By Brian G. Daigle
“What is one question from the introduction you should be able to answer if you see it on your exam?” I ask.
“Um,” the student begins.
“No Um,” I say. “Next student.”
A hand rises.
“Um,” the second student begins.
“Ums and likes belong at home. Bring them here and I’ll make them roam,” I say.
The class giggles.
I move on until we get to cleaner waters, where um cannot be found.
This scene happens approximately ten times per class period, in any one of my 7th-12th grade classes at Sequitur Classical Academy. And the same is true in colleges and universities. My response is the same every time. Our students enter upon the rhetoric stage one sentence at a time, and they will mature on that stage one sentence at a time. Even in college - especially when the students in our college classrooms did not take a formal course in classical rhetoric or were not steeped in the Latin tradition or were not set in the midst of poets, novelists, and scholars who had a high view and practice of language - it is incumbent upon us to continue the maturation of what we in classical Christian education call the "rhetoric stage." In making it part of the classroom habit to catch and do away with my students’ rhetorical splinters - and that includes my own rhetorical splinters, the “um” and the “like” and the “ya know” - I have noticed five good habits are being formed in them:
by Brian G. Daigle
A talk given at Trinity Anglican Church in Lafayette, Louisiana on Saturday, May 13th 2017
Choose your test. Grab the instrument or data point or questionnaire you believe will most clearly reveal how healthy the Church is today. What is it? What do you choose? Consider the various appeals we make when we want to show the decay of the contemporary church in America. Perhaps we say...
Our Christian children are leaving the church and abandoning it in droves.
Multiply the number of churches that open each year by twenty or thirty or forty or four-hundred and that’s how many churches close each year
Christian ethics, Christian principles, and Christian thought have left public
Hardly anyone reads the church fathers anymore
Christian references and symbols have left the popular imagination.
We’d be hard pressed to find a congregate, or perhaps even a clergyman, who has read Herbert and Donne and Hopkins and Chesterton.
Contemporary church architecture is indistinguishable from cheap office
Take a look at our Christian schools. They follow the lead of government
education and slap on a bible class.
Perhaps you say “the Christian radio station and the Christian bookstores are
evidence enough that, in America at least, Christendom is dead”
Be it children, sacramentology, church art, or church growth, whatever you choose to determine the health and presence of Christendom in North America, the outcome is the same. We are in a bad place, and it’s not because we have been too faithful to the Triune God.
As has been reiterated today, this year marks the 500th anniversary of one of Church history’s most important events. It marks the 500th year since a man used one of the most important tests, one of the sharpest instruments, to show the deep unfaithfulness, unbridled corruption, and vast confusion in the Church. Martin Luther grabbed a very important instrument in showing the sicknesses of the Church in his day. Luther grabbed his intellect. And he didn’t just wield his intellect: he asked his opponents to do the same.
For those unfamiliar with the academic practices of Luther’s day, it’s easy to think that Luther’s act of nailing something to the church door was at best antagonistic and obnoxious. “What kind of jerk nails something to a church door?” asks the 21st century mind. Today we have blogs and tweets and posts and church marquise signs. What mad man nails things to church doors? But nailing theses to a church door was common practice. This was an indication that Luther didn’t want a world-wide church split. He was hardly aware of the continental bundle of sticks that would ignite after his theses were printed widely. What Luther wanted in posting the 95 was to be debated in an academic setting. He was, after all, a doctor of theology, and this is why he composed the 95 in Latin, the language of academia. Sometime before posting the 95 to the church door, Luther had posted a different set of 97 theses attacking scholastic theology. He did this in hopes that his colleagues at the University of Wittenberg would respond with open discussion. As Church historian Justo Gonzalez tells us, these 97 theses were “received [by his colleagues] with little more than a great yawn.” Then came 1517 and the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Historian Richard Hannula explains:
“The Castle Church in Wittenberg housed more than 17,000 relics, the largest
collection in Germany, claiming among them four strands of the Virgin Mary’s hair, a piece of straw from the baby Jesus’ manger, a nail from the cross, and a
piece of bread from the Last Supper. The pope decreed that visitors to the Castle
Church on All Saints Day who venerated the relics and gave a contribution could
reduce their time in purgatory by over one million years.” (Hannula 123).
