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Reformed Literature
A Presbyterian Internet Journal

Back to the Blackboard

(Design for a Biblical Christian School)

Jay E. Adams


Over the years I have written various articles (some on this site) on the topic of Christianity and Schooling. I think it is generally understood that my personal preference is for state schools that are open to all children that are supportive of Christianity. I personally feel that this arrangement is that historically supported by the Scottish Presbyterian Churches, it fulfils the expectations of the Establishment Principle and it allows for the demands in Proverbs to bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I also believe that it is evangelical and outgoing in its approach and does not encourage elitism or monasticism which I believe are dangers with some of the alternative approaches.

Having made these points, however, I must stress that I believe and have always defended the right of parents to choose to educate their offspring in the manner that they choose – it is essentially an area for Christian liberty. In the last month I have had occasion to post messages on various blog sites (spots?) on this area and it would be possible for someone to suggest that I am anti-homeschooling (which is not the case) or anti-Christian school (which is again not the case). I am against those who picture their own view on these matters as the only possible consistent Christian response (and that is where I tend to get into debate with the parts of the homeschool fraternity who cannot accept that consistent honest Christian might demur from their choices). I would point out that not all homeschoolers take this dogmatic approach, indeed, I was messaged in the last month by a friend who does home school and was worried that I was ceasing to show toleration of that position in some of the things that I had posted.

If I was pushed regarding my preference for state education then I think I could see many merits in the Christian school approach that is open to all the children in a local area and indeed, sought to reach out into that local community – this approach is that defended by Noel Weeks in his book published by the Banner of Truth – and has been followed by many good Christians at the cost of real personal sacrifice. This approach would be essential in a mission situation where the state was failing to provide ‘established’ schooling in an area and I can see the argument for the extension of this approach in areas where the schooling provided by the state is anti-Christian.

I picked up the book in this review with real interest, I have read a few of Jay Adams books and have always found them interesting and challenging. Halfway through my own reading this book I was made aware, via a review in another theological journal, that Adams has recently written a book attacking the Christian Sabbath – clearly this is a matter of real sadness to true Christians and something I find hard to understand coming from anyone on the path to the Celestial city with its eternal Sabbath.

My own response to the book is mixed – there are parts of it that are really good and challenging and valuable to anyone who is actively teaching – and there are other aspects with which I would disagree both with his approach and subsequent conclusions.

He begins by painting his picture of education as the battleground between Christianity and Humanism and suggests that the current system of education is essentially Humanist. I do not agree that we are in a uniquely bad situation compared with many other times in Christian history nor do I think that our traditional education system is essentially humanist – I would defend most of its system of imparting knowledge as one that should allow Christians to begin to ‘think God’s thoughts after him’.

The strongest chapter is number 6, when he examines the purposes of education and the characteristics of a Christian teacher. This chapter I thoroughly enjoyed – it pointed out so many valuable aspects of a Christian witness in the classroom and the motives that ought to be found within a teacher. I would hope that my own students would see some of these aspects reflected (however imperfectly) in my own witness. Chapter 7 looks at outcomes and rightly points out that education ought to be moral and ought to produce people ready for Christian service – that education should be about values, character, behaviour and approach and that when a school gets these right then academic standards do not need to be a focus of their attention.

In chapter 8 I see aspects that cause me concern – I would wish that all children had praying parents with a real concern over their spiritual as well as mental growth but, I would not support an exclusive system that did not show a concern over children without this background. I did however, like the return to an emphasis on differing abilities in students being equally valued and the need for personal humility and confession by the teacher.

In Chapter 10 onwards he starts to move away from traditional models of schooling – sometimes with real thought provoking questions. He does not believe in the morality of a heavily grade based system (and this approach would cause concern in a variety of homes on all sides of the education debate). He does agree with involving the home in schools (and advocates a move towards a kind of cluster approach where children would be educated at home and in a ‘school’ type hub). I think this idea of home and school in partnership is essential in all schools, but I think we differ on some of the practicalities. He argues strongly for experiential learning that creates projects for students to place their learning in a context – here again I can see much to commend his approach. He dislikes homework and thinks that Christianity in schools ought to strengthen time for the family unit to bond in an evening rather than weaken it with more learning exercises. The anti-homework, anti-grades, anti-linear learning approaches that dominate these final chapters have many advocates in the teaching profession.

This is a useful book for anyone involved in the field of education – I doubt you will be drawn to all of his conclusions and would be sad if you were – but, it will make you think and that alone is a good thing.