The Pieces Falling into Place
by David Quine (shared with permission)
Jigsaw puzzles were part of my earliest childhood. It seems that every Christmas our family received a new puzzle and it wasn't long before the card table became a puzzle table. We would spend hours searching for just the right pieces. At first we looked for the easiest ones -- the four corners and edge pieces. But then the work began as we compared pieces in search for just the right one. We were always looking for patterns -- patterns in shape and color. Eventually, all the pieces would fall into place and the picture on the box would emerge onto our card table. I didn't realize how important these yearly puzzles were in my life until I started writing this article. I have always been a person who looks for patterns among things that appear on the surface to have no pattern. Searching for how the pieces of life's puzzle fits together is who I am. Some puzzles are concrete like a jigsaw puzzle, but others are not -- they are abstract. Those are the harder puzzles to fit together.
There is a puzzle I have been thinking about for the past 15 years. It has to do with the emergence of Classical Education into Christian education. It was first seen in the starting of Classical schools and then more recently a flood of classical curriculum and classical co-ops within homeschooling itself. As the author of World Views of the Western World and Starting Points and home school speaker, many years ago I was asked to present a series of lectures at a "Classical Education" convention. However, several weeks after the invitation was given I was told that my materials were not acceptable and I would not be allowed to present after all. At the time I thought this a little puzzling, but let it slide.
But now I understand what is happening. About a month ago the pieces of the puzzle began falling into place. Where do I start? For me there are four pieces to this puzzle and each piece relates to a particular person: Dr. Peter Enns, Dr. Susan Wise Bauer, the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer, and finally, Josh McDowell. All four of these people are considered influential Christian thinkers and teachers. Let's look at each puzzle piece -- analyzing its color and shape to see how they all might fit together. I will put them into the order in which they came to my mind - although we could actually start with any piece.
Puzzle Piece Number 1: Dr. Susan Wise Bauer
In her very popular history series, The Story of the World, Dr. Bauer subtitled her book: History for the Classical Child. Have you ever asked yourself this question: "Is the Classical child a Christian child?" I think this is a legitimate question. In fact, I think it is the pivotal question. When this textbook first became available I was puzzled by the opening chapter: The Earliest People. As I read the first and then the second paragraphs, I was puzzled.There was no mention of the people I was accustomed to thinking of as the earliest people. Where was Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, and where was Noah? They were no where to be found. The first person mentioned is "Tarak . a seven-year-old nomad who lives with her family - almost seven thousand years ago." And then where was the God of the Bible? He wasn't there either -- not until several chapters later. We are first introduced to the gods Ra and Orisis and others. It was puzzling to me.
Puzzle Piece Number 2: Josh McDowell
In a presentation given in March of this year Josh McDowell talked about the 5 Core Beliefs of Christianity:
1 - The Reliability of Scripture,
2 - The Deity of Christ,
3 - Truth
4 - The Resurrection, and
5 - Salvation through Faith
We agree that these five beliefs are at the core of Christianity. In fact, they are the foundation of the curriculum we have written. Our curriculum is considered an apologetic approach to learning where the student learns not only what we as Christians belief, but why we believe what we believe and then how to communicate these ideas to those in our culture. We teach students how to dialogue from a Pre-suppositional Apologetic (Francis Schaeffer and others), from an Evidential Apologetic (Josh McDowell and others) and from a Moral Apologetic (CS Lewis and others).
I was shocked by the statistics that Josh gave at this conference regarding the lack of belief in these 5 Core Beliefs among evangelical born again young people in the church today. His research study has revealed that less than 4% of evangelical born again young people hold all five of these beliefs as true! Less than 4%! That is shocking.
