Education as Culture-Shaping

Overcoming a Century of Cultural Erosion

Western culture today is defined by decadence, confusion, and sin. Ignorance is applauded, truth is relative, and facts have been deemed racist by the most progressive in the room. Though there are several traceable historical reasons for this cultural downgrade, perhaps the most pertinent culture shaping of the past fifty years has occurred in the classroom. 

Today, the inmates run the asylum. We have become so frightened of genuine education that causes our children to become great learners, teachers, and practitioners of truth, that our systems have been reduced to egalitarian principles devoid of the transcendental elements of truth, goodness, and beauty. When Caesar came knocking, we invited him into our homes and said, “Thank you, Emperor, please have a seat. Here’s our children, too, to do with as you please. Raise them as you will.” Nero has been permitted to teach our children, and he has taught them well to burn our Christian institutions and principles to the ground while he fiddles away. Now, instead of Christians shaping the culture for Christ, we have little pagan Romans running around shaping the culture for Caesar. 

A Culture Marred by Egalitarian Education

George Orwell’s famous line from Animal Farm is, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Paradoxical to the core, this statement provides us with a barometer by which we may measure the twisting tides and blowing winds of the academic storm brewing in Western civilization. 

We, as a culture, have become increasingly obsessed with making sure that “no child is left behind,” so we have effectively leveled the playing field for students by removing standards of excellence and rewards for exceptional students from our educational practices. Such egalitarian impetuses are a detriment to our society. If all are equal in education, then the “more equal” will always be those who further derogate from the previous standards of excellence. This is because the philosophy behind egalitarian education believes wholeheartedly that systems of thought can remain neutral while still objectively teaching truth. 

We have bought into the lie that there is such a thing as a neutral square, whereby we can remain silent about God, the Bible, and religion, yet somehow still teach truth. The reality, however, is that egalitarian education is anti-Christ, and, thus, anti-Truth. 

In his essay Democratic Education, C.S. Lewis saw the egalitarian demand for equality in the classroom as an assault against excellency. The demand for no one to be treated special, or “superior” in the classroom, in an academic sense, would, in Lewis’ view, lead to the degradation of the culture at large. He highlighted the fact that, “There is in all men a tendency (only corrigible by good training from without and persistent moral effort from within) to resent the existence of what is stronger, subtler, or better than themselves. In uncorrected and brutal men this hardens into an implacable and disinterested hatred for every kind of excellency.” Lewis was right, of course. Today, many of his fears have been realized in our public education systems. Excellence is no longer a virtue in education to strive for, but a vice to be snuffed out. Culture has become marred by rank ignorance, stupidity, and sin, often in the name of praising individuality.

What Lewis understood is that the classroom, as much as the church or the home, shapes culture. If a classroom denigrates excellency, scoffs at Christianity, and favors the sinful impulses of a crazed culture, then it will only ever produce students who are hedonistic, selfish, and illogical. This is the endgame of egalitarian education.

The Domino Effect

Decades before Lewis, at the tail end of the nineteenth century, R.L. Dabney also foresaw many of the issues that would arise with the secularization of education. He believed that, “the result of public education is to bring a larger number of children into primary schools, and reduce illiteracy somewhat—which is a great delight to shallow philanthropists. But the number of youths well educated above the mere rudiments, and especially of those brought under daily Christian training, is diminished.” One sees a glimpse of the same issue that Lewis was highlighting: Equality (in this instance, what Dabney saw as a reduction of illiteracy) actually had the unintended (or, perhaps, intended) consequence of snuffing out excellency from those who would have been far better suited for a Christian education, which would extol the virtues of the Christian faith and teach logic, mathematics, history, and literature in light of the Christian worldview. Knowing this, Dabney also prophetically foretold what an egalitarian, secular education would drive the culture toward:

But nearly all public men and divines declare that the State schools are the glory of America, that they are a finality, and in no event to be surrendered. And we have seen that their complete secularization is logically inevitable. Christians must prepare themselves then, for the following results: All prayers, catechisms, and Bibles will ultimately be driven out of the schools . . . Humanity always finds out, sooner or later, that it cannot get on without a religion, and it will take a false one in preference to none. Infidelity and practical ungodliness will become increasingly prevalent among Protestant youth, and our churches will have a more arduous contest for growth if not for existence.

Like Lewis after him, Dabney was also fundamentally correct. Education cannot be egalitarian or secular. In one sense, there’s no such thing as a secular education anyway, since man is a religious creature. If students are not taught Christian principles, then they will be taught materialistic principles, or postmodern principles, or pagan principles instead. Teachers, as human beings, cannot be neutral. They will either present truth in accordance with Scripture or lies.

