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.” 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)
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky