Recently, Christian blogger Tim Challies posted an article regarding homeschooling. It is called “10 Lessons from 10 Years of Public Schooling.” While I find Challies’s views on this topic repugnant in general, this article demonstrates an important point: how the forces of the world and self-justifying rationalization (often in the name of the Gospel) affect the minds of Christians. What has transpired here can be a wake-up call for all Christians, especially those dedicated to the golden calf of tax-funded, government schools.
After a decade of refusing to home school or private school his children (even though the option was available), the still-devout advocate for public schools has revised his reasoning considerably—without acknowledging the change—and the cognitive dissonance is telling. The results show a disturbing schizophrenia of worldview in the thinking of one of evangelicalism’s well-known representatives.
The disappointing part begins to come to light when one considers what Challies wrote on this issue back in 2006, here and here (which he links for reference in this article, just so you know that he is conscious of this connection). Back then, he and his wife were making a decision whether or not to send their first-grader into public schools (in hindsight it looks more like a rationalization exercise to justify a forgone conclusion). They did, and he had to write about the justification for his decision. Problem is, his justifications back then contradict his observations made now, ten years later. And the disparity is telling.
In the 2006, article, Challies was gung-ho about his kids being salt and light in the public schools (an implicit admission that the schools are all but godless, by the way). Here’s what he argued back then:
I believe missions can and should happen everywhere. I find it difficult and painful to imagine a public school system devoid of Christians. Imagine, if you will, that every Christian pulls their children from the public schools. There will be no more Christian clubs in junior high schools; there will be no more prayer meetings or Bible studies at high schools; there will be no witnessing, no conversions. Christians will have removed the best indigenous missionaries from their natural mission field. I want my children to learn how to witness to their friends and want them to do it. Assuming my children are or will soon be young Christians, I do not want to deny them the ability and privilege of witnessing to others. New Christians are filled with joy and excitement and, while they may not know a lot yet, they are usually excited to share the gospel with others. I want my children to do this and to see their school as a mission ground. I want them to experience the joy of sharing their faith and to grow in their ability to do this. . . .
Now some may argue that young children are unready to be evangelists and that it is unfair to expect them of this. Once again, both experience and Scripture prove this a false assumption. If our children are believers, they are filled with the same Holy Spirit as you and I. They are equipped to reach out to the most tender-hearted segment of the population.
But that was then, baby. This is now. Lesson number four among his ten lessons now is: “DON’T SEND YOUR KIDS AS EVANGELISTS.” He explains.
One of the common reasons people send their children to public school is to allow them to be salt and light among their fellow students. However, this is a heavy burden to place on young children, and especially young children who are not yet believers. Children are not born believers and, therefore, cannot be expected to be evangelists until they are converted. We never placed that responsibility on their shoulders.
One thing that’s interesting here is that he’s grown consistent with the implications of Baptist worldview: children are not believers. They therefore must not be “filled with the same Holy Spirit as you and I” (one wonders, then, how they can be saved). Children cannot evangelize because they are not believers, he says.
Then what are the implications of sending unbelieving but impressionable children into a pack of unbelieving wolves (children and teachers) for the duration of their formative years? (Hint: A Christian may call this “reverse missions.”) (Another hint: Consider the movies Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, Old School, and Road Trip, and then think of public schooling a college-prep for the children of Christians.)
What’s really of interest here, however, is the total 180 in regard to this important reason for sending children into public schools. At first, we must send them in “For Missions.” Now, “Don’t send your kids as evangelists.”
More importantly, if you read the original two essays from 2006, aside from a lot of qualifications and caveats designed to head-off potential criticism, the only positive reason Challies gave for sending children into public schools was this one: evangelism (all the other reasonings were merely encouragements and responses to common objections).
That one reason is now gone. After ten years, Challies has unwittingly sawn off the one branch on which he was sitting. So why is he still sitting? He continues to advocate and promote his decision to send his children to public schools. In fact, he concludes saying, “We have few regrets with our decision.”
Really? Then why have you changed your mind on children as missionaries?
