By Jill Nelson
What comes to mind when you think of Christian education? What are its contours, foundational convictions, breadth and depth of instruction, teaching methods, and ultimate goal? Does your thinking resonate with the following ideas?
“It is the duty of the church of God to maintain, in fullest vigor, every agency intended for the religious education of the young; to them, we must look for the church of the future, and as we sow towards them so shall we reap. Children are to be taught to magnify the Lord; they ought to be well informed as to His wonderful doings in ages past and should be made to know ‘His strength and His wonderful works He hath done.’ The best education is [an] education in the best things.” Charles Spurgeon 1
“Christian education is as big as God and His revelation. It goes beyond parenting and teachers and classroom instruction to infuse every aspect of the Christian life. It involves ... being filled by the very presence of Almighty God as we seek by His Spirit to interpret all of reality in light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Justin Taylor 2
“The need for faithful and effective discipleship of the next generation is even more urgent as our culture becomes increasingly more secular and more hostile to the truth. Will our children and grandchildren have a faith that can endure the hostilities of this age? It is sobering to realize that children will be hated—and some even put to death (Luke 21:16)—for embracing the truth that we teach them.” David Michael 3
I love how these quotes convey the massive scope, gravity, eternal nature, and urgency of educating the next generation. Christian education, at its core, aims to acquaint students with the greatness and worth of God so they might have faith in Christ and live for the glory of God. How do SAT scores, sports prowess, musical skills, debate team, and other endeavors compare to this?
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” Philippians 3:8.
Therefore, we must place the greatest priority on educating our children and students in a distinctly God-centered, gospel-focused, God-glorifying manner. Are we accomplishing this in our homes, churches, and Christian schools? I want to suggest nine foundational, guiding principles. These should be part of an interwoven, balanced, long-term, strategic plan from early childhood to adulthood.
1. Education that is Driven and Sustained by a Biblical Vision
Imagine for a moment that you are driving your injured child to the emergency room. You have one, all-compelling destination and plan your route accordingly. This is an example of being “vision-driven.” The more urgent your destination, the more passionate and determined you will be to reach it at any cost. How does this relate to Christian education? Consider an example based on Psalm 78:1-8: “Our vision is that the next generations know, honor, and treasure God, setting their hope in Christ alone, so that they will live as faithful disciples for the glory of God!”4 Setting this kind of biblical vision serves to inform, shape, prioritize, motivate, and sustain what we teach and how we go about our teaching.
2. Education that Confidently Heralds God’s Holy Word
We live in a day in which the Bible is increasingly maligned and vilified. Even in churches, and especially in children’s classrooms, the Bible is losing visibility. The Bible is often described merely in terms of being a “story,” rather than being recognized as the holy Word of God. Christian educators must boldly and unwaveringly proclaim the unparalleled inerrancy, authority, necessity, sufficiency, and clarity of Scripture. God’s Word is holy. Let’s treat it with the weight and gravity it rightly deserves!
“... from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:15-17.
3. Education in the Whole Counsel of God
If our students are to become faithful disciples of Jesus, they must be taught an appropriate breadth and depth of Scripture. You cannot believe, love, and act upon that which is not known. As parents and teachers, we want to be able to say, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). One way to ensure this is to give our students biblical instruction that includes these five theological disciplines: Bible survey, biblical theology (historical/redemptive storyline), systematic theology (doctrines of the Christian faith), moral instruction, and a clear and comprehensive presentation of the gospel.
4. Education that Rigorously Trains the Mind
We live in a sound-bite world that is quick to make uninformed judgments. Critical examination is almost a lost virtue. We must resist this trend by carefully and systematically training our students to be rigorous, biblical thinkers. As Albert Mohler succinctly summarizes, “Christian faithfulness requires the development of the believer’s intellectual capacities in order that we may understand the Christian faith, develop habits of Christian thought, form intuitions that are based upon biblical truth, and live in faithfulness to all that Christ teaches. This is no easy task, to be sure. Just as Christian discipleship requires growth and development, intellectual faithfulness requires a lifetime of devoted study, consecrated thinking, and analytical reflection.” 5
5. Education that Aims to Stir Up Right Heart Affections and Actions
Some of Jesus’ harshest language was aimed at the Pharisees, who had a vast knowledge of Scripture but whose hearts were far from God. In the same way, our students need more than knowledge. Heaven or hell is at stake. They need a radical heart transformation resulting in repentance of sin, trusting in Christ alone for salvation, walking in newness of life, and submitting to His ways. While only God can bring about this Spirit-wrought, grace-dependent transformation, it is our responsibility to guide and implore our students to personally and rightly respond to God’s Word.
