Education and the Alpenhaus Library

Students of God’s Truth (both mentors and mentees) will brighten the Aplenhaus Library in a few short days and we will continue our experiment in education. Though it is an experiment in the sense that its method is largely out of practice, it is grounded in historical success, solid educational philosophy, and even biblical practice.  Lectures can only go so far. Real education comes with a dynamic encounter with the truth–dialogue grounded in a Christian worldview.

Education at the Institute is built on a mentorship model. The Summer Studies, in particular, are modeled after the work done at the Center for Western Studies–a method they refer to as tutorial education. They described as follows:

Our tutorial approach is a pedagogy that:

  • affords a student one-on-one time with a college professor every week
  • affords a student experience with college level work without pressure for grades
  • affords tailoring of academic direction toward the student’s interests
  • builds a love for learning, since connections are constantly being made between the student’s love for God and the subject at hand
  • encourages life-long learning
  • follows the Socratic method that argues truth is discovered in the interaction between two people rather than only through the textbook or didactic teaching (lecture).

The beauty of this way of study is a combination of small group meetings and one-on-one time with your professors.

Whatever you call it: mentorship or tutorial education. It is a better model for education and our delight is in its re-discovery!

Small Beginnings, Big Dreams

Two weeks ago we completed our first semester at the Geneva Institute. It can be said to be small beginnings. Three courses, seven students, seventy-five classes held. I have been blessed to be a part of it. Our students are great!

This next semester we continue our Great Books course, this time studying Christendom; we transition from Old to New Covenant in our survey course; and we exchange philosophy with psychology introducing Cynthia Carr as our new faculty member. I am excited about these courses which are now available for audit (contact Ginny at ginny.walker@genevainstitute.org for more information). We are also looking forward to our Summer Studies program and need some brave students to step up to make it a success.

Yes, these are small beginnings but we have big dreams. Mostly because we want our young men and young women to be strong in Christ and to transform our culture for Christ.

Occasionally someone might ask: “How can I help?” If you are one of those, there are ways and here are some:

– Spread the word! Tell others about our vision and what we are doing.

– Like and follow our facebook page and share our posts.

– Join our new Christian Thought and Culture group and participate in the discussion.

All of these things increase awareness of our work and mission and will help us grow to have greater impact.

Thank you all for  your support and your prayers!

Education is for Life!

I hope not too many people are surprised that life continues on earth this morning. No rapture. No space aliens. No planets on collision with earth. Life goes on, work continues, and assignments are still due this week.

The good news is that we get to continue our educational journey and the great news is that it is for our good! Rom. 12:1-2 is one of my “go to” verses to highlight the important role that the mind plays in the Christian life. It reads,

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  (Rom. 12:1-2, NKJV)

The picture of life in Christ that these verses paint is truly inspiring. We can be holy, acceptable to God! We can overcome conformance to this world! We can live out the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God! None of this is accomplished on our own, of course, but rather through the grace of God. His mercy to us to forgive our rebellion against him and his grace to us to provide the way for reconciliation are foundational for our life in Him.  God has purposed our transformation to be like Him, however, to be a transformational process rather than a transforming moment. And, one of the means by which He accomplishes this transformation is by the renewing of our minds.

It is an ongoing process. We know Him in part, then we prove that knowledge out in our lives, and then we know Him more fully. Repeat. Learn. Grow. The Christian life is a journey that involves the mind. Think about that the next time you pick up your Bible, or your favorite theologian, or Victor Hugo. Think about it the next time you climb Flint Rock and view the beauty of Holston Lake. Think about it as you gather for worship next Sunday. God is renewing your mind. Take every learning opportunity to participate in that exciting journey!

Is the classroom a level playing field for debate?

I found multiple points worth consideration in this article from R. C. Sproul on being prepared for the classroom in potentially “hostile” environments. He writes, “I try to communicate to them [students] that, as valiant as their attempts [at debate] may be, they are in most cases exercises in futility because the professor controls the discussion. The classroom is not a place where open debate is usually encouraged.”

This is both a sobering and a convicting point.

It is sobering because our fond imaginations of truth gaining the upper hand even in a hostile classroom environments which are designed to undermine it are mostly naive pipe dreams.  I know as a teacher that I am most often working from depth of study and experience that places me at an unfair advantage in debate. It is not a level playing field.

