The Need to Re-establish Critical Thinking as a Priority in Learning
“Solid food is for the mature, who by constant practice have their senses [powers of discernment] trained to distinguish between good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14)
We are bombarded on every side with worldviews that – to put it mildly – “don’t feel right.” Our entire society is imploding today because most people have not been trained to critically think through these ideas. While the culture is pressuring us to abandon our “old ways” and embrace the progressive “new ones,” confusion is boiling over in our world.
One movement which has arisen in answer to this confusion is that of pulling our children out of the government education system. We’re witnessing what can only be described as the greatest mass evacuation from government schools since its inception in the 1800s.
Even though this “exodus” from public school is long past due, nonetheless it is to be celebrated. However, for those who have promoted and participated in such action for years (Home-school parents and their curriculum providers, some churches, and Christian education advocates) it would be timely and appropriate to consider defining the fundamental purpose and goals for these new parent-teachers to implement. Similar to the confessions and creeds which developed during the Reformation, we are in desperate need of articulating clear principles set within a general template for Christian education.
This does not mean dictating all curricula and styles of learning. No. It means defining our overall purpose and outlining the first principles necessary for that purpose to be attained. Without clear-cut objectives and firmly established foundational precepts, we leave myriads of well-meaning Christian leaders and parents without a reliable roadmap for success, and abandon them to learn it all from scratch – or worse, be misdirected towards ineffective or un-biblical means.
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to affect a Great Education Reset by establishing a firm principle-based approach to education.
This article deals with one of those first principles: What is our primary purpose in the discipleship of our children?
Recognizing Where the Battle Rages
The Scripture at the top (Heb. 5:14) is a good starting place for defining this purpose: To condition ourselves and those we disciple to continually train our senses to distinguish good from evil. In other words, to exercise our minds to compare and contrast biblical principles against those which oppose the thoughts of God. (2 Cor. 10:4-5)
But this principle has been severely hamstrung in the last century by two false presuppositions that have taken its place in the church.
1) The false presupposition of “the separation of sacred from secular”. This places an unbiblical divide between our faith as practiced in the Christian home or church alone, and how we are to appropriate the Word of Truth in the world. This leads to…
2) The false presupposition of “pigeonholed piety”. By this we’re simply referring to a compartmentalized Christianity where we are taught by example that our Christianity can be pigeonholed at home or at the church, but when it comes to everything else in between, the Word of God doesn’t apply. For example, we have learned to teach “Christ alone” or “the Gospel alone” while (unfortunately) excluding the many commands teaching our responsibility as Salt and Light, Watchmen on the Wall, etc. We often purposely avoid applications to modern issues, leaving most Christians ill-equipped to think Biblically through these conflicts, resulting in Christianity’s overall ineffectiveness in the culture. We have instead been conditioned to see our purpose as imposing our singular view rather than reasonably engaging the opposing views with the biblical worldview. In short, we have abandoned the battleground of ideas.
The Error of Imposition
If there is anything to be learned from watching how the Humanists have destroyed America’s education system, we can agree that their Marxist methods have aimed at and achieved the dumbing down of our society. They have taught a large portion of our populace to be unable to critically think – to be incapable of “discerning between good and evil”. How did they do this? They imposed (forced) upon the students one viewpoint only: their godless, hopeless, thoughtless, unreasonable worldview. In turn, they’ve censored, canceled, denied, and decried any opposing views – especially biblical views.
Why does this matter? Because without presenting the contrasts of opposing ideas, there are no choices left to discern between, and the disciple is left with no other options than to believe and submit to what the professor has insisted upon. In the process, the lack of constant practice in exercising their powers of discernment has left students in government schools incapable of even considering an opposing viewpoint. This is the error of imposing a single side of arguments alone, and is captured in the following quote by Bertrand Russel, a highly revered philosopher, writer, and public education proponent from the 1950s:
“Where all children go to school, and all schools are controlled by the government, the authorities can close the minds of the young to everything contrary to official orthodoxy … Education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished”
Repeating the Same Error in the Church
Unfortunately, this method of teaching – imposing a singular view of an idea or issue while suppressing the opposing ones – has been implemented in much of Christianity as well, with many churches proudly proclaiming, “We don’t speak about politics or social issues … we just preach the Gospel”, failing to recognize that the Gospel includes the entire Word of God and all its implications. Thus, God’s people have not been challenged to train their powers of discernment to distinguish between good and evil, and as such are being taken captive by the deceptions of the world.
