Christendom Lite

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Many years ago I wrote a piece for the journal Antithesis on the necessity of Christian education. Later on, I picked that article up and modified it so that it became a chapter in Standing on the Promises.

As part of the continuing debate on education in the Southern Baptist Convention, the editor of the Baptist Banner, a man named T.C. Pinckney, recently ran that article again. The reason for mentioning this is that it has resulted in some people contacting our church office with their (vigorous) responses. And those responses got me thinking about an additional variant on the theme of “our Baptist betters.” But the twist here is that in an important sense I think even many of the Baptists opposed to this praiseworthy resolution are our betters, at least with regard to one aspect of this. But this requires explanation.

Seventy-five years ago, the public schools in the Bible belt were recognizably part of what could be described as Christendom Lite. The schools were dominated by a generally Christian ethos, and, at the same time, those schools were integrated fully into the broader society — the schools were part of the same society that contained the feed store, the churches, the theater, and so on. The defenders of the schools as they now exist are making a mistake, but they rightly see the attack on the schools as an attack on the way of life that encompasses all of society. Their mistake is in failing to recognize that the Christian element, long weak but still there, has been almost completely diluted by the secularists.

In response to this, many clear-thinking Christians want to pull out and establish rigorously Christian schools. They are to be praised for this, but unfortunately a number of them have a sectarian vision for it. In other words, they want isolated (and pure) Christian schools. The defenders of the public schools in the Bible belt want schools that are integrated with all of society. In this, they have the more biblical position. The former are more biblical in their insistence that education be explicitly Christian. The latter are more biblical in their insistence that education be integrated with society at large. What we need to recover is a vision that combines both these perspectives.

So then, our children need to be educated in a robust, Trinitarian way. This is not an option or an add-on. At the same time, our vision should be for the schools that we establish to be the schools that serve at the center of our (evangelized) communities.

We do not want Christendom Stout sold only in hard-to-find microbrewies. Neither do we want Christendom Lite in Aisle 7 of every Safeway. We want Christendom, and we know that Christendom needs many really fine Christian schools.

An important first step is for the Southern Baptists to pass this resolution. But it must be seen as an advance, and not a retreat.

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