Christian Education in the Day of Small Things – The Stream

Writing in The National Review, my friend, scholar Joseph Loconte began with this dismal news:

Earlier this month the King’s College in New York City announced it was canceling classes for the fall semester, laying off most of its faculty and staff, and struggling to recover its recently revoked academic accreditation. The fate of Manhattan’s most prominent Christian Evangelical college — a school rooted in the political and literary canon of Western civilization — is uncertain.

Loconte admits that King’s College has faced difficult challenges and “self-inflicted wounds,” but argues that the fruit of the education and King’s, rooted in the Gospel and the intellectual tradition of the West, has been rich and potentially world-changing: “Its students tend to be risk-takers … the college has sent its graduates into the fields of law, journalism, finance, business, education, and the arts. … They are some of the most entrepreneurial, mission-oriented young people you will meet. And their sense of vocation … is nurtured in an academic environment where the cultivation of the mind — alongside the cultivation of Christian character — is taken seriously.”

Where, he wonders, are the foundations and philanthropists willing to support the formation of more graduates with these qualities, the qualities that will make or break America in the future?

The Small Things

As part of the faculty of Wyoming Catholic College, I ask the same question. Like Kings’s, Thomas Aquinas College, Grove City, Hillsdale, The University of Dallas, and other schools, we’re producing risk-taking, entrepreneurial, mission-minded graduates who are taking well-formed intellects, solid faith, and godly character out into the needy world.

Yes, our numbers are small, but as the great nineteenth century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, commenting on Zechariah 4:10, “It is a very great folly to despise ‘the day of small things,’ for it is usually God’s way to begin his great works with small things.”

Which is to say, we live in an age of “very great folly.”

Good From the Top Down?

Loconte points out that “conservative and Republican donors gave the Trump campaign a staggering $1.96 billion.” Why? In order to “Make American Great Again,” a good and noble aim. I’m all for it.

But with Loconte — and we are both veterans of Washington, DC politics and think-tanks — I have my doubts about changing the world for the good from the top down. To think that electing the right people — important as that may be — will solve our civilizational crisis is naïve in the extreme. That idea arose in Christian circles in the 1980s. Forty years later, we should know better. As Chuck Colson said when his friend George W. Bush was elected president, “The Kingdom of God will not arrive on Airforce One.” Consider: the Greco-Roman world of the first century wasn’t turned upside-down by Rome and its emperors, but by an obscure carpenter from (can-anything-good-come-out-of) Nazareth and his rag-tag followers.

In his novel Brideshead Revisited, Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh quipped, “When the water-holes were dry people sought to drink at the mirage.”

The intellectual and cultural water-holes of Western civilization may not be completely dry, but there is precious little left. That young people are turning to socialism (or at least what they take to be socialism) is just one example of trying to drink at the mirage. Putting our faith in politics and government to fix all our spiritual and moral problems in another. But when all the good stuff is gone and only the foul dregs remain, what else can you do?

You can nourish the springs that can refill the water-holes of the culture.

Refilling the Cultural Water Holes

Those springs rise in places like King’s College, Wyoming Catholic College, and the rest. They rise in the rapidly growing cadre of classical, Great Books schools and charter schools. It’s in such schools that the foundations of the American experiment in ordered liberty are being rebuilt, the water-holes refilled, the health and vitality that made America great restored.

Can a culture that has been ruined by miseducation be renewed by real education? I’m inclined to believe it can. On a purely practical note, who will we elect to all those offices ten or twenty years from now if we don’t nurture virtuous, thoughtful young people today?

The Good News

The good news is supporting faithful, classical, Christian education while it does cost money, doesn’t take billions of dollars every four years.

As Joe Loconte writes, “There are in the West today powerful forces dedicated to keeping Christianity’s impact hidden in the shadows. But the Christian academy, like no other institution, can chase away the shadows with Light: the light of young minds illuminated by Truths that have built and sustained our civilization over the centuries.”

That’s a good reminder about this “day of small things” at the start of another school year.

James Tonkowich, a senior contributor to The Stream, is a freelance writer, speaker and commentator on spirituality, religion and public life. He is the author of The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today and Pears, Grapes, and Dates: A Good Life After Mid-Life. Jim serves as Director of Distance Learning at Wyoming Catholic College and is host of the college’s weekly podcast, “The After Dinner Scholar.”

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