The Paideia Principle

The Christian faith is a religion of world conquest, and no, not that kind of world conquest. If we do not believe this, then every form of cultural engagement will be simply a form of slow surrender. It is the way of compromise. You can always tell this kind of person because they are always wrestling with the contours of something or other. And if you don’t believe in the triumph of the gospel, and you don’t want to surrender, then the only safe thing to do is to go the way of the neo-Amish. But there is another approach.

“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

I want to take a moment to review what we mean by the paideia of God. No doubt many of you have heard me on this topic before, and so I will just take a few moments with some review. But I want to do this so that we can go just a little bit further up, and a little bit further in.

So Paul tells Christian fathers to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. One of the words he uses here is paideia, which for the ancients was a loaded term. Shoe, and table, and glass are common nouns. Paideia is freighted with meaning, an abstract noun that was a big Hellenistic deal. If you haunt bookstores, occasionally you will run across a quirky history of something like salt, or the table fork, and the fun is the novelty of it. But back home I own a three-volume treatment of the word paideia, and the author was in deadly earnest. This work is not a symptom of scholarly mental problems, but rather a sober and helpful study of a word that held for the ancients the same kind of meaning that democracy would for us.

My understanding of paideia in this sense (the sense I believe Paul is using) would be summed up with the word enculturation. But enculturation presupposes a culture. The idea refers to the insinuation of Christian kids into a Christian culture, the incorporation of our children into a mere Christendom.

In Paul’s day, that presupposed culture did not yet exist, and so the parents of Ephesus were being instructed to create one. But how do you do that? In our day, that culture existed once, and is now a magnificent ruin, with stones of varying size scattered about. How do we—referring now to the name of our conference—rebuild the ruins?

Why do we flatter ourselves, as though we had the right to shrug and give up? Why do we abandon hope regarding the building of a mere Christendom, when our only argument is that it been done before? What kind of sense does that make?

Since this is our assumed task, then this is the question. How are we supposed to accomplish something like that? Initially it might sound a little bit crazy to our modern secular age, but when I am done I trust they will think that I am barking mad.

How do we call things that are not as though they are (Rom. 4:17; Is. 46:9-10)? Only God can create ex nihilo, but we are commanded to “create” after Him, imitatively. The biblical way this is done is through the word. In and through the Word all things were created. And that is the way things are to be recreated also. That is the way everything is rebuilt. The Word must come first.

Words do not simply come after the fact, describing things as they exist, raw and in their own right. Words do far more than simply attach lables. It is not simply a descriptive slave of “the way things are.” No, the word is also prescriptive—the authoritative word goes out, and a new world comes to be. The world of the future is taking shape around us, and it is the Word that makes it come to be. The Word brings new life. “For God who commanded light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:6-7). And as the Word does what it does, our imitative words follow after, doing the little follow up things that they are capable of doing, like creating new civilizations.

There are many areas where this has an application, and obviously I believe the central one has to do with preaching. That is another subject for another time, but it is related to the topic before us. Teaching and education are right up there. We are teachers, we work with words, which means that we are builders of worlds.

In your context, in your classical Christian school, what does this mean? Let’s bring this down to a practical level. It means two key ingredients—books and imagination. Let’s consider each of them in turn. Earlier I mentioned stones of varying size, scattered stones in the ruins. Most of them are shaped like books. They are how we can make out the formation of the ruins. We can tell where the city needs to be rebuilt again. Let us stop by the river. The leaves of the trees are for healing, and so let us build by the river.

In this respect, we have a great advantage over the Christian parents of Ephesus. They had never seen or heard of the Christianization of a sophisticated and urbane pagan civilization. That kind of an overthrow had never happened before. From our vantage, it has happened before. The thing has been done. You can read about it in books. They had the assignment, and no examples. We have the same assignment, and one grand example. Remember—never argue for the impossibility of a task from the fact that others with fewer resources have done it before.

So, books. Distance learning is not a new thing. We have always had distance learning. That is what books are. Augustine was sitting in his study in North Africa, feeling a certain way about the pears he had stolen as a youth. He put those feelings down on paper, and many centuries later I extracted those same feelings from different paper, with intervening translations, wars, empires, reformations, all doing their part.

