Saturday, 31 January 2009

Let's start at the very beginning

Let us now look at the mediaeval scheme of education--the syllabus of the Schools. It does not matter, for the moment, whether it was devised for small children or for older students, or how long people were supposed to take over it. What matters is the light it throws upon what the men of the Middle Ages supposed to be the object and the right order of the educative process.

The syllabus was divided into two parts: the Trivium and Quadrivium. The second part--the Quadrivium--consisted of "subjects," and need not for the moment concern us. The interesting thing for us is the composition of the Trivium, which preceded the Quadrivium and was the preliminary discipline for it. It consisted of three parts: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order.

Now the first thing we notice is that two at any rate of these "subjects" are not what we should call "subjects" at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects. Grammar, indeed, is a "subject" in the sense that it does mean definitely learning a language--at that period it meant learning Latin. But language itself is simply the medium in which thought is expressed. The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to "subjects" at all. First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself--what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument. Dialectic, that is to say, embraced Logic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language-- how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.

At the end of his course, he was required to compose a thesis upon some theme set by his masters or chosen by himself, and afterwards to defend his thesis against the criticism of the faculty. By this time, he would have learned--or woe betide him-- not merely to write an essay on paper, but to speak audibly and intelligibly from a platform, and to use his wits quickly when heckled. There would also be questions, cogent and shrewd, from those who had already run the gauntlet of debate.

It is, of course, quite true that bits and pieces of the mediaeval tradition still linger, or have been revived, in the ordinary school syllabus of today. Some knowledge of grammar is still required when learning a foreign language--perhaps I should say, "is again required," for during my own lifetime, we passed through a phase when the teaching of declensions and conjugations was considered rather reprehensible, and it was considered better to pick these things up as we went along. School debating societies flourish; essays are written; the necessity for "self- expression" is stressed, and perhaps even over-stressed. But these activities are cultivated more or less in detachment, as belonging to the special subjects in which they are pigeon-holed rather than as forming one coherent scheme of mental training to which all "subjects" stand in a subordinate relation. "Grammar" belongs especially to the "subject" of foreign languages, and essay-writing to the "subject" called "English"; while Dialectic has become almost entirely divorced from the rest of the curriculum, and is frequently practiced unsystematically and out of school hours as a separate exercise, only very loosely related to the main business of learning. Taken by and large, the great difference of emphasis between the two conceptions holds good: modern education concentrates on "teaching subjects," leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one's conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along. Mediaeval education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.

New Meaning to Street Cricket

Friday, 30 January 2009

Evaluating the spending of £5 billion

Conclusions and recommendations
1. Despite the Department spending £5 billion between 2001 and 2007 on trying to improve the levels of literacy and numeracy, England still has an unacceptably high number of people who cannot read, write and count adequately. The Department is attempting to tackle the legacy of decades of schooling which did not equip enough young people with basic literacy and numeracy skills. In 2006–07, around 8% of pupils (51,000) left school without Level 1 (GCSE grade D–G)mathematics and 6% (39,000) without Level 1 English. These young people are likely to require remedial action later in life to address these skills deficiencies.

2. Even if the Department achieves its 2020 ambition, the nation’s skills levels will only be raised to a level currently achieved by the top 25% of OECD member countries. The Department has a new objective to help 95% of the adult population of working age to achieve functional literacy and numeracy by 2020.

3. The Department has made far less progress in strengthening numeracy skills than literacy skills and still has an enormous amount to do to raise the skills of those with poor numeracy skills to a competent level. The Department has helped no more than 1 in 10 of those with numeracy skills below the level of a good GCSE. In developing its numeracy plan, it should focus on how to encourage greater participation, and how approaches to teaching can better meet the needs of those who do not respond to traditional methods of learning.

4. Lack of up to date information on the skills of the population nationally, and by region, means that the Department cannot be sure that its programmes are equipping people with the skills that the UK economy needs to remain competitive. The Department should undertake a follow up to the 2003 Skills for Life survey, as soon as possible, in order to assess the impact of the Skills for Life programme on improving the United Kingdom’s skills base.

5. There are fewer numeracy teachers (under 6,100) than literacy teachers (over 9,300), although the Department plans to increase the number of numeracy teachers. To do so, it should adopt new approaches to recruitment, for example,targeting graduates of programmes with substantial maths content and increasing the availability of specialist training routes including distance learning.

6. Although potential learners come into contact with different public services, very few take up skills learning. This should improve in 2010 when all new benefits claimants will receive a skills assessment and those who have the need will be referred to skills coaching and training. The Department, the Learning and Skills Council and Jobcentre Plus will need to put in place clear and easily understood routes by which those eligible can access training. The Department should encourage other public services, such as health and housing, to promote training opportunities to improve basic skills for those adults with poor literacy, language or numeracy with whom they come into contact.

7. Only one in five offenders with very low levels of basic skills had enrolled on a course that would help them. This represents a major lost opportunity to help a sector of the population with substantial literacy and numeracy needs. The Prison Service should provide additional incentives to encourage more offenders to improve their basic skills and, through the Learning and Skills Council, should include more basic skills education on vocational courses and other prison activities, to make it more likely to appeal to offenders.

8. Take up of Skills for Life courses through Train to Gain, the Government’s main initiative to increase employer involvement in training, has been lower than expected. At the end of March 2008 there were 41,000 learners compared with an expected profile of 73,470. The Learning and Skills Council needs to improve the competency and capability of skills brokers through more dedicated training and support so that skills brokers are better placed to make the case to employers to secure their participation in skills training.

I have some observations/questions (in no particular order):

(1) Why are parents not mentioned at all in this document's summary? {if parents have any responsibility for their children's education, that would be then be neat and help the good folk who produced this report. Presumably the ratio of parents to children is better than that of sufficiently 'qualified' teachers to children (Point 5.)!}

(2) What does the phrase: 'those who do not respond to traditional methods of learning' mean? (Point 3.) Given the admission highlighted below (5) how traditional are we talking? Traditional as in, been failing for decades, or traditional as in, scholastic or something? If the later, haven't we been rejecting that in any case? If the former, surely that is the point of the whole report - far too many children are being deprived of the skills they need for life by the recently 'traditional' methods.

(3) Given qu.1, and the focus on teachers above, is this document (written by politicians) going to result in smaller or larger government (paid for by.....)?

(4) At what point should people take responsibility for their lives, their children's lives and their children's children's lives? Equally, within the confines of the assumptions of this paper, at what point should government leave people to take responsibility for their decisions?

(5) The admission in point 1 that: 'The Department is attempting to tackle the legacy of decades of schooling which did not equip enough young people with basic literacy and numeracy skills.' seems to be staggering. Because this is not the kind of thing that I hear politicians saying out loud.
(6) £5 billion is a lot of money. A lot of naughts. And this report is saying that is has not been spend well? So... who takes responsibility for that then?

It's not the one in Devon

'Not only is there a Tipton in Staffordshire...., but there is a district in Devonshire also known as Tipton - a place near Ottary St. Mary, as beautiful and as charming, from a merely residential point of view, as the subject of these researches is uninviting, so considered.' p1

We dont need no edukayshun

Here Dorothy Sayers (Oxford, 1947) gives her account of some of the problems of the UK education system. She sheds light on problems that have not gone away and I guess have got worse [I am looking forward to getting stuck into All Must Have Prizes by Melanie Philips to start learning about that in the more recent past].

That I, whose experience of teaching is extremely limited, should presume to discuss education is a matter, surely, that calls for no apology. It is a kind of behavior to which the present climate of opinion is wholly favorable. Bishops air their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw. Up to a certain point, and provided that thecriticisms are made with a reasonable modesty, these activities are commendable. Too much specialization is not a good thing. There is also one excellent reason why the various amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or another, been taught. Even if we learnt nothing--perhaps in particular if we learnt nothing--our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value.

However, it is in the highest degree improbable that the reforms I propose will ever be carried into effect. Neither the parents, nor the training colleges, nor the examination boards, nor the boards of governors, nor the ministries of education, would countenance them for a moment. For they amount to this: that if we are to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society, we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true object, towards the end of the Middle Ages.

Before you dismiss me with the appropriate phrase--reactionary, romantic, mediaevalist, laudator temporis acti (praiser of times past), or whatever tag comes first to hand--I will ask you to consider one or two miscellaneous questions that hang about at the back, perhaps, of all our minds, and occasionally pop out to worry us.