There is no acknowledgement from Challies that his position changed. There is no acknowledgment that the only real reason he had he now rejects totally. There must be other branches on which he was really sitting.
Yes, there is still a vestige of a reason left. As a consequent part of his original reason of “Missions,” Challies believed his children’s involvement in public schools would help build bridges to unbelievers in the community to whom he and his wife could witness. He wrote,
Our children build bridges to the neighborhood. In sending our children to public school, we are building these bridges with our neighbors as our children are building friendships with their children. We are building friendships on the basis of our kids’ friendships. . . . We have credibility as neighbors and as members of this community by having our children attend the same schools as the other children. . . .
My wife and I feel called to reach out to the people in our neighborhood and our community. We simply do not feel we could honor God in this way and be as effective in doing it if we kept our children home. We would lose credibility, we would lose friendships, and we would lose access to the hearts of both children and their parents.
Of course, Challies has to know there are dozens of ways to build bridges with neighbors other than tax-funded schools. I find this argument weak and far from convincing. But I also find it revealing. Once the “children as missionaries” argument is gone, this alone stands as the real motivation: Challies believes that he would “lose credibility” with his neighbors over the sole criterion of public schooling.
Apparently, Challies has not considered that, in a hostile environment, credibility is gained by standing on principle and conviction, even when it is not popular. By Challies’s logic, Wilberforce should have embraced the same slave laws as everyone else—just for credibility of course, to build a bridge; Rosa Parks should have moved seats, just for credibility, to build a bridge. According to this logic, Bonhoeffer was the incredible, the bridge burner, and Hanns Kerrl a master of missions. Are these extreme examples? Of course: that’s what reduction ad absurdum means.
What Challies’s new position boils down to is a fear of not fitting in with the crowd, and not much more. And this, I believe, is one of the powerful motivations that keep too many Christian children subjected to public schooling. Pulling children out would make a very bold public statement, and too many Christian families are lacking in one of the ingredients necessary to take that stand—be it faith, courage, confidence, or whatever.
Finally, Challies’s latest post (10 Lessons) reveals further how that rationalizing motivation affects the rest of what he is doing. I won’t elaborate on all ten points, but just look at his headings. “IT IS POSSIBLE”: meaning, don’t fear to send your own kids in, even if you have reservations. “THE FAMILY GOES TO PUBLIC SCHOOL”: giving public schooling parents the false sentiment that their parental involvement is just like that of homeschooling. “IT TAKES A CHURCH”: the assurance that what religious training is lacking will be made up for by a church environment, and that the church’s supplement in this way is tacit “support” for parents’ choice to use public schools. “THE TEACHERS ARE YOUR FRIENDS”: this, after acknowledging that teachers will teach an anti-Christian curriculum. And my favorite, “WE ARE ALL HOMESCHOOLERS”: this is self-delusion by redefinition. No, Tim, you most definitely are not.
Every one of these “Lessons” is calculated to redefine public schooling and ascribe to it all the benefits actually gained by homeschooling. The last one listed in fact does the devious bait-and-switch of even appropriating the name of homeschooling. On the converse, each of these “Lessons” subversively diminishes the power and responsibility gained by parents who actually do homeschool, and diminishes the faith and sacrifice they make in order to do so. This is deceptive and subversive, even if not intentionally meant to be. It is an insult to actual homeschoolers. It is, to be frank, an attempt at identity theft.
I find these types of worldview omissions and oversights particularly unsettling when they come from a guy who recently spent several weeks blogging about “false teachers” in the church historically, and going so far as to expose the errors of contemporary figures in order to enlist them along with the classic heretics like Arius and Pelagius. I wonder: would he include the atheists and Unitarians who designed a system of state-enforced socialistic institutions?
Christian parents need to know that government schools are the worst option possible. Churches and pulpits ought to support this fact. But too many Christians are fearful of the responsibility given to them by God for the education of their children, and the types of rationalization given by a popular leader like Challies will be all they need to capitulate. Popularity and fear work together to turn credibility on its head. Credulity ruins credibility.