This is one of the most exciting things in the world. I mean, how is this even possible? But this exciting thing is not beyond the contaminating grasp of dullards. Remember—oh, ye classical and Christian educators!—that Jesus taught with authority and not like the scribes. Scribes are those who shuffle around learnedly, and to borrow a phrase from Yeats, coughing in ink. Scribes are those who tear out pages from the classics, wad them up into elephant pills, in order to choke the children. Scribes are the musty smell of death you get in a used bookstore with a mildew problem. Scribes are the wrecking ball of a marred culture, which is nothing at all like the fancy dress ball of a merry culture. Scribes take the milk of education, which is to be the life of the children, and boil them in it.

Please don’t mistake me. I am not at war with learning, or with great learning, or with vast learning. I am not backing away from a recovery of discipline. I do not advocate a floating moonbeam approach to classical Christian education. What I am saying is simply this. There are the nazi schoolmarms and the gradgrinders on the one hand, and those who, on the other hand, would change all our classical disciplines into a national free verse tournament, attended exclusively by thousands of junior high girls. The former want the kids to choke down a bowl of driveway gravel, while the latter urge them to try to get down a bowl of cotton balls, soaked in maple syrup.

Why not the paideia of God? Why not intelligent and focused discipline that knows where it is going and why? This leads to the second point. We must have hard work. We must have discipline. We must have pedagogical order. But it must be anointed with imagination.

Going back to Rom. 4:17, God is the one who calls things that are not as though they are. But when God calls it that way, what does Abraham do? He believes, and in the Bible, when we believe, we speak (Ps. 116:10; 2 Cor. 4:13). Speaking with faith means speaking with true imagination. And Napoleon was right, at least on this point, when he said that imagination rules the world.

What is it that overcomes the world? Is it not our faith (1 Jn. 5:4)? But faith does not just overthrow worlds, it replaces those worlds with another world. We do not want to cast out a devil, and then wait for seven worse devils to return. And so true imagination speaks with real authority.

What are your materials? Books, books, and more books. Purchase them with imagination and faith. You need grist for your mill. The books are the grain, your mind is the mill, and your imagination bakes the bread. Your students should eat the bread, so make sure it is fresh, and make sure there is plenty of honey butter. Build a civilization in front of your students, and do it while waving your hands in the air. Let your cheeks get hot. Use the glorious examples we have, not to mention the tragedies and disasters. Talk about Roland, and Alfred. Tell them what happened at Lepanto and Malta. Tell them how many times God’s people have been beleaguered and surrounded, how many times we have been just a huddled camp of refugee saints—just like we are now—and tell them how God delivered us. Tell them that He has done it hundreds of times, and yet we still have trouble believing He will do it the next time. Our hearts grow thick, a fly buzzes in the window, and we stare malevolently at yet another book that has covers too far apart. But the problem is not there, in the material, but here, in the heart of unbelief. Shake yourself free of apathy and sloth. But lift up your heads; our redemption is drawing nigh.

The fact that we need to go over this so many times is the first argument for it. If we had had a Christian education, it wouldn’t take so many times for us to grasp the concept.

The secular state, and its various projects, will collapse when Christians stop supporting it. Their cathedral of secularism only stands because we are willing to be the flying buttresses. But that is not our assigned role.

One last thing, a personal note. After this talk, Nancy and I will be sitting at the Canon table in case you want to come by and say hey. I want to do this to encourage you to get in amongst the vendors and make every one of them sad—sad that they did bring more of whatever it was that you went and bought them out of.

If the apostle Paul were here at this conference, do you know where he would be? He wouldn’t be in here listening to me. He would be in the room next door—without his name tag—hovering over the book tables. “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). Whatever you do, Timothy, don’t forget the parchments. Forget the food, forget the winter cloak, but don’t forget the parchments.

And any book that he bought from our worthy vendors and took home to read would be read with faith, hope and love, with a baptized and sanctified imagination. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1–2).

