“What About All the Violence and Conquering in the Name of the Christian God?”

Just read your answer to email on the Pope’s inflammatory remarks about Islam, and I had a question about this statement:

“Muslims certainly cannot deny that Mohammed admonished Muslims to pick up their swords for Allahs cause (see my essay Islam and the Sword at Probe.org). They also cannot ignore the fact that Islam conquered both the Persian and Byzantine Empires via warfare.”

While both statements are or may in fact be true, one we Christians cannot deny that as much violence and conquering has been done in the name of God. One should be careful about removing the speck from a brother’s eye before taking the log out of his own. Actually, I believe Christian war preceded Islamic war.

I am not discounting the evil done in the name of Christ, and of course there were Christians fighting before there were Muslims since Christianity preceded Islam by six centuries. My point is about their very nature as belief systems. When one compares the actions of Christ with the actions of Mohammed, the lives of the apostles with the lives of Mohammeds companions, and the teaching found in the New Testament with what is taught in the Quran, one finds a distinct difference in the role that violence plays. Even when we compare the early history of the two religions we find that Christianity went through a three hundred year period of persecution while Islam conquered a region stretching from Spain to India, experienced three civil wars, and had three of its first four caliphs assassinated by other Muslims.

There is also the distinction to be made between individuals committing violence and vengeful acts, and the responsibility of governments or kings to uphold justice and protect their people from harm. There has been a 1,400 year conflict going on between the civilization that has constituted Europe after the Roman Empire fell and the Islamic world. For most of that time Europe was on the defensive side of things. Not until the late 17th century did the Islamic threat diminish after their failure to take Vienna and the Ottoman Empire was forced to sign the treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.

One also has to remember that Islam is both a religion and a political system; it does not recognize a separation between church and state. When a western nation acts against a Muslim one it is not Christianity vs. Islam, it is a political entity, democratic or otherwise, deciding to act against a religious/political entity.

All of this to say that while we can point to atrocities done in the name of Christ, they have no support in the New Testament. However, atrocities done in the name of Islam have explicit models in the life of Mohammed and can find justification and support in the Quran.

None of this discussion discounts our obligation as ambassadors for Christ to love and reach out to individual Muslims in humility and with compassion.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Don Closson

© 2007 Probe Ministries


Crusader Terrorists? – How Should Christians Respond

In this day of multiculturalism and political correctness, Christians should have been prepared to learn that a New Jersey school district recently chose Christian Crusaders as an imaginary terrorist group for its first live action hostage response drill. To portray the terrorists, the school district organizers made up a right-wing fundamentalist group that denies the separation of church and state. Then, they created a fake hostage situation instigated by the supposedly angry parent of a student expelled for praying.

The stated goal of the event was summarized nicely by the district superintendent. He claimed that “You perform as you practice. We need to practice under conditions as real as possible in order to evaluate our procedures and plans so that they’re as effective as possible.” While many comments could be made about the phrase as real as possible, the most critical aspect of this issue is a deeper consideration.

Sadly, just as the impact of the aforementioned PC dogma on our schools is predictable, so is the vehement response of the local Christian community to this perceived offense. One Christian demanded that a public apology be given by school officials, along with their resignations. Other critics pointed out the obvious bigotry against Christians and the absurdity of the scenario itself. Christians have the legal right to pray in schools, and they are far more likely to bring their lawyers than their guns.

Still others mentioned that this is not the first time a school district had deliberately steered clear of the obvious terrorist groups, deciding instead to pick on Christians. For example, three years ago a Michigan school district substituted a group of crazed Christian homeschoolers called Wackos Against Schools and Education for their mock terrorism drill to avoid offending any Muslims.

Unfair scenarios such as these have a lot of Christians upset, and in a perfect world, they have a right to be. But is this the best response to events such as these? How should an ambassador for Christ handle them? May I suggest an alternative?

Instead of the immediate declaration of how persecuted and indignant we Christians are, perhaps we should ask ourselves why school officials see the followers of Jesus in this light in the first place. Are we doing anything that prompts this kind of stereotyping? Unfortunately, many school administrators only hear from outraged believers when there is a problem. Rarely are Christians viewed as beneficial to the school and surrounding community.

