[These are notes from a Logos School Teacher Training talk I gave last week.]
Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
I want to talk about the task of classical Christian education as assisting parents in raising children that contend with our enemies in the gates of our cities. I want to talk about the kind of education that trains children to be on the offensive, to build cities and houses, businesses and families that successfully resist the darkness and churches that push back the gates of Hell.
We Have Enemies
I want to begin at the end of the Psalm and simply make the observation that Christians have enemies. Jesus said that we are to love our enemies, but how can you love them if you don’t have any? And therefore, Christian education takes place “in the presence of our enemies” (Ps. 23). Psalm 127 says that the goal of the gift of children is reinforcements. They are to be arrows in the hand of a mighty warrior. And arrows are not just for looking at.
A truly Christian classical education must be oriented to the fray. We are training up inventors and doctors and mothers and dentists and artists, but above all, we want them to think about their vocations as strategic positions all along a great battle line. Jesus said that He built His church on the foundation of Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, and His promise is that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Mt. 16). But people frequently miss what that image clearly implies: Hell is not laying siege to the Church – it’s the other way around: Jesus built His church at the gates of Hell. We are laying siege to Hell. Jesus did this so that it would be really hard for us to miss.
Another way of saying this is that we believe in the antithesis. We believe in truth, and therefore, whatever contradicts the truth is false. We believe in goodness, and therefore, whatever contradicts goodness is evil. And we believe in beauty, and therefore, whatever contradicts beauty is ugly. And the Triune God is ultimate truth, goodness, and beauty. There is a massive difference between a school that understands the antithesis that runs down the middle of history and the middle of every human heart and a school that is either ignorant of that conflict or ambivalent to it.
Closely connected to this point is the Great Commission. Jesus sent us into the world to disciple the nations (Mt. 28). That means proclaiming the gospel to them so that they are converted and taught everything Jesus commanded. With regard to teaching and running schools oriented to the Great War against sin, the flesh, and the Devil, a really important question that every Christian should ask at some point is: should we expect that the Church over the course of history will accomplish that mission? We have enemies, we have a mission, we have a battle line, but if the plan is to make little to no progress, that puts a major damper on the whole enterprise. If you think that having children and raising children and educating children makes little to no difference in the battle, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about that and it will color everything you do. It will shape the whole educational atmosphere of your school.
But Jesus said that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, therefore go. We go because He has won the authority over them. The nations that continuously rage and conspire against the Lord and against His Anointed have been given to Jesus (Ps. 2). Ask of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance. So the first point in making sharp arrows is a fundamental commitment to the fray, to the war, and the firm conviction that Jesus has struck the fatal blow against the kingdom of darkness and the Church will prevail, the nations will be discipled, and our educational efforts are central to the plan.
Meekness not Weakness
This is related to the beginning of Psalm 127. We do not build rightly, unless we build knowing that God is the one building our house. We do not guard or keep watch rightly, unless we do it knowing that God is guarding and watching our city. So this is the second point: a truly biblical Classical education trains warriors from a position of peace and joy and rest, not fear, not panic, not stress. Meekness holds strength from a position of peace and joy. Belligerence is angry, wrathful, uncontrolled, and often driven by deep panic. The other ditch is to simply run away in cowardly weakness, although it is often described in less obvious ways (“I’m just not into the culture war”, “I believe in gentleness and poetry”). But refer back to the previous point: we are at war, we have enemies, and we are training reinforcements.
This work of classical Christian education really is extremely hard and difficult. We really are building houses and cities, and we really are in a great war, a great conflict with enemies all around us. But we build and fight with Jesus in our midst. We are in the storm, but Jesus is in our boat, and Jesus rules the wind and the waves. Listen to Psalm 3: “But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. I laid down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly” (Ps. 3:3-7). Notice again the presence of enemies, and the gift of sleep and rest and fearlessness because the Lord fights for His people. In Psalm 127 it says that God gives His beloved sleep.
