How to Matter

May 2, 2013

According to the Jewish and therefore Christian tradition, God created the heavens and the earth by speaking it into being. When He did so, He made something other than Himself. 

This is one of the most important things the Bible teaches, along with the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the death and resurrection of Christ. 

It's also a dangerous truth, which leads sentimental Chrstians to play it safe. For instance, it can be hard for an anxious Christian to acknowledge that, precisely because God made the creation as something other than Himself, a person can most assuredly study and learn about that creation without studying or learning about God.

Over the last five or six centuries, what had been "western civilization" has been deliberately doing so in ever growing quantities (you can take that a few ways and they'll probably fit), and that has led some Christians to overreact. Rather than acknowledge with joy that the world is not God and can be known apart from Him (at least theoretically), we tend to reduce God to an idea and push Him into every little nook and cranny of our concept of the cosmos and its members. 

But we're inconsistent. Almost all of us were partially kidnapped as children and compelled to study under a system that was built on the premise that, not only is the world not God (we agree!), not only is the world knowable apart from God (we agree, but with qualifications), but God gets in the way of knowledge about the world and human society (this is so loaded that we might agree or not, depending on what the words mean and on the details of the context - but that's probably another blog post).

In other words, most of us were brought up to think with a habitual indifference to the relationship of God to His creation. More briefly, we were not taught HOW to think as though God matters. 

Now we are teaching in and running Christian schools, by which we seem to mean primarily "schools that are made up of people who are part of the Christian sub-culture and who want their children to succeed in the culture but not until they get to high school or college."

We show an admirable earnestness about the effects of the "culture" on our souls and those of the children. But perhaps that earnestness arises more from anxiety than it does from faith.

The Christian in America has been knocked off balance. He wants his children to grow up to be Christians (often because the parent was very much a part of the American life-style and escaped it by the skin of his soul), but he also wants them to succeed practically in the world he'll grow up into. 

When we are off-balance, our thinking tends to blur.

Interestingly, the clarity we need might well arise from the first verse of the Bible. God is not the creation, not because He doesn't care about it, and not because He is irrelevent to it, but because He transcends it and does not need it.

Because He does not need it, He is free to love it. And Oh my, does He ever love it. 

 God is not the creation, but He is the well-being of every being.

God does not need the creation, but it springs from His infinitely abounding love that created out of pure gratuity. 

God transcends the creation, but He loves it so much that He has entered into it, taken it on Himself, taken its self-chosen death on Himself by suffering and dying as it, in it, and for it, been resurrected to resurrect it, been honored and glorified above it so He could bring it into His honor and glory, and, in a word we use more than we understand, redeemed it. 

God is not the creation, God does not need the creation, and God transcends the creation. But God loves the creation so much that He died for it. 

That is our pattern. 

We are not the world. We do not need the world. In Christ, we can even say that we transcend the world, though if we say it haughtily or with any self-importance it is no longer true. So we can and must love the world so much that we die for it. 

But we have been knocked off balance, our vision is blurry, and we are anxious. We are like a boxer trying to get back on our feet by climbing up the body of the opponent who knocked us down.

I fear that we don't love the world; we need the world. We don't transcend the world; we beg the world for a slice of its moldy bread. In the end, we are the world. 

One sees these things most clearly when comparing what education has been and can be with what self-identified Christian schools are inclined to do now. 

To caricature less than I wish: We set it as the goal of our schools to get our children into college so that they can associate for four years with unbelieving fornicators and collect as many diseases and mental disorders as possible, even as the bloated and corrupted colleges are in their death spirals. 

Instead of resting in a transcendent wisdom that comes from walking with God, we follow the fads in the schools (usually a few years after the schools have all the proof they need that the the fads didn't deliver) on curriculum, teaching, assessment, and even governance. 

Instead of confidently showing what a school steeped in grace would look like, we conform to the world and make ourselves a little pathetic. 

How, after all, will nourishing a child's soul on the true, the good, and the beautiful help a child get into college?

What we seem not to ask is why a parent would want to send a child to a college for which the true, the good, and the beautiful didn't help prepare him. 

Because God and the creation are separate things, the creation can be known as a thing separate from God. If you study it that way, you will conclude that God is absent from His creation, which is a very different thing than being other than His creation. But it is a conclusion you can draw. 

If you see the creation as a place from which God is absent, your relationship to it will change. Instead of seeing it as an object of Divine Creativity, full of joy, wonder, and sublime dangers, you will eventually (though you may borrow the religious sentiments of joy, wonder, and sublimity for a while) come to see it as a battleground. Maybe it would be better to say, a free for all, in which everybody's goal is to get whatever they can. 

We call this, being practical. 

We are seeing this attitude on a large scale throughout our age, which regards Christianity with ever-increasing hostility, convinced by the faithlessness of the conventional Christian that Christians are unwilling to bear witness to the faith by taking up their crosses and following Christ. The churches and schools give little reason to the world to think that we don't need them but that we love them. They would find the idea laughable and offensive. In this, they would agree with our Lord, who spits the lukewarm out of His mouth. 

Regrettably, we also see this attitude on a smaller scale in our schools and institutions that are striving to be like the world and to succeed in the world. 

Is this the worst thing? our faithlessness costs us our success. You can't follow two masters. Christian schools, largely speaking, don't matter. 

This last point is going to come across as arrogant and I can't do anything about that. You'll either accept it as a possibility or reject me as a buffoon. Both responses are probably correct. But I have to say it:

To be relevant to the world, the Christian school must, like God, transcend it. 

The state has mandated that state run education be grounded in the dogma of the absence, irrelevance, or even non-existence of God. They are reduced, necessarily, to pragmatic ends. So they have developed structures, curricula, pedagogies, and modes of assessment that enable them to pursue their pragmatic ends without being distracted by an absent God.

They have a fragmented curriculum because they have no thread to tie it together (re - ligio is Latin for "I tie together"). They use manipulative pedagogies because they are legally prohibited from teaching the whole child (which includes a soul and spirit and wants to know God). They reduce every assessment to something measurable because that is the pattern of the industry on which they pattern their activities. 

It isn't working. 

It can't work. 

Because it isn't true. And it isn't good. And it isn't beautiful. 

So if we are faithful to God in our reverence for Him and the children in our curriculum, our pedagogy, our modes of assessment, and our goverance, will we do worse or better? 

If we cultivate wisdom and virtue will our graduates be more or less likely to get into a good college? 

If we nourish their souls on the true, the good, and the beautiful, will our students do better or worse on standardized tests? 

By seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, will we be more or less likely to get all the things the Gentiles worry about? 

Here are the facts: Christian classical school students typically score around the 90th percentile on the SAT. They typically get into the better colleges with lots of scholarship money. 

But when Christian classical schools sell their souls to score well on the SAT or to get into college, they not only lose their souls, experience the bitterness that arises from false advertising and mixed messages, and often close their doors, but they don't do well on the SAT or get into the better colleges either. 

We are not the world. We are not called to conform to the world. We do not need the world. We are called to transcend the world by taking up our cross, dying to ourselves, losing our lives, and humbling ourselves to death. 

Only then can we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Only then can we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. 

Only then can we be like the God who is known only by those who are like Him. 

Only then will we matter. 

Andrew  Kern

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the founder and president of The CiRCE Institute and the co-author of the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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