Then, on October 31st, 1917, the eve before All Saints’ Day, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and doctor of theology, made his stand. Luther was 34 years old. This was Luther’s challenge, 95 challenges to be exact. But the spirit of the 95 cannot be missed, and neither can the context. Luther’s challenge was an intellectual one and it was a moral one; it was a public challenge to have a public and academic discussion concerning matters of theology, ecclesiology, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy. Again Hannula states, “What Luther had intended to be a discussion on indulgences among the university professors and churchmen of Wittenberg exploded into a spiritual struggle that engulfed all of Europe.” (Hannula page 123)
And in so being an invitation for a public debate, it was one of the strongest tests to see how healthy, or not, the Church and her officials really were. Consider for a moment some of the fruit of a healthy church:
opponents or enemies
commitment and conviction.
And consider for a moment the proper context which is required for a good debate or discussion, a good intellectual tumble. The list is the same: brotherhood, brains, opponents or enemies, commitment and conviction, and humility. Each of Luther’s theses were set out to show the corruption of the Church in his day; and it is the same of the 95 Theses as a whole. The spirit, wording, and even method by which he made the proclamation as a whole also show the corruption of the Church in his day, and if we look close enough, we will see how these indicate some of the problems in contemporary Christianity. Let’s consider each of these components separately.
First, Luther had brothers.
Luther was a monk and professor in community. In the digital age it’s easy and unfortunate for us to think of Luther’s act as something of a blog, a rant he typed late one night as he thought about the missteps of his Christian brothers in the church across town. But the spirit of Luther’s theses were anything but a rant. They were anything but complaining. The very existence of the 95 theses tells us he had a basic respect and care for who he thought would answer the call, who he thought his opponent would be. His concern of corruption was public, it was invitational, and it was clear. These are all the marks of brotherly love. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
Second, Luther had brains.
Luther was a monk with brains. A quick look at the 95 theses tells us Luther was no intellectual slouch. As previously mentioned, at the time he posted it, he was already doing some intellectual heavy lifting. Much had been required of him in his academic formation. Unfortunately, the modern university and contemporary seminaries have much lacking. I’m afraid all too often today our priests and pastors have shaped their intellect like the world, if they have shaped them at all. The current general anti-intellectual climate of the United States makes the majority of our Christian academic institutions tepid. As Christians, we have not sought to hold the line or raise that standard but to lower it, to meet the world at its level. This is not the same thing as Christ’s humility in his condescension to man. What we have done in the west is acquiesce, and we have become tepid. As apologist Ravi Zacharias once said, “A tepid Christianity can’t withstand a rabid secularism.” This truth does not just apply to “Christianity.” It is really saying something about our actions as Christians, since Christianity is a life to be lived and not merely a set of propositions to be believed. The original quote applies to all Christian disciplines which are tepid. Tepid music in our churches can’t withstand a rabid secularism. Tepid education can’t withstand a rabid secularism. Tepid sacramentology. Tepid church leaders. Tepid church art. Tepid church architecture. Tepid preaching. None of these tepid things can withstand a rabid secularism. If we want to see what kind of priests and pastors the Church will have in twenty years, look at the kind of boys we are raising. We don’t teach boys logic, and we are surprised when ministers can’t think. We don’t teach boys poetry, and we are surprised when ministers can’t read. We don’t teach boys rhetoric, and we are surprised when ministers can’t preach. We send our boys to the goal line sooner than we send them to the nursing home, and we wonder why ministers lack compassion, no thought of death or fear of God. We make our boys tepid and we are surprised by tepid ministers and therefore tepid churches.