Children sense in their parents and teachers the difference between joy and panic, peace and fear. We have great enemies, but we have a greater Savior. There are many Goliaths in the land, but we have One who is Greater Than David in our camp. It is vain for you to rise up early or stay up late, stress eating the bread of sorrows over grades, lesson plans, enrollment, budgets, the board, your kids, or our disintegrating culture. It is empty. It is worthless. And it is worse than worthless because it is actually teaching your students to panic and worry. We build and we fight and we work hard in the peace of Christ, in the joy of the Lord, and we are training children to do the same. So we strive for excellence, high standards, and push beyond what seems reasonable (and sometimes that means late nights and early mornings!), but we do so from a place of joyful confidence. The battle belongs to the Lord. If the Lord is not sitting up late with you or rising early with you, what you are doing is worthless. This is the stance of meekness not weakness. The meek will inherit the earth, Jesus said, but meekness means strength under discipline, power under control. Christian meekness believes that God uses means, God uses parents and teachers and curriculum, but meekness knows that all of it depends on the work of the Spirit not on us. Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. But if the Lord builds the house, nothing can stop it. Meekness builds with the Lord, guards with the Lord, gets up early, stays up late, resists evil, but only with the Lord. And that is the source of our peace and joy. We want that peace and joy to pervade our classrooms, hallways, and families.
Children are a Heritage: Boys & Girls
The center of this psalm declares to us the gift of children: “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” This center is the hinge and pictures everything we are talking about. And notice what it says children are: they are the inheritance of the Lord, His reward. The reinforcements are God’s inheritance. When the classrooms and halls fill up this Fall, smile and thank God for the reinforcements. Thank Him for such a rich inheritance.
But when God gives the gift of children, He always does so in two varieties: boys and girls. This is now considered a radical and backward notion, and is probably illegal to say in some states. So I want to finish by simply insisting that you must see your students not as gender neutral placeholders. But gifts and ammo and reinforcements for the battle with particular gender assignments and powers. Do not lose sight of the fact that you are training and discipling men and women to be fathers/husbands/leaders and mothers/wives/helpers. They will be the most potent in the battle as men and women, with their respective glories shining brightly.
Men are called to use their strength sacrificially to lead, to be assertive, to be bold, to stand firm, and women are called to use their wisdom to glorify, beautify, and multiply. The glory of men is their strength, and the glory of women is taking the gifts of God and making them lovely and fruitful in every way. This means you must learn to see these rudimentary instincts in your students and encourage them. This is usually the hardest with boys. Some of the most challenging boys in your school will be great leaders one day. The reason he can’t sit still is because he was made to work hard. The reason he won’t stop asking questions is because he was made to discover, create, and invent. Stop giving your Christian character awards to the quiet, mousy boy who has straight As and aces scripture memory. If you want to reward effeminacy and get more of a gay culture, go right ahead. Do not misunderstand: Boys most certainly must be learning humility, self-discipline, and respect for authority, but you also want boys to be bold, adventurous, and take risks. I would suggest that a boy with no mistakes on their record is a problem not a role model.
Make sure that girls know that the highest calling for a Christian woman is the fruitfulness of being a wife, a mother, and homemaker and make sure they know that they will be hated for that, and they must not care. Discourage all tomboy-ishness, and encourage true Christian cultivation of beauty, inside and outside. No cattiness, no gossip, no ugly attitudes or grudges. Wisdom is a woman, and she builds houses and sets feasts. But the mouth or immodesty of the foolish woman tears down her own house with her own hands.
Make gender distinctions throughout your school, not just in the bathrooms. Conservatives are (understandably) in complete meltdown mode because public schools are beginning to allow boys in girls bathrooms and locker rooms, but we have sat there doing nothing for the last number of years, pretending that boys and girls are completely the same everywhere else (co-ed wrestling?, girls playing football?, hockey?). If we really want to push back on the gender confusion, practice the glory of manhood and womanhood in the hallways and classrooms and activities. Some ideas: have the girls be seated first at lunch, let the girls come into the classroom and exit the classrooms first, require boys to hold doors, and have clear differences in athletics and sports. Can girls play basketball? Sure, but there ought to be marked difference between boys’ and girls’ basketball. Get lots of input from dads and true men in your community on these things because a bunch of well-meaning moms could think something seems really cute and romantic, and that would be a great way to get a bunch of your boys to die on the inside.
We are making arrows, and we want these arrows to be sharp and fly straight and do damage. And we do that by keeping the battle in plain view, by resting in our Captain who has struck the decisive blow in the cross and resurrection, and by glorying in our distinctive gifts and powers. The Devil and the world are attacking us at this very point because they know that these are powerful and potent. A generation of happy warrior men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers committed to Jesus, their families, and the Church will speak with our enemies in the gates.