Every society educates its children. It may not always occur in classrooms or schools as we generally conceive of them, but every culture, every nation, every tribe, every group of people passes skills and concepts to the next generation in some form or another. At the center of this activity, wherever and however it may be found, there is a reason in view for this work. In some settings, the ultimate reason for the act of education will be simple survival. In a nationalized educational setting, the purpose will invariably be the creation of citizens.
So, what would be the purpose of the work of education in the context of the “peculiar” people that are the people of God (1 Peter 2:9)? The answer, I believe, is found in the central work of God in history. Indeed, it is the action around which we measure time and the action that, according to St. Paul, is the center of our faith; for “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The resurrection of Christ from the dead gives us a reason, a purpose, a telos for the education of our children. It is the purpose of the resurrection: to create a new reality, a redeemed cosmos that is alive and in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:7-8). In raising Jesus from the dead, God initiated the process in which the entire creation is being renewed and restored from its fallen, corrupted, and dead state to its eternal state of life, fullness, and love. God is making things as they were created to be.
When we educate our children, we are teaching and training them to live redeemed lives. We are teaching them and training them how to love. A phrase that our students and teachers routinely hear from me is, “It takes smart people to love.” Of course, this does not mean that only those with PhD’s can follow Christ. What it means is that there is a content to love. Loving involves acting for the good of another. But what is “the good” and how does one go about producing that in the lives of others? “The Good” involves chemistry, physics, language, math, history, literature, philosophy, and all those other “subjects.” The more knowledge and understanding we have of the world and how it works, the more tools that we have at our disposal to love another human being.
In addition, we should be clear that these tools and skills, and this knowledge and understanding will not become obsolete when the final redemption is accomplished in Christ’s return. Christians in the new heavens and new earth are not described in Scripture as disembodied beings floating on clouds with our harps. Instead, we read that eternity will be filled with commerce, architecture, the arts and other human endeavors (Revelation 21). In short, we will be doing a lot of what Adam and Eve were commanded to do before the Fall in the garden. We will be “tending and keeping the garden” (Genesis 2:15).
So the reason Christians educate their children is not to get them ready for college, not to make them good citizens, not to prepare them for good jobs with nice salaries. It’s not even for the purpose of “giving them a better life than I had for myself.” No, the point of a Christian education is to make our children better than we are ourselves. The point of Christian education is nothing short of the redemption of the entire creation.