Imparting a classical education at home. Check out the Edwards Academy.

Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Creation Care: A Worthy Cause?


Kansas History Students, go directly to the Kansas History post by clicking "Kansas History: Native Americans in Kansas" in the Blog Archive at right.

Fifteen years ago I was a student at Wheaton College and our nation was in the midst of a Presidential election. But for students at Wheaton, it was a bit of a snooze. Sure, some were energized by politics but it was a quiet fall semester on campus by my recollection. Today the situation is very different. My recent Wheaton alumni magazine chronicles the rise of student activism with tales of anti-war “die-ins,” panel discussions on pacifism, Solidarity Week (“raising awareness of white privilege and challenging the ways people think about race”), and the rise of the creation care movement.

Pledging to care for God’s creation is not a new concept among believers, but today’s creation care movement looks like environmentalism repackaged to be palatable to evangelicals. As climate change becomes undeniable (although the cause is bitterly debated, see link to article by S. Fred Singer) the idea of "creation care" is gaining traction, and not just with students in search of a cause.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article reporting that “creation care” and views on a Christian response to global warming are splitting evangelicals, even in Texas. “America’s Christians are divided on basic questions: How serious is [global warming], what causes it, and what should mankind do about it?” Texas Baptists are arguing the issue as coal-fired power plants are debated in local politics. One the one hand, some feel that Christians have a responsibility that dates back to Genesis 2 to care for God’s creation. This responsibility requires a Christian in good conscience to do all he can to conserve energy, reduce his carbon footprint, and carry this conviction to the political arena. In the other hand, others are convinced that this sort of political environmentalism is off message, a dangerous distraction from the central evangelical call: spreading the Gospel.

Something deeper is going on. Consider this quote from the Journal article:

“The split is also a struggle between generations, says the Rev. Benjamin Cole, a 31-year-old Baptist preacher from Texas. A blogger on Southern Baptist affairs, Mr. Cole says some younger evangelicals are tiring of lock-step loyalty to the Republican Party. ‘We wake up each morning and see an elephant on the pillow next to us,’ he says.”

After evangelicals were credited with tipping the 2004 election in the favor of George W. Bush, most evangelicals were in high spirits. But the situation appears to be changing. Confusion on the war, the economy, and the environment are rising just as a new pragmatism informs evangelical thinking on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. More evangelicals, especially young people, seem to have concluded that the political process is the wrong place to carry out moral arguments. The Bible, these might argue, teaches that we cannot achieve morality (righteousness) apart from the blood of Jesus, so why bother trying to enforce morality on an unbelieving generation?

If this conclusion motivates evangelicals to redouble their commitment to spreading the Gospel and the hope that Jesus gives us, then I say “amen!” But if Christians see creation care as the new moral cause, then I worry they are letting people like Al Gore set their agenda. (Mr. Gore famously declares the environment the chief moral issue of our time.)

What does this mean for home schoolers like me committed to integrating our Christian faith into a classical education? First of all, I’m saddened to see Bible-believing Christians energized into activism by creation care but bored with more basic issues such as parental rights. As the Home School Legal Defense Association has documented, Democrats such as Hilary Clinton are committed to increasing the rights of the state over children, boldly encroaching on the right of parents to influence their children’s thinking. Increasingly the elite of America is concluding that parents do not know best and that raising a child to believe in the God of the Bible is a form of abuse.

Secondly, careful thinkers approach the issue of the environment soberly and unemotionally. In a recent issue of Imprimis (from Hillsdale College, not a Christian institution) S. Fred Singer carefully explains the climate change debate (see link at right) and argues for a rational response to global warming—a response that properly prioritizes the needs of people. Conservation is wise and prudent; draconian carbon reduction measures that harm global economies simply have disregard for humanity. (Mr. Singer does not speak from a Biblical worldview, but Christians should also let their thinking be informed by the knowledge that humans alone are the image-bearers of God. No creation care movement that elevates the needs of nature—even animals—over people worldwide can be reconciled with a Biblical worldview.)

