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Thank the Lord and Come with Praise

Occasionally something one has worked on for months suddenly and unexpectedly comes together.  I’ve been thinking deeply about Christian education, its ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘what’, and things are finally making sense to me, just in time to discuss them with others at a conference.

Full of relief and grateful joy, I can’t help but sing this adaptation of Henry Alford’s beautiful hymn:

Thank the Lord and come with praise;

songs of jubilation raise

when the crop is gathered in

ere the winter storms begin.

God, our Maker, will provide

for our wants to be supplied.

Let his people all confess

his unchanging faithfulness.* (Music:  St. George’s Windsor by George Job Elvey)

So I’m off to continue the work which now seems possible.

Note that I’m not thinking about the ‘where’ of Christian education; for our family and many others homeschooling is best but many thoughtful Christians prefer a day school.

*As published in The Book of Praise.

Review: Peter Martyr Vermigli by Simonetta Carr

This Easter weekend I am grateful to tell you about Peter Martyr Vermigli, a man who devoted his life to helping others understand the meaning and significance of the gospel.

Some church history figures are famous and others have names we recognize, but Peter Martyr Vermigli, well, I had never heard of him.  And I am not alone in that; most Protestants have not, and yet we are all indebted to him because he was so influential in his day.

Born in Florence in 1499, Peter Martyr grew up in the center of the Renaissance world. His mother was his first teacher, but she died when he was twelve.  At 15 he joined a nearby monastery and studied God’s Word with the goal of eventually teaching it, and this he did.  First throughout Italy in the Roman Catholic church and then as a Reformer throughout Europe, he was always encouraging, teaching, and writing to increase people’s understanding of God and his Word.  He taught ordinary believers as well as scholars, and his influence spread along with the Reformation.  He talked with royalty, worked on Thomas Cranmer’s Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and explained the doctrine of the Holy Supper so clearly that John Calvin said he ‘left nothing more to be done.’

All of this, together with Peter Martyr’s personal life, is woven into a compelling and inspiring story.  Maps, photographs, a timeline, and the late Joel Spector’s beautiful illustrations make Peter Martyr Vermigli an in-depth journey into the past as well as a trek through Europe.  Thorough research and careful attention to detail illuminate each page and leftover tidbits are included in separate sections at the end of the book.

Once again, Simonetta Carr has written an enriching and spell-binding story of a hero of the best kind:  someone who strives to serve God with his whole being, someone we can learn from and thank God for, someone who points us to God.  Peter Martyr is one more person in the cloud of witnesses to God’s goodness, the cloud that surrounds us and encourages us to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and to run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12).

The illustrations by Joel Spector, who never lived to see the publication of this book, are poignant, especially this one of Cranmer telling Peter Martyr that they would never meet again in this life.  As a side note, the last letter Cranmer ever wrote was to his friend, Peter Martyr.

Peter Martyr Vermigli will add much to church history and history lessons.  Although this book, like the others in Simonetta Carr’s Christian Biographies for Young People series, is ostensibly for preteens, I find them interesting and my teens also learn a lot from them.  In fact, I always tell people that the age range should read 7-99 instead of 7-12, although each book does have a few elements specifically for preteens.  Certainly the entire series is valuable in a study of church history or world history for any child, teen, or adult.

As we remember the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I encourage you to read Peter Martyr Vermigli for yourself and with your children.

I have had the privilege of reviewing many of the books in Simonetta Carr’s Christian Biographies for Young People series and recommend each one.

You may wish to look at my review of Death in Florence by Paul Strathern , which provides a fascinating and detailed picture of Florence just before Vermigli’s birth.  However, this book does have a few issues and I cannot recommend it unreservedly.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Reformation Heritage Books for the purpose of this review.

This review may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Raising HomemakersFinishing Strong , and Trivium Tuesdays.

Homeschool Science Curriculum

Every month the Curriculum Choice hosts a review team feature on a specific topic.  It is always full of resource reviews, tips from experienced homeschoolers, links, and sometimes even product discounts, and often I contribute.  This month the topic is Homeschool Science Curriculum, and here is my contribution:

As a scientist, I love Apologia’s courses for high school.  In fact, I once wrote:  “Because of the Apologia science texts, homeschooled high school students have access to better quality science education than most students in public or private schools, even if their parents do not know science.”  I have written about these textbooks extensively, reviewing them and  discussing how to make them fit your teen’s needs.  For a summary of my articles about Apologia high school science, see a previous Curriculum Choice Author Feature.

