What I awoke with on my mind today is the tricky, and sometimes scary, balance of religious education and education in science. In particular, I was thinking about the inclusion of J. Paterson Smyth's The Bible for School and Home and Costley-White's Old Testament History (currently out of print and unavailable online) in the PNEU curriculum. Both of these books contain a fair amount of "higher criticism," that is, the analysis of the origins of Scripture--which parts are historical, and which parts are a product of myth and legend that were part of the culture at the time the Bible books were written. This kind of thought was all the rage in Victorian times, though it has fallen somewhat out of fashion now. Consider this passage from Smyth:
My initial thoughts were these:
- Do I believe that Mason would intentionally plant seeds of doubt in the minds of children concerning the verity of Scripture or the Truth of Christianity? In thinking about her work as a whole, the only answer I could come to was definitely not. Christianity undergirds her entire philosophy.
- Is there a difference between "education" and "religious training?" Well, she did call education the "handmaid of religion" (vol. 5, p. 156). Since a handmaid is a servant, and the servant is not the same as the person she serves, I infer that they are not the same. I think this may be why Mason included the study of Scripture as lessons and not devotions, and she left dogmatic teaching out of the curriculum entirely and relegated it to Sundays. She did include optional Sunday reading to help parents with that, but I think she understood and respected the doctrinal differences among families and therefore gave them space to deal with these issues as they saw fit.
- Mason used the Paterson Smyth book as a teacher resource, which the parents could use in whatever ways they chose. She simply said that the parent should prepare by reading the Smyth lesson and then read the Scripture to the child, have him/her narrate, and then give anything from Smyth that may shed light on what was read. That is a lot of freedom. But in Form 3, the Costley-White book was not optional. Why? This book seems to me more controversial than Smyth, and yet she required it for adolescents.
When these questions were posed to my mind, I prepared myself for a long day of research in my study. But as it turns out, this one is dealt with deeply and straightforwardly in Volume 2 of Mason's work, titled Parents and Children. It would be worthwhile for all parents to read pp. 41-100 in order to get her complete answer to the question of why one would ever include books that contain criticism of the Bible in the school curriculum, but I will attempt to summarize it here.
Put simply, it fortifies them against doubt.
- We can teach them what we were taught, protecting them from all contrary thought, and hope for the best as they grow up and go out into the world;
- We can go on the attack of any doubts that arise, teaching our children arguments to defend the faith; or
- We can ground our children in Scripture and expose them to current scientific thought and criticisms, teaching them to use both faith and reason, with the understanding that a) we must not lean too confidently on our own understanding, and b) we hold scientific thought loosely until it stands the test of time.
when the attack comes, they find themselves at a disadvantage; they have nothing to reply; their pride is in arms; they jump to the conclusion that there is no defence possible of that which they have received as truth; had there been, would they not have been instructed to make it? They resent being made out in the wrong, being on the weaker side--so it seems to them--being behind their times; and they go over without a struggle to the side of the most aggressive thinkers of their day. (Vol. 2, p. 42)
Alas for that child. The second way is also very common. We find this approach in books such as the Apologia series, in many our church curricula for children and youth, and in popular Christian movies. It is also a pillar of the Christian Classical model. But Mason says, "Religion without definite dogmatic teaching degenerates into sentiment, but dogma, as dogma, offers no defence against the assaults of unbelief" (Vol. 2, p. 42). She goes on to say that, "As for evidences,, the role of the Christian apologist is open to the imputation conveyed in the keen proverb, qui s'excuse, s'accuse [He who apologizes accuses]; the truth by which we live must needs be self-evidenced, admitting of neither proof nor disproof." (Vol. 2, p. 42) In other words, to indoctrinate a young person in the arguments of Christian apologetics is to create an antagonistic attitude in them--something that is both arrogant and off-putting, and therefore not of use in kingdom-building work. Alas for both that child and those with whom he comes in contact, who could have been attracted to and enlightened by the natural outworking of the Holy Spirit within the child, but instead were turned off Christ, possibly forever.
The third way is less common, I think, because it requires so much faith (as well as a bit of relinquishing of control) on the part of the parent. It is scary for a Young Earth believer, for example, to tell her children about the theory of evolution without feeling the need to equip them with arguments against it and trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide them to Truth. But this is the way Mason says is best, and it is reflected in her curriculum through the inclusion of books that may seem provocative, such as Smyth's and Costley-White's. We all know that adolescents start to seek out and listen to other voices as they begin to assert their independence from their parents. It's just part of growing up. Mason says,
Young people are eager to know what to think on all the serious questions of religion and life. They ask what is the opinion of this and that leading thinker of their day. They by no means confine themselves to such leaders of thought as their parents have elected to follow; on the contrary, the 'other side' of every question is the attractive side for them, and they do not choose to be behind the foremost in the race of thought. (Vol. 2, p. 42-43)
She goes on to say that, since we know this will happen eventually, we shouldn't be surprised by it. She says that, once this starts, there is really nothing the parent can do except watch it play out. But there is a way to prepare for it: We must create an atmosphere in our homes that encourages questions, that recognizes that reason is fallible, that instills that it is every person's individual duty to consider ideas and then accept or reject them, that highlights times when pervading scientific thought has changed, and that acknowledges that, in regard to scientific truth,
...we are waiting, and may have very long to wait, for the last word; that science also is 'revelation,' though we are not yet able fully to interpret what we know; and that 'science' herself contains the promise of great impetus to the spiritual life--to perceive these things is to be able to rejoice in all truth and to wait for final certainty. (Vol. 2, p. 45)