My children, at ages 7, 5 and 1, are not ready to think abstractly about these issues. But I am praying that by studying history in the classical way they will be equipped to think deeply and wisely about these issues when they do wrestle with them. It is very trendy to talk of “thinking critically” but the classical education acknowledges that critical thinking is not possible unless it is well informed. So now, in the grammar stage years, I am doing what I can to pack their minds with the stories of history so that they are equipped to take a very long view of the world around them. With a worldview anchored in the Bible and placed in the context of global history, I hope they can identify the futile thinking that arises from the very short-term thinking that is so prevalent in our nation.

***
As an aside, we are all for conservation! But we are motivated more economically than politically, or even theologically. We drive a big SUV not because of an in-your-face attitude to greenies but because our family of six needs the room. I hope that Christians not convinced by the political creation care movement (which describes me) will not cut off our noses to spite our faces! Conservation is prudent and disagreement with Al Gore and the like shouldn't compel us to waste energy simply in rebellion.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Faith of a Child, a book review


Perspectives on Children's Spiritual Formation
Greg Carlson, Tim Ellis, Trisha Graves, Scottie May (Contributors)
Michael J. Anthony (Editor)

Review by Amy M. Edwards (2007)

Recently I sat listening to Larry Fowler, author of Rock-Solid Kids (2004), present a workshop on the subject of the Gospel. As a staff member of AWANA International, teaching the Gospel to children is Dr. Fowler’s life focus. His workshop covered key portions of his book and discussed the importance of remaining true to the Gospel, namely, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). If this seems to be an obvious exhortation for an audience of children’s ministry workers, think again. While it would be rare to find an evangelical advocate leaving out the Gospel when ministering to children, it turns out that there are widely varying views among evangelicals of what ministry to children should be.

In his workshop Dr. Fowler ominously mentioned a children’s ministry movement that believes that children need not a conversion experience but need only to allow the bit of God within them to be nurtured to its fullness. Attributing the movement to a Wheaton College (Illinois) professor, I was curious. Looking into it, I discovered that this movement might be described more charitably, but that evangelical children’s ministry is in the throes of change.

Traditionally the responsibility of a congregation’s wives and mothers (although Scripture places the responsibility with the father in Ephesians 6:4), children’s ministry has matured to the point that it has become the subject of academic study, research, and publications. The mega-church has accelerated this process by requiring full-time staff to manage the burgeoning size of their children’s programs. Biola University professor Michael Anthony attempts to help us sort out the different views of children’s spirituality that direct the different methods of “doing” children’s ministry, all within the circle of evangelicalism. In his book Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation (2006) he invited the contribution of representatives of four views: Scottie May writes about the “Contemplative-Reflective Model,” Gregory C. Carlson and John K. Crupper present the “Instructional-Analytic Model,” Trisha Graves brings us the “Pragmatic-Participatory Model,” and Tim Ellis, Bill Baumgart, and Greg Carper (the KIDMO team) explain the “Media-Driven Active-Engagement Model.” Mr. Anthony himself contributes an introduction that aims to tell us how views of children’s spirituality have changed over the course of history, giving us a context in which to place the four views that follow. (It is telling that the major publishing houses of children’s Sunday School materials are not represented. It seems that Scripture Press, Group, Standard, Cook, Lifeway, and others are suffering the unkindest cut of all as they are irrelevant to the discussion.)

Dr. Scottie May, a professor of Christian Formation at Wheaton College, describes a model of ministry influenced by high-church tradition and Maria Montessori’s philosophy of education. Dr. Carlson and Dr. Crupper, both of AWANA International, come closest to the traditional evangelical methods long in use in America’s Sunday Schools, although they more specifically discuss AWANA clubs, which are a mid-week meeting for children. Ms. Graves serves as a children’s pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Her model of ministry is increasingly recognizable to American evangelicals; it is the model of the mega-church children’s ministry (consider Willow Creek’s Promiseland materials). Finally, there is KIDMO. Calling the KIDMO method the Media-Driven Active-Engagement Model dignifies a method that seems to say, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” More on that later.

Dr. May’s Contemplative-Reflective method finds its philosophical foundation in the work of Maria Montessori. Calvin famously said, “All truth is from God,” allowing that any truth discovered by non-believers is still Truth. But Maria Montessori’s conclusions about children make assumptions about their nature that seem to contradict what the Bible tells us about mankind, namely that we are all sinners in need of redemption. Dr. May’s method seems to assume that children need mostly for adults to get out of their way and given the proper setting they will naturally turn their focus to God and instinctively know to pray, worship, and follow Jesus.

