A Way of Thinking
A Bit to Read
A Way of Thinking
This afternoon a child in the congregation is to receive the sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace. It gives an opportunity to reflect on the child’s identity – and therefore on how the child ought (eventually) to think. Of course, how William ought one day to think is how we all today already need to think.
God is mighty to entrust a given child to any parent on earth, but He in wisdom has entrusted this child to these parents. More, God is free to establish His covenant of grace with any of His choosing – and He in mercy has established His covenant with this child, and therefore entrusted him to the care of godly parents. What incredible wealth for little William, and for Jonathan and Jennifer! How vital that parents make a point of showing their child, in deed and word, Who his Father in heaven really is.
In our contemporary culture and country, the process of growing up involves formal education. This week the school doors of the nation open again to begin another year of educating the children of the land. Alas, most schools in the land disregard the fact of God’s existence, and so train children to think without including God in their decision-making processes. Yet this God is real, and sovereign; there is not a square inch of life that falls outside of God’s interest or jurisdiction. That is why we need to be so very thankful for the God-centered schools the Lord has given us. May the Lord bless the labors of the children and the teachers in the coming months, so that the next generation is equipped for a life of service in God’s kingdom. It is our privileged responsibility as parents (with the assistance of grandparents and others whom God has joined to His body in Yarrow) to stimulate and encourage our children to make the most of the opportunity they receive to develop their talents for service in God’s kingdom.
As it is, several young people of our congregation will not attend John Calvin School here in Yarrow or Credo Christian High School in Langley. Instead, these young people will continue their education on a campus of University College of the Fraser Valley or in the British Columbia Institute of Technology, or perhaps in one of the bigger universities of the province. They will find themselves in an environment where God is ignored, and they will be taught to think without regard for God. To be complete, I should mention that ignoring God, and therefore excluding Him from one’s way of thinking, happens also in many work environments – and younger (and older) members of the congregation are invariably influenced by this habit at work. All the more reason to analyze it briefly.
I have before me a book that begins with the following opener: “The university as a phenomenon of Western culture was from the very beginning a pagan institution.” The author is a significant New Testament scholar, Eta Linnemann (now deceased). In the early days of her professorship, she emphatically denied the existence of God, argued that the Bible was put together solely and simply by people (for heaven is empty), and exegeted Scripture from that perspective – and so simply excluded the authority of God from her thinking. As a result, she found lots of errors and contradictions in the Bible, ridiculed other sections of the Bible, and, briefly, trampled all over the holy Word of God.
There came the day when she, by the grace of God, realized that “God is not dead, nor has he resigned. He reigns, and he is already executing judgment on those who declare him dead or assert that he is a false god who does nothing, either good or evil” – as she writes in the book before me (Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology, Baker, 1990). As one born again through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, she now looked critically and carefully at the way in which the university in which she taught actually did its research and its teaching. Her conclusion: the human mind is made the final judge of all truth. It has been so for centuries, she found, and dared to begin her book with the opener quoted above. Though the last couple of decades have seen the rise of Christian universities, it remains a general truism: secular education in today’s western culture does not bow before the living and sovereign God. Since some of our youth study in such places, we do well to learn a lesson from this unbelieving-scholar-become-believer.
Limited by Sin
All education involves thought. The mind is a wonderful gift of God capable of thinking and learning, and capable too of making judgments as to what is right or wrong. Through careful scientific habits as data collection and analysis, one can prove a hypothesis right or wrong – and eventually acquire the technology to send a man to the moon or the medical wherewithal to treat a broken bone or mind. It’s a system of learning that elevates the human mind, that makes its conclusions (correctly acquired) infallible – until new information comes to light that modify or correct the conclusions.
Well now, what is forgotten in our secular world is that all thought, even disciplined, scientifically regulated thought, is limited by sin, and therefore inherently fallible. I think here of the church’s confession in the Canons of Dort, III/IV, Art 1: through the fall man “brought on himself blindness, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment in his mind….” Article 4 adds that man “does not even use it [remaining light of nature, CB] properly in natural and civil matters.” The perverseness of judgment in his mind means that the Christian student needs always to ask himself whether his (scientifically justifiable conclusions) actually agree with the revelation of God. That’s to say that the student must consciously place himself under the authority of the Bible.
Mind above Bible
This is the crux of the matter. In today’s secular institutions of learning (and working), you are expected to operate just the other way around. Instead of you as student placing yourself under the Word, you –exactly because you are a student are expected to place yourself above the Word. Then it’s quite permissible for you to disagree with the logical conclusions of this philosophy or that, but it’s not acceptable at university (or around a board room table) to disagree on grounds that God’s Word says so. If you wish to score well, you will need to place the philosophy in question on a level with the Bible, then place yourself above both, and then demonstrate –using rational thought– why the Bible is correct and the mentioned philosophy wrong. Placing the Bible above the mind is judged unscholarly, and attracts hefty penalty points.
When our young people, then, sit at the feet of instructors who see the human mind as the final judge of what is right or not, these young people are taught a form of thinking. They are taught to judge something right or wrong on the basis of human observation and analysis – or perhaps even human feelings or taste. The mind, the person, becomes the final judge, sits enthroned as judge of what is true or not true. That habit does no justice to the reality of Who God is!
Habits once learned are hard to shake. The danger is very real that those who learned this form of thinking in school will apply this form of thinking also to matters of faith. One ends up with a rationalized faith, where God’s instructions are subjected to my thinking – and I consider His instructions applicable for my life only if they pass the test of my mental scrutiny. We realize: this is a different approach than Noah’s was. Building an ark because God spoke of a flood made no sense to anyone’s mind. But faith does not ask whether it makes sense, or whether I can understand. Faith hears and obeys.
The form of thinking promoted in secular education is not sovereign in John Calvin or in Credo (and no doubt in other institutions of learning in the Valley). Yet inasmuch as this form of thinking is rampant around us, and certainly characterizes secular universities and colleges, our Young People need to be very aware of the sort of culture they enter, and what is wrong with it. As parents we also need to be very aware of the environment into which we send our children, and speak about it with our children.
Does this mean that our youth ought actually to be discouraged from enrolling at secular institutions of learning? For some youth, I think the answer is indeed Yes, they are to be discouraged. I say this particularly with regard to those who are not yet settled in their commitment to the Lord, who do not yet show clear evidence of regeneration. To allow such persons to sit at the feet of those who would instill in their minds a pattern of thinking that is anti-God is a recipe for disaster.
Others, though, ought not to be discouraged; on the contrary. Education is good, even necessary. By the grace of God there are youth who demonstrate clear evidence of renewal by the Holy Spirit. Of these it may be expected that the Lord will hold on to them even when they daily breathe the humanistic air of their institute of learning. Yet we are not to forget that the Lord uses means to hold on to those chosen to life. Specifically, it is imperative that those who attend secular institutions of learning have a Christian home environment on which to fall back in their off-campus hours, an environment where the sovereignty of God even over thinking habits is recognized. Further, it is of great importance that those who attend such Colleges or universities have good contact with their parents/guardians as well as with office bearers.
May the Lord graciously bless and protect with His care those children of His whose path has led them to anti-Godly institutions of learning.
1 September 2006