The broadly educated Christian

Written by Jeri Massi This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the author.

The reasoning has surfaced among Christians that it's better to keep our children away from all books that might somehow tarnish the truth of the Gospel--as though exposure at all to the deceptions that haunt our society may somehow taint them. Keep them on the farm. Keep them from reading or viewing or being a witness to secular events, secular thinking, secular reasoning. They should read the Bible and only the Bible. They should associate only with Christian peers, and only with those Christian peers who share their exact same values and convictions.

Paul wisely sets down the limits of the educated person: all achievement for its own sake he reards as dung, but he clearly states in I Corinthiansa 9:21 and following these reasons for developing his mind with cultural understanding of others:

21) To them that are without the law, as without
law [not meaning he became godless, only able
to converse with and understand them--ed.
] (being
not without law to God, but under the law to
Christ,) that I might gain them that are without
22) To the weak became I as weak, that I might
gain the weak: I am made all things to all
men, that I might by all means save some.

Paul's indication here is that the goal of Christianity is to be conversant with all cultures, all people--not mingled with their philosophies, but aware of them, educated in them, able to discern their beliefs and where they veer from truth.

Such a Christianity would have to be an educated Christianity--educated in a broad study of literature. Of course the building of discernment takes time, and a six year old cannot discern what a twelve year old can. But the twelve year old will not discern as well as he might unless early on he sees that part of his education is dedicated to viewing, reading, and discerning. And he can't do that well unless what he's reading offers a broad scope of human experience.

Paul again reveals his classical education (and apparent approval of some of what he had learned from the Greeks) in I Corinthians 15:33, when he warns, "Evil communications corrupt good manners," which is a quote from pagan Greek literature. Paul's use of the quote doesn't make the Greeks any less pagan, but it does show that Paul was well read in the literature and could quote it and had no compunction about doing so to serve the Word of God.

In the book of Acts, Paul again shows his broad education when he refers to the Greek poets in Acts 17:28. In fact, it can be argued pretty well, that Paul's sermon on Mars Hill was so apt because he understood his Greek audience so well.

Paul was definitely on trial at Mars Hill. The polite request for him to speak of his beliefs veiled the threat that he could be charged with "corrupting the morals of the young" if his beliefs amounted to anything that criticised or condemned pagan Greek culture. (Socrates, who also espoused monotheism, was sentenced to death for the crime of corrupting the morals od the young; that is, he spoke out against the Greek gods and many Greek customs which he viewed as self destructive.)

Paul knew the structure of the discourse that he was supposed to give, and he understood perfectly well that if he said anything that they could use against him, he could have been sentenced to death. So he structured his discourse in such a way as to fit with their culture and yet to exalt God as the only sovereign Ruler of the universe. By insisting that his Gos was the Unknown God, he stayed within the boundaries of Greek law. This cunning defense and exposition of his faith required a detailed knowledge of Greek culture, which Paul obviously had.

Paul's broad education in the classics, then, gives us the example to follow. We start our children with what is fit for tender years, but as their minds develop, we exercise their discernment and make it stronger by having them read the thoughts, beliefs and philosophies of others. We discuss it with them, and we show them the outcome in history of false beliefs. It also gives us the opportunity to show them the grains of truth hidden in many secular philosophies, so they can accept the grain with thanksgiving and blow away the chaff.

Mere Morality: The Problem of "Wholesome" Christian Fiction
Reactionism and Reductionism in Christian Thought
The Use of "Pagan" Symbols in Fiction
The Broadly Educated Christian
The Bible and Fiction

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