But you ask: “Are we not to impose upon our children to believe in Christ and the Scriptures?” Of course we are to highly encourage them, but that doesn’t mean we are to force them to believe. We cannot force anyone to believe. We must teach the fundamental truths of Scripture first, then challenge the student to distinguish between the biblical view and the opposing views in the culture. That principle was sown deeply into the reformers’ worldview by the doctrine of the Sacred Rights of Conscience.
Defining the Sacred Rights of Conscience
Simply stated, we define this term in this manner: “Every human soul is, in the end, personally responsible to God alone for the choices he makes in regard to religion.”
• From the beginning, Adam and Eve were given the choice to obey. They chose to disobey, and the consequences followed.
• God challenged the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30:19: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have placed before you – life and death, the blessing and the curse. So, choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants…”
• Joshua stated to the Israelites before entering the Promised Land, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14)
This principle of presenting choices – which require disciples of God to think and take personal responsibility over their choices – is ubiquitous throughout Scripture.
The parent’s (and the pastor’s job) is to – as thoroughly as possible – equip the disciple with the knowledge of God in all of life and to contend for the faith by discerning between God’s thoughts and those of man. To attempt to force belief by teaching only one side of an issue will not only be futile, but opposes biblical precepts of discipleship.
George Washington stated it well: “While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men and to Him only in this case they are answerable… [R]eligion . . . can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force and violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience.”
The Rights of Conscience in Action
We don’t save souls. We can only be used as God’s means to lead others to the gate of truth, but each soul is accountable for his response to God’s Spirit. In 1 Cor. 3:6-7, Paul says: “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So, neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
The Constitutional Leadership Initiative organization puts it this way:
“[The] conscience guides actions as well as thoughts; we are to “walk in its light.” Thoughts or beliefs are a first step, but insufficient; they are impotent if they cannot also be acted upon.
In 1778, Theophilus Parsons warned: “We have duties, for the discharge of which we are accountable to our Creator and benefactor, which no human power can cancel. What those duties are, is determinable by right reason, which may be, and is called, a well-informed conscience. What this conscience dictates as our duty, is so; and that power which assumes a control over it, is an usurper…. “Duty” implies action.”
This is our purpose as parents and pastors as well: to inform the conscience (ours first, then that of our disciples) with God’s eternal truths, and to make known the rewards or consequences of our choices either to obey or disobey, as promised in Scripture. We then do our best to model what God’s way looks like in our lives, trusting that the light from both, guided by the Holy Spirit, will divinely persuade others to follow Christ with their own heart, mind, and soul.
Succinctly, our purpose is to train our disciples – by constant practice – to distinguish between good and evil, and teaching the wisdom of choosing the good.
1. For several generations, the truths of Christianity have been increasingly suppressed because we have ignored the biblical imperative to disciple our children and churches to graduate from milk – the elementary principles of the Gospel – to the meat of learning to discern good ideas from the bad.
2. The result of ignoring this fundamental principle is visible in our retreat from the battleground of ideas. We have made the mistake of following the same method of public schools and media when we teach only our ideas while disallowing discussion of opposing views, thus leaving our beliefs to be defined by our enemies. If Martin Luther had never nailed his Ninety-five Theses against Roman Catholicism on the door of Castle Church, the revival and Reformation of Christianity might never have taken place.
Bad ideas must be opposed by the truth found in the Word of God, or they will take root and destroy a society!
3. Therefore, in answer to the question, “what can we do now?”
a) Teach our children and churches to critically think through ideas. Thoroughly equip them to apply Biblical truth in all areas of life – historically, theologically, philosophically, economically, scientifically, psychologically, ethically, socially, lawfully, politically, and educationally. In short, teach a Biblical Worldview by indoctrinating our disciples with the thoughts of God in these areas, and then inoculating them against the ideas which war against God. We accomplish this NOT by forcing them to believe only one side of the argument, but by forcing them to think through conflicting ideas and “choose this day whom you will serve”.
b) Share this philosophy with other parents and pastors
Lastly, if we teach our children and congregations to know the Word of God, apply it in all of life, and to faithfully stand up against the lies of the world with the Truth, we can trust that God will lead us in our battles. Before long, we might find ourselves winning many of these battles and see the tide turn in our favor.
But we’ve got to get the first principles in order.