Before we begin, if you’re not sure what “reformed” means, read our statement of faith.
I hate when a student tries to split the difference during a discussion or straddle a fence. “Pick a side and argue it!” I moan. “Don’t lollygag around!”
The most infuriating answer is: “It depends.”
That, however, is the answer that I’ll give to the important question that we’re talking about here: Will a non-Reformed, Christian family be able to participate in the Omnibus courses comfortably?
So, moan or yell at me now, but before you write me off completely, I want to tell you the one thing that can redeem the answer, “It depends.” This seeming weedling answer can be redeemed only by someone saying, “It depends, and today I am going to explain to you what it depends on and why.” So, without further obfuscation, here are the three areas in which a non-Reformed family– or a Reformed family, for that matter, can comfortably participate in Omnibus.
In general, the Reformed faith question will be most prevalent in the Omnibus courses– deep theological conversations about the differences in denominations don’t usually come out of geometry class. So this will focus mainly on Omnibus, but you can pull the same truths that are written below through the rest of the courses your student takes.
Non-Reformed Students and Families Can Participate Comfortably in Omnibus if They are Served by a Good Teacher.
By “teacher” here, I don’t mean that everyone has to have a brick-and-mortar or an online teacher—or even an asynchronous teacher. The Omnibus teacher could be a homeschooling mother or father.
Teachers ruin Omnibus in two particular ways. The first problem is more prevalent in classroom teachers; the second is more likely to occur in a homeschool setting.
The first and most damaging way to make students from a non-Reformed background uncomfortable in Omnibus is when Reformed teachers struggle with the sin of pride. Young seminary graduates often struggle with this sin— it’s the first sin and the one that Dante calls the worst human sin. Teachers with this malady tend to struggle in Omnibus because they like to talk and talk and talk and talk. They think of their voice as a symphony when it is often soporific, making all the eyelids sag toward sleepiness.
This sort of teacher has but one trick to wake people up: the Predestination Talk. Interestingly the Westminister Confession says that the “high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care” (WCF III.8). If, instead, the teacher decides to handle the wonders of God’s truth as a club to beat up on fellow believer (much fewer children under their charge), then the non-Reformed student is going to hate class, hate the Reformed faith, and tragically might end up hating God.
Note: this problem is probably more problematic for a student from a Reformed faith. It is more dangerous because teachers like this can pass this virulent strain of pride on to students from Reformed families who might be cheering them on. The teacher is using truth as a bat, and the student mistakenly believes that this caricature of the real faith of the Reformation is really what Reformed Theology is. Eighth-grade Reformed boys are good at falling prey to this temptation to use the truth to beat others into submission. If you are this sort of Omnibus teacher, grow up or get out of teaching.
The second teacher problem is the one that I see more with well-meaning homeschool moms. This is where the teaching method remains too much of a grammar school method, so discussions about theology turn into boring catechism Q & A’s. It might sound something like this:
Mom: “Do we have free will or is choice just an illusion?”
Student: “I have free will, and I am making choices.”
Mom: (sigh) “No, you are predestined.”
Student: (to self) “Predestined to hate this discussion.”
If this child is not Reformed, the Omnibus will feel like a beat down, but this should not be. The teacher, in this case, needs to be more adept at stirring up discussion rather than bedding it down. This problem is particularly odious for the non-Reformed because the editors were all coming from broad agreement on the key doctrines of the Reformation.
So, first, to make for comfortable participation for all students, you need a humble teacher who wants to see the reasons behind the student’s beliefs and to cause him or her to explain why they hold those beliefs and how they can base them on the Bible.
Non-Reformed Students and Families Can Participate Comfortably in Omnibus if They are the Right Sort of Student or Family.
A discussion is a dance. It takes both teacher and student. Just like some teachers are not a good fit for Omnibus, there are a few sorts of students who will either be uncomfortable in Omnibus or make Omnibus uncomfortable for others.
Let’s start with the students who can make Omnibus uncomfortable for the non-Reformed in their class. This often is a student from a Reformed family—usually, a boy who loves inflicting “predestination” on classmates who might be bothered by this doctrine. This sort of student can find predestination luring everywhere, which, I guess, it is, but if the Bible does not talk about it all the time, maybe we can discuss other things too.
The second sort of student with a problem is one I see more often each year. This sort of student is looking to take offense. They tend to think that anything that bothers them must be sinful. Please note, Omnibus tries to bother you. It wants to make you think. As an editor, I will not offer an excuse. Bothering you is part of what an education is supposed to do. This sort of student tends to mistake disagreement for hatred. It’s not. This sort of student will hate Omnibus—and anything else that doesn’t reinforce everything they believe.
I would ask students to come into an Omnibus discussion with this thought as a starting point: I want to believe and do what God says in His Word. Hold all ideas up to Scripture. This will not lead every Christian to agree on everything—it hasn’t for the first 2000 years after Jesus—but it should cause deep respect and love when everyone in a class works hard to follow Christ and to obey God’s Word….even though they might disagree deeply or some points.
Non-Reformed Students and Families Can Participate Comfortably in Omnibus if They (and the School) Desire the Right Objectives and outcomes.
If your family is not Reformed, know that the editors never had a goal to ensure that all students who take Omnibus become Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Dutch Reformed. We had to start somewhere. We did not want to start with a contradictory or incoherent perspective. That said, the Reformed faith is the starting point, but we want students to understand all branches of the Christian faith, appreciate their differences, and glory when they agree—sort of Dante’s Heaven of the Sun in Paradise. On the earth during Dante’s time, the followers of St. Francis and the disciples of St. Dominic were often at odds. In Heaven, Bonaventure, a Franciscan, praises St. Dominic, and Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican, praises St. Francis. We should all look to do this.
Omnibus is aimed at helping students to think biblically and be able to put thoughts together in a manner that is persuasive, beautiful, and biblically sound. If you can keep this in mind, the Reformed starting point. But if you’re in a setting that is mainly full of Reformed kids, Omnibus wants the students to understand what other Christians believe and why they believe what they believe—not just what the Reformed think.
If the Reformed faith is so repugnant to you that you can’t hear it mentioned, Omnibus might be hard to swallow. If you’re an orthodox Christian or even an Orthodox orthodox Christian who is willing to think through the great ideas and learn from the Great Books, Omnibus can be profitable for you. Before you know it, you might find it not only comfortable but also enjoyable!
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