Because I am a teacher, however, the point is also convicting on account of the responsibility.  Ultimately, this responsibility is given for the purpose of encouraging others to grow in their knowledge of God. Even when the truth we are pursuing is the God’s Truth, there are virtuous and vicious methods for advancing that truth. I think vicious methods rarely result in the growth that we seek.

From the student’s perspective, Sproul encourages both parents and students to Be Prepared. Be prepared by knowing the convictions of the institutions and the faculty; and discerning when those convictions are in conflict with our own–even when those institutions might make Christian claims.

Philosophy of Education at the Institute

Last week we held our first classes at the Geneva Institute. It was an absolute pleasure to sit around a table and discuss Scripture and worldview with some of our area’s bright young minds. As I reflected on that experience this weekend, I was reminded of a WSJ article  that I read over the summer that showed the degree to which colleges were failing to teach critical thinking skills. It claimed that “many students fail to improve over four years–even at some flagship schools.”

Of course, it is the case that we want to equip our students with valuable information. For instance, we will not neglect to teach textbook theology, worldview, history, etc. (and, all from a biblical perspective). But, we also want to teach them how to grow in their knowledge of God. As Dr. David Alan Black wrote, we “want them to understand how one comes to know (epistemology) and to think (logic.).  (For more details of why doing so is important, take time to read one of Dr Black’s short articles on the subject here.)

So, as we engage our students over the coming year we will continually remind ourselves to love our students by training the mind, always recognizing our dependence on God for truth in all things. Knowledge is not for puffing up for accolades from the world but for training up for life in Christ!

Being Christian Pioneers in an Educational Wilderness – Part 3: Academics and Educational Choices

Note: This is a multi-part article, for previous installments see:

Part 1: The Educational Wilderness

Part 2: Philosophy and Culture

Higher education often has great value. As Ronald Reagan was ramping up his campaign for his second term as president, I graduated from Georgia Tech with an Electrical Engineering degree. The economy was growing, companies were hiring, and I had nine job offers. It was a great time to start an engineering career. One of the jobs I turned down was with Texas Instruments (TI) in Johnson City TN. And, as I packed my bags and headed to work for the then #1 rated company for engineering grads, I reflected on how I wished TI was on a more solid footing—Johnson City was my kind of place: not too crowded, great hiking, mountain rivers and stunning views.  I was headed to Raleigh NC and it would take me thirty years to make it back to northeast TN. Now, every morning when I look out at Roan Mountain off in the distance from the windows of my yurt, I thank God for the beautiful place in which He allows me to live.

Life is full of choices. If I had taken that job with TI it is unlikely that I would live here now. Within four years, TI was moving engineering jobs out of the area and within ten years they were gone. Meanwhile, the job stability and opportunities in Raleigh provided an economic foundation that allowed for growth in family and church life; as well as access to a seminary where I gained the theological and philosophical education that undergirds my current work in Christian education.

Only God knew.

Higher education has played an important role in my life though not always in the way that I might have anticipated. Even so, I would not want to say that higher education has been necessary for my life in Christ. Yes, God has used both the engineering degree and the theological degrees for His purposes.  No, God is not dependent on those degrees with respect to his eternal plan for my life in Him.

In part one of this series, I wrote: “political agenda and pressures to grant a ‘college education to all’ are not only lowering the standards but also compromising the free quest for knowledge.” I think the first effect, lowering the standards, will eventually drive businesses to devalue much of higher education. Perhaps the MITs, John Hopkins, etc. of the academic world will retain their shine but many traditional academic paths may well be compromised to the point of irrelevance. The second effect, compromising the free quest for knowledge, has already largely been realized. What else would we conclude when: God cannot be mentioned in class debate or in online course discussion forums; history cannot be debated with respect to the foundations of our country or the causes of our country’s greatest internal conflict; and science cannot be debated with respect to the origins of the universe or the effects of economy on environment and society.

