Reformed Education: The Christian School as Demand of the Covenant

Two reviews of Reformed Education: The Christian School as Demand of the Covenant by Professor David Engelsma.

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Book review first published in The Evangelical Presbyterian (of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia) January, 2002.

Professor Engelsma’s book on Reformed education, first published in 1977, now appears in a revised edition. A thoughtful chapter analyzing the present trend toward home education has been added. Those parents of Presbyterian and Reformed conviction who are inclined toward home education, would be well served to obtain this book and consider the arguments presented in it.

The Professor approaches his subject covenantally. The basis for Christian education is the covenant. Believing parents are to educate the children of the covenant in obedience to the demands of God’s covenant. The covenant is defined as “the relationship of friendship between God and his people in Jesus Christ. It is a vibrant relationship of mutual knowledge and love, represented in Scripture not as a lifeless contract but as marriage, or as a father-child relationship. For us men and women and children, it is the enjoyment of salvation and life itself. It is the greatest good, the chief end of man, and the purpose both of creation and redemption.” Three essential aspects of the covenant are shown to apply to the way we view education—in it God gives us work to do—by it God gathers up the whole of his creation—and God establishes his covenant with believers and their children in the line of continued generations.

Then the Christian day school is shown to be one of the demands of God’s covenant for believing parents who take up their responsibility and calling to rear their children in the education and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:4, Deut. 6:1-9).

The Christian school is defined as: “an association of believing parents carrying out a significant part of this calling to God to rear the children through a like minded believer who is both called of God to this vital task and capable of instruction that specifically pertains to the school.” The professor proceeds to defend the covenant as the basis of Christian schooling, to treat the question of whether home schooling is an appropriate or adequate means of fulfilling our covenantal duty, and then to apply the covenantal basis in some practical areas of concern; such as, whether or not covenantal schools should be parent controlled of parochial church schools, whose children should be allowed to attend, and how the children of the school should be viewed. The professor’s conclusion with respect to home schooling will be of interest; he writes: “Even though home-schooling of their children might be possible for a few, specially gifted parents whose circumstances provide the time that is needed, home-schooling is still not an option. In the covenant, all ought to work together in establishing and maintaining good Christian schools for the benefit of all the parents and children of the covenant community … Covenantal thinking recons with the future good of coming generations. Perhaps we can adequately educate our children at home. But will they be able to educate their children—our grand children—at home?”

In further chapters we find a treatment of “Scripture in the Schools,” “Reformed Education and Culture,” “The Protestant Reformed Teacher,” (don’t be deterred by the limitation—the principles will apply to any and every serious Reformed teacher) and “The Goal of Reformed Education.” This latter chapter covers this goal as regards the child, the kingdom of God, and the glory of God.

For those of us who are seriously interested in true Christian education (and I expect that is every member of the EPC—without exception) this book is a MUST READ.

The congregations of the EPC may not, as yet, be large enough to raise schools, and for the time being we must continue to do the best we can with what we have, but this certainly does not allow us to neglect our covenantal duties toward our children. Rather, it means we have something to be actively, and collectively working toward. We must be praying and labouring toward the time when it will be possible to raise up covenantal schools in all our fellowships—and that, in turn, means we must maintain our convictions, commitment and preparedness. It will help if we all READ THIS BOOK!

Book review first published in The Outlook (devoted to the exposition & defense of the Reformed Faith) Reviewer: Rev. Jerome Julien (Stated Clerk for URC) June 2002.

The title of this book may turn off some readers, thinking it is for teachers, or that it will take such an outdated view of education that it would not be relevant. First, it is for everyone: teachers (and they must read it), parents who seek to be faithful to their covenant responsibilities or who wonder what the purpose of Christian education is, students old enough to think and discuss this time-honored part of covenant life. Further, it is not old-fashioned in approach, it is a return to the teaching of Scripture. This is sorely needed in an age where secularism has invaded even the Christian schools. Also, anyone who knows Professor Engelsma’s writings knows they are always relevant.

Originally given as lectures for the benefit of teachers in the Protestant Reformed Christian schools, and published in 1977, they have been somewhat revised but not expanded. The concluding bibliography gives many suggestions for further reading. Professor Engelsma begins by explaining the covenantal basis of Christian education. The school, he states, arises from the demand of God’s covenant. Perhaps homeschoolers will not like what he says about that practice, however, his concern about curriculum is a valid one. Instead of closing the book at that point they should read on. They will certainly learn something!

His chapter on the place of the Bible and confessions in the school is important. He stays far from the Fundamentalism which is rampant in some schools called Christian.

Boldly he addresses. Reformed education in relation to culture as he writes about the dangerous temptation of world-flight and the nearly unknown concept of the antithesis in today’s church world.

The section on the place of the teacher must be read again by teacher and parent alike.

The final chapter on the goal of Reformed education is a gem in many ways.

Not much has been published on this particular approach to Reformed education. May this little volume fill the gap!