I wish I had the imagination to describe it for you, but I don’t, and I am done. But no matter. When you are done building it, you will know what it looks like.

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timothy
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timothy

The secular state, and its various projects, will collapse when Christians stop supporting it. Their cathedral of secularism only stands because we are willing to be the flying buttresses. But that is not our assigned role.

There is a happy thought. thx

JPM
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JPM

Actually, it should be a fast surrender. Glad I cleared that up for you.

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

Timothy, I really struggle with this. Do you believe that our government should be avowedly Christian, and that there should be no distinction between the secular and the religious? What protection would you think necessary for minority rights? Should nonbelievers be required to obey laws based on purely religious principles? Obviously, I don’t mean such things as laws prohibiting theft and murder as these have a clear secular utility. But what about laws banning Sabbath-breaking or disrespect for parents? Do you foresee a time when the vast majority of Americans would desire such a state, and if not, what then?… Read more »

melody
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melody

Jill, when did the USA ever have laws banning Sabbath-breaking or disrespecting parents? And when did Tim or Pastor Wilson even slightly allude to such a thing? Did you actually read this post?

“Why do we abandon hope regarding the building of a mere Christendom, when our only argument is that it been done before?” – I love this.

carole
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carole

Well, I did my best to make Sandi sad she didn’t bring more of what I wanted at CHEA!! :) Hope to see you at more vendor tables!

Hi Jill, if we come from the agreed premise that there is no neutrality, aren’t we already being forced to follow laws based on a religion? From a religion that worships idols and sin? The laws will be based on someone’s beliefs. Shouldn’t they be based on the truth?

Josh
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Josh

Tell me what happened at Lepanto and Malta…

Piper produces some great books of three biographies centred around a theme. Could you, Nate or someone else produce some nice biographies/histories to help those of us needing food for the imagination served up in books with covers which aren’t too far apart?

Or could anyone in the comments section recommend such books?

timothy
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timothy

@Jash

Lepanto, Battle of. I am not sure about Malta.

cheers.

timothy
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timothy

Hi Jill. Instead of addressing each of your questions now, I will point you to Pastor Wilson’s (excellent) sermons on the principles involved. Like everything in life, if you get the principles right, things work out well. I think the good Pastor gets does a nice job. http://www.canonwired.com/sermons/21-principles/ http://www.canonwired.com/sermons/governmental-tax-cheats/ I will address one meta-“thingy”* in your questions and that is the comfortable role that ‘government’ plays in your questions; by this I am assume you mean “the federal government”. I do not share your ease. Where you see a guide-dog on a harness, I see a devouring dragon that needs… Read more »

mark
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mark

Further up and further in? I see what you did there, Narnia boy

Matt
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Matt

At Malta, in 1565, the Turks attacked and Jean de Vallette (70 years old at the time) successfully fought them off with a much smaller force. The capital was later named for him.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Siege_of_Malta

Andrew Lohr
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Malta book, The Great Siege by Ernle Bradford. Vestiges of “Blue laws” shutting some things down on Sunday may remain; at least a few years ago I couldn’t buy wine at Aldi’s in Georgia on a Sunday. God’s kingdom is like a mustard bush that shelters birds. Birds are noisy, messy, not part of the tree, and have their own use for twigs. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. I think an explicitly Christian government run by devout Christians and upheld by an overwhelming Christian majority would to some extent tolerate unbelievers who behave themselves. Not… Read more »

dchammers
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Paragraph #14, the Distance Learning one: Beautiful!