When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us say, Tudor times, and thereafter were held fit to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our own day? To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society. The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is that there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects--but does that always mean that they actually know more?

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?

Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?

Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And, if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected), but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves? Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly, and properly documented, and one that is, to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?

Do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a "subject" remains a "subject," divided by watertight bulkheads from all other "subjects," so that they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon--or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art?

Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read? We find a well-known biologist writing in a weekly paper to the effect that: "It is an argument against the existence of a Creator" (I think he put it more strongly; but since I have, most unfortunately, mislaid the reference, I will put his claim at its lowest)--"an argument against the existence of a Creator that the same kind of variations which are produced by natural selection can be produced at will by stock breeders." One might feel tempted to say that it is rather an argument for the existence of a Creator. Actually, of course, it is neither; all it proves is that the same material causes (recombination of the chromosomes, by crossbreeding, and so forth) are sufficient to account for all observed variations--just as the various combinations of the same dozen tones are materially sufficient to account for Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and the noise the cat makes by walking on the keys. But the cat's performance neither proves nor disproves the existence of Beethoven; and all that is proved by the biologist's argument is that he was unable to distinguish between a material and a final cause.

Here is a sentence from no less academic a source than a front- page article in the Times Literary Supplement: "The Frenchman, Alfred Epinas, pointed out that certain species (e.g., ants and wasps) can only face the horrors of life and death in association." I do not know what the Frenchman actually did say; what the Englishman says he said is patently meaningless. We cannot know whether life holds any horror for the ant, nor in what sense the isolated wasp which you kill upon the window-pane can be said to "face" or not to "face" the horrors of death. The subject of the article is mass behavior in man; and the human motives have been unobtrusively transferred from the main proposition to the supporting instance. Thus the argument, in effect, assumes what it set out to prove--a fact which would become immediately apparent if it were presented in a formal syllogism. This is only a small and haphazard example of a vice which pervades whole books--particularly books written by men of science on metaphysical subjects.

Another quotation from the same issue of the TLS comes in fittingly here to wind up this random collection of disquieting thoughts--this time from a review of Sir Richard Livingstone's "Some Tasks for Education": "More than once the reader is reminded of the value of an intensive study of at least one subject, so as to learn the meaning of knowledge' and what precision and persistence is needed to attain it. Yet there is elsewhere full recognition of the distressing fact that a man may be master in one field and show no better judgment than his neighbor anywhere else; he remembers what he has learnt, but forgets altogether how he learned it."

I would draw your attention particularly to that last sentence, which offers an explanation of what the writer rightly calls the "distressing fact" that the intellectual skills bestowed upon us by our education are not readily transferable to subjects other than those in which we acquired them: "he remembers what he has learnt, but forgets altogether how he learned it."

Is not the great defect of our education today--a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned--that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils "subjects," we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning. It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play "The Harmonious Blacksmith" upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized "The Harmonious Blacksmith," he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle "The Last Rose of Summer." Why do I say, "as though"? In certain of the arts and crafts, we sometimes do precisely this--requiring a child to "express himself" in paint before we teach him how to handle the colors and the brush. There is a school of thought which believes this to be the right way to set about the job. But observe: it is not the way in which a trained craftsman will go about to teach himself a new medium. He, having learned by experience the best way to economize labor and take the thing by the right end, will start off by doodling about on an odd piece of material, in order to "give himself the feel of the tool."


This is not going to make me 'vote catholic' (!). Nor, of course, is potential the only factor when it comes to matters of LIFE and DEATH {for example, what about the very elderly and terminally ill?}.

But this makes it's one excellent point potently. Don't you think?

The Bible - for our enjoyment!


2. Q. What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

We could not know of ourselves what God is like and so how to enjoy him or glorify him. But God has told us in the Bible.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Skills for Life: Literacy & Numeracy [so not rocket science then]

I will try and blog this over the next few days, at least so as to keep a record of this in an easy format to revisit. I think it will make interesting reading.

Although the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and its predecessor, the Department for Education and Skills, spent around £5 billion on basic skills courses between 2001 and 2007 (£9 billion by 2011), large numbers of the adult working population of England remain functionally illiterate and innumerate.

Tackling poor literacy, language and numeracy skills is essential if more people are to realise their full potential and the country is to remain competitive in an increasingly global economy.

In 2001, the then Department for Education and Skills launched the Skills for Life strategy,
with a Public Service Agreement target to improve the skills of 2.25 million adults in England by 2010. This target was met over two years early.

In 2003, an estimated 75% of the adult population of working age had numeracy skills below the level of a good pass at GCSE and 56% had literacy skills below this level. At that time, based on data collected in 1996, OECD assessed the United Kingdom as 14th in the literacy and numeracy international league tables, with relative levels of illiteracy and innumeracy some three times that of the Scandinavian countries. More recent figures are not available but, despite improvements in the number of pupils leaving school with literacy and numeracy skills, many still complete their formal education without GCSEs in English and maths.

In July 2007, the Government announced a new objective to help 95% of the adult population of working age achieve functional literacy and numeracy (the level of skill generally needed to get by in life) by 2020. Achieving this ambition would, however, only raise England to the standards currently achieved by the top 25% of OECD member countries. There are now separate targets for literacy and numeracy which focus on achieving the functional level of skill. The new targets, especially for numeracy, will be challenging to meet and, to date, far less progress has been made tackling poor numeracy skills compared with literacy skills. This is not helped by the low number of numeracy teachers available.

Many hard-to-reach people with poor literacy and numeracy skills come into contact with other government services, such as Jobcentre Plus, the Prison Service and the Probation Service. More of these people are being encouraged to take up courses to improve their literacy and numeracy skills, but the percentage who participate is still relatively small. For example, only one in five offenders with an identified literacy or numeracy need enrol on a course. The Department’s biggest challenges are reaching people in the workplace who lack skills and getting employers to recognise the benefits of raising the skills of their workforce.

On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,1 we took evidence from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council on their efforts to improve the literacy, language and numeracy skills of adults in England, focusing on the size of the problem, what is being achieved, what needs to be done and reaching more learners.

The coming war against Home Schoolers

from Peter Hitchens' blog in the Mail 28 January 2009: Thanks to Dave Thomas for drawing this to my attention.

I knew this was coming. The inflamed, all-seeing red eye of political correctness, glaring this way and that from its dark tower, has finally discovered that home schooling is a threat to the Marxoid project, and has launched its first open attack on it.
Before long, those who wish to declare independence from the state system (and cannot afford monstrous private school fees) will face endless interference, monitoring and regulation.How do we know this? On the 19th January, an obscure person called Delyth Morgan levelled what I regard as an astonishing smear against people who educate their children at home. She suggested that such parents might be abusers, saying (I have taken these words directly from the Education department's own website): 'Making sure children are safe, well and receive a good education is our most serious responsibility.'Parents are able, quite rightly, to choose whether they want to educate children at home, and a very small number do. I’m sure the vast majority do a good job. However, there are concerns that some children are not receiving the education they need.'And in some extreme cases, home education could be used as a cover for abuse. We cannot allow this to happen and are committed to doing all we can to help ensure children are safe, wherever they are educated.'This review will look at whether the right systems are in place that allow local authorities and other agencies to ensure that any concerns about the safety, welfare or education of home educated children are addressed quickly and effectively. The review will of course talk to home educating families to ensure their views and experiences are heard.'
The nerve of it is amazing. She first suggests the existence of abuse, then produces no evidence for this claim, then says that one purpose of the inquiry is to see if there is any evidence of such abuse. But if they haven't any evidence, on what basis do they think they have the right to launch such an investigation? It is sadly true that, if you want to wreck someone's reputation, you accuse him of child abuse. Everyone will immediately back away, and guilt will be presumed.
There's another point here. What's the logic? Even if a small number of parents were found to be using home schooling as a cover for child abuse, which so far as I know has not happened in Britain, that would not warrant an inquiry into home schooling as such. You might as well investigate all primary schools, or all nurseries, on the basis that some children who attend them are abused. There are many places apart from schools where children may be observed by doctors or others who might detect abuse.
I haven't any evidence that any members of the House of Lords abuse their children, because there isn't any. But on this logic, that state of affairs would presumably entitle the Department 'For Children' to probe their Lordships' House for evidence of such abuse, at taxpayers' expense.
Talk about having it both ways. One thing or the other, but not both - as Bertie Wooster said to Roderick Spode, when he discovered him combining leadership of a fascist movement with a ladies' frilly underwear business.