I know of a small evangelical church in New Zealand that was marginalized as an almost cultish group until they decided to pick a school to bless each spring. Church members take one week each year to clean, paint, and repair at the church’s expense whatever needs fixing at the selected school. Their Christ-like service has completely changed the surrounding communitys attitude regarding the church, and school officials have even attended services as a result of their gratitude. A similar scenario played out recently in a small village in China. An underground church went from being persecuted to being appreciated when they decided to restore a bridge vital to that city.

It is relatively easy and natural to respond to negative stereotyping, even persecution, with a demand for political rights and privileges. It is far more difficult and supernatural to bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you.

© 2007 Probe Ministries


Why Worldview?

Don Closson writes that developing a Christian worldview impacts both how we think and how we act. It can provide a foundation for great confidence for the Christ-follower.

Probe has called itself a worldview ministry since its birth in 1973. When my wife and I joined Probe in 1986, the term “worldview” meant little to our friends and family; they supported our work with Probe mainly because they knew that we were passionate about our faith and that the ministry involved defending Christianity on college campuses. Since then, the concept of a Christian worldview has become popular among evangelicals, resulting in numerous publications and worldview ministries.

Download the Podcast My introduction to the idea of a Christian worldview was through the works of Francis Schaeffer. Although the specific term “worldview” was not used much by Schaeffer himself, he presented Christianity as an all-encompassing system. What attracted me to the Christian faith was Schaeffer’s worldview approach. Christianity was not just a series of propositions or church program, or even just a gospel message; it was about all of life. This idea had a great impact on many baby-boomers who lived through the turbulent 1960s and were searching for meaning and purpose.

The concept itself is simple. Think back to what it was like as you woke up this morning. As you opened your eyes you began to experience sights and sounds that your brain needed to interpret. This process of interpretation begins with a framework of beliefs that act as a lens to the world around you. This set of beliefs is your worldview. James Sire says in his book The Universe Next Door that “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions which we hold about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” A worldview is made up of answers to the basic questions all humans face. Is there a God? What does it mean to be human? How do I know right from wrong? The way we answer these questions shapes our reality and provides context for our thoughts and actions.

For a Christian, a worldview involves more than just theological answers to these questions. Nancy Pearcey writes that “Genuine worldview thinking is far more than a mental strategy or a new spin on current events. At the core, it is a deepening of our spiritual character and the character of our lives. It begins with the submission of our minds to the Lord of the universe—a willingness to be taught by Him.”{1} Pearcey rightly notes that the foundation of any worldview is its assumptions about God. How we answer the God question affects how we answer all the other questions of life.

The History of the Concept

In his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington writes “In the post Cold-War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural. Peoples and nations are attempting to answer the most basic question humans can face: Who are we?”{2} In other words, what is our worldview?

The idea of worldview in Western culture begins with Immanuel Kant’s introduction of the German word weltanschauung in a published work in 1790.{3} Kant only used the word once, referring to humanity’s intuitive understanding of the surrounding world. But others, especially German philosophers, took the idea and ran with it.

In his Philosophical Letters, Friedrich von Schelling wrote that “the chief business of all philosophy consists in solving the problem of the existence of the world.”{4} Heidegger later added that the basic question all of us face is, “Why is there anything at all? Why not nothing?”{5} A long list of philosophers, theologians, and poets eventually joined the discussion which peaked in the early 1900s.

At about the same time, the idea of worldview or weltanschauung entered the evangelical mind through the writings of James Orr. He used the term as a tool against dramatic changes that had occurred in Europe and America during the late 1800’s. Philosopher David Naugle writes that “During Orr’s life the West was undergoing its most catastrophic cultural transition, passing through what C. S. Lewis has referred to aptly as ‘the un-christening of Europe,’ leading to the loss of the ‘Old European’ or ‘Old Western Culture’ and to the advent of a ‘post Christian’ age.”{6} Orr understood that it had become necessary to present Christianity as a complete worldview over and against the worldview being developed by an increasingly naturalistic modern society. He presented his ideas at a lecture series at the United Presbyterian Theological College in Edinburgh in 1891, and later published them in The Christian View of God and the World.

Building upon the theological foundations of John Calvin, James Orr, along with the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper, set in place a firm foundation upon which other well-known Christian thinkers added to. Gordon Clark, Carl Henry, Herman Dooyeweerd, and Francis Schaeffer all contributed to the argument that Christianity is best understood as complete vision of life. Their goal was the same as the apostle Paul’s when he wrote to the church at Corinth, to encourage believers that “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”{7}

Benefits of Worldview Thinking

What are some of the benefits of worldview thinking?