Austin Hoffman
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Where was this address from? Based on the closing remarks, I assume some kind of conference?

josh p
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josh p

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Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

Hi, Tim, thanks for your response. I will listen to the sermons. Melody, I wasn’t saying that either Tim or Pastor Wilson has advocated either step; however, I have read some sites (Chalcedon, Rushdoony) that do seem to be suggesting that Old Testament law should be the foundation for modern American law. These examples come to my mind when I hear people suggesting that we should have an overtly Christian society governed by Christians. Therefore, when Timothy seems to be welcoming an end to the secular state, I wonder exactly what that would look like. Timothy, I do have a… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

Hi Jill. Thank you for clarifying. This is one of those areas where my government run education has done its purpose; I know nothing of history, so I cannot contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. Except to note that we both fear power being in the wrong hands. Let’s pretend we do live in a Theocratic state, ruled by corrupt priests/reverends/bishops/reverends. Do you not agree you would be better off limiting their power over you? Now what those limits are, we are sure to disagree on; I think our American founders did a pretty good job and I… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

his usual job excellent of showing us

timothy
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timothy

grrrr…

his usual excellent job of showing us

coffee…

timothy
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timothy

Hi Jill.

One other point.

In discussing the mechanics of government, we are not discussing the larger issue which I believe Pastor Wilson is making; A Christian government will only come about for a Christian people;

In the same way that God forms a Christian from the inside-out and not the outside-in, so will Christian government come to be as God works His will.

So, to Pastor Wilson, the argument about which form is moot–it will be God’s form. The only discussion to be had is what God intends our role in bringing it about to be.

cheers.

t

RFB
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RFB

Jill,

You mentioned “I am not convinced that minority rights would be equally protected.”

What is your position regarding how man obtains “rights”? It seems to me that the grantor’s identity is fundamental prior to any discussion of any entitlement of the beneficiary.

carole
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carole

Hi Jill, and thank you, But if I desire the triumph of the gospel how could it not include the government? So our disagreement begins at what is possible. I don’t think a neutral govt. is possible. It is not a question of whether or not we will have a religious government, it is a question of which religion. At present we are coerced into following atheist laws and the masses of children receiving a welfare education are enculturated into atheism, correct? I did live in Catholic Ireland for a decade prior to the EU. I remember well when they… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Bravo! Ironically, however — your postimill position works to hack the muscle away from your present victories and that of Paul’s first readers. He said to raise the kids in that paideia? You say it couldn’t be done yet. It must needs be built externally. Paul’s readers were not yet equipped with the necessary surrounding culture, being not yet built, to be successful. You say, pessimistically, that we are now (hopefully temporarily) a huddled camp of refugee saints. Of course that is always the case, in one sense, here where we war against the flesh outside and inside. But every… Read more »

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

Hello, RFB, good question–one that had me mulling and brooding for a while. I believe that the ultimate source of human rights is the innate dignity and worth of the individual created in God’s image. Government is necessary to enshrine these innate rights into law and, having done so, to protect individual citizens from oppression. This government is always at risk of being tyrannical and violating human rights for the sake of a perceived greater good–hence, all the safeguards built into the Constitution. Where I might part company with some Christians is that I am hesitant to identify the founders’… Read more »

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

Hi,Carole. I agree that Ireland has become very secular very quickly, and that there is much to be regretted there. But Ireland is not really an ideal example of a Christian state. We have only to consider the ruthlessly harsh treatment of “fallen” women–including victims of rape and incest. Earlier this month there was the scandal of the 700+ babies and young children who died under the nuns’ care in mother/baby homes and orphanages an lot d who were given fast burials in unmarked graves scattered around the grounds. A lot of those children died of malnutrition, measles, and the… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Carole, my typing tonight is a nightmare. I meant to say that I DON’T think sex education belongs in public schools!

RFB
Guest
RFB

Jill, First, all of my points are attended by good humor despite the often dry format of blog posts, so please be assured that no offense is intend. I also am not trying to prosecute your semantics; I will hang upon your words in their plain meaning, but with a willingness to receive, “that is not what I meant”. I think that “I believe that the ultimate source of human rights is the innate dignity and worth of the individual created in God’s image.” is mis-stated. When I think of rights, I think of something that is given by a… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

Earlier this month there was the scandal of the 700+ babies and young children who died under the nuns’ care in mother/baby homes and orphanages an lot d who were given fast burials in unmarked graves scattered around the grounds.

When that story was retracted, it somehow did not make the front page.