So, how do we make wise educational choices that properly acknowledge the value of higher education in the current educational climate? While there is surely no quick and easy answer to that question, I do want to suggest a few principles that should guide those choices:

The eternal is infinitely greater than the temporal. Paul states this truth most clearly in Romans 8:18 when he writes that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (NKJV). Sometimes our choices are well aligned for both temporal and eternal benefit. Sometimes they are not. Luther acknowledged the latter when he said “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.” Our life in Christ must always rule our life in this world even when our life in this world might be greatly disadvantaged by our life in Christ. This is because our hope is an eternal hope rather than a temporal one. If we do not consider that the eternal is infinitely greater than the temporal then we essentially deny our hope and live against our calling in Christ.

Being pragmatic must account for the eternal. Being practical, matter-of-fact, sensible, realistic, etc. are rightly considered to be virtues. The issue arises when we remove the eternal consequence from the pragmatic equation. We not only need weigh the temporal value of an educational option, we also need to weigh the eternal value of that same option. Likewise, we not only need to weigh the material value but also the spiritual; and we should recognize that eternal and spiritual weights are heavy. An educational option is rarely the best option when it serves to undermine growth in Christ. An educational option, however, that serves to increase ones growth in Christ might absorb a great deal of material shortcomings before it becomes impractical or unrealistic. If we do not consider the eternal consequences of our choices we live out the untruth that Lordship of Christ is irrelevant to everyday life.

God is both creator and provider. We often assume that if we cannot provide a solution to a problem that no solution is to be had. We do not trust God’s provision; and because we don’t trust God’s provision we see no alternatives to the status quo. What if starting today, no degrees of any type could be issued unless the recipient denied that Christ is Lord? Should we fear the consequences of refusing that action? No, we should not. Perhaps we might suffer materially on that account but we must ultimately say that our hope rests on Christ alone. Further, God has not left us on our own and He is capable of accomplishing all of his purposes for us without the means of any formal higher education—if circumstances were to demand it. As such, we are not locked into any status quo, either corporately or individually. If we do not consider that God is both creator and provider, we deny that He is able to provide for us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3), and our trust in ourselves rather than Him.

Christ must be head over all. We have become masters at segmenting our lives into the secular and the sacred. Christ cannot be head over our lives unless he is head over all of our lives, including educational choices.  Paul writes that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:30). I conclude from this that we must be able to worship God in and through our education. It will no more suffice to say that we will educate ourselves apart from Christ so that we might live in Christ than it will suffice to say that we will sanctify ourselves apart from the Christ so that we might be obedient in Christ. If we do not place Christ head over all, we reserve something somewhere for ourselves and He is ultimately head over naught.

In sum, whatever we do with regard to higher education, it must serve to declare Christ as Lord, both in and of itself and towards its ends. Just as it was wrong for Abraham to attempt to further God’s promises through Hagar and Ishmael, it would be wrong for us to attempt to further God’s promises through educational means that do not glorify Him. Ultimately, a Christian’s hope is in Christ. Let us make choices consistent with that hope!

Being Christian Pioneers in an Educational Wilderness – Part 2: Philosophy and Culture

Note: This is a multi-part article, for previous installments see:

Part 1: The Educational Wilderness

Philosophy drives culture.

There are, of course, other elements that impact culture but culture always operates within a philosophical framework—even when that framework is not clearly described or even understood. It is worth considering, then, what underlying philosophy is driving higher education culture. In Part 1: The Educational Wilderness, I suggested that the philosophical basis for contemporary higher education was “personal identity.” There are a couple of problems with this suggestion. First, it is a generalization and it is rather easy to find exceptions. Second, it is not primary in the sense that it is rarely the basic framework from which its adherents operate. It is often, however, the consensus idea around which a number of popular philosophical systems agree—at least on the surface.

Contemporary culture is pluralistic. Rather than affirming a single Truth, it is much more comfortable affirming all “truths” even when those “truths” are demonstrably contradictory. There are a number of dominant philosophies that underlie this pluralistic culture. These include: nominal Christianity, philosophical and practical atheism, Marxism including Christian liberation theology, utilitarianism, and skepticism. That this broad philosophical accord centered on personal identity is largely based on political convenience and contains its own seeds of destruction is beyond the scope of discussion here. The fact is that it is here and until it deconstructs it will form the basis for the cultural climate in which we live.