In his book Worldview: The History of a Concept, David Naugle argues that “Christianity is uniquely capable of satisfying the standard tests for truth that philosophers have devised and applied to any network of beliefs.”{8} Christianity is coherent and comprehensive, its parts fit together well, and it takes into account all of our experiences as human beings. It also performs well in what is called the correspondence test for truth. Christianity rings true when its claims about human nature and morality and its other worldview components are compared to the world around us; it corresponds well with our daily experiences in the world.

Naugle also argues that the “God-centered conception of a Christian worldview spares believers from a naïve fideism, a scandalous anti-intellectualism, and a cultural obscurantism.”{9} In other words, a comprehensive Christian worldview does not reject reason or science. Within this worldview all truth becomes God’s truth and Christians have nothing to fear in participating in the investigation of our world and universe with non-Christians. It also helps us to avoid an unnecessary separation from the culture that God places us into; in fact, the Bible sends us into the world and encourages us to be salt and light. A correct understanding of the Christian worldview should give believers a cognitive confidence, an apologetic strategy, a cultural relevance, and a sound, spiritual basis for life in the coherent picture of God’s larger story.

A healthy Christian worldview helps believers to avoid dividing the world into the sacred and secular; instead one learns to see all of life as part of God’s creation and possessing a sacred aspect. Our culture has a tendency to separate facts and values; it claims that only science creates facts that are to be universally acknowledged while moral values are personal and limited in scope. A Christian worldview recognizes that biblical values are meant for all people everywhere and are not limited by culture or time.

As Naugle writes, “the notion of worldview has a mysterious way of opening up the parameters of the Bible so that believers might be delivered from a fishbowl-sized Christianity into an oceanic perspective on the faith.”{10} The concepts of creation, sin, and redemption take on a broader and more comprehensive meaning. Understanding the Christian worldview helps Christians to break free from their cultural constraints and to see their faith as world-sized rather than being bound by their church’s four walls.

Cautions and Temptations

In the last fifty years the concept of worldview impacted evangelical thinkers Carl Henry and Francis Schaeffer, among others, and has become the focus for numerous ministries. Now that we’ve seen some of the benefits of this apologetic tool, we should turn to consider some cautions regarding its use.

The first danger is a philosophical one. The worldview concept sprang from a distinctly modern view of the world, a view that sees “nature itself as something to be known, represented, used, and discarded as needed.”{11} Thinking “worldview-ishly” is an attempt to analyze a particular way of seeing reality and, in the process of doing so, one is required to objectify the world to some degree. This is contrary to the historic Christian ideal of seeing the universe in relation to its creator. The church has always described the world in sacred rather than materialistic language. The danger in using this term is that Christians might be tempted to see the world more in a secular philosophical setting than within the proper model of biblical stewardship.

A number of theologians have voiced cautions about using any language that is not “biblical” in helping to better understand our Christian faith. Martin Luther warned that “There is a danger in speaking of things of God in a different manner and in different terms than God himself employs.”{12} Karl Barth adds that “The true God and His activity can never be perceived within the framework of a general philosophy.”{13} He goes on to say that a worldview can never “substitute for genuine faith in the pure Word of God as the divine self-disclosure and exclusive source of an encounter with the living Lord.”{14} These cautions must be taken seriously. We need to be careful that we are not living by a foreign frame of reference and squeezing the Scriptures into a man-made mold.

Finally, there is a spiritual danger. Even with good intentions, we can end up mistaking the means for the end. C. S. Lewis once remarked, “There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself.”{15}

We can become so enamored with our worldview system and the potential it has to change culture and point others to God that we become forgetful of the God we are called to worship. Just as systematic theologies should never replace the Bible itself, the worldview concept cannot be used as a replacement for the gospel. We are called to worship God and to have a relationship with Him, and not merely to believe in a list of propositions or ideas about God.

Even with these cautions, the worldview concept can be an effective instrument for broadening the faith of Christians and help them to share that faith with their neighbors.

Summary

What role can worldview play in building the confidence of believers and in communicating the gospel to unbelievers?

The idea of worldviews helps to inoculate Christians against the popular concept of religious pluralism in our culture. When one can see for oneself that the religions of the world have mutually exclusive answers to the basic worldview questions regarding ultimate reality, the world, human nature, and the question of good and evil, it is less tempting to think that somehow all religions are the same or that choosing a belief doesn’t matter. Understanding other worldviews can help us to realize that every human perspective is built upon faith in a set of presuppositions, even scientific naturalism. This knowledge can help Christians to be more confident when they profess the uniqueness of Christ and the exclusive nature of the gospel.

