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No. 42: The Case Against Western Civilization, Part 7

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 42
Copyright (c) 1998 Biblical Horizons
October, 1998

Part 5: Laying New Foundations in a Dying World (continued)

Physical Training

Though it is seldom recognized any more, the fact is that no liberal arts and no science is possible apart from peace, and peace is only possible if there is a strong military presence that protects a nation. Americans, since they don’t sing the Psalter, are gut-level pacifists. When they have to, they go to war, and indeed they go to war even when they don’t have to. But whenever a war is over, American try to disarm and pretend that physical force is not really necessary as the boundary of civilization.

But it is. And the Bible teaches that it is. And the Bible teaches that every man should be armed and trained and part of an available militia, ready to defend home and hearth. (See James B. Jordan, The Biblical Doctrine of War, eight lectures, available from Biblical Horizons for $32.00.)

Biblical manhood is not connected with hunting or with sports. The great men of the Bible were not hunters but accountants; contrast Jacob and Esau. There is nothing wrong with hunting, but it has nothing to do with manhood one way or another. There is nothing wrong with many sports either, but we should note that while sports were an important part of Greek education, they play no part in Biblical training at all.

Biblical manhood is connected, however, with martial skills. At the age of 20, every man was enlisted in the militia (Numbers 1). When the trumpet was blown, every man was expected to show up to fight.

What does this mean for us today? Well, it has to be admitted that modern super-weapons are not the kinds of things ordinary citizens can be expected to possess or know how to use. But there are two kinds of martial arts that can and should be part of Christian education for men, and also for women to a lesser degree. The one is self-defense tactics, and here we can use the Jubal-techniques developed in oriental lands to good advantage: karate, tae-kwan-do, jui-jutsu, etc. The other is weapons training, which should include bow & arrow, spear, pistol, and rifle.

If these ideas shock you, you’ve spent too much time as a couch potato watching sports on television. Wouldn’t you like for your children to know these things? Don’t you wish you did????

There is more than one reason why Switzerland and the United States have been free of armed invasion, but one of them is that everybody in the world knows that the Swiss and the Americans are armed nations. Everybody has a gun. That’s a good thing.


Sooner or later someone has to work up a grammar that revises the Alexandrian grammar that we use today. We say that the first case of the noun is the nominative and the first person of the verb is "I." This is not really true, and is founded in the Greco-pagan philosophical perspective. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy has pointed out, long before we learn to speak, we are spoken to. The first form of the noun is the shortest: the vocative, the direct address. The first form of the verb is the shortest: the imperative, the command. If your baby’s name is "Robert," he is going to learn, "Robert! No!" long before he learns "I think therefore I am"!!

Maybe someday somebody will get around to producing a true grammar — a Biblical one, not a "classical" one.

Until then, we still need to teach language. Happily for us Americans, English is now the international language, so that learning English enables us to function easily in the whole of God’s world. But what else should be taught?

Many Christian schools are returning to teaching Latin throughout the elementary grades, because though the foundation of English is Germanic, a large amount of our vocabulary comes from Latin via medieval French, and much technical language is Latinate in foundation.

For me this is not good enough. There are only so many hours in a day, and Hebrew is much more important. Hebrew is the language of most of the Bible, and Hebrew language thinking underlies all the rest of it, for the Apostles wrote in Hebraized Greek. Moreover, it is almost certain that Hebrew was the language before Babel, and underlies every human language as its starting point. [See Isaac E. Mozeson, The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals the Hebrew Sources of the English Language (Northvale, NJ: Jacob Aronson, 1995).]

The only problem with teaching Hebrew in Christian schools is that so few Christian teachers know it. That’s not a good reason for substituting Latin, however. Rather, it is a reason to think about what we could be doing in ten years, if we start now. For one thing, there is a lot of Hebrew language curriculum available from Jewish sources. Pastors should be able to teach from this, and using basic grammars, should be able to teach the Christian school staff.

Think of what we would be handing future generations if we could get this practice into play now. Imagine two generations from now what the Church might be like if most people could follow the God-given thought of the text of the Bible. Need I say more?

Well, then, what about other languages? The reason why learning a foreign language is regarded as a crucial part of a liberal education is that learning to view things from the standpoint of another language and culture sets a person free from the boundaries of his own. It makes him culturally free, and "liberal" means free.

I think that this is true, but I suggest that learning God’s Bible language of Hebrew fulfills that requirement in the best possible way. The person who can deal with Hebrew is in the best position to stand outside his culture and see it from God’s standpoint. Learning yet a third language is "gravy," and something that most students will not be called to do.

I suggest that a year of Latin and a year of German in middle school would be wise as a way of increasing the student’s knowledge of English. There are English vocabulary-building curricula that use Latin roots, and this is enough to meet the argument that learning Latin is important for learning English. One year of Latin in the eighth grade, with the use of these vocabulary tools in the later grades, will do the trick. Of course, if some schools want to do more with Latin, that’s fine with me, so long as it is not at the expense of Hebrew or music. (An excellent English vocabulary-builder that uses Greek and Latin roots is Word Clues: The Voca-bulary Builder, by Amsel Greene, published by Glencoe (Macmillan/McGraw-Hill).

After that, I’d offer as electives for those who plan to go on to college, a half year of French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian. (I write for Americans here.) A half year of intensive work in each of these will provide familiarity, and if a student or his parents want him to learn one of these languages well, he or she can be sent to a language camp during the summer for full immersion learning, which is the only effective way to learn a living language anyway.