The precise terms of reference, if you want to know them, are these :"The Elective Home Education Review will investigate:
• Whether local authorities and other public agencies are able to effectively discharge their duties and responsibilities for safeguarding and ensuring a suitable education for all children.
• Whether home educating parents are receiving the support and advice they want to ensure they provide a good, balanced education for their children.
• Consider what evidence there is to support claims that home education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude.

The guidance on children missing education is the first step in clarifying expectations in respect of the current system for supporting and monitoring home education. It also makes clear that parents’ right to home educate is not being altered and that suitable home education can take many forms.Home education is just one area highlighted in the guidance, as it describes many circumstances which can lead to children missing education. The guidance describes how important it is for local authorities to tackle all problems around children missing education, in order to meet the vision set out in the Children’s Plan, particularly keeping all children safe from harm. Graham Badman, former Director of Children’s Services at Kent County Council will lead the review, which is expected to conclude in May 2009. "
Oh, and look who else is along, our old friends the NSPCC, who you might have thought had enough to worry about elsewhere. But no. Diana Sutton, Head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, is quoted on the same Departmental website, saying:“We welcome the Government’s decision to review the guidance on home education. We believe the existing legislation and guidance on elective home education is outdated. We support the view set out by the London (LA) Children’s Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents’ rights to home educate their children, the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We welcome the fact that this review will look at where local authorities have concerns about the safety and welfare, or education, of a home educated child and what systems are in place to deal with those concerns.”
You work out what that means, or why an organisation supposedly devoted to stamping out cruelty to children should be involved in this, standing, metaphorically, at the minister's side. I will, as they say, move on.
Who is this Delyth Morgan? Well, technically, she is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families. This means she is Junior Minister for what used to be the Ministry of Education, in the House of Lords.
But who else is she? Officially, she is Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, raised to the peerage at the unusually young age of 43. Why? I think what follows helps to explain. She has a degree, as it happens in physiology. She was educated at a comprehensive school (unlike me), a College of Further Education (like me) and London University. She is married with a daughter. She seems to have spent much of her adult life toiling for right-on pressure groups : She was Campaigns Coordinator of Shelter for two years, then Director of the Workplace Nurseries campaign for four years; then she switched to an interest in health - the national Asthma Campaign, the long-term Conditions Alliance, a cancer 'taskforce' and various NHS committees. She was a very active chief executive of a body called Breakthrough Breast Cancer. I'm not sure if she was a paid employee in any of these posts. She is plainly a committed Labour activist, not just someone made a Labour Peer because the government liked the look of her. She drove a busload of Labour politicians round the country during the 2005 election. She was a mainstream candidate for Labour's National Executive in 1999, which suggests some deep roots in the party.
Why should she be less than keen on home education? Why is she even interested in it? English law since 1944 has allowed parents to educate their children at home without any state interference at all. In this, we are quite unlike Germany, for instance, where it is a criminal offence to do this - a law, I believe, dating from 1938, when Hitler wanted everyone brought up as a National Socialist, but somehow not repealed by the new Germany. I'd be interested to know the legal position in other countries, but I think it's illegal in China, legal in most European and Commonwealth countries. Many of the 50 United States used to have legal restrictions on home schooling, but most if not all have now been repealed, thanks to a powerful popular campaign, supported by huge numbers of parents who now reject the US state system - mainly on religious grounds.
That development, unlikely here, may still haunt leftists in this country. In that very funny movie 'Mean Girls', Lindsay Lohan plays a Chicago teenager who has till now been homeschooled by her globetrotting academic parents. There's a hilarious fantasy clip, when her schoolfriends discover this, illustrating what most urban liberal Americans think "Homeschooling" means - a group of stump-toothed, unwashed boys in some West Virginia trailer park talking, very, very slowly, about how Jesus lived at the same time as the dinosaurs (or something like that).
This is of course rather unfair. Certainly the home education movement is largely Christian, and Christian in a pretty uncompromising and Protestant way - that's why it has rejected state schools from which Christianity has been expelled thanks to an absurd misreading of the US Bill of Rights. Roman Catholics tend to use the network of parochial schools instead. But the education achievements of homeschoolers have been considerable, and they regularly capture many of the best scholarships at Ivy League universities. There are also a lot of them, sharing many non-school activities, which disposes of the cliche (invariably trotted out by opponents, and based on nothing) that home-schooled children do not have any social contact with others of their own age. What they do have is much more contact with adults who think it worthwhile to say 'no' to them when it matters, who read to them and converse with them and teach them morals and manners. But let that be, I'm sure we'll have a chance to debate this.
What the modern left really don't like about homeschooling is that it is independent of the state, and threatens its egalitarian monopoly from below. If it became a mass movement, it would be very dangerous to their project of enforcing equality of outcome, while using the schools to push radical ideas on sex, drugs, morality and politics.
They can (just about) tolerate the super rich in tiny numbers sending their offspring to schools that cost £30,000 a year plus extras - though the growing refusal of such schools to use the government's diluted exams may lead to a severe clash here too. More and more are opting for International GCSEs, similar to the old 'O' levels, which state schools are effectively barred from using , instead of GCSEs. They are also dropping the discredited A-levels in favour of the 'Pre-U' and the International Baccalaureate. This has happened, just as the Charities Commission, under the quangocrat Dame Suzi Leather, has been given a brief to make things tough for such schools, who would become even more expensive, and probably impossible to maintain, if their charitable status went. It will be interesting to see what happens.
And as long as it was just a matter of a few retired hippies and eccentrics keeping their young at home, which it was until very recently, home schooling didn't matter. But what is happening now is that many parents are taking their children out of state schools because a) they are being horribly bullied in anarchic classrooms and playgrounds and b) they have begun to notice that many of the schools aren't teaching them anything much anyway. - despite years of propaganda, stunts, gimmicks, 'specialist status', absurdly glowing OFSTED reports and allegedly improved (but fiddled) exam results.
If all the plumbers in your area were no good at fixing leaks, and kept flooding your kitchen, you'd teach yourself plumbing and do it yourself. The results couldn't be worse. Why not take the same view with schools? Why not just keep them at home and do a better job yourself? Of course this is impossible for couples who both trudge out to work every day. But one way or another there is now a significant minority of households where this isn't the case, where homeschooling looks like a serious option and may take off. I suspect the left-wing establishment want to nip it, hard, in the bud. Though of course I'm not prejudiced, and will wait with interest for the report.

I & J

Justify God’s wisdom in all his proceedings concerning your self and others: his power in sustaining, his providence in maintaining, his Justice in punishing, his love in correcting, his bounty in promising, his faithfulness in performing, his grace in giving , his mercy in taking away: and in everything say from the heart, blessed be the name of the Lord
In every company receive some good and do some also according to your ability. Leave no ill favour behind you, neither do hurt by speech, silence, countenance or example. In your praises be discreet, in saluting courteous, in admonishing brotherly, and wise in moving and entertaining speech or conference.
It is fearful to sin, but much more to lie in it and therefore register all your sins daily, bewail them at fit times, pray for pardon of them, and strengthen against them. Don’t think that some sins are just ‘little’ ones, because God’s law has condemned it and Christ has died for it, or else you must eternally.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Arguing in my spare time

Short steps for long gains

Lazy hands make a man poor,
but diligent hands bring wealth (Proverbs 10:4)


Knowing the Majestic God

Ch 8 - Knowing God
'Majesty' is a word which the Bible uses to express the thought of the greatness of God, our Maker and Lord.

The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty ....your throne was established long ago.(Psalm 93:1f)
They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works (Psalm 145:5)
'we were eyewitnesses of his majesty' (2 Peter 1:16)

The word majesty can even be used in place of the word God (Hebrews 1:3 & 8:1)!

It is always a declaration of his greatness and an invitation to worship.

'Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are - weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic. But this is not he God of the Bible! Our personal life is a finite thing: it is limited in every direction, in space, in time, in knowledge, in power. But God is not so limited. He is eternal, infinite, and almighty. He has us in his hands; but we never have him in ours. Like us he is personal, but unlike us he is great! In all its constant stress on the gentleness, tenderness, sympathy, patience, and yearning compassion that he shows towards them, the Bible never lets us lose sight of his majesty, and his unlimited dominion over all his creatures.'
The opening chapters of Genesis illustrate this - for here we are introduced to the personal and majestic God!

