Ron Koole is administrator of Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School, Walker, Michigan.
Reformed Education, The Christian School as Demand of the Covenant, David J. Engelsma. Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2000. Pp. x-101 (no price available). [Reviewed by Ron Koole.]
The Reformed Free Publishing Association has done all Reformed believers a great favor by publishing a revised edition of Reformed Education. This is a book which Reformed parents who seek to rear their children in the fear of the Lord, and Reformed teachers who seek to assist believing parents in this calling will want to read and periodically reread. This book provides encouragement as well as biblical direction to parents, teachers, and all involved in the task of educating the children of believers.
The original edition of Reformed Education, out of print for a number of years, contained five lectures which Prof. David J. Engelsma presented in 1975 to a gathering of Protestant Reformed teachers at a summer mini-course sponsored by the Federation of Protestant Reformed School Societies. This revised edition has undergone thorough editing and contains a few significant additions which add to the quality and value of the book. One such addition addresses the increasingly popular home-schooling movement. Prof. Engelsma shows why home-schooling is not an option for Reformed parents where good Christian schools exist or where the possibility of the establishing of a Christian school presents itself.
The author shows from Scripture that the basis of Christian education is God’s covenant of grace. This covenant is explained as a relationship of friendship between God and His people in Jesus Christ; as a cosmic covenant, a covenant established with believers and their children in the line of continued generations. On this basis the whole endeavor of Reformed, Christian education depends. This basis determines the nature of the instruction in the Christian school and also defines the goal. Many attack this covenantal basis and establish Christian schools on other bases today. Some seek simply to escape the evil of the public schools, others seek to evangelize the children, while so many today attempt to provide education which will work to reform society and Christianize the world. Fail to establish the Christian school on this covenantal basis and the school will fail to accomplish its proper biblical goals, or the school will pervert the goals to fit its own basis.
The nature of the instruction in the Christian school must be biblical and confessional. The teaching of all the subjects in the light of God’s Word gives unity to the instruction and is the only possible way to teach the truth. The activity of rearing covenant children in the fear of the Lord finds its foundation in the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions, which are the authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures. This, says the author, is the hard work which every Reformed teacher must strive to carry out.
The goal of Reformed, Christian education flows out of the covenantal basis. The author warns that Christian education must not start in the Spirit and then end with some fleshly goal such as the successful, cultured gentleman. The goal rather is the “mature man of God, who lives in this world in every area of life with all his powers as God’s friend-servant, loving God and serving God in all of his earthly life with all of his abilities, and who lives in the world to come as a king under Christ, ruling creation to the praise of God, his Maker and Redeemer” (p. 84). This goal has two aspects. One aspect is that the child eternally praises God, and the other is a temporal aspect in which the child lives a life of holiness in this world.
Yes, the Reformed child of God must be taught to live antithetically in this world. A chapter entitled “Reformed Education and Culture” deals specifically with the justification and possibility of a Reformed school’s teaching a liberal arts education and making use of the works of unbelievers. The author warns against the dangers of world-conformity on the one hand and world-flight on the other. The Reformed world and life view recognizes that this world is God’s creation, which has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. It is in this context especially that the author shows the devastating effects of the false doctrine of common grace. This false doctrine minimizes the fall, breaks down the antithesis, and calls the Christian to cooperate with the world to build up society. Following this doctrine to its conclusion eliminates any need for Christian education.
God places the responsibility to teach covenant children on believing parents. This is why Christian schools must be parental schools. This is also why the teacher stands in the place of parents and is a humble servant. The teacher must love the children of God’s covenant. In a chapter dealing with the Protestant Reformed teacher, the author states the following as the credentials of the good teacher: full of the Spirit and grace of God, thoroughly Reformed, and possessing the ability to teach. Every teacher should be awestruck with his calling and “should feel that he would not accept such a position for a million dollars, and that he could not leave it for two million” (p. 78). With a proper understanding of the relationship of parent and teacher there will follow a close unity of home and school.
In the preface the author informs the reader that in this revision he resisted the temptation to expand the subjects. The average reader thanks him for this. The book presents the truth concisely, as well as defends and warns against dangers and attacks on that truth. For those who desire to read further on particular topics, the author provides an extensive list of other works, in a bibliography and within the footnotes.
As has been stated, all believers will benefit from reading this book. Parents will strive with greater zeal and with all their heart to maintain or establish a good Christian school. Teachers and administrators will grow to understand better their calling and the nature of their work. Board members will be better qualified to observe, interview, and hire teachers. They will also glean principleswhich should govern decision making in the areas of enrollment and curriculum. Aspiring teachers will be better prepared to interview for a teaching position. And all believers will grow in their understanding of this glorious work. There is power in education. May Reformed Christians use that power to the development of the whole of the child to the service and glory of God—because Christian education is a demand of the covenant.