Imagine Western civilization and culture as a series of dominoes. Since the time of Christ, the West has built a magnificent culture of truth, goodness, beauty, liberty, virtue, and justice, all centered around Scripture. All of the greatest achievements of our civilization are Christian achievements by nature. And, like so many dominoes, the Christian principles of the West have long been stacked and arrayed around one another, creating beautiful spirals that comprise our culture. So long as more dominoes were added, the spiral grew without fear or worry of falling.

But the secularization of education has effectively begun to remove certain dominoes. Teachers, apprehensively at first but now with the zeal of a toddler knocking down his older brother’s fort, have poked and prodded the dominoes, attempting to see what would happen to the culture at large if they removed one here and one there. All the while, the dominoes of culture have been precariously teetering on the edge of falling, and our secular elites have failed to notice the fault lines forming and the foreshocks foreboding the cataclysmic cultural earthquake coming.

Rather than stop educating, Christians must begin to recognize that education, whether in a public school, private school, or home school, is a means of shaping the culture, either for or against Christ. Secular education is impossible, and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we can begin to put the dominoes back in place, this time cementing them where they properly belong. Secularism is a lie. There is no neutral square, or sphere in which Christians are to be silent. Whether it’s history, science, grammar, logic, math, or literature, Christ is Lord of it all.

The Christian’s Duty in Education

One common proverb today is that “worship is warfare.” This is fundamentally true, as worship of the Triune God is a means of slaying that old dragon, Satan, and lifting high the name and banner of Christ above all else. But Christians must recognize too that “education is warfare.” Through it, we can either train our children to become Christian warriors who are fully prepared to stand up to antichrists, tear down idols, and stomp and crush Satan beneath their feet, or we can use education to train up theological wimps and anthropological sponges who soak in everything the world has to offer with no discernment and no backbone.

The second option we must fight against at all costs. Education is the duty of the family, and it must not be simply outsourced to the state. Like all other things, education is ruled by Christ, who is Lord overall. And as we educate our children, ultimately, we are training them in the ways they should go—to march to the beat of Christ’s drum against the very gates of Hell. Every math problem solved, history lesson learned, and science experiment performed—when done with Christ at the center—prepares and educates the child to be the most effective soldier in Christ’s army that they can be.

The Christian life is, effectively, a militant life. The Apostle Paul described it in this way:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete (1 Cor. 10:3-6).

Thus, Christians are to aim at nothing less than the tearing down of all kingdoms, ideologies, and educational systems that are opposed to the knowledge of Christ. We cannot offer any quarter to the enemy. They cannot be permitted to advance one square inch further upon the home or church or state. Even so-called “neutral” systems must be opposed and shattered because there is no such thing as a neutral education. Either education is for Christ or against Christ. There is no neutral middle ground. If it is Christian, it is for Christ, but if it is secular, it is anti-Christ—and, realistically, secularism as an anti-Christological system is already defeated, anyway.

The Lordship of Jesus directs our educational mission. Abraham Kuyper’s famous statement is appropriate here, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!’” There’s a great deal of truth in this statement that helps us to reorient our lives in such a way that we seek to place all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Everything belongs to Jesus, and He demands that all things bow the knee before Him. This includes people and nations and educational systems; after all, Jesus commanded us, in the Great Commission, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). Is not the very act of disciple-making a thoroughly educational role, wherein we teach others to know and obey Christ?

We must seek to disciple individuals and the institutions they serve. We must begin to produce Christian schools, Christian homes, Christian churches (though it is sad that this must be spelled out), Christian educational standards, and Christian laws. One need not be a card-carrying Christian Nationalist to agree with these principles; simply being a Christian ought to be enough to cause one to utter a hearty, “Amen!”

Part of our God-given calling, then, is to proclaim the gospel, and disciple and teach everyone to obey what Jesus commanded. Our education must be thoroughly biblical and Christ-centered. As we do this, the culture becomes Christ-shaped as all things are placed beneath the feet of Jesus as Lord. This is good news because the Bible tells us that, when Jesus ascended into Heaven, He sat down at the Father’s right hand, awaiting all things to be made a footstool beneath His feet (Psalm 110:1) and that He, “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26). We become active soldiers in this world-conquering effort when we seek to make His Lordship known everywhere and in every way.

Education Everywhere

Education is not simply for the classroom. It is a mistake to think that learning is limited to an eight-hour school day. This means that within our homes, churches, and communities, we have an all-important job to do. It means that when Christian educators enter their schools, whether they be science teachers, Bible teachers, elementary school teachers, helpers, aides, principals, administrators, or anything else in between, they have a job to do. Pastors and Sunday school teachers have a job to do. Parents, of course, have a job to do. 