Personal: 'Let us....' (Gen 1:26); bringing animals to Adam (2:19); walking in the garden (3:8). Asking questions to evaluate and direct people (3:11, 4:9; 16:8). Grieved (6:6). All these representations and others bring home to us that God is not a cosmic principle, impersonal and indifferent. He is a living person. But we are not to gather from these passages that God's knowledge and power is limited, or that he is normally absent/ignorant and so has to come down and ask around to find out what is going on.

Majestic: the Creator, bringing order from chaos, life from nothing, creating and ruling with his word alone. He curses the ground and subjects mankind to physical death (3:17). He floods the earth in judgment (6-8), he confounds human language (11:7); he overthrows Sodom and Gomorrah (19:24). Abraham calls him 'the Judge of all the earth' (18:25) and 'God Most High, maker of heaven and earth' (14:19-22). He is present everywhere and observes everything: Cain's murder (4:9), mankind's corruption (6:5), Hagar's destitution (16:7). And it is not just in isolated moments that God takes control - his detailed predictions of the tremendous destiny he purposed for Abraham's descendants (12:1-3; 13:1-17; 15:13-21 etc.) indicates this.

So we need to:

1. Remove from our thoughts of God limits that would make him small
Psalm 139
Job 38-41

2. Compare him with powers and forces which we would regard as great
Isaiah 40: look at the tasks I have done, the nations I am greater than, the world I rule, the great ones I dictate to, the stars I made and know intimately.

And how should we respond to THIS God?
1. We should think great thoughts of him, not comparing him to ourselves, but acknowledging him as incomparable and limitless.
2. We should rejoice that this God loves and is covenantally committed to people like us in Christ!
3. We should be ashamed and repent of our slowness to believe in God's majesty - our unbelieving pessimism is deeply dishonouring to God.

That's got to hurt!

Why believe in God? (6)