Third, Luther had enemies.
Let’s first begin by determining whether there is such a category as “enemy,” whether a man should have enemies at all. By definition, an enemy arises out of conflict. And conflict arises out of opposition. Opposition arises not only from difference, but irreconcilable differences, differences that are not worth negotiating. Before we know it, there is real disagreement. Two very irreconcilable differences are (1) the object of our honor and (2) truth claims.
A popular enough conflict arises when two people discuss whether something is worthy to be praised, whether something is worth our time, affections, money, and thoughts. What should we honor? We may call this the seat of glory. What belongs in the seat of glory? Irreconcilable differences arise in any context - business, education, the home – when two people cannot agree whether one thing should be praised or its opposite. This creates enemies. And as we will see, this is sometimes necessary and good.
Another area of conflict is truth claims. If a conductor claims the tunnel is twenty feet wide, wide enough to fit the train, and the co-conductor claims the tunnel is only fourteen feet wide, narrow enough to shave off the train’s side and wreck the whole venture, both men can’t be right. The tunnel is either wide enough or not. And as the train barrels down the track, there will be consequences one way or another. One of these men will play the hero and the other the villain. Despite what those flashy “COEXIST” bumper stickers may say, some truth claims cannot coexist with others. Some truth claims don’t play nice, and they shouldn’t.
A man will have enemies; a man will have trouble. Stanley Hauerwas said the point of Christianity was to have the right enemies. If a man doesn’t have enemies, he has ceased being a man; he has become lower than an ant, for even the ants know there is something worth fighting for when an Oogpister Beetle attempts to storm its land. As N.D. Wilson asks, assuming man will have trouble, will it be good trouble or bad trouble? Will a man have good God trouble or bad God trouble? Will a man have good man trouble or bad man trouble? The Psalms teach us this: good man trouble, bad man trouble, good God trouble, and bad God trouble. It is true that King David had real, historical enemies, and we ought to read the Psalms this way. It is likewise true that if we are living upright and godly lives, we too will have enemies. And the Psalms teach us what kinds of enemies we should have and how to deal with them. C.S. Lewis, in his Reflections on the Psalms states, “…though it is very bad to be a prig, there are social atmospheres so foul that in them it is almost an alarming symptom if a man has never been called one.” (Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p. 74) And we may appropriate this to Luther. “…though it is very bad to be a heretic, there are ecclesial atmospheres so foul that in them it is almost an alarming symptom if a man has never been called one.”
Fourth, Luther was committed to the church.
The Catholic response to Luther’s 95 Theses is no secret. It has been called the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and the Church in Rome, and those who did her bidding, stood its ground as much as Luther did. But Luther wasn’t responsible for the Church’s response. He was responsible for speaking the truth in love, even if it meant contending for it, and perhaps even dying for it. Consider the spirit of modern man when it comes to differences, even differences in churches. Here are some popular slogans:
These ideas have slipped into our Christian imaginations. Therefore, think about what happens when something far less significant than doctrine has been compromised. Because we are more committed to treating church like a shopping mall rather than life together, pursuing what is true, and good, and beautiful, we may jump churches at the first sign of petty imperfections. Perhaps there is no youth group for 10-12 year olds. Perhaps you think there should be two acoustic guitars instead of one. There is something right, and true, and beautiful about contending with one’s brother in the bond of friendship and commitment. This is one blessing of a covenant mindset. Luther did not nail up the 95 Theses because he was resolved to leave the church. Luther nailed up his 95 theses because he was resolved to stay with her and clean her. Two years after he put up the 95, he had a public debate with Johann Eck. A few years after that, Luther even went on trial at the Diet of Worms and defended himself publicly. This spirit of contentious commitment is needed once again. We must first commit to a city, a church authority, a people, and then we should in that commitment work together with intelligence and a spirit of love to mature together.
Fifth and finally, Luther had a Shephard’s heart.
