Last month’s Feature: “Classics—Good or Bad” will be concluded this
month under the above rubric.
The Case for Classics in the School
I should state at the outset that my argument will assume that the Christian School—The Protestant Reformed Christian School—cannot avoid using the classics in its instruction of the youth. This is the word in which he lives. He is in the world. He certainly is not of it but he must certainly know the world in which he lives, he must know the culture of the world and he must be able to analyze and evaluate these products of the world. I should further argue that even though we do not teach the classics nor hold for truth all that the classics are trying to say, we nevertheless use the classics to teach. The position of the Pr. Reformed Chr. School is not one of neutrality and our use of the classics does not negate our distinctive position. This has always been the way in which God has worked. He has always given the best products of natural man to the child of God for his use. We are the salt of the earth. The earth is here for the Christian. This includes the classics properly understood. Language, along with all the other sciences, is a gift of God. It is through language and particularly in the early Greek and Hebrew that the revelation of God came to men. It was through the means of early classicists that the Scriptures were preserved for us.
The position of the Protestant Reformed Churches has never been anabaptistic. We are not pietistic. We are Calvinists. This does not mean that we assume for truth everything that we read nor does our assumption that the classics are a proper means for study and analysis imply such a position. We have a calling to analyze and carefully criticize those classics which we read and study. Our approach is not that of the legalist who takes a touch not, taste not, handle not attitude but we use all things placing all things in the service of God. In a certain sense our spiritual sensitivity can be tuned up and honed down by means of the classical literature which we read.
One of the questions with which I was confronted was: “Must we read everything? Must our children read immorality?” was the appended explanation. In order to answer the previous question we must first define immorality. We should answer unequivocally then that immorality is ethical spiritual departure from the law of God. A writer composes literature which is immoral when it communicates to the reader that which is contrary to His Word and holds for truth that which is contrary to His Word and testimony. To me the question is not must our children read immoral literature but may they and can they. (There is no age when one can read pornography and not be repulsed is he is spiritually sensitive.) Children can read that which is immoral (notice our definition) according to their level of maturity and not be affected adversely by such immorality. There is a certain age, however, at which they are neither spiritually sensitive nor discerning enough to detect the error taught by some “good” literature. It is the responsibility of the discerning teacher and the parent to point out the error and show it for what it is in this portrayal of life. If the child is able to read critically literature which teaches that which is contrary to the Word of God, and is therefore immoral according to our definition, then he may read such literature.
Children do not learn in a vacuum. The knowledge of the thesis in this world of sin is never discovered. God reveals truth but in a certain sense the child matures and develops thetically as he comes into contact with that which is contrary to the word of God and his testimony. In this sense we live antithetically over against the world. Our study of the classics must also develop this attitude and that at the intellectual level of our lives.
I emphasize again that the school does not teach the classics nor do we teach anything that is contrary to the word of God. This would be contrary to the basic principles that underlie Protestant Reformed education. All education must accord with the teaching of the word of God as this word is interpreted in the Tree Forms of Unity. This is consistent with the confession of the Christian. As a Christian it is imperative that education be given consistent with this pattern.
It is correct to say therefore, that we never simply teach a subject as an appreciation type subject. This is particularly not true in the area of literature. The term appreciation-type subject is a misnomer in the sense that literature is in the curriculum of the Christian school in order that boys and girls may learn to appreciate different forms of literature. Now it is true that the form of the literary work to a great extent influences the effectiveness of the communication of ideas and to that extent we learn to appreciate and emulate good form but we do not simply appreciate and treasure everything that has been produce because it is acclaimed by the majority to be worthy of such honor. We have a responsibility as discerning Christian to be critical of that which we read and to examine all things in the light of the Word of God.
This examination and criticism takes place according to the measure of the gift of analysis and spiritual discernment that is in us. We cannot expect the child to read so critically and discerningly as the one who has long studied the deceitful form sin which error (immorality) is often couched. Do not think that nice literature is true because it is nice. “The close we come to those braches and departments of modern culture in which man’s ethical nature finds expression, the more it becomes evident that modern culture is corrupt.” H. Hoeksema, The Christian and Culture. But this may not always be so evident and a studies attempt must be made to guide our children in their reading. Let them read, have them read, encourage them to read, but guide them in their reading.
So-Called Christian Literature Exposed
Much of the pietistic and so-called religious literature of our day which is found in so many church libraries is neither literature nor is it Christian. I am reminded at this moment of one such preposterous “novel” which came from the Moody Press. It is entitled Past Finding Out. There’s not a swear word in the book but it is so pervaded with a veneer of religiosity that it is neither Christian nor is it literature, and there are many such books.
Literature must portray life. It need not be pornographic in order to portray life, but it must be honest. “The Christian school has the obligation to provide Christian literature written on a suitably artistic level. Much of the so-called Christian literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and so-called Christian literature of this present day is nothing but pietistic drivel. In these books grammar and sentence structure are poor, plots are so improbably as to be absurd, goody-goody characters react to temptation in a thoroughly unrealistic way—whole books reek of improbability. Yet because they revere religion outwardly and are published by Christian publishing houses, these books are included in Christian school libraries even though they violate every standard of good literature.” (from High School English Curriculum Guide, N.U.C.S.)
I am convinced that the material referred to in the above quotation are in a very real sense more dangerous for our children to read than the so-called immoral books to which we object because they have more than two swear words or characteristic slang included in them. The pietistic, Arminian gush published by most publishing houses should be held by us in utter contempt and scorn.
Immaturity often hinders the young reader in being truly critical and selective in his reading. Let us not stymie him completely and make him a victim of a poor class of literature, which is neither literature nor Christian as we attempt to keep him from reading so-called “classical” literature. Let’s expose him to some of the best in the field and develop in him discernment that is necessary for him as a Christian in the midst of the world.