Two basic Christian ideas are sacrificed in the philosophy of personal identity: authority and covenant. Authority is sacrificed primarily because the source of Truth (our Lord Jesus Christ) is denied. What is denied may be our Lord himself or his lordship. In either case, there is no ultimate authority upon which to base one’s life. Covenant is sacrificed because the individual is given de facto supreme authority. God’s plan for the individual—to live in the covenantal context of God, church and family—is denied and the individual is encouraged to assert his own identity. In fact, if the individual does not assert his own identity, including his own personal truth and purpose, he is considered weak and not fully mature.

It seems evident that the philosophy driving higher education is personal identity and is, as such, directly opposed to Christianity.

God is neither affirmed nor considered relevant to academic studies. If religion is studied it is studied from a sociological point of view. If Christianity is studied, the purpose is often to undermine its authority and its relevance.  If the idea of God is not directly attacked it is undermined by its demonstrated obsolescence.

The role of the church to regulate the Christian life in doctrine and practice is also denied. Yes, it is true that the authority of the church only extends to its conformance to Scripture; but when the individual is raised to a position of supreme authority the effect is to silence the church’s voice. It is the individual that determines truth and it is the individual that determines right and wrong. It no longer matters that the church through submission to God’s Word has affirmed a certain truth or a certain practice throughout its history. The church is fallible and the individual is supreme.

The family, however, is most directly challenged by the philosophy of personal identity.  The disintegration of marriage and the obliteration of gender are most visible. The destruction of generational authority is less so but is perhaps even more significant. Outside of an expected source of funding, the parents of the student are irrelevant in contemporary higher education. The student is expected to make their own choices, forge their own futures, and repent for their forefather’s sins.

This is a toxic mix. Submission to our Lord, our church, and our parents all play important roles in the outworking of the Christian’s life.

Though I have no doubt that it is possible to survive the philosophy of personal identity and I have confidence in God to preserve those who are His, I also know that many have fallen away. And many who do persevere emerge with scars from the struggle. This gives rise to questions that need answers. Generally speaking, is it right to ask such a difficult task of our young men and women? Generally speaking and outside of a special calling, would we ask it for any other endeavor in life?  Would we not encourage those finding themselves in similar circumstances to seek relief?

I am reminded of William Bradford’s account of Plymouth Plantation. Why did that community leave the relatively safe confines of Holland for the New World? Bradford gives three primary reasons. The relevant one for our purposes reads,

. . . . Many of their children, who were of the best disposition and who had learned to bear the yoke in their youth and were willing to bear part of their parents’ burdens, were so oppressed with their labours, that though their minds were free and willing, their bodies bowed under the weight and became decrepit in early youth,–the vigour of nature being consumed in the very bud, as it were. But still more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and leaving their parents.

This is a community that according to John Robinson “truste[d] that the Lord was with [them],” and were “well weaned from the delicate milk,” and were “knit together as a body in a most strict and sacred bond.” Surely their children were at least as well prepared as ours. Our only guarantee that our sons and daughters will be “neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of [their] Lord Jesus Christ,” according to 2 Peter 1, is if they through “giving all diligence, add to [their] faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.”

Toward this end, culture matters. It was culture that compelled the Pilgrims to reject the status quo and establish the Plymouth Plantation. It is culture that should compel us to seek alternatives to the present status quo and establish new practices on better philosophical foundations.

Follow this link to continue this article:

Part 3: Academics and Educational Choices

Being Christian Pioneers in an Educational Wilderness – Part 1: The Educational Wilderness

We have an interesting phenomenon in the Christian homeschool community.

We look at our young children and conclude that we cannot send them to secular elementary schools. They are too precious to us and we want them to grow primarily in their knowledge of God and secondarily (make no mistake—it is secondary but it is important) in their knowledge of God’s world. We also know that the responsibility to do this is ours. We can recite Deut. 6:4-9 and we have read Psalm 78 countless times.

Then, we look at our growing children and conclude that we cannot send them to secular middle and high schools. They are too impressionable. Not only do we know that the task of training them in their knowledge of God is not finished, we also know that secular secondary education is a minefield of problems both academically and culturally. We are willing to sacrifice income, time and pleasure; forego social and extracurricular activities; manage difficulties, motivation and rebellion; all for benefits too many and too great to convey here. We rejoice in God’s blessings and cry through God’s disciplines. Throughout the outworking of God’s secret plan, our hope is strengthened and we know we could not have done otherwise. We have learned to meditate on Phil. 4: 4-9.