There are many reasons why a man would pick a fight with his neighbor, and not all of those reasons are God-honoring. In Luther’s case, to not pick a fight would have been to dishonor God. There is a time when to avoid the fight is to deny or compromise the Gospel. This is precisely where Luther found himself. Luther had the kind of obedience to the Church that would have necessitated that only a few years before his 95 theses, he too would have been purchasing indulgences and paying harsh penance. It was in reading Romans 1:17 Luther was set free from guilt and never-ending shame:
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is
written, The just shall live by faith.
Luther found this freedom, and he wanted this freedom for others, and would rather be burned as a heretic than allow such corruption to continue uncontended in the Church. We see this in the book of Jude.
1 Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:
2 Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.
3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We should not necessarily pray for another Luther, for he was a gift. What we should pray for are the eyes to see as Luther saw and the courage to live as Luther lived. We may never be called to challenge widespread corruption in the Christian church as Luther did, but we should be prepared to do so if there ever were a need, for if the corruption isn’t as pervasive in the institutional church as it was then, it is at least that pervasive in our own hearts. And, like Luther, a 95 theses nailed to our own conscience is where we ought to begin.
Consider this list again: brotherhood, brains, opponents or enemies, commitment and conviction, and humility. These are sorely lacking in contemporary Christianity, in our world at large. Instead of brotherly friendship, we have Facebook friends. Instead of brains of steel, we have buns of steel. Instead of opponents or enemies, we have tolerance and egalitarianism. Instead of commitment and conviction, we have comfort and conformity. And instead of humility, we have vanity, teaching our citizens, and especially our children, that they deserve more than they actually do. The recent fuss at Duke Divinity School is a good example. Even in our most esteemed institutions of higher education, we don’t discuss or debate. We shame, shout people down, and use bumper-sticker logic to get our way and push our agenda, to disciple others into the corruption. This is not intellectually responsible. Worse, it is not Christian.
To end, Luther’s act was a Christian act, it was one which followed Christ. It was an act of liberating the Church from her sins, a true liberation Luther had found because he too once purchased indulgences and performed every duty the Church recommended for his forgiveness. Luther saw it. A Roman guard nails the Word of God to a wooden cross, so that we would be reconciled to God in heart, soul, mind, and strength. Fifteen-hundred years later a German monk nails his mind to a wooden door, so that the Word of God, the one nailed to the wooden cross, would be proclaimed as the only path to reconciliation. For Luther to have nailed his intellect to the church door, he first had to have an intellect. And he had to believe that the church door was the best place for it. Let us, brothers and sisters, follow Luther in having a mind, and let us have the courage to speak it in love so that the Church would be holy and set apart. Thank you.
by Brian G. Daigle
I recently made the claim that secularism offers no good answer to anxiety. This is quite true, for secularism offers no good answer to anything, including itself. A friend responded that surely walking is an answer to anxiety, and on top of that it is a secular answer to anxiety.
I do not doubt that walking can be an answer to anxiety. I have experienced the benefits myself, especially on colder days when I have my family in tow, or perhaps when my family has me in tow. I do have greater peace in those moments, and I do sense that the unfounded cares I carried with me are easier to forget than I had previously thought. But I doubt everyone has always experienced walking as a cure to anxiety. I expect many men have experienced the opposite. For I’m certain there are men who paced the beaches of Normandy, ambulating over dead men’s chests, who indeed experienced more anxiety than ever before in their lives. Far less courageous, I have seen men walk through a thunderstorm, pacing in a way that proves they are more anxious, not less. Though I have never experienced this, and most certainly pray I never will, there have been men who take their last walk along “the green mile,” whose peace is not settled and therefore whose anxiety is greater than ever. A man with the heavy yoke of guilt or pride cannot face death without death’s handmade, anxiety.
