How do you teach your children? When they were baptised, you promised to teach them the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, to instruct them in a god-fearing life, not loving the world but putting off their old nature. It is a question we cannot evade – as parents we have a responsibility to train and equip the next generation.
But how to do that? Is it enough to give our children some boundaries and let them figure things out for themselves? Or should we have a content-rich curriculum in our homes, a curriculum that covers what a Christian approach to business looks like; how we are to think about western culture; the threats and opportunities provided by technology and how to use it in a God glorifying way; how to spend your money; the place and purpose of sexuality?
Before we delve into this, it is helpful to listen to the discussion going on in our society about education in the schools. A recent issue of the Inquirer section of The Weekend Australian decried the falling educational standards in Australia: children in Australia are not just falling behind children in other nations, but also behind when compared to children their own age in Australia a decade ago. Editor at large Paul Kelly writes:
“The issue is elemental. Schoolchildren have not been properly instructed in reading, maths, science and the humanities.”
The federal education minister, Alan Tudge, gives insight into the cause of this problem
“The real problem in educational theory is that we’ve had an approach essentially based on child-centred inquiry and so-called child-skilling which has been hostile to a knowledge-rich, explicit instruction method. This has been the triumph of progressive ideology over evidence-based practices. The evidence is clear that explicit teaching is far more effective than purely child-centred learning.”
Jennifer Buckingham, the director of a literacy instruction provider, contrasts the two approaches:
“Explicit instruction implies you are teaching something concrete. You have defined what you want the child to know. Explicit instruction tends to go hand-in-hand with a content-driven curriculum. … The other approach is a philosophy that we shouldn’t be filling children up with facts, that they learn better discovering things for themselves and they will discover things more readily if they see them as relevant for their own lives. This is a romantic notion of education.”
Kelly quotes Jenny Donovan, director of the Australian Education Research Organisation, a body created by state and federal education ministers, to show that explicit instruction is well-supported by the evidence:
“We need to focus on practices that deliver the most effective learning outcomes. We know what those practices are. The evidence is extremely robust, up there with the most evidence-based stuff there is. We know what works. We are talking here about explicit instruction, the teacher being responsible for the learning of students; teachers revisiting the content to ensure it is learnt and maintained. This approach is supported by cognitive science and our understanding of how the brain learns.”
These are some influential voices calling for explicit instruction in the classroom, because the science supports it. It is striking, then, that God’s Word calls us to engage in what is essentially explicit instruction as we train our children in God’s ways. Think of how the youth in Proverbs is told to hear the instruction of his father (1:8, 4:1), to receive his words and treasure his commands within him (2:1), to pay attention to his wisdom (5:1) and to not forsake the law of his mother (1:8, 6:20). Clearly, there is to be explicit instruction about serving the Lord. This instruction, as the rest of the book makes clear, has to do with daily work, communication, money, friendships, sexuality, politics, old age, conflict, recreation, and building.
This calling does not fall away in the New Testament, but is reinforced, particularly in Paul’s instructions to families in Ephesians and Colossians: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; cf. Col. 3:20,21). In both letters, Paul also teaches how broad the relevance of Jesus Christ is to all of life: “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col. 1:16,17). All of life holds together in Christ and His work is relevant to every part of life. Serving the Lord in every part of life requires understanding how every part of life is connected to Christ, not just in terms of being created through Him and holding together in Him, but also in terms of His restoring work of redemption. These things need to be taught from one generation to the next, so that in all of life, Jesus Christ has the pre-eminence (Col. 1:18).
You could say that the content you need to pass on to the next generation is a full-orbed Christian worldview. Our children need to see and know what God’s word says about every part of life: how the fall has affected it and how it is to be thought about and lived as those who are restored by Christ. Christian living is rich and broad.
A curriculum is broken up into component parts. There are different subjects at school, and different modules within each subject. The Christian worldview has component parts too, and it is good to think about it in that way. It will have a biblical view on marriage and sexuality; a biblical view on business, where it fits in the big picture, how the fall affects it, and what redeemed business activity looks like; and so on.
In his book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke gives the Christian worldview perspective on the phone, and on technology more generally, as he discusses both the dangers they pose and the opportunities they give. In the introduction, he speaks about a “theology of technology” as he reflects on how to view technology in light of God’s word, and our calling to serve Him with the cultural mandate. Maybe the term “theology of” is a helpful way to capture other components of the Christian Worldview curriculum you need to pass on to your children – a theology of money; a theology of aesthetics; a theology of art and music; a theology of work. The word “theology” is used to capture the idea that we need to think about how this part of life is connected to God and His revelation and how it fits in to man’s service of God. And that would mean, for those who attended the Teachers’ Conference in July, that I gave “a theology of numeracy” in my speech.
Whatever we call the components, it is crucial that we pass on the full-orbed Christian worldview to the next generation, in an explicit instruction way. Our children need to hear clear instruction from us about all the different parts of life. We have a rich reformed heritage with many fruitful insights resulting from careful and deep thinking about how to serve God in every part of life.
The stakes are very high. We live in changing times, and our children need to be equipped as the storms of secularism, post modernism and cultural Marxism that are crashing down and wreaking havoc on our society also batter and shake the Church. Marriage and biological sex are redefined, identity is reduced to sexuality and race, there is a widespread rejection of authority and the past, the family is attacked from many angles, ethics is saturated by relativism, pornography spreads its tentacles into all parts of society, hedonism is promoted, and political activism is taught from a young age. The powerful and effective propaganda of the world means that we hear these ideas.
How we need to equip our children so that they can live as God’s servants in a changing world, as members of that Church of all times and places! How we need to pass on good habits, traditions and perspectives, some of which we have possibly inherited without knowing why they are important, but for which there are resources to help us figure that out. Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option, issues the warning that “all it takes is the failure of a single generation to hand down a tradition for that tradition to disappear from the life of a family and, in turn, of a community.”
Parents, your children have been told to hear the instruction of their fathers, to receive your words and treasure your commands within them, to pay attention to your wisdom, to not forsake the law of their mothers. Do you have a theology of recreation and free time to pass on to them? A theology of housework? …
Rev Carl Vermeulen
FRC Darling Downs