What's the Big Idea?

Written by R. C. Sproul, Jr.

My dear friend Monique Dewey has two qualities that quickly caught my attention when I first met her. First, she has a great sense of humor. Her capacity for taking good natured ribbing is healthy, if not robust. Which is a good thing, because I often tease her about that second quality, her incapacity to accept help. (Isn’’t that the true measure of a good sense of humor, the capacity not to make jokes, but to take them?) There we are, the Sprouls, visiting the Dewey clan, as Monique arrives home from the grocery store, carrying inside her an eight month old unborn child, fighting off their loving, though rather bouncy retriever. She has brought home a forty pound sack of food for Levi the clinging dog. "Here," I casually suggest, "let me carry in that dog food for you." "That’s okay," she replies with a smile, "I can do it." That exact scenario has never happened, but it is a true to life composite of countless stories of countless friends who have offered this help or that, only to be rebuffed with a sincere and polite, "That’s okay, I can do it."

Self-reliance can become an idol. But our peculiar temptation doesn’t tend in that direction. Instead we move beyond accepting help to expecting it. We especially look for help from those whom we consider to be experts.

When it comes to the education of our children we have yet another reason for accepting "help." It’s one thing for Monique to reject offers of help from her friends. It would be even stranger still if she politely refused help that she has paid for. When it comes to government schools the "help" is there for the asking. It is provided by "experts" who get itchy about us amateurs getting involved in their game. This despite the fact that we have no choice but to pay for their services, whether we use them or not.

Why then do we, whether politely or impolitely, refuse this help? Why do we go through all the trouble and expense of doing the work that we have already paid for? There are, of course, any number of motivations at work in the decision to pass on the government school system. Some refuse the help because they fear violence at the government schools. Others fear the influence of drugs or gangs. Still others opt out of government education for the simple reason that we believe other options will give our children a better start in life, that other choices will raise their test scores, and send them on their way better equipped to acquire personal peace and affluence. While these may be legitimate concerns, there is a more fundamental reason why it is not a quirk, but wisdom to say "No thank you, I can do it myself."

We ought to opt out of government "help" for a very simple reason- we want to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We who say "No thank you" understand that the help that is being offered is no help at all. We understand that one cannot separate the Lordship of Christ from the training of our children. The big idea of our children’s education is to teach them the true answers to the three great questions of life: Who is God? Who is man? And How do they relate? This, and not the three R’’s, is the sum and substance of true education.

At least, this is how we ought to be thinking. This is an appropriate reason to take up what is sometimes the difficult and expensive task of educating our children without the help of the state. Too often, however, where the rubber meets the road, we forget this motivation. We are satisfied to meet these lesser goals. We are content to do school at home, or to send our children off to "Christian" schools that are but mirrors of the state schools, except, perhaps for higher test scores, and fewer guns. We heal our educational wounds only slightly.

Whether you have your children in a classical Christian school, or home school, it is the parents who must keep the big idea front and center. It is the parents who will answer for the education their children receive. To be found faithful, we need to carry the dog food ourselves. Parents, fathers particularly, will answer as to whether their children are raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Keeping the big idea front and center will create schooling that is distinct, set apart from what passes for education all around us. We will be more concerned that our children know God’s covenant with Israel than the Babel-onian charter of the United Nations. We will first insure that our children are equipped to build the kingdom of God, before we worry whether they can build a birdhouse in Shop, excuse me, Industrial Arts class. We will not be satisfied with well-behaved citizens of our heathen culture, but will instead raise up warriors who are about the business of making manifest the reign of Jesus Christ over all things.

With the big idea before us, we will not grow weary with the educational equivalent of lugging up the stairs a forty pound sack of dog food. And the help we seek will be help in fulfilling the great task God has given us, to raise up godly seed. When we remember who God is, who man is, and how they will relate, we will remember from whence our help comes, praying always with and for our children, or rather, with and for God’’s children, that He has asked us to steward. We will neither be dependent upon the god of the state, nor be independent, but will affirm and rest in our dependence upon the God who rules over all things. And we will rejoice in our calling.