Tom Sorkness and Joel Bacon
There is an anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, regarding the founding of the Christian school where we have taught for many years. Cornelius Van Til was part of a small group of people who helped to form what would eventually become Philadelphia-Montgomery Christian Academy. After it was established, Dr. Van Til visited the school one day and upon entering a classroom saw two things written on the board: “2 + 2 = 4” and “Jesus Christ is Lord.” This, in his estimation, was the epitome of Christian education: two great truths brought together in time and space and presented to young covenant children—two truths that should not be separated. This reality epitomizes the foundation of the Christian school. Built upon this foundation, Christian education should be covenantal, catechetical, cultural, Reformational, and doxological.
It is the conviction of parents, following the demands of the covenant, that leads them to place their children in the Christian school—to always place them in the context of truth. Deuteronomy 6 reminds us that we are to teach our children God’s laws when we lie down, when we rise up, and when we walk along the way. Placing our children under the teaching of competent, dedicated, and loving Christian teachers seeks to fulfill that command.
Catechetically, we are to impress the truths of God’s Word and his world upon the hearts and minds of our children. Supremely, this means teaching them God’s plan of redemption, but along with this to expose them to the way God formed the world and sustains and governs it through his providence.
Next, parents need to impress upon their children that human beings develop culture because they are image bearers. The impetus for the arts, scientific inquiry, and even commercial pursuits comes from the fact that we think God’s thoughts after him. Impressing this on students shows that the impulses of man to enter into and make culture is good and intended by God.
Reformationally, we are called to bring God’s Word to bear in a world that has been so wracked and perverted by sin that man endeavors no longer to bring glory to his Maker, but to glorify himself. We are called to redeem the culture in which we live, to turn our pursuits back to God and to present them to him for his glory. Although this is accomplished imperfectly, it is our intention to do such things in faith, so that they might be presented to the Father in righteousness.
Finally, all we do in a Christian school should involve our children giving praise and glory to our Creator and Redeemer in all areas of life. After all, man’s ultimate purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
What follows are but two examples of how such purposes play out in the classroom. Both examples flow from the truths of the catechism—the first from teaching about the physical universe (written by Joel Bacon), and the second from teaching about the social universe (by Tom Sorkness).
“God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” That short statement from the Shorter Catechism encapsulates the Bible’s teaching about the One who “created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). What I want my students to understand is that the God who made everything is not a mere concept, but the One who is! As a teacher of high school chemistry and physics, I have many opportunities to explore and express his being and attributes with my students.
We are told in Romans 1:20 that “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” One of God’s invisible attributes is infinitude. I teach that the scale of the universe—from the very, very large to the very, very small—bears silent but powerful evidence of God’s infinitude, in all its aspects.
For example, if the Sun were the size of a mm-sized dot (•), Earth would be too small to be seen without a microscope and it would be a bit over 4 inches from that dot. Pluto would be about 14 feet away from the dot, and the next nearest star would be about 18 miles away! In between is pretty much empty space. Our scaled-down Milky Way galaxy would stretch out almost 2 million miles, more than seven times the actual distance to the moon! I have a mural on one wall that demonstrates the scale of the planets, the solar system, and some famous stars. It is a daily reminder to the students of God’s infinitude.
King David had a clear idea of the immensity and beauty of the heavens and expressed it in the Psalms. On clear evenings, my physics students gaze upon virtually the same sky and echo David’s awe, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4). Lest they go down the wrong path and conclude that man is nothing special, we read the whole psalm. The One who created the universe and maintains it is mindful of each of his children. To those who say, “The cosmos is all there was, all there is, and all there ever will be,” we say, “nonsense!” “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’< ” (Ps. 14:1).
As far as size goes, chemistry students deal with the smallest particles of matter. They learn that there are more atoms in a pinhead than there are leaves on trees in the whole world! At the same time, they confront the very large as we learn about the mole concept. A mole of any substance, by definition, consists of approximately 6.022 x 1023 units of it—the number of atoms in 12 grams of carbon-12. This huge number is called Avogadro’s number, and to help students get the big picture, they count the number of drops in 10 mL of water. They then figure out how much water it would take to have an Avogadro’s number of drops. It turns out to be enough water to cover the United States to a depth of about 2 miles! In considering such things, it is my intention that students be left in awe of the majesty—the infinitude—of God, the Creator and sustainer of the universe.
So, what of the social universe? That man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever is well known to our students, but they still need to discern how that plays out. As they examine Scripture, they see that although God’s plan for each person is providentially unique, the creation ordinances point to the fact that he has a common will for all mankind. As they consider Genesis, they discover those ordinances: labor, marriage, and Sabbath rest. These ordinances Adam followed to the glory of God, but they were deeply affected by his fall into sin. Yet, they were not abrogated. They are still God’s ordinances for us today.
But what about sin and its devastating effects? God has solved that problem through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who has produced the firstfruits of a new creation—one now realized, yet still to come.
But what about the here and now? The new heavens and earth have not yet arrived; man is in conflict with his fellow man. Further study of Scripture, such as Romans 13, alerts the students to God’s temporal plan: the civil magistrate as God’s instrument of common grace. They learn that the purpose of civil government is to promote the good and restrain evil.
As we launch into our yearlong study of civics, students come to see a wide variety of governmental constructs and ideologies made manifest over time. Some systems have sought to maintain human dignity, recognizing man as an image bearer of God, but others have been not only abusive, but ultimately antithetical to God. Totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century—at both ends of the political spectrum—have not only sought to brutally control human beings, but have even challenged God’s authority by redefining and redirecting the creation ordinances.
As the students read Abraham Kuyper, they note that according to late nineteenth-century German philosophical pantheism, the state has undergone an apotheosis: it has replaced God and has become God. In the end, as the students examine the social universe, and particularly the civil order, from the perspective of Scripture, they are provided a gauge by which to assess the manifestation of man’s organization throughout the ages, both civil and otherwise. This provides them with a basis for true judgment as they live in this world.
The Christian school, then, provides the way for covenant children to fully appreciate the world in which God has placed them. At Phil-Mont, it is through the lens of Scripture that this is accomplished. Only by using the Bible can covenant children come to full knowledge of who man is in relation to God, his fellow man, and the world in which he lives—and ultimately to direct their lives to the glory of God as he shapes and reshapes that world. Whether it is 2 + 2 or 6.022 x 1023, the student in the end knows that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord!
Mr. Sorkness is an elder at Cornerstone OPC in Ambler, Pa. Mr. Bacon is a deacon at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pa. New Horizons, February 2016.