Puzzle Piece Number 3: Dr. Peter Enns
Dr. Enns was a new piece to my puzzle and perhaps the key to putting all the others together. He is a Christian author, teacher, and writer. I hope that I am able to clearly articulate his piece in the puzzle. It was his association with Dr. Bauer that makes his piece so significant and understandable. He is the author of many articles and several books. The one which is the most important for this discussion is Inspiration and Incarnation. The subtitle to this work is Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. This book has caused quite a stir among evangelical theologians and is worthy of your time to read. His thoughts are very important. Please stay with me through this part. To understand what Dr Enns is saying let me share excerpts from a letter written by Dr. Wayne Grudem (2008) to Dr. Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, regarding Dr. Enns, who was at that time a professor at Westminster Seminary:
I find the book (Inspiration and Incarnation) to be deeply troubling, for the following reasons:
Enns repeatedly delights in presenting interpretations of the Bible that make it appear more problematic and more filled with unresolved and irresolvable problems than it really is (pp. 72, 79, 92, etc.). He insists on translation options that make Scripture internally contradictory with itself (pp. 92-93), or simply false (pp. 54, 98). He repeats the same kind of anti-inerrancy rhetoric that I heard at Fuller in the 1970s, characterizing belief in the Bible's complete truthfulness as "defensive" or as coming close to "intellectual dishonesty" or as simply "preconceived notions" (pp. 14, 107, 108), but speaking of views that take the Bible as contradictory as "creative," "refreshing," and "listening to how the Bible itself behaves" (pp. 15, 66; see also 73, 108). He frequently represents conservative evangelical scholarship as unreliable and untrustworthy (at least pre-Enns), but, remarkably, he impugns conservative scholarship not by documented quotations but by using undocumented, straw-man arguments (pp. 47, 49, etc.). The overall result of this approach will be to lead readers to distrust both the Bible and much evangelical Old Testament scholarship.
He implies that he thinks there is no difference in the truthfulness we should ascribe to the Bible and to ancient Akkadian stories: "How can we say logically that the biblical stories are true and the Akkadian stories are false when they both look so very much alike?" (p. 40). It apparently does not occur to him that believing the Bible to be the Word of God (as I thought Westminster faculty we expected to do) is a very good reason for saying that the Bible is true, and the Akkadian flood stories are unreliable. He fails even to consider the possibility of God's special revelation to Moses, and of his providential guidance and protection of the truthfulness of the records, so that the Bible's stories of creation and the flood are absolutely truthful, historical and reliable. He gives no indication here that he thinks God was any more involved in the biblical accounts than in the Akkadian myths.
He says that "what makes Genesis different from its Ancient Near Eastern counterparts is that it begins to make the point to Abraham and his seed that the God they are bound to . . . is different from the gods around them" (p. 53). But this is in the context of discussing the category of "myth" (which he opposes to "historical," p. 49), and so the implication seems to be that truthfulness or historical accuracy of the account is not something that makes Genesis different from other Ancient Near Eastern creation myths.
He says that "Genesis - as other stories of the ancient world - thus portrays the world as a flat disk with a dome above" (p. 54). But what is a reader to do with this? We know today that that view is false: the world is not a flat disk. But I do not see how readers then can avoid the implication that they should not believe what Genesis tells them about the world. Genesis according to Enns is simply untrue.
He claims that Hebrew (or an earlier version of written Hebrew) may not have even existed at "the end of the second millennium B.C." (p. 51), and thus implies a chronology that makes it impossible for Moses (died 1400 or perhaps 1180 B.C.) to have written the Hebrew words of Genesis - Deuteronomy (p. 52).
This was the missing piece to my puzzle. I had never seen the connection before. This explains why Dr. Bauer's history series, Story of the World, doesn't include the first eleven chapters of the Bible! What happens to each of the 5 Core Beliefs of Christianity within Dr. Enns framework of theology? Do we maintain the reliability of the Scripture and Truth? What about the other three aspects of these core beliefs?
Puzzle Piece Number 4: Dr. Francis Schaeffer
The final piece of this puzzle explains what we can expect to happen regarding these 5 Core Beliefs of Christianity.
