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Today’s article is Dr. Jones' response to Rev. MacArthur.
Dear Rev. MacArthur,
You are the pastor of Grace Community Church, the Grace to You minister on daily radio, and an internationally respected theologian. As such, it’s likely that your stature played a definite role in why the web posting, “Home, Private or Public School?,”in Pulpit Magazine at Grace Church’s website on Feb 5th kindled such a firestorm of blogger response. Rev. Carey Hardy, writing in a sense as your surrogate, touched off a furor of reaction with responses pouring in from all over the education-choice spectrum. Talk about an eye-opening composite snapshot that ranged from reasonable accuracy to sincere but often unhelpful anecdotal guesswork. George Barna, call your polling team!
The purpose of Hardy’s very brief and outwardly bland article was to help parents decide between public, home, and private Christian schooling. But the surprising conclusion was that even though the public schools—like many other of a crumbling society’s troubling icons—are probably not all we’d like them to be, they’re still “vital to a child’s overall development.” Nor is “everything bad just because it’s under the umbrella of public education.” And though often OK, we’re not to forget that homeschooling and private Christian options have lots of negatives, too. So, just how am I supposed to decide? The article essentially ended “in a tie,” which unfortunately does not square with the Bible. All we learn is that parents must be “wise and discerning,” and they should earnestly “seek God’s will” via the somewhat less than explicit message of Ephesians 5:17. In the end, it’s not about the many Bible specifics with “Scripture interpreting Scripture” having the final say; it’s the parents. So, at the end we’re back at the beginning.
I said, “seemingly bland,” because three optional links told a deeper story. The first was a long list of routine pro and con arguments about the three school choices, but which still left the reader with no solid answers. “Do what you think is best and then trust God.” But far worse were two quasi-sophisticated pieces by Tim Challies, cloaked in relativism and dedicated, of all things, to the potential dangers of homeschooling, but with praise for the hidden benefits of public schools! What? Challies, apparently seeing as an eternal given the inevitability of statist education, says it’s because we must focus on “missions;” i.e., the “salt and light” strategy. Not so. As adults, Christians can evangelize all age groups, whereas youth need to be in biblical worldview training mode until their later teens. Or, putting it rhetorically, Could Challies’ own kids pass his church’s mission board test? He also says that enrolled Christians can prevent deadly habits of worldliness by interacting, K-12, with their more worldly peers even though he offers no research support. It’s as if a soldier wouldn’t be qualified for combat unless he’d been shot in training a couple of times with real bullets. Such a “total immersion” strategy might sound spiritual, but what if he’s wrong? What about the 14,000 seat hours of humanist classroom academics if Challies convinces Rev. Hardy’s readers to offer up their children as the lab animals? It’s too bad, but since Hardy endorsed them, his “evenhanded” suggestions are thrown into fatal imbalance by the anti-orthodox theology of the links and of the article.
So where are we? Hardy barely grazed the Bible’s composite list of homeschooling commands in Deuteronomy 6:1–9 (he actually denies this passage validates homeschooling!); Psalms 1 and 2; Proverbs 1:7; 13:20; 22:6; Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 10:2; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5;11; 6:4, etc. (“But, don’t these only apply at bedtime? Surely not 24/7!”) Since life offers us “no neutrality,” then even math must be taught “spiritually” if 1 Corinthians 10:31 is the goal. The great thing is that when parents “get” these verses, they no longer have to pray about or importune the Holy Spirit. They can just start. Second, Hardy may have anticipated that “everyone knows” the grim realities of the national Zeitgeist dictate against home education. Why? Because parents are too busy; many moms work for material reasons or because of feminist programming; many like having their days free for doing their own thing, and the public school’s free baby sitting nicely fills the bill; “dad’s heart isn’t in it” (too often true!); it’s too hard to discipline the kids (and ourselves!); too much commitment or too tough even though Bible standards say, “do it.” And, sorry, but if not disavowed by a writer, I’m always apt to find subtle insinuations that if pastors preach against the “sanctity” of public schools it could well put them at soon risk of having to sell Amway or vacuum cleaners door to door. (Or not? God just might bless this “risky” desire to obey!)
Once, while at Len C.’s church in Detroit, you autographed a book for me, and included the verse, “May the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” I believe that Christ’s word in both testaments demands youth training be done at home as best the parents can do it, at least during the formative years of 1–15. (Happily, it’s not rocket science, and obedience counts for more than brains. God knows what the parents are trying to do.) My equally key finding is the vivid absence of any scriptural authority that would allow parents to pass off their kids (except in obvious cases) to anyone else even if Christian. So, let me frame it all this way: Pretend all the public schools are taken away. What’s the Bible’s and my own parental default education stance then? Home Education. Let’s say I try it for a year, doing the best I can even though not perfectly. Does the Bible say that if, on balance, I fail that I should quit? Or persevere until, as with piano lessons, I slowly get better? Now put the schools back. Do I return the kids or continue on in obedience?
So Rev. MacArthur, as mentioned in today’s title, please let me encourage you to make amends on behalf of Grace’s website to readers who respect you and who pay attention when you speak. It’s a remedial gesture you could easily provide. In fairness, I’m sure because of his good reputation, you likely didn’t vet Rev. Hardy’s article as closely as usual. Nevertheless, AWOL pastors nationwide who, in droves, are already failing to address the “third rail” of contemporary Christianity—the public school tragedy—will all too easily interpret Rev. Hardy’s piece as vindication of their chronic timidity. He gave them a comfy green light to tell parishioners that if they just “pray hard enough,” etc., then whatever they decide is OK with Pastor Smith. Thus, Smith is off the hook and free to focus on more important things like the choir robe crisis or on the new church-growth program; two efforts not about to be blessed by One who, above all, honors obedience (John 14:15). Why Rev. Hardy thought it might be OK to provide such an overall enticing excuse to duck home-discipleship pastoring is way beyond my job description.
Please clear up the record by telling us that you, too, believe American pastors have been missing in action in this battle for young minds for far too long. There’s little doubt that a once-Christian national culture now in near free-fall, bears striking witness to pastoral refusals to direct and inspire parents in regard to Christian youth education and home discipleship. I appreciate your willingness to supply, on your site, some good countering material to the article in question sometime soon. Thanks very much.