Russell and Duenes

Public Schools: A Great Place to be Salt and Light

with one comment

school busAfter a brief hiatus to address other matters, we’re back to engaging the strongest arguments for keeping one’s Christian children in public schools. One of the most significant arguments Christians make in favor of staying in the government schools go thus: The public schools have the vast majority of students across our land; therefore, removing Christian children from the public schools would be a major abdication of our calling to be “salt and light” in this world. How can we expect to win people to Christ and disciple them if we leave the public schools, which would also mean leaving the social connections that come from being involved in public schools, such as PTA meetings, field trips, athletic events, and numerous other extra-curricular activities. In other words, putting one’s children in a public school opens up all sorts of relational networks – both for student and parent – that would seem to be closed if one opts for private education or homeschooling.

I agree that this is a powerful draw, and I take the motivations behind this argument to be godly. We see a world of people without Christ, and we have a ready-made venue in the public shools in which to be a witness for Christ, while also obtaining an education for our children. Yet I think we have to keep the primary goal of education in mind, which is to train up our children in the Lord so that “whether they eat or drink or whatever they do, they do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). Education is primarily for our children, for the shaping of their minds and characters into conformity with the thoughts and ways of Christ. It is for equipping them to steward God’s world in a way that honors Him and beings the light of redemption to human life and culture. The fact that our kids can share Christ with other kids in school, and that we parents may share Christ with other adults we meet through the school, is wonderful, and I do not belittle it. We are right if we make the most of it. But our kids are not being sent to school primarily so that they can witness to other kids. Indeed, at a young age they are not very well equipped to do so. What is more likely in the public schools is that our kids will be converted to the ways of the other students who have no Christian upbringing. Or they will seek out the other Christian students and hang out with them, effectively nullifying the evangelistic purpose the public school affords.

The objection is raised that, if we keep our kids out of the public schools, our kids will become insular and protected. They will have a sheltered and weak faith because it will never be tested. They will not be ready to “go out into the world,” and will often lose their faith when they do. I have no doubt that examples of this can be brought forth, perhaps many examples. But such faltering faith is not a necessary result of providing an explicitly Christian education for one’s children, and I could just as easily bring forth examples of kids whose faith is strong, vibrant and winsome due to their Christian education, who are far better equipped to present a strong testimony for Jesus with their adult lives. A Christian education, done rightly, will generally produce faithful adults. This is what God does. Let us not believe the lie that people become Christians willy-nilly, as though it were some sort of crap shoot. Just because we can find faithful Christian parents whose kids went astray does not mean that God has no desires for how we educate our children, or that remaining a faithful Christian throughout life has nothing to do with our education. God did not say to the Israelites, “Don’t worry about the Canaanites around you when you get into the land, for I am sovereign and can save whom I want, and so it doesn’t matter what influences surround you.” I would find it hard to imagine an Israelite thinking, “My kid was educated by the Canaanites and she turned out just fine, so what’s God talking about?” Though the child might have indeed “turned out just fine.” Wisdom dictates general patterns and results, not ironclad guarantees.

Finally, I think we have become a tad short-sighted about our evangelistic and missional enterprise if we are worried that the collapse of the government school system will somehow choke off our opportunities to win people to Christ. We have to be honest with ourselves. I’m sure there are many Christian kids and parents that are winning people to Christ in the public schools, but I’m just as convinced that many more are doing no such thing. The inertia is largely against it. We’re friendly, sure, but we can be that without the PTA meetings. But even more importantly, this “salt and light in public schools” view is short-sighted because it fails to take into account the importance of institutions.

The Great Commission has to happen not just on the individualistic “sharing with my co-worker” level, though that is important, but on the larger “Christ in, throughout and above culture” level. And the educational enterprise is central to this. Why do Christians have so little influence in the arts, in music, in the sciences, in our cultural institutions generally? It’s certainly not because we’re stupid or intellectually inferior. It’s that we have ceded that territory to the secularists, and retreated into our evangelical enclaves, into which we sometimes try to invite people. The importance of a Christian education is that we are training up generations of young people to have a larger influence on the culture and people within it, because they are equipped to take on that authority, in their training as lords of the earth. Talbot School of Theology’s Philosophy program is a great example. They are seeing the big picture. They are training up Christians, in an explicitly Christian environment, to do philosophy from the vantage of biblical truth; and then they are unleashing these trained people on the academy, where they are having an inordinate influence.

I try to imagine what the Church’s influence might be like if we established a significant Christian educational presence in our country, if our children were being trained from a young age to use their gifts and talents out in the world in redemptive ways, and if we were more intentional in our churches about living interconnected lives with our neighbors. Might we not find our opportunities to witness for Christ more numerous and robust? Might not more people, to paraphrase the prophet Zechariah, “take hold of the robe of the [Christian], saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'” (Zech. 8:23).



Written by Michael Duenes

July 9, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

One Response

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  1. Good points, Mike. As one who has been a teacher and administrator in the public school system for 17 years, I can say that I am quite thankful and blessed to have my boys in a private Christian school. The things I have seen first hand from students in our public schools would shock many. Our goal is to keep them in private school through 8th grade – training them up per the scriptures. In high school, we plan to send them to public school in an effort to continue the process (key word) of independence. Let them experience “the world” while still under our roof. We hope and pray that they will have been trained in ways that will help them be the salt and the light to their peers, and be strong enough to resist the temptations that will most surely be waiting for them.

    Robby Timm

    July 9, 2013 at 9:32 pm

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