Erskine College Students Petition ARP

Here. (HT: LIg Duncan/Ref21)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. So here’s a general question this provoked in me. What’s your take on the concerns about relating faith to academic work? Is there a place for sphere sovereignty/two kingdoms in all this?

    It looks to me that that side of things is a discussion which is distinctively humanities-oriented (it’s noticeable that on the few occasions where subjects are mentioned in students’ letters, they are humanities). I don’t think (and as a mathematical physicist, I have some degree of expertise here) there can be such a thing as a ‘Christian perspective’ on Fermat’s Last Theorem or the structure of the atom! Parking a handful of questions like evolution, the same goes for most of science. There’s a sense of wonder at creation, for sure, and an amazement at how all things hold together, but that’s not quite the same thing as what the students seem to be envisaging in Erskine’s slogan of ‘learning and biblical truth are integrated’.

  2. Hi Philip,

    This has been a matter of some discussion here.

    Here’s one series:

    I’m influenced by David VanDrunen’s very helpful distinction between “ultimate” and “penultimate” matters. These are corollaries to C. Van Til’s doctrine that there are no such things as “brute facts.” We live in an interpreted universe. God has given us an interpretation of reality by assigning meaning to it and by revealing himself through it.

    This works best in accounting for ultimate questions (God, man, Christ, salvation etc). It doesn’t work quite as well in penultimate questions, e.g., whether 2 + 2 =4. That it does is shared by believer and non-believer alike but why it does or what it means is not.

    It’s a commonplace, indeed it is now Christian college orthodoxy that there is a distinctly Christian world-and life view of everything (which is certainly true at the ultimate level) and part of this orthodoxy seems to be that there is a Christian way to do math, plumbing etc. They have a very difficult time, however, saying exactly what that is.

    There’s more about this here.

    Otoh, we must agree with Tertullian and Van Til that, at the presuppositional, foundational level, Jerusalem and Athens are antithetical. We have to realize that everyone interprets reality in light of religious commitments but the “world and life view” folk should be a little more chastened in what they claim for that WLV.

    • Scott,

      After glancing at the link you provide to our previous discussion, I still have a question. (I may have asked this before, I can’t recall, so sorry if I did.) You seem to generally hold out for Christian education. But if there is no such thing as Christian politics how can there be Christian education? Or maybe you do hold out for some form of Christian politics. Is it more a matter of degree than category for you?

      • Zrim,

        I deny the equation of politics and education. The latter is about truth. The former is not. The former is fundamentally about compromise. At the most fundamental level, education is about the interpretation of reality. Politics is about the penultimate. Education certainly involves the penultimate but is more closely related to ultimate questions than politics.

        I wouldn’t speak about “Christian” politics any more than I would speak about “Christian” plumbing.

        • That’s what I thought. So education is closer to ultimate than politics is. Politics is temporal and education is a hybrid of temporal-eternal.

          I would agree that the temporal runs along a spectrum of mundane (plumbing) to enduring (family, education and statecraft), and that it is all “very good,” but it all still falls under the temporal, penultimate and passing of this age. If in the next age our marriages will be dissolved, if we will be given new names and speak a new language, if the sun will be replaced by Jesus himself, and if even that which we think of as “most ultimate of all” must be hated (that is to say, life, as in “he who would live must die”), what makes education enjoy any ultimate status?

          • Zrim,

            “Ultimate” doesn’t = eschatological.

            Ultimate is, I suppose, an epistemological and a ethical category. Obviously anything that has to do with the faith, has to do with the eschaton, but we cannot let the existence of the eschatological wipe out the semi-eschatological or the mundane, whether from the point of view of confusion of the two (over-realized eschatology) or utter divorce of the two.

            Christians live in two ages and kingdoms simultaneously. We cannot, in this life, resolve the tension between them.

            Education shapes the interpretation of reality more directly and obviously than politics or plumbing. Obviously politics is more directly related to the interpretation of reality than plumbing, so there is a hierarchy. To the degree an endeavor is a matter of common grace, the fewer ultimate concerns it has. Obviously plumbing works the way it does because of providence but it’s not necessary for the plumber to acknowledge providence in order to be a good plumber. The politician, because he makes policy that affects our lives quite (too!) pervasively is going to have to acknowledge ultimate matters more than the plumber and his interpretation of reality probably affects his politics more than the plumber’s interpretation of reality affects his plumbing but they both deal less with the ultimate than the teacher who is articulating, sometimes for the first time, a view of God, man, etc to students.

          • RSC,

            I would suggest that if any institution “shapes the interpretation of reality more directly and obviously” it would be the family long before the school. The home, for better or ill, articulates a worldview (“of God and man, etc.”). The parent shapes and makes human beings, not the teacher. The teacher instructs and influences a student but never shapes reality for a human being. To suggest that the agencies of education do something for which only the family and home are ordained is really to suggest a low view of the family and lend to education something it simply doesn’t have.

            But, again, if our familial relationships will be finally dissolved, even a high view of the family and home must finally be seen as temporal and passing. Even family members mustn’t get between us and Jesus. While penultimate truth is first given by the home, ultimate truth isn’t doled out by the family (or school), but only the church.

  3. Zrim,

    I’m influenced by the (Kuyperian) idea that school is an extension of family, not state.

    If so, then an appeal to family and a more proximate relation to ultimate concerns supports my claim, doesn’t it?

    • RSC,

      I suppose I am more influenced by his notion of sphere sovereignty. Different institutions must have their own definitions and boundary markers.

      If the school is an extension of the family, instead of one being a distinct institution from the other, I see your point and it explains much our discussions wrt education, etc.

      But it seems to me this is precisely the sort of thinking that caused early notions of public education in America to think it was doing more than “teaching the three Rs” (and what makes some school districts think parents cannot exempt their kids from certain “values education”–CVD, are you listening to this?). Education is primarily an intellectual endeavor and only incidentally affective. If transformationalism oughtn’t be done by the “secularists” I fail to see why religionists should get a pass. The irony to me is that the secular educators have long since figured this out while religionists still think the home can be co-opted in the making of human beings.

      • Zrim,

        I’m less concerned about the affective aspects of education (they are transient) than I am about the epistemic. It comes back to the question of whether there is such a thing as epistemic neutrality? Are there such things as “brute” (uninterpreted) facts? I don’t think so. I’m with Van Til here (and most every other place). I don’t buy the neo-Kuyperian program, however, of extending the adjective “Christian” to places it doesn’t belong. Surely there are aspects of the educational program undertaken by Christians that are “common” to Christians and non-Christians but there are real differences too in the interpretation of reality and in the matrix within which that interpretation takes place.

        • RSC,

          I’m certainly with you and CVT on there being no such thing as epistemic neutrality or uninterpreted facts. But I fail to see why education becomes more vulnerable than politics. Is not politics also an interpretation of reality (even if it is characterized by compromise in its execution)?

          Yes, there necessarily have to be differences in the interpretation of reality between the converted and unconverted. But if that yields a thing called “Christian education” (which was at the end of CVT’s thought), again, I don’t see why that wouldn’t yield a thing called “Christian politics” or a redemptive version of any other creational task, like “Christian baking or plumbing.” I’m with you on not extending the adjective “Christian” to places it doesn’t belong, but what can still puzzle me is why the rules are more or less suspended for education. But your notion that the school is an extension of the family helps explain a good deal of it.

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