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Plumbline Author: Ethan Brue
Date: December 22, 2003
Topic: Christian Education

During my junior high and high school years, I attended three different schools in different towns over the course of six years. The first four years I attended public school, the last two a Christian school. The years I spent in the public school are not pleasant memories. However, as I look back on those years, I am tempted to conclude that in some ways, my public school years may have been more character forming and faith strengthening than my Christian school years. No, my Public High School was certainly not a bastion of spirituality. Quite the opposite, my memories of that stage in my life bring back images of shuffling down inhospitable hallways, making the shortest pit stop as possible at my locker, and selecting the least populated route to my next class in an attempt to elude the junior high thugs who were so often waiting to kick me into my locker. They always found me out in study hall. Like vultures they would circle my table, snap, my oversized ears, and experiment with innovative methods of making me angry. They were the jocks, I was the joke. I’d like to conclude that the experience taught me how to suffer because of righteousness, but I’m afraid it taught me how to get subtle revenge and how to revert to a mode of self-preservation, rather than about turning the other cheek. Nonetheless, the junior high thugs were unaware that they were being used to teach a powerful lesson about being set apart, about living as an alien.

In my last two years of high school, my world turned around, from a lonely, disconnected, separated existence I entered a Christian school. I was accepted. I was in. I was cool. No longer was I a Bible freak. I was now a hip Christian. I could wear the right clothes, I could play the right sports, and at least warm the bench on the right team (that is, the powerhouse team that never lost). I could join the right clubs, do the right pranks, date the right girls in silky white dresses at the JS Banquet, and take an honors chemistry class that was identical in quality and content to the course taught at my public high school… except now I could do it with my head held high. I could do it with pride. I could be popular and still carry the label of Christian!

But something was wrong with this picture. When prophets brought God’s word to his people they usually began by summarizing how, in an attempt not to look too out of place, the people of God adapted. No they didn’t mean to throw away God completely (so they thought) they simply gave their faith…well, a bit of a local flavor…Canaanite style. You know…so as to not look so out of place.

The temptation continues. Those of us in the reformed tradition are particularly susceptible. We enter our world with our Kuyperian slogans that every square inch is God’s, and interpret it as a license to do almost anything. “Every square inch” becomes “Everything’s fair game”. But that’s not the full picture. Rather, the truth of God ’s sovereign rule, is that everything is worth engaging in if you’re willing to strip it of its pagan dressings and expose it for what it really is – as belonging to Christ.

So how are we doing? Do our Christian schools from classroom to the gridiron look strangely Christian? Or, do they look surprisingly like poor imitations of their secular counterparts? Are decisions made based on a counter-cultural desire of reformation or transformation? Or are they simply guided by the way the Red River Valley Conference is being reorganized? Do we ask how JS banquet, homecoming royalty, or a football team will provide a platform to critique the image-obsessed and sport-obsessed world around us?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong proponent of Christian education. I am still trying to undo all the twisted presuppositions from which I was taught history, mathematics, physics, and chemistry in my public school years. But even Christian education needs continual reforming. And if Christian education is not conspicuously different, then I think getting kicked into one’s locker in a public school hallway is far more sanctifying than perfect attendance at a local Christian school.

What might this mean? Let me suggest one small example. Maybe instead of feeling obligated to have a well-funded sports team for every season like everyone else around us, football/volleyball for fall, basketball for winter, soccer and track for spring, we might choose to re-invest the resources in something radically different from the culture around us. Why not recognize that the art of sport should be a sanctifying activity? God created humanity to take part in playful works of physical interaction that display the joy, skill, and nuance he intended his creatures to express. In fact, sport is so important for us as Christians, that we are not willing to delegate this activity to an athletic elite. With this in mind, why not reinvest our interscholastic athletic funding into an innovative, extensive, and well-organized intramural program that involves a far greater number of the students in our schools. Instead of missed classes, long bus rides, and unhealthy rivalries, students would be challenged to consider how with hard work and practice, obedient sport could build community and cooperation, as opposed to fueling a pagan notion of competition. Maybe students will be inspired to develop entirely new games and new rules.

Maybe this is all too idealistic to become reality. But I can’t help but imagine that when the culture around us saw what the Christian schools were trying to do, they would probably laugh at our ridiculous ideas. And maybe that ’s exactly the response we need. We’d have their attention.

For Plumbline, this is Ethan Brue, Assistant Professor of Engineering, Dordt College