily in mid 20th century educational philosophy and practice.


  49. Terry, when any facet of the creational order, which can be done by any created agent, is called “Christian blank” then that is a redemptive version of it, from Christian sheep herding to Christian labor unionizing and newspapers. Intellectual and vocational pietism may be distinguished from the tacky funda-evangelical ghetto, but that’s a distinction without a difference.

    And it shows in what you say about wider culture and its shaping influences. That’s exactly what the funda-evangie pietsists say. You both discount the way human beings are actually made and work, all the better for promoting Christian bubble–look out, here comes the world, baton down the epistemological hatches and blame the Christian masses for being such miserable, compromising failures.

    re the history of PS, that case can be made, but you seem to say that like it’s a bad thing. It could be argued that what we have today is an atomized and consumeristic society buttressed by designer schooling. There used to be a time when there was one neighborhood school and everyone went there because there were no choices, and everyone had to figure out a way to teach the kids their 3 Rs despite their various differences. IOW, it was a vital facet in the making of American society. Now everyone is hunkered down in their respective bunkers. Don’t get me wrong, there are upsides to variety and competition, but there’s a lot to be said for what the PS project affords. Like this:


  50. Terry, was not Kuyper a man in favor of public education? Did not Free University and Calvinist day schools receive state aid? In other words, neo-Calvinist education was public education.



  51. Terry M. Gray: Frankly, I don’t really like that song. Way too moralistic.

    way too moralistic? really, in what way?

    “standing (even alone, even if necessary) by God’s firm, true purpose; heeding, honoring, making it known- ‘the gospel banner high’ -announcing the victory won over the defying enemy”


  52. Public school also taps into a large tax base in order to provide a science education that is not possibly happening with home schooling or lower-funded private schools.

    Athletic training cannot be met as well.

    I understand fully that people who can’t handle riding the subway want their children coccooned into home schooling or local Church schooling only.

    It’s a mean world…


  53. One kid who was homeschooled/tiny Christian schooled was so helpless that 3 times in a row that he entered a public washroom he was abused and harrassed, he was 13 at the time, so his dad had to go into public washrooms with him from then on

    and it wasn’t like he was “gifted” or “special”

    he wouldn’t have lasted a day at a friendly public high school of 1000


  54. Kent, I ride the bus. Also, great promo job for you local public school. Obviously, a center of moral excellence.


  55. Darryl, missed this.

    Terry, was not Kuyper a man in favor of public education? Did not Free University and Calvinist day schools receive state aid? In other words, neo-Calvinist education was public education.

    Oddly straw mannish of you. I’m not opposed to public education if it allows for Christian education. I’ve argued for it in fact. and But, you know full well that that isn’t going to happen here in the USA. Why stoop to such rhetoric? Good neo-Calvinist education operates under good neo-Calvinist government where freedom of religion is recognized in practice.


  56. Terry, the point is that North American neo-Cals don’t always do justice to Dutch neo-Cals. And they leave a lot out in the translation. If you really want Kuyper, then don’t make up a Kuyper in your image.


  57. Darryl, contextualization is always necessary. Different time, different place. I do wish we were more institutionally pluralistic than we are here and now. That’s a big difference. The sad reality is that people sometimes can’t put their money where their mouth is and that’s why public funding is helpful. It’s a shame that people can choose a worldview friendly school just because they can’t afford it.

    By the way, everyone, the second link on my previous post should have been Those are the slides from the talk for anyone who want to breeze through without listening to me drone on.


  58. Good neo-Calvinist education operates under good neo-Calvinist government where freedom of religion is recognized in practice.


    1. But there isn’t any neo-Calvinist government. Anywhere. So does that mean any neo-Calvinist education, which does exist in plenty of places, is less than good and will be until there is neo-Calvinist government?

    2. Since there was no freedom of religion in Geneva, does that mean the Calvinist day schools were less than good?

    Again, you keep theorizing in ways that semis can drive through.

    It’s a shame that people can choose a worldview friendly school just because they can’t afford it.

    Boo hoo. I’d say it’s also a shame that those who don’t choose worldview education for principled reasons give tithes and offerings that go to help pay for those that do with very flimsy biblical warrant, but whining is so annoying.


  59. Zrim, call it whining if you like. It seems to me that you’re the one whining most of the time about this issue. I consider it a matter of justice. My taxes go to an educational system that promotes a false religion and if I want an education for my kids that promotes my own religion I have to pay twice and in some cases do it myself.

    As for your offerings: think of your tithe as paying for the pastor’s salary and heating the meeting room on Sunday. Others who think Christian education is more important can think of their offerings as going toward the tuition line item. Frankly, I prefer a church budget where Christian education tuition assistance is separate from the general budget and is funded through special offerings and not the tithe. Thus, those like you who oppose such a thing aren’t coerced to support it.

    FWIW, I doubt that you’re in the majority who think that Christian education has “very flimsy biblical warrant” at least in the CRCNA, URC, OPC, PCA, RCUS.

    Geneva was not neo-Calvinistic. It was mostly theonomic as were almost 16th century churches and states. I’d say that the Calvinist day schools in Geneva were not a happy situation for Anabaptists, Catholics, or Jews.

    Of course, it’s hyperbole to refer to “neo-Calvinist” government other than to say that one of the roles of an ideal government is to protect the rights of citizens to practice their worldview and religion freely. Most of our Reformed confessions, even after modified for modernity, express this view.


  60. Terry, so mind over biblical justification? Sure, that works on my end when it comes to tithing (and both of us on taxes), but it still doesn’t get your end off the hook.

    When I asked my URCNA consistory for the biblical support for CO 14’s language for elders being charged with “promoting godly schooling,” all I heard were crickets. One would think there would be readily forthcoming biblical support for such a request if the majority is so confident there is one. Crickets tell me there are more assumptions than warrants. Maybe you could provide it? And if there is a warrant for both tithes and elders being charged with promoting it then careful of what that implies for those not persuaded.


  61. Zrim, We’ve been down this path before. I’m not sure I like the CO “mandate” either. I think CE is the task of the family (sphere sovereignty again) and that the Christian school or homeschool is not the only way. I’m not going to argue that public school is totally out of the question. We’ve done all three with our kids. Parental involvement can compensate. But I’m not sure I’ve been arguing for a mandated, enforced Christian education. I’m arguing that a Reformed educational philosophy (not ecclesiastically or governmentally enforced) strongly favors what Van Til promotes.


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