The idea that a proper environment nurtures an inborn spirituality in children is what Dr. Fowler must find so suspicious. I think the spirituality that Dr. May sees in children might be more familiarly described as a God-shaped hole in everyone’s heart, but Dr. May’s confidence in the child’s ability to be their own teacher and her fear of telling the child what the “story” means in case of interfering with the Holy Spirit raise my suspicions. Of the four views, Dr. May’s best understands that it is the Holy Spirit which draws a child into belief and yet her confidence in this leads her to de-emphasize instruction. I would argue that children need concrete instruction in truth to be able to respond to it.

Which brings us to the Instructional-Analytic Model. It is mildly surprising that Dr. Anthony invited AWANA representatives to write this model, given that AWANA is designed to be a supplemental outreach program in the church rather than a primary Sunday School program. On the other hand, AWANA may be one of the only groups left that is able to articulate and defend a model that emphasizes old-fashioned concepts of teaching and imparting a Biblical education to children in church. (Aren’t evangelicals doing all they can to wash their hands of school on Sunday?) Of course, the Instructional-Analytic Model doesn’t instruct for its own sake. A method steeped in Scripture, this view believes that children come to belief after gaining an understanding of the Gospel of 1 Corinthians 15:2-3 along with foundational truths of God’s Word. Dr. Carlson and Dr. Crupper believe that God reveals Himself to us through creation and through the Bible, so the best way to introduce God to children is to teach them the Bible. It is hard to argue with that and in fact no one appears to. Instead, in response, Dr. May worries about a fact-based instruction that fails to change the hearts of children and finds AWANA’s emphasis one-sided and imbalanced.

This brings to mind that none of these views are formed in a vacuum. In many ways, Dr. Carlson and Dr. Crupper feel compelled to emphasize teaching Scripture because they worry that popular new methods are neglecting this. If the Contemplative-Reflective Model emphasizes the environment and the Instructional-Analytic Model emphasizes the content, then Ms. Graves’ Pragmatic-Participatory Model emphasizes the delivery system.

The Pragmatic-Participatory Model is concerned that the important message of the Gospel must be delivered to children in a realistic way. In this view, children’s ministry must consider the nitty-gritty realities of the American church. It is difficult to recruit children’s workers; it is difficult to retain the interest of children; and it is difficult to accommodate all learning styles. An effective model, then, must address these difficulties. Ms. Graves clearly feels that the mega-church methods of Willow Creek’s Promiseland and others have found the solution in programming (not instruction) that uses drama, music, energetic worship, and games. This model uses volunteers in a specialized way, parading worship leaders, Bible “communicators,” and small group leaders across the stage, if you will, in contrast to the traditional Sunday School teacher who leads all aspects of a smaller class. Ms. Graves seeks to be faithful to the Gospel (it should be presented three times annually), expects children to experience a conversion experience, and cares deeply about bringing God’s Word to children who have never heard it before, all in a fun, exciting package.

What do we make of this? Ms. Graves’ view is now the primary view of the seeker-friendly mega-church and most other churches patterning themselves after such churches are turning to this model, with varying success. Dr. May’s concept of spiritual formation bristles at Ms. Graves “baptistic theology” and she rightly is uncomfortable with a topic-driven curriculum that fails to give a sense of the overall redemptive message of the Bible. With Bible passages chosen to support an identified principle (rather than identifying principles taught by a passage) the risk is that kids don’t understand the whole Bible. However, the AWANA folks see the Pragmatic-Participatory view as an ally in the battle to protect the primacy of the Gospel and mostly affirm the view.

My own sense is that churches are flocking to this model and method mostly because it is the newest thing to reach “today’s kid.” Buzzwords abound in describing today’s media-savvy, cynical, multi-tasking, post-modern, relativist child and evangelicals are paralyzed with angst over how to reach today’s child with the Gospel. In this, Scottie May does well to remind us that we don’t reach today’s child, the Holy Spirit does. I can’t help but think of Solomon wisely observing that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Evangelicals worry about making the Bible relevant to the new generation, but I’m not convinced this was our assignment in the first place. Must we bear the burden of making the Gospel relevant?