Therefore, it cannot be said that walking is in itself an anxiety-lessening practice, for this would assume that all walking was always a Sunday stroll through a springing American suburb. And that is not the case. I went walking once with my wife and daughters, and it was indeed a tranquil tread until two pit bulls began chasing us. An anxious walk couldn’t save us that day. An anxious run did, coupled with some screaming and kicking. I picked up the baby stroller and the kids. We all ran and found protection on the closest front porch. The several walks thereafter were indeed filled with more anxiety than before, as the emotions caught up to us every time we reached that point in our walk when the dogs first began to chase us. Whether a man is anxious during a walk is not dependent alone on the act of walking but on the man, his circumstances, and his peace of mind. I then cannot support my friend’s claim, or his citation of an obscure scientific article, that walking is in itself an answer to anxiety. (I’d like to add that the controlled nature of the scientific study he cited most certainly does not account for the various walks I’ve mentioned above, where the presence of imminent death or danger mess up a many men’s endorphins.)
The second claim we must explore is whether walking is inherently secular. If an atheist tells me he enjoys taking a walk, I have no better course of action than to ask, “From whom do you take such a thing and who grants that it is indeed yours to take?” A few steps in this direction and we find ourselves swimming in religious assumptions and religious vocabulary. And so if we want to claim that walking is inherently secular, we ought to get deeper in our considerations; we ought to consider some of the premises we hold which allow us to get there, and we ought to consider whether those premises are true. It is quite apparent that man is by nature a religious creature, and since he is, then nothing man does can be inherently secular. Therefore, my friend, since he made the claim, must prove first that man is by nature a secular creature. And I have extended to him that challenge. Still, the converse is true: if man is inherently religious, then I can indeed prove quite easily that all walking is inherently religious. Since I am awaiting my friend’s response, I see it both charitable and logically appropriate that I at least answer my own claim and hope he will do the same. For if man is inherently religious, then I will do my friend’s work for him and show that man cannot also be inherently irreligious.
To be inherently religious means that that we are, by our nature and in our essence, born into both divine and social relationships. This is indeed the case from the very beginning, from our conception. We are as humans not just prone to contemplate and express the divine, we indeed cannot help but do so. We cannot help but learn what other men have said about the divine. Being inherently religious therefore means we would find that everywhere man attempts to explain the divine and live well within our relationship with the divine world, whether or not what he has chosen to worship is true or false. It means that wherever we find human beings, we would find ethics, ritual, symbol, mystery, sacrifice, and creativity, and we would find the art, language, architecture, and social dynamics to reflect our religiosity.
On top of that, to be inherently religious means to know that this earthly life is not sufficient for happiness, that there is something beyond our mere humanity which we indeed need in order to live well. Our humanity, therefore, isn’t a closed system within which we must find the answer to life and happiness. To be inherently religious means that the answer to defining our humanity will be found outside materialism and empiricism. And indeed we find this is the case.
Perhaps my friend’s own act of debunking my claim is evidence enough that we are indeed inherently religious. I stated that walking is not a secular answer to anxiety. He responded that walking is inherently secular. But why did he answer to begin with, embarking us both on a kind of intellectual journey? What reason would secularism give to defending the secularity of walking? Would secularism even care whether or not walking was secular? If I were to interview Secular, if I were first able to locate him and see his features enough to know it is indeed him, what reason would he have for claiming things as his own? What is the basis for his proprietorship? Secular, what would it matter to you whether you owned one step of one man or the souls of ten billion men? I would not be surprised, in the course of this interview, if I had to remind Secular that he cannot be religious, that he must stay on track and stay true to himself. And if he were intelligent enough to ask why “staying true to yourself” was indeed a virtue, I would turn the mic back to him, hoping he would give us an answer. It was indeed my friend’s inherent religious nature to know the truth, to seek and love and espouse the truth, that caused him to respond in the first place. That is to say, it was my friend’s deep religious nature that made him care enough to argue for the truth.
Man is indeed inherently religious; he cannot help but live in such a way as to affirm he is not autonomous and he is not his own creator. And since walking is one of man’s most fundamental physical and metaphysical actions, we see it is also one of his most religious actions. See the marches for social justice. See the marches for women’s rights. See the marches to save infant cries or the walks to honor a saint’s life.