Objections Raised
By this time you are probably wondering whether I have really ever heard the objections which are raised against belief in such a God. Well, I think I have. I heard them from my teachers who sought to answer them. I also heard them from teachers who believed they could not be answered. While a student at Princeton Seminary I attended summer courses in the Chicago Divinity School. Naturally I heard the modern or liberal view of Scripture set forth fully there. And after graduation from the Seminary I spent two years at Princeton University for graduate work in philosophy. There the theories of modern philosophy were both expounded and defended by very able men. In short I was presented with as full a statement of the reasons for disbelief as I had been with the reasons for belief. I heard both sides fully from those who believed what they taught.
You have compelled me to say this by the look on your face. Your very gestures suggest that you cannot understand how any one acquainted with the facts and arguments presented by modern science and philosophy can believe in a God who really created the world, who really directs all things in the world by a plan to the ends He has in view for them. Well, I am only one of many who hold to the old faith in full view of what is said by modern science, modern philosophy, and modern Biblical criticism.
Obviously I cannot enter into a discussion of all the facts and all the reasons urged against belief in God. There are those who have made the Old Testament, as there are those who have made the New Testament, their life-long study. It is their works you must read for a detailed refutation of points of Biblical criticism. Others have specialized in physics and biology. To them I must refer you for a discussion of the many points connected with such matters as evolution. But there is something that underlies all these discussions. And it is with that something that I now wish to deal.
You may think I have exposed myself terribly. Instead of talking about God as something vague and indefinite, after the fashion of the modernist, the Barthians, and the mystic, a god so empty of content and remote from experience as to make no demands upon men, I have loaded down the idea of God with "antiquated" science and "contradictory" logic. It seems as though I have heaped insult upon injury by presenting the most objectionable sort of God I could find. It ought to be very easy for you to prick my bubble. I see you are ready to read over my head bushels of facts taken from the standard college texts on physics, biology, anthropology, and psychology, or to crush me with your sixty-ton tanks taken from Kant's famous book, The Critique of Pure Reason . But I have been under these hot showers now a good many times. Before you take the trouble to open the faucet again there is a preliminary point I want to bring up. I have already referred to it when we were discussing the matter of test or standard.
The point is this. Not believing in God, we have seen , you do not think yourself to be God's creature. And not believing in God you do not think the universe has been created by God. That is to say, you think of yourself and the world as just being there. Now if you actually are God's creature, then your present attitude is very unfair to Him. In that case it is even an insult to Him. And having insulted God, His displeasure rests upon you. God and you are not on "speaking terms." And you have very good reasons for trying to prove that He does not exist. If He does exist, He will punish you for your disregard of Him. You are therefore wearing colored glasses. And this determines everything you say about the facts and reasons for not believing in Him. You have had your picnics and hunting parties there without asking His permission. You have taken the grapes of God's vineyard without paying Him any rent and you have insulted His representatives who asked you for it.
I must make an apology to you at this point. We who believe in God have not always made this position plain. Often enough we have talked with you about facts and sound reasons as though we agreed with you on what these really are. In our arguments for the existence of God we have frequently assumed that you and we together have an area of knowledge on which we agree. But we really do not grant that you see any fact in any dimension of life truly. We really think you have colored glasses on your nose when you talk about chickens and cows, as well as when you talk about the life hereafter. We should have told you this more plainly than we did. But we were really a little ashamed of what would appear to you as a very odd or extreme position. We were so anxious not to offend you that we offended our own God. But we dare no longer present our God to you as smaller or less exacting than He really is. He wants to be presented as the All-Conditioner, as the emplacement on which even those who deny Him must stand.
Now in presenting all your facts and reasons to me, you have assumed that such a God does not exist. You have taken for granted that you need no emplacement of any sort outside of yourself. You have assumed the autonomy of your own experience. Consequently you are unable -- that is, unwilling -- to accept as a fact any fact that would challenge your self-sufficiency. And you are bound to call that contradictory which does not fit into the reach of your intellectual powers. You remember what old Procrustes did. If his visitors were too long, he cut off a few slices at each end; if they were too short, he used the curtain stretcher on them. It is that sort of thing I feel that you have done with every fact of human experience. And I am asking you to be critical of this your own most basic assumption. Will you not go into the basement of your own experience to see what has been gathering there while you were busy here and there with the surface inspection of life? You may be greatly surprised at what you find there.
To make my meaning clearer, I shall illustrate what I have said by pointing out how modern philosophers and scientists handle the facts and doctrines of Christianity.
Basic to all the facts and doctrines of Christianity and therefore involved in the belief in God, is the creation doctrine. Now modern philosophers and scientists as a whole claim that to hold such a doctrine or to believe in such a fact is to deny our own experience. They mean this not merely in the sense that no one was there to see it done, but in the more basic sense that it is logically impossible. They assert that it would break the fundamental laws of logic.
The current argument against the creation doctrine derives from Kant. It may fitly be expressed in the words of a more recent philosopher, James Ward: "If we attempt to conceive of God apart from the world, there is nothing to lead us on to creation" (Realm of Ends , p. 397). That is to say, if God is to be connected to the universe at all, he must be subject to its conditions. Here is the old creation doctrine. It says that God has caused the world to come into existence. But what do we mean by the word "cause"? In our experience, it is that which is logically correlative to the word "effect". If you have an effect you must have a cause and if you have a cause you must have an effect. If God caused the world, it must therefore have been because God couldn't help producing an effect. And so the effect may really be said to be the cause of the cause. Our experience can therefore allow for no God other than one that is dependent upon the world as much as the world is dependent upon Him.
The God of Christianity cannot meet these requirements of the autonomous man. He claims to be all-sufficient. He claims to have created the world, not from necessity but from His free will. He claims not to have changed in Himself when He created the world. His existence must therefore be said to be impossible and the creation doctrine must be said to be an absurdity.
The doctrine of providence is also said to be at variance with experience. This is but natural. One who rejects creation must logically also reject providence. If all things are controlled by God's providence, we are told, there can be nothing new and history is but a puppet dance.
You see then that I might present to you great numbers of facts to prove the existence of God. I might say that every effect needs a cause. I might point to the wonderful structure of the eye as evidence of God's purpose in nature. I might call in the story of mankind through the past to show that it has been directed and controlled by God. All these evidences would leave you unaffected. You would simply say that however else we may explain reality, we cannot bring in God. Cause and purpose, you keep repeating, are words that we human beings use with respect to things around us because they seem to act as we ourselves act, but that is as far as we can go.
And when the evidence for Christianity proper is presented to you the procedure is the same. If I point out to you that the prophecies of Scripture have been fulfilled, you will simply reply that it quite naturally appears that way to me and to others, but that in reality it is not possible for any mind to predict the future from the past. If it were, all would again be fixed and history would be without newness and freedom.
Then if I point to the many miracles, the story is once more the same. To illustrate this point I quote from the late Dr. William Adams Brown, an outstanding modernist theologian. "Take any of the miracles of the past," says Brown, "The virgin birth, the raising of Lazarus, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Suppose that you can prove that these events happened just as they are claimed to have happened. What have you accomplished? You have shown that our previous view of the limits of the possible needs to be enlarged; that our former generalizations were too narrow and need revision; that problems cluster about the origin of life and its renewal of which we had hitherto been unaware. But the one thing which you have not shown, which indeed you cannot show, is that a miracle has happened; for that is to confess that these problems are inherently insoluble, which cannot be determined until all possible tests have been made" (God at Work, New York, 1933, p. 169). You see with what confidence Brown uses this weapon of logical impossibility against the idea of a miracle. Many of the older critics of Scripture challenged the evidence for miracle at this point or at that. They made as it were a slow, piece-meal land invasion of the island of Christianity. Brown, on the other hand, settles the matter at once by a host of stukas from the sky. Any pill boxes that he cannot destroy immediately, he will mop up later. He wants to get rapid control of the whole field first. And this he does by directly applying the law of non-contradiction. Only that is possible, says Brown, in effect, which I can show to be logically related according to my laws of logic. So then if miracles want to have scientific standing, that is be recognized as genuine facts, they must sue for admittance at the port of entry to the mainland of scientific endeavor. And admission will be given as soon as they submit to the little process of generalization which deprives them of their uniqueness. Miracles must take out naturalization papers if they wish to vote in the republic of science and have any influence there.
Take now the four points I have mentioned -- creation, providence, prophecy, and miracle. Together they represent the whole of Christian theism. Together they include what is involved in the idea of God and what He has done round about and for us. Many times over and in many ways the evidence for all these has been presented. But you have an always available and effective answer at hand. It is impossible! It is impossible! You act like a postmaster who has received a great many letters addressed in foreign languages. He says he will deliver them as soon as they are addressed in the King's English by the people who sent them. Till then they must wait in the dead letter department. Basic to all the objections the average philosopher and scientist raises against the evidence for the existence of God is the assertion or the assumption that to accept such evidence would be to break the rules of logic.
I see you are yawning. Let us stop to eat supper now. For there is one more point in this connection that I must make. You have no doubt at some time in your life been to a dentist. A dentist drills a little deeper and then a little deeper and at last comes to the nerve of the matter.