Absolutely, according to the folks behind KIDMO. Their Media-Driven Active-Engagement Model rests on two main principles: ministry is culturally conditioned and God reveals Himself in multimedia. It is hard to take KIDMO seriously when they themselves do not seem to take God’s word seriously, although they claim to be “faithful to the Word of God in reaching kids with the gospel.”

KIDMO, for the uninitiated, is a DVD curriculum for children’s ministry that is meant to provide the primary elements of a church’s children’s program. Johnny Rogers, the KIDMO founder who comes to us from Orbit Church (and before that, famously, Saddleback), appears on screen and in the best Blue’s Clues fashion converses with the children who, in theory, are actively engaged with what he is saying. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; I witnessed KIDMO when it was used briefly at a Wichita church and saw just the opposite. Children sat like zombies on benches while the screen flashed in front of them. (The church has since discontinued KIDMO.) The episode I saw presented the Good Samaritan parable, but adapted the story in such a way as to use fruit for people and to eliminate entirely any reference to a Levite, Priest, or Samaritan. (This is apparently completely irrelevant to today’s child!)

Research actually suggests that media-driven anything results in disengagement. Furthermore, how can any evangelical seriously advocate stripping Bible stories of all historical context in the name of relevancy? Actually, plenty are doing so as KIDMO says that they are adding new churches to their ministry all the time. Johnny Rogers boasts that kids love KIDMO and the implication is that an unpopular kids’ ministry is a failure.

Dr. May responds with dismay. And who can blame her? Certainly KIDMO cares nothing for reverent atmosphere, contemplation or reflection. Even Ms. Graves, who wishes to have a fun children’s ministry, points out the dangers in prioritizing relevancy to the point that the faithful communication of Scripture is sacrificed. Meanwhile, Dr. Carlson and Dr. Crupper, of AWANA, rightly remind us that media is not all that it is cracked up to be.

As children’s ministry workers we must understand the philosophies behind curricula and as parents it is vital that when we entrust our own children to a children’s ministry each weekend we do so with eyes wide open. Michael Anthony has done us all a service by collecting these four views into one volume. I’m disappointed that he did not ask for the input of the authors of Children Desiring God. This excellent curriculum aims to teach the Bible in a God-centered, not man-centered, way. It is my prediction that Children Desiring God will find its own niche in the children’s ministry marketplace, appealing to churches that are not interested in “the latest thing” as much as they are committed to introducing children to GOD whose Son Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith.

***UPDATE 1/11/10: Since this book review I've written a critique of KIDMO in a blog post here. In addition, I've explained more fully why I believe that Children Desiring God is such a great option here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kansas History: Native Americans in Kansas

Kansas History students,
Thank you for all your hard work preparing your report about our capital city, Topeka. I enjoyed reading them. You'll get yours back with feedback on October 9, our next class time.

Did you know that I am from Topeka? I was born there and lived there until I was fourteen years old. One of my favorite places to go as a kid was to the Capitol building with my grandparents. Remember that my great-grandpa moved to Topeka in the 1880s so when I was growing up in the 1980s my dad owned the feed stores that my great-grandpa opened way back in the 1880s. Some of you wrote about the F5 tornado that hit Topeka in 1966. That was before I was born, but my dad remembers it very well!

We will be taking a field trip to Topeka in January or February and you will get to see the Capitol building in person then.

In the next two weeks begin working on your Native American reports. This time, instead of answering questions you will organize your thoughts into three paragraphs. Remember to use either the clustering diagram worksheet or the outline worksheet to assist you in planning out your work. In the planning stage just write down KEYWORDS, not complete sentences. After your plan is in place, all you have to do is write complete sentences for each point, and put the sentences in order on the page!

Good writing takes a lot of practice. Be patient and remember that you are training your mind as you go--it is never a waste of time!

I've added some Native American links which might help. Some of these sites will be helpful, some are not very helpful. Glance through them all and skip over what isn't useful. I especially like the Osage Indians website.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Casey Jones


Today I read "Casey Jones" to my five-year-old son, Lane. Earnestly he listened to the tale of the brave engineer and tenderly he cried as I read about poor Casey, calling to his fireman,
"Jump, Sim! Jump!"
as he pulled the whistle and the brake, saving the train and passengers but paying with his life.
Such a hero! Lane was inspired and ran off to make his own illustration of the story.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Matthew's Begats


Kansas History Students: Scroll down for my Kansas history posting!

