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No. 41: The Case Against Western Civilization, Part 6

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 41
Copyright (c) 1998 Biblical Horizons
August, 1998

Part 6: Living in a Dying World (continued)

The "Trivium" (continued)

The five stages of education are simply the five stages of the covenant as God administers it in human life and history, and in the liturgy of covenant renewal:

First, God announces Himself. "I am Yahweh Your God." He says who He is. And in a larger sense, this means that He created us and therefore cares for us. He has claimed us as His own in baptism. He hugs and holds us. The announcement is made as the call to worship, inviting all of us reluctant sinners to crawl back into His lap.

Second, God says what He has done: "Who brought You out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of enslavement." This is the basic story: the story from creation to fall to redemption to glorification. It is the story found over and over in the Bible. In the liturgy, it is the call to confess our sins and leave Egypt behind again, and receive His forgiveness and be transferred again into the Kingdom.

Third, God says what He wants us to know and do: All the laws and teachings. This is the service of the Word in the liturgy, and the grammar stage in education: the perfect time to teach children the laws and proverbs.

Fourth, God says that He will apply His laws and teachings to us, blessing us if we keep faith with Him, and punishing us if we don’t. This is the Lord’s Supper, the service of the sacrament in the liturgy, which is life to the faithful and sickness to the unfaithful. This corresponds to the time in education when children want to argue and debate what everything means for them, when they want to push the borders and bend the rules, when sanctions need to be applied to them, when they are uppity, or "pert" as Sayers says.

Finally, God commissions His people to take His ways with them and apply them as they take the promised land, which is now the whole earth. They are to find new ways to express His truths, and apply them to all the earth. In the covenants, it is at this point that we find the songs and poems that people learn and that they will carry with them as they go. In the liturgy, this is the great commissioning at the end of the service, when we are sent forth. In education, this is the stage of rhetoric, the stage of artistic enhancement of what has been learned.

(I deal with these stages in more detail in my study series Your Child in God’s World, six lectures with study guide, available for $35.00 from Biblical Horizons .)

In a larger sense, the whole first 20 years of life are the grammar stage, when the youth learns the facts and principles of life. From age 20 to 30, he works under the authority of someone else, testing the boundaries, learning the ins and outs, debating the usefulness of the old ways and suggesting new ones. From age 30 to 50 or 60 he can become captain of his own enterprise, applying what he has learned in his area of dominion. Finally, in the age of eldership, he has the wisdom to express what he knows in a way that others will hear it: He has finally learned rhetoric.

The Bible clearly sets out these age boundaries in Leviticus 27 and Numbers 1 & 4, and we are making an application of these age boundaries (which are "fuzzy" boundaries) to the phases of human life. To wit:

Age 1 month to 5 years: assurance and stories.

Age 5-20: learner stage: facts and laws, always taught in a context of love and of story.

Age 20-60: warrior stage, within which are:

Age 20-30: apprenticeship: beginning to make applications, beginning to wrestle with a calling. Age 30-60: journeyman: full wrestling with a calling. (Priest retires at age 50.)

Age 50 or 60-: master: eldership; accumulated wisdom enables the man to know the best way to pass on truth (rhetoric).

Now, from what has been said I hope that it is clear that Christian education is more than merely learning something from the Christian middle ages about the trivium and its usefulness in educating children. If we separate the trivium from the foundations of Church (assurance) and Bible story, it becomes just a piece of humanistic technique.

Also, Christian educators need to realize that the cycle of the trivium that takes place before the age of 20 (from memorizer to debater to artist) is only preliminary, and that the entire cycle takes place within the context of grammar, memorizing, learning the heritage. The high school student is not so much an artist and he/she is someone ready to study art (music, poetry, etc.). Real creativity is something for later life, after learning the foundations.

We can see a picture of this cycling through the five stages if we look briefly at Biblical history, which is the biography of one man (Adam). To begin with, the first cycle, for Adam in his already-sinful infancy:

1. Genesis: This is a book of promises, which corresponds to God assurance of love for His people. Repeatedly God takes the baby in His arms and promises good things.

2. Exodus: This is a book of story, wherein God keeps the promises He has made, after which God gives two things to delight His children: laws (which kids love to learn) and a wonderful architectural picture of the kingdom (the Tabernacle).

3. Leviticus: Exodus has moved us to the grammar stage of laws and facts, and this continues through Leviticus. Starting in Leviticus 10, however, we find a series of rules for uncleanness and abominations, which require evaluation in enforcement. God gives them some puzzles to solve, and some matters to debate about.

4. Numbers: Clearly the warrior stage. Organized as an army, Israel is called to pass judgments on other nations, and is judged herself for her sins. The uppity "pert" Israel is spanked many times.

5. Deuteronomy: The book of rhetorical enhancements. Moses takes the laws God gave and provides a wonderfully organized sermon on them to show the new meanings he has uncovered after 40 years of living with them. He also includes a song for them to sing generation after generation, and a prophetic poem.

This is the first cycle, all of which as a whole provides the childhood of Israel, the first 20 years so to speak, forming a larger stage of assurance or acculturation. After which we get:

1-3. The Pentateuch: The foundational assurance and acculturation for God’s people, including the formative stories and the basic facts and laws, for even though Numbers is warrior-stage and Deuteronomy is rhetoric-stage, they still deal mainly with laws and fall in the larger grammar-stage.

4. Judges, Ruth, Samuel: New stories, based on the larger foundation. These books deal especially with Israel apprentice-warrior stage, from ages 20-30. These stories are also a new warrior (logic, argument) stage for what follows with the establishment of the Davidic Kingdom.

5. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles: A new and much fuller rhetoric-stage section, the culmination of the previous history. Though all of these are highly rhetorical, yet we can also find the three later stages building on the history of Judges, Ruth, and Samuel:

(2). Judges, Ruth, Samuel: Stories.

(3). Proverbs: Rules (grammar).

(4). Psalms, Job: Wrestling (logic).

(5). Canticles: rhetoric of love in early life; Ecclesiastes: rhetoric of wisdom at the end of life.

This second cycle lays the foundation for the third, the time of full warriorhood, from age 30 to the age of eldership. David’s warrior apprenticeship was over when he became king at age 30. Then he became a warrior-ruler, though he was to listen to the elders and prophets.

When we look at the first and second cycles from the standpoint of the rest of the Bible, we can see that as a whole they provide a foundation of assurance, story, and law. What follows in the third part of the Bible is almost entirely in the stage of mature warfare, which goes with our fourth stage of life and education. The book of Kings delineates that warfare and conflict, while the books of the prophets provide evaluations, which are hotly debated. This is the great time of argument and conflict in Adam’s history.

The age of warriorship ends in failure with the exile, but after God restores His people, He treats them as elders, as those in the rhetoric phase of life. No longer are then engaged in warfare and conflict, but rather they are scattered among the nations as witnesses. They now have a complete history/biography to tell, and this is their calling in the Restoration Era. The book of Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah (which is one book) is the rhetorical retelling of that entire history. In a sense, Chronicles and the Greek Scriptures (the so-called New Testament) are the rhetorical phase of the entire biography, the transformation of everything by mature wisdom.

Now, this survey of the Bible is not the only way to describe the educational sequence of the Biblical revelation, nor is it necessarily the most comprehensive. It is enough, though, to show that educating in terms of the times of human life is not something grounded merely in scientific studies of children, but is part of the warp and woof of how God deals with His children.

Some Aspects of Fundamental Education

By "fundamental education" I mean those things that should be foundational to the education of the Christian person as homo adorans. We need to consider what things should be a normal part of the education of every Christian, whether or not he goes on to work in the intellectual areas of life. What are the things that the student destined to be an engineer or a postal carrier or an auto mechanic needs to be taught?

Worship and Music.

On the basis of the above discussion, there are some implications for Christian schooling that need to be highlighted. The first is the centrality of worship. That means a daily chapel service. There is no need for preaching in this service, since supposedly the child is learning information all day long. Rather, the focus should be on singing the psalter and Bible passages, and memory of the proverbs. Do this every day for 30 to 45 minutes, and by the time the child is out of the eighth grade, he or she will know the entire Psalter by heart. Why would we settle for anything less? How dare we settle for anything less? Yet, though I have read here and there in Christian school material over the years, I have never seen this advocated anywhere.

Second, we should take our cue from the Bible regarding what is important. Certain things stand out as very important in Biblical education: Bible content, music, martial arts. Certain things are obvious from their absence from Biblical culture: sports. I suppose most Christian schools do a fairly good job on Bible content, but what about music? If the second person of God is the Word of God, the third person is the Music of God, for Breath (Spirit) means the sounding of words out loud, which involves tone and timbre and rhythm, etc. It is pretty clear that worship in the Bible is musical (even if this is not much the case in American Christianity), and we are told that the Father seeks worshippers. The first goal of Christian education is to train worshippers, and that means to train musicians. It is clear in the Bible that the next thing people learn after they learn the Word of God is how to make music with it.

Now, a few people in this world are blind, and a few more are color blind. And a few people in this world are deaf, and a few more are tone deaf. But not many. Not nearly as many people are tone deaf as think they are. The vast majority of people can be taught to sing, and they can be taught easily if that teaching begins as children and is carried through.

I posit as an axiom of Christian education that music is given as much attention as grammar and literature. If "English" is taught for one hour a day, music must be taught the same. As grammatical theory is taught, so should musical theory be taught. As children write paragraphs, so should they do just a little bit of musical composition. (I know that musical composition is harder than paragraph and essay composition, but who knows what might happen if children were given a chance, at least occasionally?) If "great literature" is read and studied, so should great music be read and studied, and just as much of it. Finally, every child without exception should have a musical instrument, if only a guitar or a recorder, because the psalms command us to worship God with instruments.

Now of course, most such students will not grow up to be musicians. Most students will not grow up to write essays or work in the area of literature either. But music is far more central to the Kingdom of God than is essay-writing and literature. Biblical people were expected to be musicians; they were not expected to be able to read and write, because before Gutenberg, few people could or needed to.

The Father seeks worshippers, not intellectuals. It is fine to be an intellectual, but we must be worshippers. And in the Bible, worship means the whole-personed participation that only music makes possible.

High school students should be in choir all four years, just as they study literature and read Shakespeare and Moliere out loud all four years. They should sing through a curriculum, whether they ever perform it or not. They should know the great plainsong melodies, read and study the isorhythmic mass of Machaut, read and study the seamless polyphony of Ockeghem’s Missa Mi-Mi, do a bit of Josquin and Goudimel, wallow in Bach, and get a taste of Mozart, Bruckner, and some modern Christian choral music (such as is published by Fortress or Concordia, not the junk that is too often sung in evangelical churches).

They should study the courtship of man and woman in the sonata-allegro form; reflect on the changeableness of life in the theme-and-variations form; enjoy dance and conversation in the menuetto-trio form, and consider the return to sabbath after a day of work in the rondo form. Well, I could go on and on. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just consider what you might have learned if you had had a really Christian education!



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