I remembered Dr. Schaeffer writing about the Reliability of Scripture and Truth in his book No Final Conflict, but what did he say? I began reading. He explained that the watershed issue of our generation would be the Reliability of Scripture and Truth and then eventually the other three core beliefs.
"It is my conviction that the crucial area of discussion for evangelicalism in the next years will be the Scripture. At stake is whether evangelicalism will remain evangelical. The issue is whether the Bible is God's verbalized communication to men giving propositional truth where it touches the cosmos and history, or whether it is only in some sense "revelational" where it touches matters of religion. The early chapters of Genesis relate to this discussion, but ultimately the question is not (and cannot be) confined to them: the whole Bible is involved." (Francis A. Schaeffer, No Final Conflict, Introduction)
"We must say that if evangelicals are to be evangelicals, we must not compromise our view of Scripture. There is no use in evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger, if at the same time appreciable parts of evangelicalism are getting soft at that which is the central core -- namely, the Scriptures..
"We must say most lovingly but clearly: evangelicalism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who do not.
(Francis A. Schaeffer, No Final Conflict, Ch. 1
The neo-orthodox position is that the Bible contains mistakes in the areas of history and science, but we are to believe it anyway in the religious areas, that somehow a "religious word" breaks forth from it. The result is that religious things become "truth" inside of one's head -- just as the drug experience or the Eastern religious experience is "truth" inside of one's head.
"Further, it means that the next generation of Christians will have the ground completely swept from under them. It is my observation that those who are taught a weakened view of the book of Genesis by their professors almost always carry it further into the whole Bible and are left really shaken as far as any real basis for their Christianity is concerned. And there is a reason for being shaken, for there is no reason to keep what the Bible says religiously if we have put it in an upper story and thrown away that of which the Bible speaks when it touches history and the cosmos.
(Francis A. Schaeffer, No Final Conflict, Ch. 2)
This is not always easily detected. Think with me for one more moment. Our core beliefs are being undermined in the very curriculum we are using with our children by our own hands! Puzzle Piece #1 omits the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Puzzle Piece #3 gives a theological basis for making that decision, because how can we know for certain that the Genesis story of Creation and the Flood are any more reliable than these other accounts. Puzzle Piece #2 gives a report on state of the evangelical born again young people in our churches. Puzzle Piece #4 explains what is really at stake! When you reject what the Bible says regarding history (including the first eleven chapters of the Genesis) and the cosmos, there is really nothing left. Do you see how all the pieces fit together?
Before we return to my original question, Is the Classical child a Christian child?, let me introduce you to a new magazine entitled IOTA published by The Youth Classics Institute. It "is a new Classically-themed magazine for elementary school students! It aims to introduce Classics and Latin in a fun, informative, and engaging way, and its content is designed and written to fit in with curricula on the ancient Greeks and Romans. Each full-color issue is approximately 25 pages and explores a god, a monster, a historical person, an object from the ancient Greco-Roman world, and Latin words. Students will enjoy the exciting stories, multitude of pictures, interactive games, and varied activities!"
We are encouraged to follow the link to see sample pages of their new magazine for elementary school children. On their web site we are introduced to Demeter, a goddess of classical Greece and Rome. Because she is the goddess of grain and harvest she is seen featured on a cereal box in living color. The lesson explains her importance to farming and the need to worship her. The child is told that the worship of Demeter has its origin in the mysterious worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis. Then the student is asked to complete several activities: 1 - Draw her picture; 2 - Create a new Cereal Box cover featuring Demeter; 3 - Write a speech as if you were Demeter encouraging your worshippers to care for Mother Earth; and 4 - learn the Latin names for several items.
When it comes to a classical education, would there be a more informed voice than Plato who started the first Academy?
The beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression more readily taken.
Harmless? Hmmm. Although I can't imagine any Christian family using such material, I am sure it will seep into our curriculum halls before long because the door has now been opened. Will we walk through it or will we close the door? May I rephrase my original question, "Can a Christian child be a Classical child?"
The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.