Opening - by Marlin Detweiler
Feature Article – Is Christianity Good for the World? by Douglas Wilson
Educational Helps – by Laurie Detweiler
We didn’t plan to focus on atheism this month. It just kind of happened. However, the new militant aggressive strain, also sometimes call anti-theism, has entered the mainstream through movies and books like The DaVinci Code and from authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins. Hitchins once said, “I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”
Our feature article is a review of a book written by our friend, Douglas Wilson, who was kind enough to write the review, too. I think you’ll both enjoy and benefit greatly from how he connects it to the sphere of education.
A Review of Is Christianity Good for the World?
I begin with the open admission that it would be odd for me to review one of my own books. At the same time, I hope it will not be thought quite so odd if I simply undertake to explain it.
In the classical Christian education model, the curriculum follows the pattern of the Trivium—grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. In the years that we have been pursuing the restoration of this form of education, we have learned a great deal about it—including the fact that echoes of the same distinctions are found in the biblical categories of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. And in the realm of biblical understanding, we can express the same realities by means of the words catechesis, doctrine, and apologetics.
Catechesis is where young children simply learn what the chief end of man is, and what their chief comfort is in life and in death. They learn this by rote, repeating back to their instructor wisdom beyond their years. In the junior high years, the kids learn to sort out the doctrinal issues, distinguishing this issue from that one. They take the doctrines apart and put them back together. And at Logos School, where I serve as a board member, the capstone of our Bible classes has been the apologetics class in the senior year.
Grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric concerns the stuff of what you learn, how to sort out what you have learned, and then how to present what you have learned to others effectively and well. That is the pattern of classical Christian education.
At the same time, the content of our curriculum has been Christ-centered, meaning that we hold to the truth of Scripture as the integration point of all knowledge. All things cohere in Christ (Col. 1:18). This means that we base our curriculum on the Scriptures as a foundation—we do not attempt to establish a neutral foundation that will enable us to build an edifice, only to add the Scriptures later as a functional roof or decorative cornice near the top.
All this said, Christopher Hitchens is one of the foremost atheist writers of our time. When his book advocating atheism (God Is Not Great) came out, and he was promoting it, I had the opportunity to engage with him in an online debate hosted by Christianity Today. That exchange has now been turned into this small book—the book I am engaged in trying to explain.
Now, of course, with a Christian reading audience, I don’t have to explain why I am taking the side I do in a debate with an atheist. Neither do I have to explain in great detail why I am bothering to debate at all. The Bible requires ministers to be able to refute those who contradict sound doctrine (Tit. 1:9–11), and we are also told that Apollos was a great help to the believers in a particular area because he was so effective in public debate (Acts 18:27–28).
But I might need to point out several things that may be a help to classical Christian educators who may want to use this book with their students, whether they are students in the classroom or at home. These things correspond to the foundational assumptions we have made about classical Christian education, and which I have briefly explained above.
The first point is that throughout the book, I am assuming the truth of the Christian faith. I am not trying to reason my way to the truth of Christ, I am reasoning from the truth of Christ. I am not trying to get to the Bible; I am taking a stand on the Bible. Now, of course, classical and Christian students should be able to point out right away that this looks a lot like the fallacy of petitio principii, the fallacy of assuming what needs to be shown. But because we are finite creatures, we cannot tackle any ultimate question without assuming certain things at the outset. It is a fallacy to assume that Honest Henry at the used car dealership is honest just because he says that he is. But it is not a fallacy to assume God in order to reason about God—because doing so is inescapable. And it is just as inescapable for the atheist who wants to have his starting point be “reason.” If I ask him for a reason for his starting point, and he gives me one, he is begging the question, is he not? He is using reason to prove that we all need to use it. On ultimate questions, this kind of thing is inescapable.
The second thing to note is that throughout the book, I do not assume that rhetoric is an add-on, somehow distinct from the “substance” of the argument. Too many Christian apologists are functional rationalists—they marshal their arguments, but then present it on a dot-matrix computer printout. Rhetorical embellishments are thought to be “cheating” or “fudging” somehow. But we are Christians, and this means that we are followers of the Word, and this means that in Him we find the basis for all that words can legitimately do. Turns of phrase, metaphors, and humor are not like the little sprinkles you can get to put on top of your frozen yogurt—and if you feel like it. They are part of the structure of sound argument itself.
Students of rhetoric in a classical Christian school will have learned the elements of logos, ethos, and pathos. And the diligent student who reads through this book will find me seeking to employ all three, and doing so without embarrassment or apology. For too many Christians, apologetics is the kind of thing that theological nerds really get into, or perhaps something that cult busters learn in order to prove their adversary wrong. But usually the emphasis is on logos, on reason, on the arguments only. And the problem is in that word only. I trust that students working through this book will find more than enough argumentation to suit them.