There are few men who wish to be unaccompanied by their religion during even the simplest evening stroll, because there are few men who truly wish to be untrustworthy. If a man has chosen a religion, and if he is in any way a self-respecting man, he would not say his religion shouldn’t go on a walk with him. If he has chosen the right religion, he would say he is unworthy of a walk with his religion, and his religion would say that is quite true, and then his religion would bid him, “Walk!” I would follow neither the man nor his religion if the man was unwilling to let his religion join him through both the streets of town and the plains of Troy.
There are even fewer men willing to go against the obvious and make the claim that man is not inherently religious. The history of man is not centered around whether man is religious but precisely which religion man should follow. I have found that the ones who have claimed that man is not inherently religious, that religion is merely an accident or option of our humanity, are not only the men who walk less, they are the men who are not worthy company for any amount of steps.
Men who attempt to be fully secular die lonely, for they perhaps have one principle guiding their walking: walk when and where you will. Therefore, man, when following true religion, will know when to walk and when to sit, when to run and when to lie down. A man who always walks and a man who never walks will both die alone, for both, albeit for different reasons, will only serve themselves and shatter every human relationship they have. The man who truly hates anxiety and who truly loves walking would not say he wants religion to be relegated out of his walking. Men who truly hate anxiety and who truly love walking would want their religiosity to break into their walking at every moment. The man who believes less in himself and more in the divine is a man who fears less and walks more. The man who believe most in himself and less in the divine is the one who does not walk, for his end is the grave, the prison, or the insane asylum.
As for one final observation. Not only is man inherently religious, therefore seeing that walking is an inherently religious act, but whenever man becomes more faithful to his religion, whatever that religions is, he will be willing and ready to walk more than ever. For it was in honor of the gods that the Greeks would walk miles for a religious festival, and it was Christianity that popularized the pilgrimage. Not only can we expect that where man walks, there will be religion. We can expect that where there is religion, there man will walk. And we can likewise expect that the more a man walks, the more religious he will become, for it is in walking we are brought out of ourselves. Walking, therefore, is not the great proof of secularism but one important antidote to it.
by Brian G. Daigle
Heaven and hell are at our fingertips, flowing from our fingertips, and captured in the very sights and sounds with which we are daily surrounded. But we do not see it this way. And ever since our spiritual imaginations have left education, we most certainly don’t think this could be the case in our classrooms, where, perhaps like an operating room, things have been sterilized of the spiritual, washed of the mysterious. Like the World’s Largest Prairie Dog in Kansas, heaven and hell always seem 500 miles down the road. We think, “The students will deal with the eternal when they get there, upon death. That’s God’s business.” But spiritual forces are not so relegated. Heaven and hell are at every moment breaking into our world, as if there was something immensely important and eternal about our daily lives. This is seen in the classroom, if only we had eyes to see.
I have come to believe there are two attributes which are most prominent in hell: narcissism and bedlam. This is the case because there are two attributes which are most prominent in heaven: selflessness and rest. As I visit schools, whether or not they are classical, Christian, or otherwise, I have come to see that teachers either make a heaven or hell of a classroom. The classroom is either a place of narcissism and disorder, or a place of selflessness and rest. The test for knowing the difference is based on three questions:
What do you expect of the students?
With what do you surround the students?
What do you want for your colleagues?
What do you expect of the students?