Now before I drill into the nerve of the matter, I must again make apologies. The fact that so many people are placed before a full exposition of the evidence for God's existence and yet do not believe in Him has greatly discouraged us. We have therefore adopted measures of despair. Anxious to win your good will, we have again compromised our God. Noting the fact that men do not see, we have conceded that what they ought to see is hard to see. In our great concern to win men we have allowed that the evidence for God's existence is only probably compelling. And from that fatal confession we have gone one step further down to the point where we have admitted or virtually admitted that it is not really compelling at all. And so we fall back upon testimony instead of argument. After all, we say, God is not found at the end of an argument; He is found in our hearts. So we simply testify to men that once we were dead, and now we are alive, that once we were blind and that now we see, and give up all intellectual argument.
Do you suppose that our God approves of this attitude of His followers? I do not think so. The God who claims to have made all facts and to have placed His stamp upon them will not grant that there is really some excuse for those who refuse to see. Besides, such a procedure is self-defeating. If someone in your home town of Washington denied that there was any such thing as a United States Government would you take him some distance down the Potomac and testify to him that there is? So your experience and testimony of regeneration would be meaningless except for the objective truth of the objective facts that are presupposed by it. A testimony that is not an argument is not a testimony either, just as an argument that is not a testimony is not even an argument.
Waiving all this for the moment, let us see what the modern psychologist of religion, who stands on the same foundation with the philosopher, will do to our testimony. He makes a distinction between the raw datum and its cause, giving me the raw datum and keeping for himself the explanation of the cause. Professor James H. Leuba, a great psychologist of Bryn Mawr, has a procedure that is typical. He says, "The reality of any given datum -- of an immediate experience in the sense in which the term is used here, may not be impugned: When I feel cold or warm, sad or gay, discouraged or confident, I am cold, sad, discouraged, etc., and every argument which might be advanced to prove to me that I am not cold is, in the nature of the case, preposterous; an immediate experience may not be controverted; it cannot be wrong." All this seems on the surface to be very encouraging. The immigrant is hopeful of a ready and speedy admittance. However, Ellis Island must still be passed. "But if the raw data of experience are not subject to criticism, the causes ascribed to them are. If I say that my feeling of cold is due to an open window, or my state of exultation to a drug, or my renewed courage to God, my affirmation goes beyond my immediate experience; I have ascribed a cause to it, and that cause may be the right or the wrong one." (God or Man, New York, 1933, p. 243.) And thus the immigrant must wait at Ellis Island a million years. That is to say, I as a believer in God through Christ, assert that I am born again through the Holy Spirit. The Psychologist says that is a raw datum of experience and as such incontrovertible. We do not, he says, deny it. But it means nothing to us. If you want it to mean something to us you must ascribe a cause to your experience. We shall then examine the cause. Was your experience caused by opium or God? You say by God. Well, that is impossible since as philosophers we have shown that it is logically contradictory to believe in God. You may come back at any time when you have changed your mind about the cause of your regeneration. We shall be glad to have you and welcome you as a citizen of our realm, if only you take out your naturalization papers!
We seem now to have come to a pretty pass. We agreed at the outset to tell each other the whole truth. If I have offended you it has been because I dare not, even in the interest of winning you, offend my God. And if I have not offended you I have not spoken of my God. For what you have really done in your handling of the evidence for belief in God, is to set yourself up as God. You have made the reach of your intellect, the standard of what is possible or not possible. You have thereby virtually determined that you intend never to meet a fact that points to God. Facts, to be facts at all -- facts, that is, with decent scientific and philosophic standing -- must have your stamp instead of that of God upon them as their virtual creator.
Of course I realize full well that you do not pretend to create redwood trees and elephants. But you do virtually assert that redwood trees and elephants cannot be created by God. You have heard of the man who never wanted to see or be a purple cow. Well, you have virtually determined that you never will see or be a created fact. With Sir Arthur Eddington you say as it were, "What my net can't catch isn't fish."
Nor do I pretend, of course, that once you have been brought face to face with this condition, you can change your attitude. No more than the Ethiopian can change his skin or the leopard his spots can you change your attitude. You have cemented your colored glasses to your face so firmly that you cannot even take them off when you sleep. Freud has not even had a glimpse of the sinfulness of sin as it controls the human heart. Only the great Physician through His blood atonement on the Cross and by the gift of His Spirit can take those colored glasses off and make you see facts as they are, facts as evidence, as inherently compelling evidence, for the existence of God.
It ought to be pretty plain now what sort of God I believe in. It is God, the All-Conditioner. It is the God who created all things, Who by His providence conditioned my youth, making me believe in Him, and who in my later life by His grace still makes me want to believe in Him. It is the God who also controlled your youth and so far has apparently not given you His grace that you might believe in Him.
You may reply to this: "Then what's the use of arguing and reasoning with me?" Well, there is a great deal of use in it. You see, if you are really a creature of God, you are always accessible to Him. When Lazarus was in the tomb he was still accessible to Christ who called him back to life. It is this on which true preachers depend. The prodigal [son] thought he had clean escaped from the father's influence. In reality the father controlled the "far country" to which the prodigal had gone. So it is in reasoning. True reasoning about God is such as stands upon God as upon the emplacement that alone gives meaning to any sort of human argument. And such reasoning, we have a right to expect, will be used of God to break down the one-horse chaise of human autonomy.
But now I see you want to go home. And I do not blame you; the last bus leaves at twelve. I should like to talk again another time. I invite you to come to dinner next Sunday. But I have pricked your bubble, so perhaps you will not come back. And yet perhaps you will. That depends upon the Father's pleasure. Deep down in your heart you know very well that what I have said about you is true. You know there is no unity in your life. You want no God who by His counsel provides for the unity you need. Such a God, you say, would allow for nothing new. So you provide your own unity. But this unity must, by your own definition, not kill that which is wholly new. Therefore it must stand over against the wholly new and never touch it at all. Thus by your logic you talk about possibles and impossibles, but all this talk is in the air. By your own standards it can never have anything to do with reality. Your logic claims to deal with eternal and changeless matters; and your facts are wholly changing things; and "never the twain shall meet." So you have made nonsense of your own experience. With the prodigal you are at the swine-trough, but it may be that, unlike the prodigal, you will refuse to return to the father's house.
On the other hand by my belief in God I do have unity in my experience. Not of course the sort of unity that you want. Not a unity that is the result of my own autonomous determination of what is possible. But a unity that is higher than mine and prior to mine. On the basis of God's counsel I can look for facts and find them without destroying them in advance. On the basis of God's counsel I can be a good physicist, a good biologist, a good psychologist, or a good philosopher. In all these fields I use my powers of logical arrangement in order to see as much order in God's universe as it may be given a creature to see. The unities, or systems that I make are true because [they are] genuine pointers toward the basic or original unity that is found in the counsel of God.
Looking about me I see both order and disorder in every dimension of life. But I look at both of them in the light of the Great Orderer Who is back of them. I need not deny either of them in the interest of optimism or in the interest of pessimism. I see the strong men of biology searching diligently through hill and dale to prove that the creation doctrine is not true with respect to the human body, only to return and admit that the missing link is missing still. I see the strong men of psychology search deep and far into the sub-consciousness, child and animal consciousness, in order to prove that the creation and providence doctrines are not true with respect to the human soul, only to return and admit that the gulf between human and animal intelligence is as great as ever. I see the strong men of logic and scientific methodology search deep into the transcendental for a validity that will not be swept away by the ever-changing tide of the wholly new, only to return and say that they can find no bridge from logic to reality, or from reality to logic. And yet I find all these, though standing on their heads, reporting much that is true. I need only to turn their reports right side up, making God instead of man the center of it all, and I have a marvelous display of the facts as God has intended me to see them.
And if my unity is comprehensive enough to include the efforts of those who reject it, it is large enough even to include that which those who have been set upright by regeneration cannot see. My unity is that of a child who walks with its father through the woods. The child is not afraid because its father knows it all and is capable of handling every situation. So I readily grant that there are some "difficulties" with respect to belief in God and His revelation in nature and Scripture that I cannot solve. In fact there is mystery in every relationship with respect to every fact that faces me, for the reason that all facts have their final explanation in God Whose thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and Whose ways are higher than my ways. And it is exactly that sort of God that I need. Without such a God, without the God of the Bible, the God of authority, the God who is self-contained and therefore incomprehensible to men, there would be no reason in anything. No human being can explain in the sense of seeing through all things, but only he who believes in God has the right to hold that there is an explanation at all.
So you see when I was young I was conditioned on every side; I could not help believing in God. Now that I am older I still cannot help believing in God. I believe in God now because unless I have Him as the All-Conditioner, life is Chaos.
I shall not convert you at the end of my argument. I think the argument is sound. I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other belief, or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other belief; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else. But since I believe in such a God, a God who has conditioned you as well as me, I know that you can to your own satisfaction, by the help of the biologists, the psychologists, the logicians, and the Bible critics reduce everything I have said this afternoon and evening to the circular meanderings of a hopeless authoritarian. Well, my meanderings have, to be sure, been circular; they have made everything turn on God. So now I shall leave you with Him, and with His mercy.