Possessing a mature Christian worldview also provides a grid for analyzing the culture we live in. Everything from the education we receive to the entertainment we consume comes with a worldview perspective and often contains a not very subtle attempt to change the way we see the world. Knowing this should help Christians to filter out ideas that are not biblical and to be more resilient against emotionally manipulative works of art.

One of the most important aspects of worldview thinking is that it provides a language for cross cultural dialogue and evangelism. A Christian can inquire about another person’s worldview in a way that doesn’t cause defenses to rise in the same way that asking about someone’s religion can. And although we know that the Bible is the Word of God by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, worldview language can help us to show that Christianity is true to others without having to first prove the authority of the Bible.

Finally, once the worldview framework is understood and adopted it can provide a structure for a lifetime of learning. Even though grade-schoolers can be taught the basics of the Christian worldview, graduate level material can be assembled to help fill in and give texture to the framework. The question of what the Bible teaches regarding human nature alone can raise enough issues for many years of study, covering everything from free will to gender roles.

Christianity, conceived in terms of a worldview, can help give confidence to the believer and provide a language for entering into deep conversations with unbelievers that can lay the groundwork for sharing the gospel. The worldview concept is a tool that we can use to become a more effective ambassador for Christ.

Notes

1. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 24.

2. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster, 1996), 21.

3. David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans, 2002), 59.

4. Ibid., 60.

5. Ibid., 61.

6. Ibid., 6.

7. 1 Corinthians 10:31b

8. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept, 340.

9. Ibid., 341.

10. Ibid., 342.

11. Ibid., 332.

12. Ibid., 336.

13. Ibid., 335.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., 337.

© 2007 Probe Ministries


“As an Ex-Mormon, How Do I Find a Church That’s Not a Cult?”

I was raised a Mormon, I now know it is a cult and totally wrong. I am Christian now. I am having difficulty finding a church I can go to as I am afraid of being sucked into another cult.

Many have asked for guidelines regarding what church they should or should not join, as well as how to recognize a cult. The question might be expanded to include a broader spectrum of religious organizations. This range could include churches that are both orthodox and healthy, orthodox but unhealthy, pseudo Christian cults, and finally organizations that claim a completely different religious tradition. The progression might look something like this:

Orthodox & Healthy → Orthodox & Abusive → Cult (Christian) → World Religion (Other religious traditions)

The goal would be to attend churches that are both orthodox in their theology and that are governed by a group of men who model a Christ-like form of servant leadership. There should be a healthy balance between building up believers and sending them out to serve and reach the world. Churches can often become unhealthy when they have a completely inward perspective. Unfortunately, there are churches with orthodox theology that become abusive due to leadership that is either immature or that chooses to lead in a manipulative and abusive manner. This can happen when a pastor lacks significant oversight by a competent board of elders/deacons or when men who are not good candidates become elders/deacons and hire a young or inexperienced pastor.

The term orthodox basically means to conform to tradition. In this case we are referring to the tradition or teaching of Christ’s apostles as found in the Bible. Some have defined it as what all Christians everywhere have believed. The first seven ecumenical councils of the church established Christianity’s theology regarding the nature of God and the person of Christ. These beliefs are a good test for orthodoxy. In general, Christians believe that there is one God who has revealed himself in three persons, Father, Son and Spirit (one essence, three persons). Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, and has been co-equal with the Father since eternity past. It has also believed that the death of Jesus Christ is the only atonement for sin.

A pseudo-Christian cult usually denies the deity of Christ or his humanity (Gnostics). As you know, Mormonism denies the trinity, claiming that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate gods with a similar or united purpose. There is much more that could be said about each movement (Mormons, JW’s) but you can check our articles on the web for that info. Ron Rhodes defines a cult in one of his books in this manner:

A cult may be defined from both a sociological and a theological perspective. Sociologically speaking, a cult is a religious or semireligious sect or group whose members are controlled or dominated almost entirely by a single individual or organization. A sociological definition of a cult generally includes (but is not limited to) the authoritarian, manipulative, and sometimes communal features of cults. In this type of cult, converts are sometimes cut off from all former associations, including their own families. The Hare Krishnas, The Family (“Children of God”), and Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church are examples of this kind of cult.