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_IRELAND_CHILDRENS_MASS_GRAVES?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2014-06-20-14-48-31

But (from their point of view) that’s ok. It had its intended effect of marring your thinking on the subject and sowing doubt about God’s people.

carole
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carole

Hi Jill, I don’t think I have a lot more to add to the discussion that hasn’t been said. I am a little bit stunned by your comments on this thread to be honest. By an ideal Christian state do you mean “perfect?” We are sinners and we will never reach an ideal state in this life. I think earlier you used the Salem Trials as an example of how a Christian government doesn’t work, when that is an example of why a Christian government was needed. Certainly Ireland when it was an overtly Catholic society was not perfect, but… Read more »

carole
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carole

Sorry, I guess I do have one more thing to say…:) Jill, One of my strongest memories of Ireland was my first teaching experience.. it was a freshman philosophy class and on of the first essays, was Susan Langer’s article on abortion. Beside the fact that I didn’t know what a Langer was in Corkese, a student who understood the article’s arguments vocally objected to it based on her Catholic beliefs. I must most ashamedly admit now that I thought she was joking…I had never heard anyone bring up the Bible as an argument in a philosophy class before. Seem… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Hi Timothy, Without wanting to sound contradictory, I read that the AP retracted their report that the children had died unbaptized and that their bodies had been tossed into an disused septic tank. I think it is important to note that I did not mention either of those details because I had already read that they were false. The fact that close to 800 children died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home run by the Sisters of Bon Secours is undeniable. Catherine Corliss has the death records, and they have been posted online–records maintained by the nuns listing every… Read more »

carole
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carole

But Jill, I am not following your argument about Ireland at all. It seems like you are saying that there are examples of abuse of power in a country where the worship of our Creator was at the base of the education system and state. Is that correct? And because of these examples and examples like the Salem trials, we should pursue “neutral” schools and governments. May I remind you that these neutral governments support abortion, murder? Neutral doctors, keeping religion separate, perform murder. Neutral citizens raised in the lie and governance of our current culture, protest to continue murder:… Read more »

carole
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carole

So I realize I am writing a lot on this topic, but I want to point out the first paragraph of this post. One thing I know I have struggled with through my entire Christian life, is the fear of looking “stupid” in front of my old friends. The desire to be amongst the intelligent is not easily dismissed. Going the way of the Neo-Amish has been attractive because I haven’t always had the guts to stand up to folks whom I was convinced, by a public education in America, were the smart guys. I think, my dear sister Jill,… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Carole, I like you so much and you are so smart and kind that I wish I could just agree with you. But I can’t. I think that, for whatever reason, our starting assumptions and presuppositions are miles apart. I thought about what you said in your last post–which did not hurt or offend me at all–and I don’t think I am motivated by pride or the desire to hang with the cool kids. If I get self-analytical about it, I think I am dominated by an inability ever to see only one side of a question. It’s a good… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

@Jill

I share you skepticism of power by any human being–priest, pastor, president or judge.

Do you think secular governments are immune to what the religious governments did?

It is obvious your preference for secular government is motivated by kindness and looking out for the little guy–that’s a good thing. I worry that your solution may end up hurting your principles–as I think it must.

cheers.

t

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Hi Carole, To continue: I do agree with you that the best education engages both hearts and minds. A good teacher engages the student’s aesthetic and ethical senses, his imagination, and his philosophical curiosity. In a Catholic school, I could do this explicitly. In a public school, I could not adopt an approach that assumed every student shared my religious beliefs and my world view. That doesn’t mean, however, that the educational mission I intended could not be done at all. It is probably impossible to teach ll to advanced lit students without discussing Platonism, pre-existence, and pantheism. You certainly… Read more »

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

My computer ate my word! Talking about Plato, etc. referred to teaching Wordsworth.

carole
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carole

Hi Jill, I sincerely appreciate our correspondence and hope you know what a blessing it is to me. I am so thankful to have a friend whom I can discuss issues with regardless of whether or not we always agree. We agree that we love Christ with all our hearts and with all our minds. You have helped me articulate what it is I do believe, and I am thankful. At the Chea conference, I met a member of Christ Church who was just as generous and interesting as I imagined her to be. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we… Read more »