{Van Til, Cornelius. Why I Believe in God. Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, 1996, Barlow, Jonathan ed.}

Love for Christ's Church

Sixth, there are lessons to be learned from the Puritans' ideal of church renewal. To be sure, 'renewal' was not a word that they used; they spoke only of 'reformation' and 'reform', which words suggest to our twentieth-century minds a concern that is limited to the externals of the church's orthodoxy, order, worship forms and disciplinary code. But when the Puritans preached, published, and prayed for 'reformation' they had in mind, not indeed less than this, but far more. On the title page of the original edition of Richard Baxter's 'The Reformed Pastor', the word 'reformed' was printed in much larger type than any other, and one does not have to read far before discovering that for Baxter a 'reformed' pastor was not one who campaigned for Calvinism but one whose ministry to his people as preacher, teacher, catechist and role-model showed him to be, as we would say, 'revived' or 'renewed'. The essence of this kind of 'reformation' was enrichment of understanding of God's truth, arousal of affections God-ward, increase of ardour in one's devotions, and more love, joy, and firmness of Christian purpose in one's calling and personal life. In line with this, the ideal for the church was that through 'reformed' clergy all the members of each congregation should be 'reformed' - brought, that is, by God's grace without disorder into a state of what we would call revival, so as to be truly and thoroughly converted, theologically orthodox and sound, spiritually alert and expectant, in character terms wise and steady, ethically enterprising and obedient, and humbly but joyously sure of their salvation. This was the goal at which Puritan pastoral ministry aimed throughout, both in English parishes and in the 'gathered' churches of congregational type that multiplied in the mid-seventeenth century. The Puritans' concern for spiritual awakening in communities is to some extent hidden from us by their institutionalism; recalling the upheavals of English Methodism and the Great Awakening, we think of revival ardour as always putting a strain on established order, whereas the Puritans envisaged 'reform' at congregational level coming in disciplined style through faithful preaching, catechising, and spiritual service on the pastor's part. Clericalism, with its damming up of lay initiative, was doubtless a Puritan limitation, and one which boomeranged when lay zeal finally boiled over in Cromwell's army, in Quakerism, and in the vast sectarian underworld of Commonwealth times; but the other side of that coin was the nobility of the pastor's profile that the Puritans evolved - gospel preacher and Bible teacher, shepherd and physician of souls, catechist and counselor, trainer and disciplinarian, all in one. From the Puritans' ideals and goals for church life, which were unquestionably and abidingly right, and from their standards for clergy, which were challengingly and searchingly high, there is yet again a great deal that modern Christians can and should take to heart. These are just a few of the most obvious areas in which the Puritans can help us in these days. IIIThe foregoing celebration of Puritan greatness may leave some readers skeptical. It is, however, as was hinted earlier, wholly in line with the major reassessment of Puritanism that has taken place in historical scholarship. Fifty years ago the academic study of Puritanism went over a watershed with the discovery that there was such a thing as Puritan culture, and a rich culture at that, over and above Puritan reactions against certain facets of medieval and Renaissance culture. The common assumption of earlier days, that Puritans both sides of the Atlantic were characteristically morbid, obsessive, uncouth and unintelligent, was left behind. Satirical aloofness towards Puritan thought-life gave way to sympathetic attentiveness, and the exploring of Puritan beliefs and ideals became an academic cottage industry of impressive vigour, as it still is. North America led the way with four books published over two years which between them ensured that Puritan studies could never be the same again. These were: William Haller, 'The Rise of Puritanism' (Columbia University Press: New York, 1938); A.S.P. Woodhouse, 'Puritanism and Liberty' (Macmillan: London, 1938; Woodhouse taught at Toronto); M.M. Knappen, 'Tudor Puritanism' (Chicago University Press: Chicago, 1939); and Perry Miller, 'The New England Mind Vol I; The Seventeenth Century' (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1939). Many books from the thirties and later have confirmed the view of Puritanism which these four volumes yielded, and the overall picture that has emerged is as follows. Puritanism was at heart a spiritual movement, passionately concerned with God and godliness. It began in England with William Tyndale the Bible translator, Luther's contemporary, a generation before the word 'Puritan' was coined, and it continued till the latter years of the seventeenth century, some decades after 'Puritan' had fallen out of use. Into its making went Tyndale's reforming biblicism; John Bradford's piety of the heart and conscience; John Knox's zeal for God's honor in national churches; the passion for evangelical pastoral competence that is seen in John Hooper, Edward Dering and Richard Greenham; the view of Holy Scripture as the 'regulative principle' of church worship and order that fired Thomas Cartwright; the anti-Roman, anti-Arminian, anti-Socinian, anti-Antinomian Calvinism that John Owen and the Westminster standards set forth; the comprehensive ethical interest that reached its apogee in Richard Baxter's monumental 'Christian Directory'; and the purpose of popularising and making practical the teaching of the Bible that gripped Perkins and Bunyan, with many more. Puritanism was essentially a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism, and spiritual revival; and in addition - indeed, as a direct expression of its zeal for God's honor - it was a world-view, a total Christian philosophy, in intellectual terms a Protestantised and updated medievalism, and in terms of spirituality a reformed monasticism outside the cloister and away from monkish vows. The Puritan goal was to complete what England's Reformation began: to finish reshaping Anglican worship, to introduce effective church discipline into Anglican parishes, to establish righteousness in the political, domestic, and socio-economic fields, and to convert all Englishmen to a vigorous evangelical faith. Through the preaching and teaching of the gospel, and the sanctifying of all arts, sciences, and skills, England was to become a land of saints, a model and paragon of corporate godliness, and as such a means of blessing to the world. Such was the Puritan dream as it developed under Elizabeth, James, and Charles, and blossomed in the Interregnum, before it withered in the dark tunnel of persecution between 1660 (Restoration) and 1689 (Toleration). This dream bred the giants with whom this book is concerned. IVThe present chapter is, I confess, advocacy, barefaced and unashamed. I am seeking to make good the claim that the Puritans can teach us lessons that we badly need to learn. Let me pursue my line of argument a little further. I must by now be apparent that the great Puritan pastor-theologians - Owen, Baxter, Goodwin, Howe, Perkins, Sibbes, Brooks, Watson, Gurnall, Flavel, Bunyan, Manton, and others like them - were men of outstanding intellectual power, as well as spiritual insight. In them mental habits fostered by sober scholarship were linked with a flaming zeal for God and a minute acquaintance with the human heart. All their work displays this unique fusion of gifts and graces. In thought and outlook they were radically God-centered. Their appreciation of God's sovereign majesty was profound, and their reverence in handling his written word was deep and constant. They were patient, thorough, and methodical in searching the Scriptures, and their grasp of the various threads and linkages in the web of revealed truth was firm and clear. They understood most richly the ways of God with men, the glory of Christ the Mediator, and the work of the Spirit in the believer and the church. And their knowledge was no mere theoretical orthodoxy. They sought to 'reduce to practice' (their own phrase) all that God taught them. They yoked their consciences to his word, disciplining themselves to bring all activities under the scrutiny of Scripture, and to demand a theological, as distinct from a merely pragmatic, justification for everything that they did. They applied their understanding of the mind of God to every branch of life, seeing the church, the family, the state, the arts and sciences, the world of commerce and industry, no less than the devotions of the individual, as so many spheres in which God must be served and honored. They saw life whole, for they saw its Creator as Lord of each department of it, and their purpose was that 'holiness to the Lord' might be written over it in its entirety. Nor as this all. Knowing God, the Puritans also knew man. They saw him as in origin a noble being, made in God's image to rule God's earth, but now tragically brutified and brutalised by sin. They viewed sin in he triple light of God's law, Lordship, and holiness, and so saw it as transgression and guilt, as rebellion and usurpation, and as uncleanness, corruption, and inability for good. Seeing this, and knowing the ways whereby the Spirit brings sinners to faith and new life in Christ, and leads saints, on the one hand to grow into their Savior's image, and, on the other, to learn their total dependence on grace, the great Puritans became superb pastors. The depth and unction of the 'practical and experimental' expositions in the pulpit was no more outstanding than was their skill in the study of applying spiritual physic to sick souls. From Scripture they mapped the often bewildering terrain of the life of faith and fellowship with God with great thoroughness (see 'Pilgrim's Progress' for a pictorial gazetteer), and their acuteness and wisdom in diagnosing spiritual malaise and setting out the appropriate biblical remedies was outstanding. They remain the classic pastors of Protestantism, just as men like Whitefield and Spurgeon stand as its classic evangelists. Now it is here, on the pastoral front, that today's evangelical Christians most need help. Our numbers, it seems, have increased in recent years, and a new interest in the old paths of evangelical theology has grown. For this we should thank God. But not all evangelical zeal is according to knowledge, nor do the virtues and values of the biblical Christian life always come together as they should, and three groups in particular in today's evangelical world seem very obviously to need help of a kind that Puritans, as we meet them in their writings, are uniquely qualified to give. These I call restless experientialists, entrenched intellectualists, and disaffected deviationists. They are not, of course, organised bodies of opinion, but individual persons with characteristic mentalities that one meets over and over again. Take them, now, in order. Those whom I call restless experientialsts are a familiar breed, so much so that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainments, and 'highs', and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They well continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction and rest of souls with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the 'lows' of Psalms 42, 88, and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In her restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural, and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought. It is no counter to these defects to appeal to the specialised counselling techniques that extrovert evangelicals have developed for pastoral purposes in recent years; for spiritual life is fostered, and spiritual maturity engendered, no by techniques but by truth, and if our techniques have been formed in terms of a defective notion of the truth to be conveyed and the goal to be aimed at they cannot make us better pastors or better believers than we were before. The reason why the restless experientialists are lopsided is that they have fallen victim to a form of worldliness, a man-centered, anti-rational individualism, which turns Christian life into a thrill-seeking ego-trip. Such saints need the sort of maturing ministry in which the Puritan tradition has specialised. What Puritan emphases can establish and settle restless experientialists? These, to start with. First, the stress on God-centeredness as a divine requirement that is central to the discipline of self-denial. Second, the insistence on the primacy of the mind, and on the impossibility of obeying biblical truth that one has not yet understood. Third, the demand for humility, patience, and steadiness at all times, and for an acknowledgement that Holy Spirit's main ministry is not to give thrills but to create in us Christlike character. Fourth, the recognition that feelings go up and down, and that God frequently tries us by leading us through wastes of emotional flatness. Fifth, the singling out of worship as life's primary activity. Sixth, the stress on our need of regular self-examination by Scripture, in terms set by Psalm 139:23-24. Seventh, the realisation that sanctified suffering bulks large in God's plan for his children's growth in grace. No Christian tradition of teaching administers this purging and strengthening medicine with more masterful authority than does that of the Puritans, whose own dispensing of it nurtured a marvellously strong and resilient type of Christian for a century and more, as we have seen. Think now of entrenched intellectualists in the evangelical world: a second familiar breed, though not so common as the previous type. Some of them seem to be victims of an insecure temperament and inferiority feelings, others to be reacting out of pride or pain against the zaniness of experientialism as they have perceived it, but whatever the source of their syndrome the behaviour-pattern in which they express it is distinctive and characteristic. Constantly they present themselves as rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God's truth for whom orthodoxy is all. Upholding and defending their own view of that truth, whether Calvinist or Arminian, dispensational or Pentecostal, national church reformist or Free Church separatist, or whatever it might be, is their leading interest, and they invest themselves unstintingly in this task. There is little warmth about them; relationally they are remote; experiences do not mean much to them; winning the battle for mental correctness is their one great purpose. They see, truly enough, that in our anti-rational, feeling-oriented, instant-gratification culture conceptual knowledge of divine things is undervalued, and they seek with passion to right the balance at this point. They understand the priority of the intellect well; the trouble is that intellectualism, expressing itself in endless campaigns for their own brand of right thinking, is almost if not quite all that they can offer, for it is almost if not quite all that they have. They too, so I urge, need exposure to the Puritan heritage for their maturing. That last statement might sound paradoxical, since it will not have escaped the reader that the above profile corresponds to what many still suppose the typical Puritan to have been. But when we ask what emphases Puritan tradition contains to counter arid intellectualism, a whole series of points springs to view. First, true religion claims the affections as well as the intellect; it is essentially, in Richard Baxter's phrase, 'heart-work'. Second, theological truth is for practice. William Perkins defined theology as the science of living blessedly for ever; William Ames called it the science of living to God. Third, conceptual knowledge kills if one does not move on from knowing notions to knowing the realities to which they refer - in this case, from knowing about God to a relational acquaintance with God himself. Fourth, faith and repentance, issuing in a life of love and holiness, that is, of gratitude expressed in goodwill and good works, are explicitly called for in the gospel. Fifth, the Spirit is given to lead us into close companionship with others in Christ. Sixth, the discipline of discursive meditation is meant to keep us ardent and adoring in our love affair with God. Seventh, it is ungodly and scandalous to become a firebrand and cause division in the church, and it is ordinarily nothing more reputable than spiritual pride in its intellectual form that leads men to create parties and splits. The great Puritans were as humble-minded and warm-hearted they were clear-headed, as fully oriented to people as they were to Scripture, and as passionate for peace as they were for truth. They would certainly have diagnosed today's fixated Christian intellectualists as spiritually stunted, not in their zeal for the form of sound words but in their lack of zeal for anything else; and the thrust of Puritan teaching about God's truth in man's life is still potent to ripen such souls into whole and mature human beings. I turn finally to those whom I call disaffected deviationists, the casualties and dropouts of the modern evangelical movement, many of whom have now turned against it to denounce it as a neurotic perversion of Christianity. Here, too, is a breed that we know all too well. It is distressing to think of these folk, both because their experience to date discredits our evangelicalism so deeply and also because there are so many of them. Who are they? They are people who once saw themselves as evangelicals, either from being evangelically nurtured or from coming to profess conversion with the evangelical sphere of influence, but who have become disillusioned about the evangelical point of view and have turned their back on it, feeling that it let them down. Some leave it for intellectual reasons, judging that what was taught them was so simplistic as to stifle their minds and so unrealistic and out of touch with facts as to be really if unintentionally dishonest. Others leave because they were led to expect that as Christians they would enjoy health, wealth, trouble-free circumstances, immunity from relational hurts, betrayals, and failures, and from making mistakes and bad decisions; in short, a flowery bed of ease on which they would be carried happily to heaven - and these great expectations were in due course refuted by events. Hurt and angry, feeling themselves victims of a confidence trick, they now accuse the evangelicalism they knew of having failed and fooled them, and resentfully give it up; it is a mercy if they do not therewith similarly accuse and abandon God himself. Modern evangelicalism has much to answer for in the number of casualties of this sort that it has caused in recent years by its naivet of mind and unrealism of expectation. But here again the soberer, profounder, wiser evangelicalism of the Puritan giants can fulfill a corrective and therapeutic function in our midst, if only we will listen to its message. What have the Puritans to say to us that might serve to heal the disaffected casualties of modern evangelical goofiness? Anyone who reads the writings of the Puritan authors will find in them much that helps in this way. Puritan authors regularly tell us, first, of the 'mystery' of God: that our God is too small, that the real God cannot b put without remainder into a man-made conceptual box so as to be fully understood; and that he was, is, and always will be bewilderingly inscrutable in his dealing with those who trust and love him, so that 'losses and crosses', that is, bafflement and disappointment in relation to particular hopes one has entertained, must be accepted as a recurring element in one's life of fellowship with him. Then they tell us, second, of the 'love' of God: that it is a love that redeems, converts, sanctifies, and ultimately glorifies sinners, and that Calvary was the one place in human history where it was fully and unambiguously revealed, and that in relation to our own situation we may know for certain that nothing can separate us from that love (Rom.8:38f), although no situation in this world will ever be free from flies in the ointment and thorns in the bed. Developing the theme of divine love the Puritans tell us, third, of the 'salvation' of God: that the Christ who put away our sins and brought us God's pardon is leading us through this world to a glory for which we are even now being prepared by the instilling of desire for it and capacity to enjoy it, and that holiness here, in the form of consecrated service and loving obedience through thick and thin, is the high road to happiness hereafter. Following this they tell us, fourth, about 'spiritual conflict,' the many ways in which the world, the flesh and the devil seek to lay us low; fifth, about the 'protection' of God, whereby he overrules and sanctifies the conflict, often allowing one evil to touch our lives in order thereby to shield us from greater evils; and, sixth, about the 'glory' of God, which it becomes our privilege to further by our celebrating of his grace, by our proving of his power under perplexity and pressure, by totally resigning ourselves to his good pleasure, and by making him our joy and delight at all times. By ministering to us these precious biblical truths the Puritans give us the resources we need to cope with 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune', and offer the casualties an insight into what has happened to them that can raise them above self-pitying resentment and reaction and restore their spiritual health completely. Puritan sermons show that problems about providence are in now way new; the seventeenth century had its own share of spiritual casualties, saints who had thought simplistically and hoped unrealistically and were now disappointed, disaffected, despondent and despairing, and the Puritans' ministry to us at this point is simply the spin-off of what they were constantly saying to raise up and encourage wounded spirits among their own people I think the answer to the question, why do we need the Puritans, is now pretty clear, and I conclude my argument at this point. I, who owe more to the Puritans than to any other theologians I have ever read, and who know that I need them still, have been trying to persuade you that perhaps you need them too. To succeed in this would, I confess, make me overjoyed, and that chiefly for your sake, and the Lord's. But there, too, is something that I must leave in God's hands. Meantime, let us continue to explore the Puritan heritage together. There is more gold to be mined here than I have mentioned yet.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Each one matters

