All truth is God’s truth … and Christian schooling is essential and ultimately beneficial to the common good because, in the sovereignty of God, there is no other opportunity quite so plausible in which a child can be furnished with the knowledge of the scriptures and thereby develop a Christian world-view.
Frank Gaebelein was an early pioneer in the American Christian school movement. He was the founding headmaster of the Stony Brook School on Long Island, one of the most influential institutions and later served as editor of Christianity Today. Those roles, both as a pioneer and practitioner in Christian schooling and as an observer and commentator on the American Church during a formative time for Christian schools, position Gaebelein well, and his insights are useful in understanding the role of the school in worldview formation as an aspect of Christian education. “The true function in the world of the individual Christian, as well as the Church, is summed up in the declaration, ‘ye are the salt of the earth.’ Salt can be a preservative only as it affects its environment. So too with Christian education, it must interact with this American democracy in the midst of which it is called upon to do its work.”
As the Christian day school emerged into the mainstream as a viable option in the late 20th century, worldview development has been among the top educational aims. Good schooling engages hearts and minds, develops interests, uncovers talents, establishes norms, and instills values. The typical Christian day school program includes academics, arts, athletics, spiritual training, and social development. It has professional and specialized staff members employed to those ends and enjoys a unique opportunity afforded by compulsory education. Schools can vary in terms of governance, theological traditions, philosophical convictions, and program priorities. Generally speaking, they are all concerned with a worldview—its construction and application—and worldview formation begins early. According to George Barna and the American Culture and Faith Institute, a person’s worldview is primarily developed between eighteen months and thirteen years of age and refined during the late teens and early twenties.
If this Barna research is correct, then effective biblical worldview building must start early in life, and that opportunity is afforded to schools. It is, therefore, critical to realize that basic patterns of thinking, norms, and cultural and ethical standards must be defined in terms of our natural state—enemies of God with depraved minds—or as redeemed and sanctified in light of the gospel. The former would be typical of public schools and therefore are antithetical to the mandates of scripture, while the latter must be the aspiration of truly Christian schools. Given the nature of the educational process that informs worldviews whether intentionally or unintentionally; and if the research is correct that worldviews form early in life; and if there is no neutral education due to the presuppositions of curricula and pedagogy; and since the Church has been assigned the responsibility of propagation—this means the church must have Christian schools of excellence.
Early Christian school pioneers pressed the notion of integration of faith and learning and worldview formation into the fabric of Christian education philosophy. According to Gaebelein, “All truth is God’s truth … and Christian schooling is essential and ultimately beneficial to the common good because, in the sovereignty of God, there is no other opportunity quite so plausible in which a child can be furnished with the knowledge of the scriptures and thereby develop a Christian world-view.”
It is true that all Christian day schools are no more equal than individual churches. Regardless, compulsory education requirements, each institution is allotted a consistent—and remarkable amount of time—about 16,000 hours in total. It is to that stewardship that each must give an account. Constructing this worldview lens is the calling of the Christian school. Writing about the significance of Christian schools in Building a Better School, D. Bruce Lockerbie offers this perspective, “Christian schooling is essential and ultimately beneficial to the common good because, in the sovereignty of God, there is no other opportunity quite so plausible in which a child can be furnished with a knowledge of the scriptures and thereby develop a Christian worldview…”
As the Christian school movement has matured and gained legitimacy, it has increasingly leaned into a transformational posture. Gaebelein highlights the key elements of philosophy for the Christian school–God as the source of unity and ultimate reality. Many contemporary Christian schools have since embraced that transformational posture. For example, the mission statement of my school, Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, reads, “Westminster Academy is a Christ-centered, biblically-based college preparatory school dedicated to equipping covenant students to excel by using their gifts and talents for God’s glory.” While the word transform does not actually appear, the transformational posture is readily apparent. The school aims to prepare its students to engage the world and its culture. In this, Westminster Academy is not alone.
1 – This article was adapted from my DMin. Project. “Constructing an Effective Biblical Worldview: The Significance of the Christian Day School” (DMin diss., Knox Seminary, May 2022), 22-31.
2 – Frank Gaebelein, The Pattern of God’s Truth (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954).
3 – Frank Gaebelein, Christian Education in a Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), 12-13.
4 – AWVI 2021: Introducing America’s Most Popular Worldview (Report #2:04-27-2021) George Barna, Director.
5 – Frank Gaebelein, The Pattern of God’s Truth (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954).
6 – Bruce Lockerbie, “Christian Schooling: Essential and Beneficial” in Building a Better School: Essays on Exemplary Christian School Leadership (Stony Brook NY: Paideia Press 2012), 45.
7 – Gaebelein, Christian Education in a Democracy, 21, 108.
8 – “Our Mission,” Westminster Academy, accessed April 28, 2022, https://www.wa.edu.