A Reflection on Classical Christian Education
By John Hayward

Convictions, according to Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, are not beliefs that you hold but beliefs that hold you. Convictions give steady direction and governance to choices. They function like default settings for life. Being a disciple of Jesus and seeking to see his Lordship in all of life lead to certain convictions that must govern a life of faithfulness. Jesus’ life and teachings show us that a life of submission to these convictions is the true life of freedom. In a later article I will reflect specifically on how my education formed those ultimate convictions in me but here I want to point to convictions in two areas that have meaningfully shaped my life: authority and ideas.

Authority is not a popular concept and it’s not hard to understand why. Authority implies power and power can be and frequently is abused. It is however an inescapable reality. Parents, employers, pastors and government officials will be a part of each of our lives. My experience at a classical Christian school was a blessing because I was instructed by teaching and example in a Christian vision of authority. Essentially this consisted of two aspects which became my convictions. First, I was told and expected to respect authority because it has been put into my life by God. Second, I was taught and expected to keep authority accountable to God’s standards. This one-two combo punch of convictions about authority has humbled and protected me in my life.

In the first part of Anna Karrenina, Tolstoy introduces us to a character partly with this line, “he liked his newspaper, as he liked a cigar after dinner, for the slight haze it produced in his head.”[1] This captures the approach to ideas that is repugnant (like the smell of a bad cigar) to me because of the convictions my education gave me. Ideas matter. They lead to life or death. They glorify or profane the LORD. Therefore engaging in ideas (like gears engage a bicycle chain) personally is an act of Christian service. We need to promulgate good ideas that are good for people and fight bad ideas that are bad for people. Tinkering with ideas in detached pondering will tend to make us like Jude’s opponents “waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted.” (Jude 12, ESV) I was taught to have this conviction because I tasted the opposite. I tasted meaningful education through lessons that had, as C. S. Lewis would say, “Blood and sap in it. The trees of Knowledge and Life growing together.”

The culture in which we live insinuates, cajoles and finally screams that boundaries are inherently oppressive. Convictions require commitments and commitments lead to less freedom, the logic goes. The destructive floods of foolishness around us point to the contrary. Everyone prefers the Susquehanna keeps to its boundaries. Fire is only productive, fun and a blessing when it is under tight control. The boundary lines of my life have been laid in pleasant places thanks to the convictions formed in me through my education.

“Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

and let us exalt his name together!”

 Psalm 34:3 (ESV)


[1] Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

It is not Casual to be Human

A Reflection on Classical Education
By John Hayward

Over the course of my first trimester here at Covenant I had the opportunity at several gatherings with parents to share some personal reflections on how I have been blessed by my classical Christian education. Those reflections are the foundation for this new series of blogs. My goal in these blogs is to testify to how the Lord has blessed me through receiving the kind of education that we are seeking to give to the students at Covenant and to declare with the Psalmist, “You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” Psalm 40:5

The one orienting theme of all of the other blessings that I want to share over the next three blogs is that my teachers always had goals for me beyond what they could see and measure. They did not merely want me to pass a class, progress to the next grade, graduate, succeed at college and become an excellent employee. All of those things take work and are true accomplishments but I am blessed that my teachers always kept a different person in view than the student in front of them.

My teachers were working towards shaping who I would be ten years after college. They were concerned with what kind of citizen, church member, father and husband I would be. By aiming for a man beyond the boy they could see my teachers demonstrated their dependence on God. This is key because their desire to equip me to be an engaged citizen and church member and a faithful and loving father and husband was always shaped by their understanding that I had an eternal goal. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory my teachers knew that they had no ordinary students; there were no mere mortals in their classrooms. It is not a casual thing to be human.

Despite the loud voices for quick and quantifiable results, my teachers held to a course determined by the desire to, as Paul says in Colossians 1:27-28 “make known… the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

I am grateful for the opportunity to invite you to “magnify the Lord with me” (Ps. 34:3) as I reflect on what God has done in my life in my education. I pray that it orients each of us to pray for our students. May they be similarly blessed by the education at Covenant and may we all join Paul in saying in Colossians 1:29 “For this [presenting people mature in Christ] I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”