Fifth, there are lessons to be learned from their sense of human worth. Through believing in a great God (the God of Scripture, undiminished and undomesticated), they gained a vivid awareness of the greatness of moral issues, of eternity, and of the human soul. Hamlet's 'What a piece of work is man!' is a very Puritan sentiment; the wonder of human individuality was something that they felt keenly. Though, under the influence of their medieval heritage, which told them that error has no rights, they did not in every case manage to respect those who differed publicly from them, their appreciation of man's dignity as the creature made to be God's friend was strong, and so in particular was their sense of the beauty and nobility of human holiness. In the collectivised urban anthill where most of us live nowadays the sense of each individual's eternal significance is much eroded, and the Puritan spirit is at this point a corrective from which we can profit greatly.

Foundations for the Household

I have just begun listening to this series of talks (6 in total) called 'Foundations for Fathers'. I will try and outline the main points - though I expect I will probably end up focusing on the things that grab my attention!

Foundations for Fathers
1. Scripture is sufficient to equip and train you, your wife and your children
2. Godly discipline is not an adequate substitute for regeneration
3. Godly childrearing is covenantal in nature
4. Everything that goes on in your home is your responsibility
5. Invest time & energy in the early stages of your children's lives

1. Scripture is sufficient to equip and train you and your children
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 )

2. Godly discipline is not an adequate substitute for regeneration
Don't confuse well behaved children with regenerate children.
Don't confuse cuteness with goodness, purity or innocence. Baby tigers are cute - but they grow up to be man eaters. How cute were Idi Amin, Stalin, Hitler or Pol Pot?
Children are sinners - fallen in Adam. They don't learn sin from your or the kids down the street (only) but from him. They are 'little bundles of sin'

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-- ..... For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12 ,19)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)The contrast is not between innocent childhood and evil adulthood, but between immature evil and mature evil.
The GOAL in childrearing is regeneration & salvation not good manners alone. Instilling standards and good manners is a vital step towards that goal (the law is a prelude to the gospel teaching us our sin and need of Christ) but not the goal itself.
Therefore as a Dad you need to be cautious, watchful and prayerful.

3. Godly child rearing is covenantal in nature
1 Corinthians 7:13-15
Titus 1:6
As you train up your child using the means God gives (love, prayer, his wrod, example, spanking etc.) then be confident and expect God to be at work bringing your child to faith. Don't squander the advantages that you have.

4. Everything that goes on in your home is your responsibility

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. However eacho of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honour your father and mother" --which is the first commandment with a promise-- "that it may go well with you and that you may
enjoy long life on the earth." Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22-6:4)

This is not the same as saying it is all your fault - just the buck stops with you. This is an authority relationship. As you take responsibilty for things that are not your fault you are a picture of Christ and beginning to be a leader.
This will help you avoid having an adversarial relationship with your wife.

5. Invest time & energy in the early stages of your children's lives
God has programmed your children to want to leave you:

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." (Ephesians 5:31)
If they don't you have done something wrong.
So, if they are going to leave at say 18, it makes sense to get them ready for that before then.

The way to do that is to be strict early on (especially ages 0-5) and then give liberty. Run a totalitarian state early on and pray/work/aim towards there needing to be no rules by the age of 16/17. This is very energy consuming and it is easy to let it all go (just looking after them takes it out of you, let alone loving discipline too). But this reaps dividends. And the alternative is energy consuming too and grevious as well- just at a later stage!

Because many parents give liberty early on (with lots of excuses not to discipline: 'isn't he cute', followed by 'it's a stage - the terrible twos/threes etc.', 'boys will be boys') until the undisciplined child who until now hasn't been able to do much harm starts doing damage, to themselves and to others. Then the discipline comes down hard (in teenage years?), the groundings (where are they in the Bible?), the restrictions, the punishments. But the trouble is that the teenager is heading for independence. So to discipline the undisciplined child/adult now is to provoke rebellion. This is really hard work! And a grief to mother and father.