Here are my notes for my plenary address at the ACCS Repairing the Ruins Conference. It is in part a retrospective, in that this year marks our 25th conference.
As one who was there at the beginning of ACCS, I want to spend some time thanking the Lord for His great kindness to our movement. As we look back in gratitude for His many specific kindnesses, we are enabled to look forward in genuine faith and expectation.
I want to do three things here today. First, I want to remind you of one of our central cultural duties when it comes to repairing the ruins, and when it comes to preventing any future unnecessary ruins. These central duties are simply gratitude and remembrance.
Secondly, I want to recall for you some of the kindnesses that God has showered upon ACCS.
And last, I want to caution or warn you about what I regard as the central challenges that will be faced by the next generation of classical Christian educators.
There is a fine line to walk here. I want to press upon you how grateful I am to God for all of you, and I proud I am of you. I hope that this sentiment will suffuse this talk. There are not many who could build a first-rate classical Christian school out of baling wire, used garbage bags, mathematically impossible tuition rates, and old grapefruit rinds. But, glory to God, you did it.
At the same time, the perennial temptation, as I mentioned in the film last night is the temptation to forgetfulness. Always remember that no matter how good God has been to a movement, you always have the capacity—within arms’ reach—to throw it all away. And if you were to throw it all away, it wouldn’t be anywhere near the first time in church history that it happened. But God’s Spirit will not be thwarted—on to the next group of promising dufflepuds. God’s blessing does not move on from the dufflepuds as such, but it does move on from the ungrateful ones.
First, the Pleasant Duty of Gratitude and Remembrance:
There are many places in Scriptures where we are summoned to gratitude, and there are also many places where we are called to remember what God has done for us.
“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee: And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever. Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the LORD shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee” (Dt. 28:45-49).
The 28th chapter of Deuteronomy contains a list of blessings for faithful obedience, and curses for unfaithful disobedience. The words of the law that are set before the people of Israel in that place are actually the words of the gospel, as Paul explains it in Romans 10. They are words of gospel, that is, if we receive them in faith. In the course of explaining these blessings and curses, Moses makes this comment on what unfaithful disobedience actually looks like.
The curses will chase down and overtake God’s people, destroying them, because they could not be bothered to do what God had told them to do (v. 45). And what was that? It was not because of a lack of pinched and pious faces. Their problem was the opposite problem. The curses would rest on them as a sign and a wonder, and upon their children after them (v. 46). And why? Because they had not served the Lord their God with joyfulness, with gladness of heart, for the abundance of their stuff (v. 47). And because they did not serve the Lord with joy, then they might as well serve their enemies with no joy, since that is clearly more fitting (v. 48).
So gratitude is not what we fight for. Gratitude is what we fight with. Take your gratitude out of the scabbard. Consider these truths. “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). The joy of the Lord is your strength “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). And of course we know that thanksgiving looks back on past blessings, but true thanksgiving also anticipates coming victories as well. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).
Remember the Lord Your God:
Consider a passage which is familiar for many reasons. The Lord Jesus quotes it when He tells us what the greatest commandment in all Scripture is (Luke 10:27). This passage contains the great Shema, recited by the Jews constantly—“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” This is the passage that led many of us to undertake the high calling of Christian education for our children—when you walk along the road, and when you are sitting in your house. But there is another jewel here for us.
“ . . . Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage . . .” (Deut. 6:4-13).
Hear, O Israel, the YHWH our Elohim, is one YHWH (v. 4). In paraphrase, we might say the Jehovah, our Gods, is one Jehovah. And you shall love the YHWH your Elohim with everything you’ve got (v. 5). These words that Moses is delivering shall reside in your heart (v. 6). As a result, they must also be in your mouth as you teach your children in every setting (v. 7). Tie them on your hand, bind them to your forehead (v. 8). These two locations indicate behavior and thought. Be careful, little hand, what you do. Be careful, little head, what you think. Write them down on your doorposts and gates (v. 9). Then, when God gives you an abundance of His goodness (vv. 10-11), you must watch out lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the house of slavery (v. 12). You shall fear the Lord, and serve the Lord, and take your oaths in His name (v. 13).
There are a number of verbs in the imperative in this passage—hear, love, teach, talk, bind, write, fear, serve, and swear. But we should be able to see that they all come together in this one verb—remember. Do not forget (v. 12). We know from the New Testament that the highest form our obedience takes is in submission to the great command to love. But what do you do exactly when you love? Should you grit your teeth and radiate love rays? No . . . we love by remembering.
Remembering Grace Is Not a Work:
With a talk like this, one of the first things we might forget is that God loved us first. If we love because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19), then we remember Him because He first remembered us. This means that God remembers us, and it is only because He remembers us that we can remember Him. There are numerous examples of God’s remembrance, so let’s just point to a few. God remembered Noah (Gen. 8:1). God remembered Rachel (Gen. 30:22). God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:24). God remembered the house of Israel (Ps. 98:3). What is all this but to say that God loved His people? So remember, then, salvation is by grace through faith, from first to last.
How Then Shall We Love?