Another important approach to homeschool science is to round out any textbook learning with science reading.  A good biography, a clear discussion of a topic, a historical introduction to a field of learning—these can inspire a student and make the textbook learning much more relevant.  I discussed our family’s science and math reading  and have reviewed some math and science books, although most of the books our children have read on the topic are not listed.

Finally, any discussion of science among homeschoolers will eventually lead to the question of origins.  These questions are addressed extensively by several organizations, and I have recently reviewed books representative of the two main Christian views:  God in the Lab by Ruth Bancewicz and Busting Myths by Sarfati.  Also very valuable is Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, which looks at a historical perspective of origins, among other things.

For suggestions and reviews from the other Curriculum Choice authors, please see ‘Homeschool Science Curriculum’ at the Curriculum Choice.  This lengthy article includes a discount and give away as well as resource links such as this gem from Tricia:

‘Lately, my youngest scientist has been going through all of the Smarter Every Day and Brave Wilderness YouTube videos.’

For more, see my science articles, nature articles, and science and math reading reviews.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read.

When We Cannot Pray

“Lift up your hands, in prayer draw nigh.”

There are times in our lives when we cannot pray.  Of course, there are the times of rebellion when we won’t, and our busyness or sins can also keep us from prayer, but that is not what I’m talking about here.  What I’m saying is that there are other times when we simply cannot pray.  It seems, thankfully, that these times are extremely rare, but they do exist in some godly people’s lives.

After the death of her father, and even before it, one person told me.  During severe depression, another admitted.  When faced with unbearable confusion or unrelenting pain, some say. During extreme exhaustion, I know from experience.

What do we do then?  For those are the times we really need to be close to God.  Those are the times we can just run to God without words, just to be near him, without knowing what to say, perhaps even unable to think.

Then we are like a little one being comforted on a parent’s lap, eyes dilated with fear, clouded with tears, or hidden in horror, sobbing with fatigue or suffocating guilt. Or, in a biblical image, we snuggle close to God, finding comfort and safety under his wings.  There’s something else to note here:  it’s the parent bird who spreads its wings over the little ones, and it’s the father and mother who place the little one on their lap.

These are the times to remember that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we do not know what to say and can no longer even think, the times to rest with God, trusting that he loves us and is in control and that he does know what he is doing.

“Be still and know that I am God,” we are told.

Yes, he is God, powerful and holy.  And he also is our Father who loves us and has compassion on us, for ever, no matter what, because of Jesus.   So, always, always run to God; or, if you can’t, reach out to him; or, if that is impossible, look towards him.  He is there; he holds onto you; no one can pluck you out of his hand.  He is God, our God.  He loves us, you and me.

It has been many years since I could not pray.  But I still remember with gratitude how one dear woman told me she had a list of mothers and daughters that she prayed through each day, and we were on that list.  Even now I am comforted by the fact that my parents pray for me and my family each day, and so do other people.  These are gifts, intangible, but more valuable than any other.

So, what can each of us do right now?  We can turn to God in good times and in bad, knowing that he is God. And we can remember to pray for others, especially those who, today, might not be able to.  And if, at this time, we ourselves cannot pray, we can flee to God without words, knowing he will hold onto us.

May God bless us all as we rely on him and pray for others.  Amen

If you have no one who prays for you and are looking for someone who will, contact me via the comments and I will get in touch with you by email.

Review: The Paideia of God by Douglas Wilson

Wilson’s collection of essays on education runs the gamut from profoundly relevant to homeschooling (the purpose and meaning of education) to irrelevant but interesting (school clothes and vouchers).

“The Paideia of God” was an encouraging eye-opener to me.  Christian homeschoolers often refer to Deuteronomy 6 for homeschooling inspiration.  Douglas Wilson, a minister, turns to Ephesians 6:4 as well, that little verse we know but only understand partially: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The meaning of this verse includes nurturing them in the faith and shaping their will and their mind by careful teaching, but to the average Ephesian citizen in those days it would have meant much, much more.  It would have involved all of daily life; in our days it would include, besides academics, everything from best-seller lists and media to school buses and green garden hoses.

The word paideia, which Paul uses, was a central concept to the classical mind and represented an enormous ideological task.  It was ‘concerned with nothing less than the shaping of the ideal man, who would be able to take his place in the ideal culture,’ and ‘the point of paideia was to bring that culture about.’  Paul was thus giving a command that covers incredibly more than our idea of education; he was talking about training the children to be enculturated in the culture of the Lord and in this way to create that culture in the world.  It’s not about giving them enough education to make a living; it’s about changing the world for Christ and is therefore ‘one of the most far reaching commands of the New Testament.’  This is something we parents need to realize, both in our teaching and in our considerations about our culture.