Finally, we look at our young men and women as they prepare for college studies and conclude that they are ready to engage the real world. It has to happen sometime and we can’t be there for them forever.  Then, we become pragmatic and ask questions like: which college has the most subsidies? Which one will accept more of my dual enrollment credits? Which one will land the job most securely? What about that new interesting classical college we visited? Oh, it isn’t accredited is it? No, that definitely will not work.

No, I am not a pure idealist and I recognize that being pragmatic, at least to some degree, is reasonable. The question I want to ask is whether we are sufficiently addressing some important questions with respect to college studies that transcend the pragmatic issues.

It occurs to me that roughly 40 years ago some brave pioneers blazed a trail for us that is now paying back dividends that were far beyond imagination at the time. These pioneers looked at the educational opportunities available to them and decided that they were not sufficient in three aspects: culture, academics and philosophy. Culturally, the Christian foundations that our forefathers deemed necessary to establish an orderly society were being abandoned. Academically, long held standards were being lowered and other criteria for educational success, including equality, were being elevated. Philosophically, a biblical worldview which had been deteriorating for some time was being intentionally replaced with its opposite: humanism. So, what did those pioneers do? They broke the mold! And having done so, they created a movement that we dearly love and would fight to defend.

Now when we consider higher education from cultural, academic and philosophical perspectives, what do we find? Granting some obvious exceptions from committed Christian colleges and universities, I think we find all of the issues that those early pioneers found with primary and secondary education. I might even argue that we find them at more extreme levels. Culturally, higher education promotes the destruction of family and gender negating the primary societal norms that God established in the garden. Academically, political agenda and pressures to grant a “college education to all” are not only lowering the standards but also compromising the free quest for knowledge. Philosophically, the basis of education, that has historically transitioned from theology to philosophy to psychology and then to utility, has now become personal identity. It is not only that God is dead; humanity and rationality have suffered the same fate. This, of course, is no surprise since both humanity and rationality have their basis in God.

It is true that our young men and women do grow to maturity and do establish their own households and lives. What does it mean to do this and is this what we mean by engaging the real world? If so, then I want to suggest that engaging the real world does not have to include submitting to educational institutions that are culturally, academically, and philosophically compromised. Thus, while I think the pragmatic questions have their place, I also think that we have some fundamental issues to address. The pioneers that gave us the homeschool movement elevated their desire to educate their children in the knowledge of God over the financial and societal benefits of continuing to participate in the government school system.  I give thanks to God for their willingness to do so.

The question of the day is whether a similar pioneering effort is needed in a new educational wilderness.

This is a question that I want to consider. Future considerations, Lord willing, will include further detail on the cultural, academic, and philosophical challenges in higher education; as well as alternatives on how pioneers might blaze new trails within a Christian based educational frontier.

Follow this links to continue this article:

Part 2: Philosophy and Culture

Part 3: Academics and Educational Choices

Is it possible to take courses from the Geneva Institute as a high school graduate?

Yes it is! And, doing so makes sense for many students.

In addition to the opportunity provided to any adult student to increase their knowledge in an environment committed to a Christian worldview, taking classes at the Institute can make sense for a recent high school graduate who may eventually pursue a college degree.

There are cases where it might not be best to proceed directly to a college campus upon graduation from high school. Perhaps a student wants to work to build funds for college. Or, perhaps a student wishes to remain at home for an additional period of time. Or, perhaps a student is not sure which direction they might want to take and needs some time to decide. These are some of the reasons why it can make sense to study through the Institute as a non-degree student.

The Geneva Institute can provide onsite (college partner-site) courses  along with access to online courses that not only directly apply to our partner college core curriculum but also align well to many college degree core curriculum. The tuition for the classes as a non-degree student are substantially less than full tuition as a degree student. In addition, the TN Hope Scholarship can be deferred for up to 16 months, which allows the student to remain eligible for the scholarship during that time.

Post high school studies at the Institute can be a great idea for many. Please contact the Institute for additional information.