When forgetfulness begins, love is then in decline. Do not forget all the Lord’s benefits (Ps. 103:2). The Israelites did evil when they forgot (Judg. 3:7). Paul loved the poor by remembering them (Gal. 2:10),
The blood of Jesus is the only possible covering for our sin. A cloak of forgetfulness can’t cover sin, because forgetfulness is one of the greatest of sins. Never hide your dirty sins under a pile of bigger, dirty sins. Never hide your crud under worse crud. Not smart.
The Greatest Threat
Returning to our text, what is the great eraser? We have written all the goodness of God up on the board, to remind ourselves, up in front of the class. We have memorialized His great kindnesses to us. What is most frequently used to wipe it all away? What makes us forget the goodness of God? The answer is . . . the goodness of God. He gives us wealth (Deut. 6:10-12), and our minds instantly start to wander. He gives us a good land (Deut. 8:7-18), and we take all the credit for ourselves (Deut. 8:18), as though we arranged for it all ourselves.
“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17).
The Beginning of Logos School:
I got involved in all of this as a concerned parent. I had no real intention of becoming an educator, at all, but I did want to be a faithful father. Everything else follows. But once Nancy and I had our first child, Bekah, it had the same effect that Johnson observed about being hanged in a fortnight. “It concentrates the mind wonderfully,” he said.
So under God, in the name of Christ, what do we have to thank God for?
- For Nancy, whose idea it was. For my three kids, who not only received this education with loyalty and gladness, but who are also providing it to all 17 of my grandchildren. Moses, the youngest, is the only one not in school yet. Knox, the eldest, just graduated from Logos a few months ago, and he is the first full second generation, K-12 graduate in the country. He is on to New St. Andrews. Thank God for generational faithfulness.
- For the educational pioneers at Logos School, and to the educational pioneers, every bit as intrepid, who built your school in your town. I cannot name them all, just as you cannot name them all. But Tom Garfield, Matt Whitling, Tom Spencer, and Larry Stephenson should be named. This really is an amazing grace story—through “many dangers, toils and snares.”
- For Marvin Olasky, who took quite a chance on me with Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. For the Fieldstead Institute, who funded the Turning Point series. To Crossway Books, for publishing such a book as such a time. So I wrote a book, and some unexpected things came out of that. Some really unexpected things. I was simply the rock at the top of an avalanche.
- For the men who built ACCS—Marlin Detweiler, Tom Spencer, and Patch Blakey. And let me speak for a moment about the modest kitchen table start of ACCS. And Ty Fisher. And Tom Garfield. And David Goodwin. And the problem with naming people is the fact that you have to leave some names out.
An Abundance of Caution:
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:19–21, ESV).
Think about this one for a moment. The apostle Paul sent Timothy because he had no one like him. Everybody else (in the apostolic circle, no less) were seeking their own interests, and not those of Jesus Christ. Think about it. Are we better off that the apostle in this regard? Really?
From Then to Now:
And this all leaves us with a handful of cautions borne of gratitude. Watch out for every form of compromise, waffling, noodling, backfilling, and forgetting.
First is this. Of course, don’t be too proud to learn from RC and EO educators. I am going to conclude this talk with a quote from Anthony Esolen. But if you are in any way sheepish about or ashamed of our glorious Protestant heritage and identity, particularly when it comes to education, then you are too proud to learn from anyone. We are an historic evangelical organization.
Second, beware of all lo-carb classical compromises. To change the metaphor, there are many scratch n’ sniff classical options available now, and you need more than a Corinthian column on the cover to make it classical. The lowest common denominator approach is a tried and true way of making anything shallow. Beware of this, especially when it comes to the composition of your boards.
Third, guard yourself against that addled old harpy, respectability. Don’t start putting on airs. Strive for excellence without falling into snobbery. Don’t start boasting in awards handed out by the secular progressive establishment—like scholarships and test scores. They are to education what a sucking chest wound is to health, and you shouldn’t be wearing medallions issued by those are failing by every reasonable metric.
Fourth, when it comes to the LGBT/QRS foolishness, you must have titanium spines. The world will come to you and demand that you muddle up your binary bathroom situation. In vain you will explain to them that you can only have two bathroom signs—XX and XY—because your bathrooms are at the far end of the science wing.
The reporter will come right back at you—but what about that transgender student enrolled there at Classical Christian High? To which you will request the name of said student, so that you can promptly expel his ass.
I will have to check the tape to see if I really said that out loud.
Now this is what I am referring to. As Greg taught us this morning, what is a talk without a little provocation? If you have more of a problem with my robust manner of expression than you do with Metrosexual Classical Academy not expelling anyone’s hinderparts from that, um, community, you have what I am warning you about in a nutshell.
And when you fight the Greeks who that coming tumbling out of that horse, make sure you burn the horse, which is any kind of accommodation whatever with Darwin. Or anything that rhymes with Darwin.
“He who would save a culture or a civilization must not seek first the culture or the civilization, but the Kingdom of God, and then all these other things, says Jesus, shall be given unto him as well . . . Just as we cannot produce joy on an assembly line, or even seize joy by seeking it, but rather receive joy as a gift when we are seeking something greater than joy—when we give ourselves away in love—so we cannot produce culture except as it comes to us through our seeking what is higher than culture” (Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes, pp. 189-190, emphasis mine).