I had read enough about classical society to realize that they did have this idea of an ideal citizen and that it had something to do with education, but this is the first time I really understood the concept.*    And what a happy concept it is for Christian parents!   Occasionally society makes it seem as though raising children is not worth our energy; according to Paul, it is a fundamental calling.  And this point of view certainly leaves no room for letting our kids be ‘missionaries in the public school classroom’.

Until the final chapter, the rest of the book is only marginally relevant to homeschooling, but it does raise some important points.

“Teaching ‘Disadilities’” addresses one of the main topics in classroom education today. There are all sorts of reasons for the huge increase of disabilities, from drugging our children to laziness of both teachers and students.  The big question, however, is ‘are our children failing or are we failing our children?’  This is a vital question for children in schools.

In “The Biblical Meaning of School Clothes” Wilson points out that clothes reflect important social realities.  Although we often emphasize comfort, our clothing habits reflect mind habits.  Following Wilson’s train of thought, learning in one’s pyjamas is not going to be as effective as learning in a school uniform.  I’ve often wondered about that in terms of posture:  can one learn as well lying down as sitting straight up at a table?  Perhaps related:  I can sometimes predict the mark of a test by observing how neatly my children wrote.   Back to Wilson and clothing: politeness expresses itself in the clothing we choose.

In “Does Classical mean Reformed?”  Wilson observes that classical education, standing firmly in the tradition of historic Protestant orthodoxy, is closely related to Reformed ideas, such as

  • since God is at the center of everything, we need to teach each subject with him at the center, and
  • since God is in control of everything, studying history is studying how he works.

Wilson notes that classical homeschooling often leads to parents investigating Reformed theology, although classical does not necessarily mean Reformed.

“The Great Logic Fraud,” an essay warning about the dangers inherent in classical education, can be summed up in its last sentence, ‘So raise the standard.  And lighten up.’  Here’s why.

‘In the realm of education the teacher must recognize the existence of countless variables outside his control….’  We must recognize that ‘rationalism’ is not the aim of education but merely one useful tool in it, ‘…a tool that prepares the  student for the real business before him, which is, of course, the cultivation of a love of truth, goodness, and beauty.’ (p. 103)

This is off-topic, perhaps, but I always wonder how this goal of classical education relates to the Bible.  I’m sure entire books could be written on the concept, and probably they have been.  To me, the real business before Christian students is to learn and be equipped to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves.  Loving truth, goodness, and beauty is only part of that.

“Classical Learning and the Christian College”

And finally, an essay that delves into the meaning and purpose of education.  Although Wilson discusses college education, a very important topic for parents who have invested years in educating their children themselves, the things he says about education are also relevant for our homeschools, whether or not we aim for a classical education.

One of his fundamental conclusions, and it is a pity and an indictment of the modern evangelical worldview that must be said, is that there is no conflict between believing the Bible and learning well.  For example, often homeschoolers discuss the ‘issue’ of character vs academics.  It should not be an issue, and it can become that only when we have wrong ideas about many things.  This essay discusses some of them and is worth reading.

Much of the rest of this essay is explained by a quotation from J. Gresham Machen about taking ‘every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:5).

The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity.  Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought.  The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor.  It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel.  It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God. (p. 123)

Indeed, Christian education is not about being trained to be a worker and consumer.  Rather, Christian education is about learning to live as a Christian, conquering the whole world for Christ, and, in the process, developing a Christian culture.  The fact that this is unlikely to ever succeed on this earth does not make it any less a duty or any less of an inspiration.

As we face this monumental task, Wilson stands beside us and lays an encouraging hand on our shoulders, saying with characteristic bluntness: ‘As we observe the modern world, we should take a great deal of comfort from the following maxim:  over time, stupidity doesn’t work.’  (p. 143)

The first and last essays of The Paideia of God are so important that this book should find a home in most church and homeschooling libraries. If that is not possible, at least borrow the book via interlibrary loan to read these two chapters; you may end up wanting to buy it.

*I will revisit the classical concept of paideia an upcoming review of Norms and Nobility, Lord willing.

Disclosure:  We have owned this book for years; I have expressed my own honest opinions and am not compensated for this review in any way.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

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