The Dilemma of Education 3

The Reformed View of Education

Van Til claims that only in the Reformed view that the dilemma of education is truly resolved. It is because only the Reformed depends exclusively upon the Scripture for its educational philosophy. Both the doctrines of creation and providence are taken seriously in their biblical terms. This tells us that the facts in the universe are authored and ordered by the Lord. The role of man is to think thoughts after God as revealed in the Scriptures. God is the missing unity in education. He is not merely an abstract concept but a concrete personality who possesses attributes such as infinity, immutability, holiness, justice, and the like. His existence therefore should be the basic assumption for human thought to find coherence and meaning. “He cannot be proved to exist in the way that pragmatism and idealism seek to prove its principle of continuity. If his existence would be proved in this way then he would be only a correlative to factuality as ultimate as himself. He would then again be worthless as a principle of unity.”

“The Bible alone speaks of such a God…and his absolute authority…. The Reformed faith therefore recognizes him as the final reference point in all human predication…. The question is not simply as to which one is in accord with fact and logic. The question is rather in terms of which presupposition fact and logic have meaning at all.” Van Til emphasizes that this claim is not made on the basis only of the distinctive of the Reformed teaching. Rather, this claim is based on the entire teaching of biblical Christianity. Seen from this perspective, we now realize that the Bible provides the goal, the norm, and the motivation in life and education.

Man knows the goal of his life and education. It is because he is made in the image of God. He knows that his task is to reflect the glory of God in his effort to build the kingdom of God, which includes even the educational enterprise. This task is not confined only among the elect but embraces “mankind as a whole.”

The Bible also supplies the criterion in education. Reformed faith affirms this confidently for it “begins with the presupposition of the absolute truth of the Christian position.” There is no such thing as the neutral position in education. “Whatever is in accord with Scripture is educative; whatever is not in accord with it is miseducative.” The Bible does not need a higher authority to prove its claim such as human reason. If such thing is allowed, there is no need for the Bible to provide the norm in education. The actual criterion in that scheme is man and his autonomous reason.

The motivation in life and education is faith in the triune God. The doctrines of creation and providence tell us that God has the ultimate control over man, over the physical world, and history. The all-controlling plan of God is the source of inspiration and destiny for all of human efforts. In this regard, the freedom of man is perceived in its proper context, that is, it is not absolute and therefore not outside of divine counsel.

The above consideration stressed the antithesis between these two major views of education, which are the diverse versions of modern educational philosophies and Reformed view. Moreover, it is proper at this point to identify the unity of human culture lest the foregoing consideration is misunderstood. The antithesis is true only as a matter of principle but not realized in practice. As long as man is man as described in the Bible, that is, a creature of God, he cannot be consistent in his practice with what he espouses in his philosophy. “In practice therefore, the non-Christian can know and teach much that is right and true.” He possesses skills, intellect, and talents that contribute greatly to the development of human culture. We should appreciate this contribution of man in general towards the progress of man’s civilization. Van Til quotes Calvin in this regard that the doctrine of total depravity does not contradict the unity of man’s culture. They are both affirmed. Their common source is the unified counsel of God.

Van Til finds that the doctrine of common grace also helps us to see the unity of human culture. This doctrine teaches that man in general participates in the building up of God’s kingdom regardless of his willingness or not. Speaking to man in general, Van Til says, “The harps you make, the oratorios you produce, the great poems you have written, the scientific discoveries you have made will, with your will or against your will, all find their place in the unified structure of the kingdom of God through Christ.”

Brief Reflection and Critique

I appreciate the way Van Til paints a broad picture of diverse views of education in contrast to the Reformed view. I think his point is clear. He wants to distinguish the Reformed philosophy of education from the many versions of modern educational philosophies. Van Til sums up that despite of the numerous theories in education, all of them could be classified only under “two mutually exclusive principles for the interpretation of life.” He claims that all of the modern theories, which represent one way to view life, are not able to find the unity necessary in education. This is their dilemma. The other way to view life, which he identifies as the Reformed perspective, is able to solve this dilemma due to its consistency to take the truths of the bible as it stands. By saying this, it does not mean that Van Til ignores the formal similarity in using such biblical concepts with the Protestant evangelicals. He views the evangelicals as friends of Reformed, which are both aiming to motivate each other “to see and teach the full truth.” Even his criticism of the Arminian’s doctrine of free will is not intended to judge the sincerity of faith of those who adhere to such teaching. Moreover, Van Till agrees that it is legitimate psychologically for a Reformed philosopher to begin with man in the interpretation of life provided that he acknowledged man at the outset as a creature of God.

This pamphlet assumes that readers are familiar with philosophical terms employed in education. There are sections, which are hard to follow. There are also sections that seem to me is just a repetition of what have been said earlier. In its totality, I think the pamphlet deserves a wider exposure especially for Christian educators, which are aiming to find coherence and unity in all his academic endeavors.


[1] The continuity mentions by Van Til is related to the unity and the criterion, which are necessary for education to find meaning and purpose.

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