Bible Study Fellowship is beginning the study of Matthew this year. This week BSFers all over the world are delving into Matthew, chapter one. Last year I discovered the music of Andrew Peterson (thank you, Kathy M.!) and heard for the first time his album, "Behold the Lamb of God." If you haven't already discovered Andrew Peterson take a minute to listen to his song, "Matthew's Begats." Click on the link at right, find the "Behold" album, and choose "Open Player." Then select the song and enjoy!

We also love "High Noon" from Peterson's "Love and Thunder" album. Our son can often be heard singing softly to himself,

"So long, you wages of sin go on,
Don't you come back again . . ."

All Glory to God!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Greetings Kansas History Students!


(I teach a Kansas history class for our homeschool group, GRACE. GRACE students and moms, check back here each week for homework support and resources.)

This week's class (Sept. 18): Great Plains Indians in Kansas

Assignment for next week (due 9/25): Topeka report

To complete your assignment you need the "City Report" assignment sheet that we reviewed in class. On a separate sheet of notebook paper, answer each of the five questions about Topeka, the capital city of Kansas. The Kansas History Links to the right on this screen will get you started. Don't forget about using library books!

Did you enjoy listening to "Tree in the Trail" by Holling Clancy Holling? This book and others by Holling are available from the library. Click on the library link to the right.

Next week's topic: Europeans arrive in Kansas.

Gallaudet's Faith Hidden from View

Jesus said:
"For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks . . . But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Matthew 12:34b and 36-37

I read this verse as a part of my morning quiet time and it seemed to me to serve as a warning for this blog. There is so much blather posted online and as the overflow of the hearts of bloggers, it is a rather discouraging indicator. So much grandstanding to gain readership in the hope of fame or fortune. May my words never be careless and only be useful.

The Faith of Gallaudet
This week my second graders read about the life of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851). Our source was the Creative Minds biography "A World of Knowing" by Andy Russell Bowen. This was an engaging book telling about the man who developed deaf education in America and my daughters enjoyed it very much. And yet Gallaudet's faith which defined him was glossed over in the book with this statement: "He was going into the ministry, where he could teach people and help them to find a better way of life."

But ministry was more than helping people find a better way of life. Thomas clearly served his Redeemer and his 1818 book "Discourses on Various Points of Christian Faith and Practice" (this primary source is available for viewing through Google book search:
he writes:

None who are engaged in the pursuits of the world
can lay it aside; and it is grievous to be borne.
He who sustains it toils for what must perish in
the very using. He knows that, after a few short clays,
what has cost him so much labour and
anxiety, so much self-denial, and so many sacrifices,
must inevitably, like himself, be laid in the grave
of forgetfulness. Not a century will elapse before
his very name may never be mentioned, except
by the passing traveller who reads it on his
tomb.
But the Christian—for what does he toil? For
what does he take upon him the yoke of his
Divine Master ? For what does he practise a self-
denial, which, it is not to be denied, is, at first,
irksome to the native propensities of his heart,
but which the grace of God renders more and
more easy, and even delightful, and which is often
actually less than that of the worldling himself? For
what does the disciple of Christ bear this yoke ?
For an inheritance that is " incorruptible, undefiled,
and that fadeth not away;" for an admittance
into the mansions of everlasting rest; for an
imperishable treasure; for unalloyed pleasures;
for an endless state of being, in which he will
mingle with the spirits of the just made perfect,
in which he will be admitted to the presence of
God—to the ineffable manifestations of his glory —
to the sublime delights of his worship—to the
solution of the mysteries of his providence—and,
in fine, to an unceasing progress in knowledge,
in holiness, and in happiness. What are the
petty cares and anxieties, or even the deepest
sorrows of life, when compared with this weight of
glory?

(Discourse II, page 25-26)

This amazing devotion to our Savior must be sadly minimized for the public school student. This is why we are homeschooling! To shine light on history, that the work of God might be exposed.
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