Theologically speaking, a cult is a religious group that claims to be Christian but in fact denies one or more of the essential doctrines of historic, orthodox Christianity (as defined in the major historic creeds of Christianity). Such groups deny or distort essential Christian doctrines such as the deity of Christ, the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, and salvation by grace through faith alone. Cults that fall into this category include the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. [Ron Rhodes, The Culting of America, p. 5)

I hope that you find this helpful.

Don Closson

© 2007 Probe Ministries


“How Should Elders Be Appointed in the Church?”

In the biblical point of view who is supposed to appoint a person to become an elder? Is it the pastor, the board of elders or the congregation?

First, let me recommend an excellent resource on the topic of leaders and leadership in the church. Dr. Gene Getz has written a book titled Elders and Leaders: God’s Plan for Leading the Church (Moody Press, 2003). It is his view, and mine, that God has given us considerable freedom in how we govern our local congregations, both in organizational structure and in the number and the appointment method of elders/leaders. Far less flexible, or perhaps I should say far more important is the character and maturity required for someone to be considered qualified to be a leader in the church.

The Bible uses two terms interchangeably to describe the leadership position in the early church. In the earliest days of the church, the Greek term presbuteroi (elder) was consistently used. This is the same Greek word used by the Jews to describe elders within the Jewish community. By the time of Christ, every Roman city with a significant number of Jews had a council called the Sanhedrin composed of twenty-three elders. There was also a “Great Sanhedrin” in Jerusalem comprised of priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. Although the term “elder” was borrowed from the Jewish community, the role of “elder” in the church was quite different from an “elder” in the Jewish faith. Later, the term episkopoi (overseer/bishop) is used by the Bible to describe leaders. This term was more familiar to Gentile believers. The Romans used the title to refer to a superintendent or leader of a colony. When there were both Jewish and Gentile believers present, the Bible uses both terms (elder and overseers) to signify the leadership function.

The key is not the term used, but the function that these men served in the church. How these men were selected also varied. In some cases they were chosen directly by Paul and Barnabas. Timothy and Titus are given instructions by Paul regarding how they were to select elders and what qualifications were to be used. Apollos is another example of one who most likely appointed elders/overseers in the churches. Beyond these early examples of Apostolic appointment by Paul and those he approved of, we have no clear model for the selection process. Both the appointment method by existing leaders and forms of congregational selection coexisted into the future. There are some indications that self-appointed leaders existed in the early church as well. Titus 1:11 mentions an example of a leader that was causing problems by teaching things he ought not to teach.

I believe that both appointed and congregationally chosen methods are permissible as long as the qualifications for elder/overseer are taken seriously. The form of selection and the name or title given leaders is secondary to the function that they are to perform.

Don Closson

© 2007 Probe Ministries


“What Do Mormons Mean When They Say Jesus Is Our Big Brother?”

I have two questions. I know that when Mormons say Jesus is our big brother, they take it literally. What do they mean by that? Second, what is the best way to witness to my Mormon friend?

First, Mormons believe that Jesus is our literal brother in the sense that we existed with him prior to our incarnation on earth. They believe that we all (Jesus included) existed prior to our bodily form as spirit children of Elohim and God the Mother. In fact, prior to this spiritual state, Mormons believe that we have existed for eternity past as intelligences. The only difference between Jesus and us is that he has been more faithful and useful to the father. This all makes more sense when you realize that in the Mormon system there is only one form of sentient or intelligent life; God the father, the Son, the angels, and mankind are all of the same species. It looks something like this:

Intelligences → spirit beings → incarnate (fleshly) beings → god

Mormonism teaches that all of us are on this path of progression toward existing as a god.

Regarding your desire to inform your friend about the Christian faith, another good resource is the book How Wide the Divide by Blomberg AND Robinson. It is a dialogue between a professor at Brigham Young University and a seminary professor from Denver Seminary. It is very informative and it provides a good example for how Christians and Mormons can enter into dialogue with one another.

For Him,

Don Closson

© 2007 Probe Ministries


In Defense of History

Don Closson critiques the postmodern notion that we have limited or no access to history, except through biased lenses. He vies for a humble, but confident view of history as a scholarly pursuit, while writing in defense of history as a bedrock of Christian truth claims.

