Reformed Education

Young People, most of you have had the benefit of a solid, Reformed education in our Protestant Reformed Christian Schools. Do you value that education? In a time when the wicked of this world are wrangling over the poor schools in our land, does not the presence of our own schools inspire thankfulness in your hearts? Certainly, they are a treasure that should be maintained and developed. Therefore, this book by Prof. David Engelsma is heartily recommended. It is called Reformed Education: The Christian School as Demand of the Covenant. In this book, Prof. Engelsma succinctly explains how we are to go about running a Protestant Reformed Christian School.

In fact, one of the best features of this book is that it is short and sweet. It is a book that can be read by anyone that is zealous for promoting Christian education. However, as a young person, you may be thinking that this is not important right now. It is important, and Prof. Engelsma is sure to include you also. On page 18 he says that “all of the covenant people should take an interest in this basic aspect of the covenant of God.”

Reformed Education was originally published in 1977 by the Federation of Protestant Reformed School Societies after Prof. Engelsma taught a “mini-course” on the same subject. Since then, it was reprinted in 1981, by our own young people’s societies. Because the book has been out of print for a long time, the 2000 reprint by the Reformed Free Publishing Association is very welcome.

Except for a thorough editing job, some added references, and a new section on home-schooling, the content of the book is the same as in the previous editions. Yet, this book is not out of date because many of the same issues dealt with in this book are still relevant.

Furthermore, the Christian school is still the demand of the covenant even as it was twenty years ago. This is the clear point that Prof. Engelsma continually makes throughout the entire book. He especially shows this in the first chapter where he explains that the basis of the Christian school is the covenant. In the covenant, we have a relationship with our God. We know that He is our God and that we are His friend-servants. Yet, this covenant extends not only to us but also to the whole creation. As Prof. Engelsma explains on page 4, “God’s covenant is cosmic. It extends to, and brings into its compass, the entire creation of God and all creatures in the creation, organically considered. This is an aspect of the covenant that is of greatest importance for Christian day school education by virtue of the fact that the Christian school gives instruction concerning the whole of creation.”

Prof. Engelsma also points out that the covenant is graciously continued in our generations. Therefore, the parents of the church are called to bring up their children in the fear of God’s name. This is the covenantal demand from God. It is for this reason that we set up schools. According to Prof. Engelsma, we are not to set up schools to try, “to get the children saved” (8). Neither must our schools, “rest on the foundation of the [postmillennial] determination to make a grand, earthly kingdom” (8). Finally, our schools must not be based on a “negative” reaction against “the evil of the state school” (8).

The author continues his treatment of how we are to run our schools by explaining the place of the Scriptures in our schools. He rightly emphasizes the unspeakable blessing that we have the freedom to teach every subject through the spectacles of the infallible and inerrant Holy Scripture. Furthermore, the value of Reformed Education is that it gets down to the nitty gritty: how our teachers should use the Scriptures in our schools. Prof. Engelsma emphasizes that the Scriptures should permeate all of the subjects. Therefore, to merely have a Bible class does not comprise Christian education. In fact, Prof. Engelsma even recommends that parents should be able and willing to teach Bible to their own children:

As regards Bible as a subject, even though tradition weighs heavily against doing so, it would be in keeping with the idea of the Christian day school to drop Bible as a separate subject in the curriculum. Teaching Bible is not something that parents cannot do themselves, or ever may be unable to do themselves. It is, in fact, something that they should do themselves. It might be beneficial for parental exercise of their calling that parents knew that they, not the school, would have to perform this task. The teaching of Bible, as a distinct subject now, is not the reason for establishing Christian schools and may hinder the accomplishing of the real purpose for the school as regards Scripture. (33-34)

What is the purpose of the school as regards Scripture? Prof. Engelsma says, “Scripture must be taught thus: as the foundation, light, and center of every subject” (34). This is especially true when our teachers impart how we live in this world. This is the subject of chapter three, “Reformed Education and Culture.” In this chapter, Prof. Engelsma tackles the difficult question of what our worldview and what our view of culture should be. In other words, how ought we to live as a Christian in every sphere of life? To answer this question, Prof. Engelsma warns us against the danger of building a Christian culture that is founded on common grace. Over against many in the church world who can see no way to live in this world apart from holding to common grace, we reject it because it wrongly, “compels the people of God to join in with the world in their development, to make a contribution” (47). However, in our rejection of common grace, we must not fall into the error of world-flight which, “advocates physical separation from the world, shunning normal, earthly life” (49). Rather, our Christian school should teach the antithesis between two cultures of the wicked and the righteous. As Prof. Engelsma says, “It teaches discrimination between them. It instructs the covenant child to pursue the one way and reject the other” (59). While Prof. Engelsma does not like the term “culture,” he says that the Christian school is, “instrumental in producing a Reformed culture.” The school does this not by helping to set up a carnal kingdom, but by teaching the children to live every day of their lives, “in obedience to the law of God and to God’s glory, using to the utmost of their power the abilities that God has given” (59).

The fourth chapter deals with the calling of the Protestant Reformed teacher. Since many of you may be contemplating teaching, I ask you to read this chapter. It is especially helpful because it summarizes what a teacher should be. Teachers should realize that they are the humble servants first of all of God Who has called them. Second, teachers must work diligently to prepare themselves academically and spiritually to be the humble servants of parents. Indeed, Prof. Engelsma calls for a unity between home and school: “The home and school must be one in mind, one in will, and above all, one in heart as to who the child is, what the required instruction and discipline are, and who God is” (78).

This brings us to the point of the last chapter: What is the aim or goal of the Christian school? To do this, Prof. Engelsma explains his goal for the Christian school. That goal is the following: “Our goal is a mature man, or woman, of God who lives in this world, in every area of life, with all his powers, as God’s friend-servant, loving God and serving God in all of his earthly life with all his abilities, and who lives in the world to come as a king under Christ, ruling creation to the praise of God, His Maker and Redeemer” (84).

Lest we rely on our own strength to achieve this goal, Prof. Engelsma reminds us to place our trust in God and remember that the ultimate goal for our whole life is the glory of His Name. He states on pages 93-4, “But this is God’s work. Here, Christian teachers and Christian parents rest. The covenant is God’s. The covenant promise is gracious. They depend on no man. God makes covenant children. God brings them to spiritual manhood. God works in them to will and to do the life and labor of the kingdom.” For all of you young people who have been brought by God to maturity through the instrumentality of our Christian schools, it is your calling to prepare yourselves to maintain these schools. The book, Reformed Education, will help you. I again recommend this work to anyone who is zealous for the instruction of the covenant seed. It can be purchased by writing to the RFPA, 4949 Ivanrest Ave., Grandville MI 49418, USA, or by calling 616-224-1518.