My major in college was Comparative Literature, and my father was a Professor of French Literature, so what I write needs to be read with that in mind. It is often argued that the study of great literature produces people of great minds and liberal spirit. This is




Great art, great music, and great literature have often been produced by, and appreciated by, very wicked and very narrow minded people. C. S. Lewis discusses this in his fine book An Experiment in Criticism.

Great literature does not make people holy and it does not make people wise. Only the Bible, and what proceeds directly from the Bible, does this.

But let me put this another way: Only in a Biblical context can great literature help people become holy and wise. The Bible alone is quite sufficient to make people holy and wise, but as the Bible encourages us to develop "rhetoric," and thereby to glorify its content in many ways, the Bible can be "glorified" through truly great literature, which then can contribute to our holiness and wisdom.

Once we have created a liturgical and Biblical context in our school, it is possible to advance and expand that context by the study of great literature, music, and art. This means, though, that the literature we study must be literature that expands a Biblical view of world and life. Later on, an adult in college (or late high school) might be exposed to non-Biblical literature, but not during the formative years. There is no place of Homer or Hesiod, Sophocles or Euripides, Livy or Plutarch, Mark Twain or Artur Rimbaud, in formative education. Drop all these and instead read all of Shakespeare’s plays and lots of Moliere and other Christian writers as well. There is more in one Shakespeare play than in all of Homer, especially for the Christian.

Where does literature fit? Well, remember that the second stage of education is story-telling, and the last stage is rhetorical enhancement. Great literature tells a great story in a great way. We don’t stop with stories when we get to the grammar stage of life. After Sinai, there are more stories leading up to the rhetorical wonders of David’s Psalms and the books of Solomon. Then there are more stories, leading to the judgments of the prophets. Then there is the story of Jesus and of the Apostles, and the small fictional stories Jesus told, leading to the final reflective wisdom of the epistles.

At some point, the student needs to learn not just that there are great stories in Genesis and Judges, but that the story of Abraham is arranged as a large chiasm; that the books of Judges and Kings are each a large chiasm; that there is a kind of poetic rhythm in John; that the wise woman of Proverbs returns in Proverbs 31 and in the Song of Solomon; that the stories of Judah and Joseph at the end of Genesis go together as a contrastive pair; that Acts shows the apostles Peter and then Paul moving through the same stages as Jesus did in the gospel of Luke; etc.

At some point the student needs to learn why the latter half of Exodus is laid out as it is, as a recapitulation of Genesis 1. He needs to learn the rhetorical order of Leviticus: from sacrifice to flesh to blood to land. He needs to be put under the laws of uncleanness for a time during one year of high school, learning by experience what it meant to be cut off from various places (like the recreation room), what it meant to have to sit in a roped off place in chapel.

This forms the foundation for the study of literature. The student can read Tobit and Judith, Shakespeare and Austin, Moliere and Dostoievski, Scott and Stevenson and Cordwainer Smith. He can learn a little Roman history while reading Shakespeare, but there is no need to return to any conception of Rome as a source for civilization. He should read works that operate within a Christian worldview, or near to it. Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine is worth many Tom Sawyers. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince is worth a thousand Odysseys. But I seriously doubt if works that abound in allusions to Greek and Roman sources are worth the trouble of teaching in the formative years.

Mathematics, Logic, and Science.

With Dorothy Sayers as guide, many Christian schools want to put a lot of emphasis on logic. Well, the study of informal fallacies is very useful, and like all true learning, also entertaining, but I question how much formal logic is needed. The traditional way of teaching logic is via geometry. The view was that logic teaches people to think clearly, and we need it because though man is homo sapiens (thinking man), he is afflicted by emotional passions that mess up his thinking.

I’m tempted to break out laughing when I read or hear this kind of thing. Some of the most narrow and irrational, prejudiced people I have ever known were fully trained in logic. All this meant was that they were able to strain out a gnat while swallowing camel after camel. It did not make them clear thinking in the least.

Man’s problem is not irrationality or emotionalism, but sin. It is sin that makes people distort the world around them, creating fantasy worlds in which to operate. As Romans 1 says, the natural man is fundamentally insane. He operates in a dream world that does not exist. When a person operates in the same insane dream world as everyone around him, we say that he is sane, while if he makes his own little world to live in, we say he is insane. The fact is that all are insane. Only grace, fleshed out in the life of rebuke that comes from living in the Church, makes people clear-sighted and clear-thinking. And when people are clear-thinking, they quite naturally are "logical" in their thinking.

So I don’t put much stock in teaching mathematics, geometry, and logic as tools of reason. Rather, they should be considered tools of life, and taught with simple, practical ends in mind. In today’s world, learning the tools needed for life means learning how to use computers.

Science should be taught the same way: practically. Science has to do with dominion over the world, and since most children will not grow up to be scientists, there is no crying need for science to occupy a large part of the Christian curriculum. It is far more important for children to learn about the world as the Bible sets it forth, as a place of meaning and beauty, than to understand the details of its inner workings. It is a complete waste of time and money, not to mention a total gross-out, to require kids to dissect animals. The time should be spent bird-watching and learning the songs of various birds. We don’t need to learn the details of the inner workings of plants — oh, a bit of it is okay — but rather the names of all the trees and plants and flowers in our area. Study the habits of animals, using the Proverbs and (judiciously) Bill Gothard’s books as guides. If a child is moved to go into engineering or industry, he will learn soon enough how a refrigerator works!



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