A convenient claim of our postmodern times is that historical truth does not exist, or, at the very least, is not accessible to us. It is fashionable to believe that all historical writing is fiction in the sense that it is one person’s subjective opinion. History as an enterprise is more like the creation of literature, say some, than a scientific investigation. Because we cannot be certain about the events of history, all perspectives must be treated as equally valid. One historian has written, “The Postmodern view that language could not relate to anything but itself must . . . entail the dissolution of history . . . and necessarily jeopardizes historical study as normally understood.”{1}

download-podcast If history is something that we create rather than uncover via the rules of scientific historical research, why do history at all? The postmodern response is that all history is politically motivated. French philosopher Michel Foucault became famous for insisting that power creates knowledge rather than the traditional assumption that knowledge is power. He wrote that since there is no access to value-free historical information, the need to write about history must come from the desire to control the past for political purposes. In effect, all historical writing is a form of propaganda.

This popular way of viewing history has dramatic implications for Christians who share their faith. One of the first objections that a Christian is likely to encounter when sharing the Gospel is the denial of any confident access to what has happened in the past. Since Christianity is a faith that is tied to history, this creates an immediate impasse. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ has not been raised from the dead in a real historical sense, then our preaching is useless, our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and we are to be pitied more than all men. Christian evangelists and apologists often point to the existence of archeological remains, ancient manuscripts, and written accounts of historical events in arguing that Christianity is a reasonable faith and that the Bible is a trustworthy and accurate account of the life of Christ. The Judeo/Christian tradition stands on the belief that God acts in history and that history reflects this divine incursion.

The Argument Against History

Until recently, students of history had two competing approaches to their craft to consider. One approach, represented by Sir Geoffrey Elton, argued that historians should focus on the documentary record left by the past in order to find the objective truth about what actually happened. These pieces of data are then used to construct a narrative of political events which, in turn, becomes the core of any serious historical writing. Put another way, it’s the facts that count, and the facts should be used to understand the actions and motivations of political leaders who determine the paths taken by nations or kingdoms. All of this assumes our ability to discover objective truth about history.

The other approach represented by E. H. Carr and his book What is History? argues that history books and the people who write them are products of a given time and place. Therefore, history is seen and written through the lens of the historians’ prejudices. This is often called the sociological view of history where a study of the historian is just as important as the comprehension of his writings.

Over the last three or four decades, Elton’s emphasis on facts has been slowly losing ground. As one writer put it, “Few historians would now defend the hard-line concept of historical objectivity espoused by Elton.”{2} Even worse, Carr’s sociological view is being replaced by one that is even further removed from seeing history as objective truth. The arrival of postmodern theory in the 1980s eradicated the search for historical truth and diminished the voice of professional historians to be just one discourse among many.

Historian David Harlan commented that by the end of the 1980s most historians—even most working historians—had all but given up on the possibility of acquiring reliable, objective knowledge about the past.{3} By the mid-1990s some historians were saying that “History has been shaken right down to its scientific and cultural foundations.”{4} An Australian academic went so far as to declare the killing of history.{5}

The denial of objective historical knowledge is impacting our culture and the church. Individuals involved with a movement called the Emergent Church generally agree with postmodernity’s denial of our ability to know objective historical truth. They also claim that those who believe they can be certain about the past are dangerous. But it is the culture at large, and especially the unsaved that makes this issue so important.

A Double Standard

A close look at this issue reveals a growing tendency to utilize a double standard when it comes to determining what happened in the past.

It seems that the only historical record that Western culture is certain of is that the Nazis committed mass genocide against six million European Jews. The rest of history is relegated to the uncertainties of our postmodern suspicions. This loss of confidence has become so extreme that some nations, especially in Europe, have resorted to the force of law to regulate what can and what cannot be said regarding some historical events.

Let’s look at one example. France has made it a crime to deny the Holocaust and has successfully prosecuted a number of authors who have questioned the particulars of the event. Once a nation goes down this path of legislated historical truth, it’s difficult to turn back. French lawmakers recently attempted to legislate away denials of the Armenian genocide in 1915 by the Turkish Ottomans. The problem with these actions is not the historical accuracy of the position taken by the French government (the historical evidence supports the French view), but rather that history is being decided by legislative acts rather than by a consensus of historians who hold academic standards in high regard.

The temptation to legislate historical truth lures the other side to legislate its own version. Turkey has now prosecuted authors for admitting the possibility that the Armenian holocaust actually happened in 1915. It was decided that such a view was un-Turkish.

If objective historical truth cannot be discerned, it doesn’t make much sense to legislate one version of it. This Orwellian response to a loss of academic confidence only creates mistrust and a greater opportunity for the abuse or propagandistic use of history.

