The Measure of All Things

Humanism, as Francis Schaeffer noted, is what happens when “man is the measure of all things.” In our educational system, is man the measure of all things—or the Man? That is, are we Christian or humanist?


Stemming from recent, fruitful conversation with colleagues about what makes education truly Christian instead of humanist, I have tried to compile a short, and undoubtedly inchoate, list of distinctions. As always, comments—corrections, suggestions for improvement, additions—are more than welcome. (The points proceed in tandem.)


Humanist Education . . .

  1. Is driven by a concern for results. Schools clinging to a humanist mindset emphasize quantifiable measures of success, such as standardized test scores and number of graduates who attend college, as if these numbers were a reflection of genuine learning—or even the most important aspects of education.
  2. Produces productive members of capitalist/socialist societies. Part of the problem with a results-driven approach is that the results only measure one’s aptitude for entering the marketplace, which is the sole goal of humanist education today.
  3. Encourages self-esteem, and does so openly and proudly. However, what is lacking in this world is not self-esteem, but a true understanding of biblical anthropology, which humanist education will not provide.
  4. Embraces postmodern epistemology, leading to subjectivity, and stealing away such core concepts as truth, certainty, and even judgment.
  5. Enforces cultural (and moral) relativism. As part of its uncritical acceptance of postmodernity, humanist education assumes no culture or code is intrinsically superior to another, and insists that all members of its system adhere to the same rigid dogma, ironically.
  6. Exhibits a vapid yet undimmed enthusiasm, undoubtedly springing from a belief in the inevitability of progress and the innate goodness of humanity—both of which empirical evidence (and sheer common sense) seems to deny.
  7. Adopts democratic egalitarianism as the norm within and without the classroom. Other than the academic elite themselves, no one can claim certainty, superiority, or expert status—not even the teacher, really. Every idea is as good as every other, whether academic, cultural, aesthetic, philosophical, or even theological.
  8. Is student-centered, the corollary of democratic egalitarianism. Modern educational fads push teachers to empower students to learn and then to serve as mere guides on a journey of self-discovery. While this may work in some subject areas, it often leads to the equalizing of unequal ideas, especially in classes where certainty and precision must prevail (such as Bible, of course, but even literature and the social sciences).
  9. Employs behaviorism as classroom management. Because the problem is external behavior, not a corrupt, sinful heart, the solution is simple behavior modification—detentions and demerits, gold stars and “good jobs.” Even within Christian education, we reward those whose behavior is acceptable, no matter how twisted the heart, and punish those whose behavior is less than spectacular, no matter how willing the spirit.
  10. Leads to absolute fragmentation. Dismantling the curriculum into discrete subject areas, each with largely unrelated standards, and then dividing the day into short, interrupted bursts of fragmented learning has become the accepted norm. Beyond that, even, we have the separation of academic instruction from every other type—spiritual, moral, emotional, etc., leading to compartmentalized, fragmented existence.
  11. Practices an uncritical acceptance of technology. While much technology is good and has its place in the classroom, the trouble stems from assuming it all is good and should be embraced uncritically. In practice, technology often leads to greater fragmentation, a shorter attention span, an inability to read and comprehend the written word, and the diminishing of sustained, reasonable thought.
  12. Commits to human-centered paradigms. Christian schools that seem more humanist than godly accept that what the world has to offer them will be good enough—bell schedules, curriculum, standards and benchmarks, educational fads—rather than discerning and sifting, or even reworking the whole paradigm from a Christ-centered framework.


Christian Education . . .

  1. Is driven by a concern for fruit. Numbers do not matter, but hearts do. The measure of “success,” if we may even use that term, will be the invisible, eternal qualities, such as conversion, revival, loving obedience, and obedient love.
  2. Leads students to pursue vocation—God’s calling—apart from purely economic concerns. Because preparing students to enter the marketplace per se matters but little (and attending university may even be superfluous), Christian schools help students glorify God in the way he has called them instead, equipping them to use their gifts in the service of his kingdom.
  3. Encourages Christ-esteem. A biblical anthropology, centered on the cross, assures us we are both profoundly sinful and profoundly loved. Students develop a healthy sense of who they are when they embrace both of these points in glorious tension. What matters is not what others think of them, or even what they think of themselves, but what God thinks of them in Christ.
  4. Embraces Christian epistemology, leading to conviction and humility, a willingness to espouse adequate (if not absolute) knowledge in key areas.
  5. Engages in honest frustration and painful dialogue that moves toward humility before the Creator of all intricacy and nuance. The culture-shapers of the institution, such as the administration, faculty, and chaplains, then “enforce” this humility and dialogue.
  6. Exhibits a Christ-centered historical hope built on the substantive sacrifice that is shaping the school culture. Humanity will not progress, nor even individual humans, except by the grace of God and the work of his Spirit, which we seek regularly in spontaneous prayer.
  7. Adopts the hierarchical model of Scripture itself. All who are in Christ have ideas to share, as Paul reminds the Corinthian church; but some have been given unique roles within the church to equip others, as Paul reminds the Ephesian church. Those whom God has specifically called to pastor and teach the church will shape discussion of the ministry (and even vision) of the school especially.
  8. Is God-centered. Teachers and students, within and without the classroom, submit to Scripture, follow the Spirit’s guidance, and recognize the God-ordained authorities over them. Especially in Bible classes, but ideally in all, teachers will eschew both teacher- and student-centered approaches, allowing the Center to be the center.
  9. Employs relational authority as classroom management. With an unwavering and outwardly visible commitment to the gospel, teachers will strive to reach the heart of students as instruments of God’s grace, knowing that behaviorism produces naught but whitewashed tombs. Love is, of course, the ethic of the kingdom, and thus it will be the ethic of the classroom, for both teacher and student.
  10. Strives after full integration. Being willing to rework the model from the ground up, Christian schools will pursue not only academic integration, as well as educational integration into a biblical framework, but absolute integration. There is neither secular nor sacred, mind nor spirit, education nor discipleship, for all are one in Christ Jesus.
  11. Practices a discerning use of technology. Teachers will utilize what will aid in achieving real integration and advancement; but they will also sensitively discern the differences between contemplation and stimulation, information and knowledge, thought and activity.
  12. Commits to submission to the Spirit’s leading when it conflicts with our pre-conceived (and often humanist) paradigms. For example, teachers will joyfully spend instructional time on prayer when necessary, or even hold a class “late” when the Spirit is moving in a discussion. The administration will critically evaluate all humanist ideas, models, etc., before (if) adopting any of them.

3 Replies to “The Measure of All Things”

  1. I have a hard time believing that what you have been writing these last four posts is merely intellectual exercise, but is an honest disclosure of God’s heart for education and call a call to repentance for Christian schools. Now, if these ideas are, as St. Anselm may have said, greater in reality than to exist solely in the mind, what is the next move? Where do we go from here?

  2. I suggest modifying point 9. Secular education understands the inadequacy of pure behaviorism and actually promotes relational authority (Fay, 2002, 9 Essential Skills for the Love and Logic Classroom). The most widely used system for “behavior management” and character education is Positive Behavior Intervention Systems (PBIS; which emphasizes that having a relationship with children is more effective at maintaining a positive learning environment than external rewards alone. However, I see a difference in an understanding of authority, especially if humanistic education is basing itself on a constructivist philosophy of education, where students build their own knowledge and the teacher is not an authority but a guide.

  3. I am thinking of having my students look over this when they do their Foundations course at Moody. Given the way you define your terms I agree with the contrast here.

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