6. Education that is Relational
Christian education includes a relational element that is both vertical (God) and horizontal (others). We should impress upon our students that the horizontal element is God’s design for His covenant people. The Christian life is to be lived out in community with other believers, found first in the Christian family and the church, and to a lesser extent, in Christian schools. Discipleship occurs as we share life together, practicing the “one another” commands of Scripture so that we grow into the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11-16). This relational focus also includes embracing the Great Commission—being moved and equipped to share the hope of Christ with the lost.
7. Education that Integrates and Connects Biblical Truth to All of Life
A growing number of children from Christian families are rejecting the faith. Additionally, many who are believers are living in confusion, being “tossed to and fro” as they navigate the world in which they live. They struggle to make sense of issues like transgenderism, politics, climate change, and more. Even seemingly mundane issues such as schoolwork, sports, friendships, possessions, movies, and the choice of a future career can appear disconnected from biblical truth. We must demonstrate how biblical truth is like a lens for seeing and interpreting all of life. No subject is outside its authoritative domain.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2.
8. Education that Inspires Worship of God with the Glory of God as its Goal
Take a peek into the throne room of God for a moment: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory” Revelation 19:6b-7a.
The ultimate goal of Christian education is to see our children and students among this heavenly multitude worshipping God for all eternity, experiencing Christ as their all-satisfying treasure and joy! We cannot bring about worship, but we can inspire and fuel it by the manner in which we teach.
“Dry, unemotional, indifferent teaching about God—whether at home or at church—is a half-truth, at best. It says one thing about God and portrays another thing... Psalm 145:4 shows us another way: ‘One generation shall praise Your works to another.’ Let praises carry the truth to the next generation because the aim of truth is praise. The aim of education is exultation. So let education model exultation in the way it is done.” John Piper 6
9. Education that is Undergirded by Prayerful Dependence on God
I have now seen a generation of children grow up into adulthood. Many had an excellent Christian education taught by godly parents and teachers. Yet, sadly, more than a few have rejected Christ and are heading toward destruction. Undoubtedly, the most decisive factors in bringing about faith are not our expertise, methods, or core curricula—though all are important. Ultimately, faith will not take root and grow unless God, in His sovereign mercy, awakens the heart and makes a dead sinner alive to Christ (Eph 2:1-5). That is why Christian education must be undergirded with humble dependence on God, relentlessly calling upon Him in prayer to bring about faith and maturity in our children and students! 7
It is my earnest desire that these nine foundations, while only briefly touched upon, will perhaps generate a more thoughtful approach to discipling children and youth. Here is a final thought to contemplate: “‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth’ (3 John 4). Here lies the crux of the matter: The first battleground of family discipleship is not my child’s heart—it is my heart. Each parent must decide whether he is more concerned that his child be accepted into heaven or ‘Harvard.’ We all have ‘Harvards’—those worldly successes we desire for our children, but the question remains, ‘Which is most important to me?’ Each parent must finish the sentence ‘I have no greater joy than...’” Chap Bettis 8
Jill Nelson, a retired homeschool mom, is currently a curriculum writer and Director of Content for Truth78. She and her husband, Bruce, have two adult children and a growing number of grandchildren.
ENDNOTES 1. Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886), 433. 2. Justin Taylor, “The Great Vision of Christian Education: Ten Foundational Truths,” Desiring God, August 18, 2015, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-great-vision-of-christian-education. 3. Tell to the Coming Generation: The Vision of Truth78 (Minneapolis, MN: Truth78, 2018), 23. Available online at truth78.org/viewbook. 4. This is the vision statement of Truth78 (Truth78.org). 5. R. Albert Mohler Jr., “The Glory of God in the Life of the Mind,” November 12, 2010, https://albertmohler.com/2010/11/12/the-glory-of-god-and-the-life-of-the-mind. 6. John Piper, “One Generation Shall Praise Your Works to Another,” Desiring God, March 19, 2000, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/one-generation-shall-praise-your-works-to-another. 7. David Michael, Big, Bold, Biblical Prayers for the Next Generation (Truth78, 2018). 8. Chap Bettis, The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ (Cumberland, RI: Diamond Hill Publishing, 2016), 17.