It is as disturbingly entrenched as any other idea that our students are in school to find themselves, express themselves, and esteem themselves. That education is centered upon the individual, their discovery of themselves, and their fidelity to themselves. From pre-school to college, this is the command: love yourself with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor for yourself. This is what the world expects of our children, and this is what we, being enchanted by the world, have come to expect of our children. These are the phrases with which we are equipped, and this is the parental and educational posture we, even as Christians, have come to hold. It’s hard to break the mold. But classical Christian education does. “I am not concerned,” I tell my students, “with you expressing yourself. I would quite like to see us express ourselves less, unless we have first determined what within us is worth expressing and how and when it is best expressed. What we want is that you come to express the truth beautifully.” This means in their writing, their art, in their conduct, in their speech, in the order of their wills, and in the ordering of their uniforms and binders. Express yourself above all things was granted to one man. Jesus the Christ. To implore and applaud our students to express themselves is to make one hell of a classroom.
With what do you surround the students?
One of the surest signs of a healthy school is what they teach their teachers concerning classroom décor. There are few more subtle and yet more sure ways of checking the health of a classroom than looking at what gets put on the walls and on our bodies. If hell is characterized by narcissism and bedlam, then consider how closely our classroom walls and curricula reflect the same. Because the great modern montra is love yourself and express yourself, we therefore lay that over the physical space of the classroom, and it is reflected in the art we choose, in the music we choose, in what the teachers wear to teach, in uniforms, and in classroom procedures. Baby boys indeed mature into men precisely because they are not stuck in a room of mirrors. They learn to speak because they are surrounded by more than their own babble. We moderns are perpetual babes, because our classrooms, like hell, are nothing more than a room of mirrors, a repeat track of visual, intellectual, and spiritual babble, where students may see themselves, and nothing greater, at every turn. And they are delighted, but for a moment. They glory in themselves and are confused when deep dissatisfaction, self-doubt, and self-criticism arise. We fashion a world in our image, and we wonder why we are left unsatisfied by the world.
By contrast, the classical Christian tradition takes students outside themselves so that they may more fully understand themselves. This is a paradox of Christianity: know God, who is most unlike you, and you will know thyself in greater measure. The classical Christian tradition places before our students higher language, higher art, higher thoughts, and higher goals. And all of these not fashioned after the image of the student. One of the greatest arguments leveled against the classical tradition is perhaps one of the greatest arguments for it: “But aren’t these authors and languages so far removed from our students’ lives?” Precisely. And yet not at all. Turn the student’s attributes outward onto the classroom walls, let loose the student’s individualism in the classroom practices, procedures, and portraits, and you will have one hell of a classroom.
What do you want for your colleagues?
By not fashioning the classroom in our students’ image, we may think we should therefore fashion it in the teacher’s image. But this would be just as detrimental of a mistake. Neither the teacher nor the student is the classroom’s image-bearer. Given the teacher is the authority in the classroom, set as the leader, the classroom will inevitably reflect the teacher, as it will to some degree reflect the students, but this should not be the teacher’s aim, for this would still place something far too shallow, far too small before our students’ imaginations, for their imitation and pursuit. So what do we want most for our colleagues: to get through the school year having grown in wisdom and holiness or to get through the school year having entered all the grades with as little adversity, as little conflict, and few opportunities for growth? Do we want a classroom and a school year made in the image of the teacher or in Christ’s image?
Today’s colleges and universities, given their deep confusion concerning liberty and law, crank out teachers who are either tyrannical or timorous. This is the safeguard of the classics, especially in literature. In both humility and confidence, the classical Christian educator approaches, along with his students, something bigger than any of us, something older, wiser, more fulfilling, and worthy of imitation. Without the teacher losing sight of the authority God has given them, they sit with their students, in the fullness of their mutual humanity, and consider how God has fashioned the world, how God has told, is telling, and will tell his story. But we moderns, quite to our detriment, require pages of lesson plans, innovation and ingenuity at every turn, a curriculum and pedagogy made in the image of the teacher. And so we go. Turn the classroom into the teacher’s concert hall, made in the image of the instructor, and you will have one hell of a classroom.
There are times when man may be going to hell in a handbasket. And there are still more common and respectable times when man is headed to hell in a classroom. Indeed, if we continue on our educational trajectory as a people, we will one day have one hell of a nation, if we are not already there.