We are to train children—and one another—to glorify God in all that we say and do by making sure that He is Lord over all. The question is, how do we do this?

Paul gives the answer, in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4. He tells us that “though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.” We recognize that our enemies are not the flesh and blood students we teach, but the anti-Christological systems of this world. Knowing our enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil, we also learn we have been given adequate weapons for the war at hand. Paul continues by telling us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” What this means then is that we have two main weapons: The Word of God and prayer. 

The Word of God centers and grounds us in Christ, like an anchor, teaching us the way to go. Then, through prayer, we can lift our needs, the needs of our schools, the needs of the students, the needs of the church, and the needs of families before a sovereign God who truly cares for us all. Remember, as C.S. Lewis once pointed out, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” So, teach and work accordingly. These are immortal souls that you are investing in.

God’s Sovereign Placement of Teachers, Pastors, and Parents

Everyone is an educator, to some extent. Whether you serve as a teacher, a homeschooling parent, a pastor, or whatever else, it is not a mistake. Your current position is not by happenstance, and it’s no coincidence. You are where you are by the divine orchestration of God, and you are to teach children and others about Jesus, and to show them how the Bible authoritatively speaks to every area and sphere of life. The young people and students we teach and influence will, one day, be future pastors, future mechanics, future first responders, future teachers, future politicians, future writers, future scientists, etc. Our mission is to not only prepare them for these future roles, but to prepare them in such a way that they learn to live all of life unto the glory of God, and these teachings then begin to permeate the culture at large. Rather than being shaped by the culture, we send them forth to shape the culture for Christ.

So, with the Word of God in hand, and being people of constant prayer, we go forth to plow the fields for souls. We go forth to war against Satan and a godless culture. And, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5-6, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

As Christians, we cannot be silent or neutral. If we want excellency in our culture, we must actively seek to make Christ’s Lordship known over everything. We must make disciples.  In fact, as R.J. Rushdoony, writing about Christian education, said, “The Christian School is an anti-neutralist institution. It must teach that Christ is Lord over all things, including the state, and that God’s law is binding on all men and nations, because He is the Lord of all.”

So, we teach not only mathematics, but we teach that the reason math works at all is because God created everything with logic and order. We teach science and show how science reveals the intelligent design of God behind it. We teach history and show how the providential hand of God is over all of it, and literature and art to show that it is the duty of the Christian to glorify God by striving after that which is True, Good, and Beautiful. We, ultimately, strive after excellency in our educational standards, confessing and teaching the Christian virtues. As Christian educators, we then become culture-shapers by teaching the principles of Christian truth to our children and students, who then go forth and advance the Kingdom and culture of Christ across the world.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Jacob Tanner

Jacob Tanner is the pastor of Christ Keystone Church in Middleburg, Pennsylvania, and principal of Juniata Christian School. He is married to his wife, Kayla, and is the father of two boys. His latest book is The Tinker’s Progress: The Life & Times of John Bunyan (Christian Focus, 2024). He is the host of Doctrine to Dominion as part of Eschatology Matters which can be found on X @eschatology22

One thought on “Education as Culture-Shaping

  1. Our focus on controlling culture seems to have overwhelmed our call to carry out the Great Commission. That is indicated by the call to either withdraw from the world or to take control of its institutions. And here we should note that while the former goes against our carrying out of the Great Commission, the latter, in the past, has caused many a stumbling block that prohibits people from wanting to hear the Gospel. In the end, are articles like the one above, requesting that we Talibanize parts of Christianity? We should consider that Christendom, a period of time in which the Church took dominion, has given birth to Critical Theory and Post Modernism.

    The above shows a great selectivity in the writer’s use of Scriptures. Did the writer include the Beatitudes, include passages that tell us not to judge others, compare the fruit of the Spirit with the words of the flesh, remind us to be gentle when correcting others because we are also vulnerable to temptation, and remind us that we are called to serve others in humility? No, he did not. Rather, the writer emphasized Scriptures that seem to tell us take a militaristic attitude while taking dominion over others. And behind all of the writer’s verbiage is the implication that, like Trump, only we can solve our culture’s problems. And with that implication comes pride.

    Did Jesus tell us to have a militaristic attitude? Did the Apostles exemplify such an attitude? And wasn’t Paul, in the passage quoted from II Corinthians 10 talking about what we are to do to make our, not the world’s, obedience complete? Why do passages that talk about us taking dominion appeal to us? Or I should ask, do passages that talk about us taking dominion appeal to our walking in the flesh or our abiding in the Spirit? For if it is the latter, we should note that comes with abiding in the Spirit.

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