January 24, 2010

A Christian Vision of History and the Lordship of Christ in Education

I’ve been reading and thinking lately on what it means to have a Christian view of history. What is history and why should we study it as Christians? Is it really that important or can we just be glad that all those dark times are in the past? To understand the importance of the issue we need to consider how the implications of two opposing views play out. We will then see that how we answer these questions profoundly affects the way we approach education.

The first view is the one which has been adopted in popular society – an evolutionary vision of history. In this vision, history is all progress. Humanity is the result of the advance from an accidental explosion to the formation of planets and galaxies, from the first cellish critter oozing out of the primordial goop to the resulting mutli-celled creatures accidents and then from monkeys to men. Two implications of this view are worth noting. First, from an evolutionary perspective, things are supposed to be progressing up the evolutionary ladder. This, of course, means that the past has nothing to teach us. All of history can only be thought of as earlier and less advanced. To consider the ideas of our predecessors would be to consider the ideas of those further back on the evolutionary chain than we. It would be like studying the ideas of monkeys. Second, from an evolutionary perspective history is a matter of chance, an accident. And if it is an accident, what sense is there in searching for meaning in it? Randomness has no meaning. So, an evolutionary philosophy of history leaves us with a meaningless past the study of which would be a regression of ideas, civilization, and nature.

The second view of history is the Christian one. From a Christian perspective, history is not merely the stage on which God’s plans and purposes unfold, history is itself the unfolding of God’s plans and purposes. In contrast to the evolutionary vision, history is not an accident; it is no matter of chance. Rather, it is the playing out of God’s plan for God’s creation, not least the redemption of that creation. This leads to at least two implications as well. First, if God is the author of history, while there is progress toward a goal, it does not mean that we have nothing to learn from our forbears. That which went before is not necessarily inferior or less evolved. Those in the past have something to teach us about the outworking of God’s plans and purposes through time. We ought to study them to learn from them all we can about God’s intention for his world and how we might be a constructive part of that intention. Second, history is not a matter of chance and, therefore, has meaning. We can ask questions of meaning about historical matters because the matters are part of the outworking of God’s purposes in creation. He is doing something. Events are not random. God is at work. We study history because we are interested in what he has been up to.

These observations and implications lead us to some further observations about the way public education is done in the United States. The evolutionary vision of history is the one that has been basically adopted in public schools. There may be some strongholds for creationism in some place, but by and large the evolutionary perspective is the position generally taught. This, though, leads the curriculum to contradict itself. We want the students to think history is important. Otherwise, we would not make them study it through grade school and into college. Why spend so much time on something so meaningless? You don’t make students study a subject for years if you don’t want them to think it important. The problem arises when they leave history class and cross the hall to science where the teacher tells them that all history is an accident that is the result of a big explosion a long time ago. How can history be important if it is an accident? This is merely one aspect of the disjointedness in current educational situations.

The solution is to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ over both history and science. The student is required to study history because history is the unfolding of God’s drama of redemption. The student is required to study science because God made the world, and it is, therefore, worthy of study to discern how the good and kind Creator intended for all of it to work. The point here is that an education which claims to be neutral with regard to the Lordship of Jesus Christ commits itself to contradiction and absurdity. The subjects that make up an education can only be consistently taught when Christ is professed as Lord of every subject.

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