Doug is the pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho, and author of many books on family, education, and practical theology.
As our children have gotten older I have realized how important it is to talk about things—even things you assume they understand, because sometimes they don’t. Educationally speaking, some things sometimes fall through the cracks. Atheism might be one of those things.
They may have read many primary sources and have seen how the ancients have dealt with this issue. I’m sure if they even encountered an atheist they could give a great defense of their faith. Yet it might be they lack some practical understanding of this important topic.
I get more review copies of books across my desk than you want to know. Thankfully I love to read. A few days ago, as we were working on this edition of epistula, I was stumped! What in the world was I going to contribute that would be fun and interesting for children to do with this subject? I even called a friend for ideas. Oh ye of little faith! Right before Marlin and I left for lunch yesterday, a book arrived entitled The Bone Box, by Bob Hostetler. Marlin was meeting with our pastor, so I grabbed the book to read over my lunch. The back cover intrigued me. It’s about an archaeologist, an agnostic, who is on a dig in Israel, and he unearths a stone casket marked “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” The casket also contains a fragile scroll that documents the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is suddenly confronted with his own beliefs. I could not put this book down. This book is a great way to have a family discussion about these things, and it is a great read.
I loved this book so much that we’ve decided to have a writing contest centered around it open to students in grades 7 to 12. Participants should write their own chapter to add to the end of the book. The chapter should be between 1,700 to 2,500 words. Make sure that you clear your calendar when you start to read because I can guarantee you won’t get anything else done the rest of the day. See the Announcements below for more details, including how you can get the book.
Free Books (And Nearly Free, Too)
Well, if these books interest you now, we are happy to oblige. Is Christianity Good for the World? retails for $12.00. This month you may have one FREE for the asking with an order of $200 or for $6.00 (50% off) with an order of $100 or more.
The book Laurie mentions above, The Bone Box, can be had similarly. It retails for $13.99. This month you may have one FREE for the asking with an order of $200 or for $7.00 (50% off) with an order of $100 or more.
Q. I’ve seen the Omnibus curriculum. It looks exciting. But, do I have to start with Omnibus I and study the ancients or can I start somewhere else?
A. Although the Omnibus curriculum was written with the idea that you would start with Omnibus I, it is like our grammar school history; that is, you can start with any of the levels. The books are self-contained, with only limited references to prior considerations that will not be prohibitive if you have skipped or changed the order in which you are teaching them.
Q. I’ve heard good things of your teacher training conferences but haven’t been able to come to Lancaster for it. Do I have other options?
A. Funny you should ask. Audio recordings of many of our conferences and of ACCS conferences, too, are available at www.wordmp3.com. You may also be interested to know that this past summer we did one teacher training conference online. It went well, and we expect to do it again next summer.
Please submit any questions you’d like answered here to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writing Contest with The Bone Box
The Educational Helps section describes The Bone Box, and the Free Offers section describes how you can get a copy. The rules for the writing contest are as follows:
Topic: A chapter to follow the last chapter of The Bone Box. It should be from 1,700 to 2,500 words long.
Who: Students in 7th through 12th grade.
Where: Send submissions as an attached Word file to email@example.com.
When: Submissions must be received by 5:00 PM EST, December 5, 2008.
Winners: First place will receive a $200 gift certificate to Veritas Press. Second place will receive a $100 gift certificate to Veritas Press. Winners will be announced in the January epistula.
Our software for online classes affords us a new opportunity. We can have you join us for a book study. Douglas Wilson has agreed to lead a discussion on his above-mentioned book, Is Christianity Good for the World? It will be held in cyberspace (which means from wherever you have a computer with internet access and speakers). The study will meet at 7:00 PM EST, November 20, 2008 to give you plenty of time to read the book. Click this link to register for the study. But don’t wait—even cyberspace rooms have limits on how many can attend.
Summer Reading Contest Winners
You should have already gotten word on the Summer Reading Contest winners in an email we sent mid-September. This announcement is just further reminder that all gift certificates for winners and participants must be used by December 31, 2008. We were so thrilled with the number of entries—most of us, anyway, the exception being our staff members who had to enter all 500 or so gift certificates into our computer system!
Future Job Opening with Veritas Press Scholars Online
Online Teachers – With the rapid growth of our online courses we are anticipating needing teachers for the 2009 – 2010 school year. Experienced teachers can work from home, the beach, or anywhere high-speed internet is available. Send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit us on the web at VeritasPress.com or call