How should Christians respond to this battle over the past?

History is important to the Christian faith. We need to encourage high standards of academic scholarship, even when the outcome doesn’t immediately support our biblical views. We also need to humbly concede that the process will be inexact, and that absolute certainty regarding any single event will always escape our grasp. Our goal should be to find a middle position between absolute certainty about what happened and the complete despair that some postmodernists advocate.

Converging Lines of Evidence

Can we really know anything about history? Thus far we have considered some of the arguments against what is called objective historical knowledge or historical certainty. Let’s look now at three ways of thinking about doing history that might help restore confidence in the process.

The first method is called the converging lines of evidence approach. How would this technique apply to the subject of the Holocaust? The first sources of evidence would include written documents and photographs from the period, including personal letters, official papers, and business forms. German administrators were highly efficient record keepers, thus making significant amounts of data available. Another source of evidence would be eyewitness accounts from survivors. These have been carefully collected and recorded over the years. Evidence from the physical remains of the concentration camps themselves and inferential evidence from comparing European population counts before and after the war provide more resources. None of this information is taken at face value, and no one line of evidence is conclusive. But as the evidence accumulates our confidence in understanding the event rises with it.

The second model for acquiring historical knowledge is called the hermeneutical spiral. This method argues that every time we ask a question regarding a topic, the research gives us answers that bring us a little closer to understanding the event. It also gives us new questions to research. Each pass we make at understanding brings us a little closer to the event itself. If applied to understanding Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, one might begin by reading the letter in English and attempting to understand its purpose or message. This would raise questions about Paul’s audience, prompting research into the culture of the first century. Eventually one might learn biblical Greek to better understand exactly what Paul was trying to communicate. As D. A. Carson writes, “I hold that it is possible and reasonable to speak of finite human beings knowing some things truly, even if nothing exhaustively or omnisciently.”{6}

The third approach is known as the fusion of horizons model. Just as no two people have an identical view of the horizon, no two people will have an identical perspective on a historical event. They will interpret the event differently because of their cultural backgrounds. To overcome this, the learner must try to step out of his or her current cultural setting, with its beliefs and presuppositions, and then become immersed in the language, ideas, and beliefs of the past, attempting to step into the shoes of those participating in the event itself.

History and Christianity

Bernard Lewis, perhaps America’s foremost scholar on the Middle East, writes that great efforts have been made, and continue to be made, to falsify the record of the past and to make history a tool of propaganda.{7} How does this falsifying of history impact Christians and the church?

First, the Christian faith stands on a historical foundation. Unlike other religious systems, a real person, not just teachings or a life example, is at the center of Christianity. Jesus provided a once-for-all payment for sin, and it is our faith in that provision that makes salvation possible. Christians also believe that God has revealed himself through the inspired writings of the Old and New Testaments. Since their influence depends on both their antiquity and authenticity, archeological remains and ancient manuscripts are vital for making a defense for the authority of the Bible.

Second, historical knowledge is important when we answer critics of the Christian faith. A current example is the comparison of Islam and Christianity regarding tolerance and civil rights. The myth of Islamic tolerance was created in the seventeenth century when French Protestants used Islam to shame the Catholic Church.{8} Unfortunately, they had little or no firsthand experience with the brutality of Islam towards those under its rule. This tolerance myth has been utilized in recent decades by Muslim writers in the West to continue the misinformation. Only recently have scholars begun to speak out and refute the tolerance myth and uncover the brutality of worldwide jihad over the centuries. It is ironic that as this program is being written, the president of Iran has convened a conference to promote the idea that the Jewish Holocaust is a myth created by the west to impose a homeland for the Jews in the Middle East.

Whether it’s the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the slave trade in the west, we need to be able to trust the consensus of historians who are committed to high academic standards to get an accurate picture of what actually happened so that we can give a wise response to our critics. In some cases, we may need to apologize for those who acted in the name of Christ yet whose actions violated the teaching of Scripture. In other cases, we may have to gently correct misconceptions about an historical event in the media or in our schools that are the result of inaccurate or incomplete information.

If we give up on the possibility of acquiring historical knowledge, we also give up an important tool for showing that our faith is reasonable.

Notes

1. Richard J. Evans, In Defense of History (W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), 3.
2. Ibid., 2.
3. Ibid., 4
4. Ibid., 3
5. Ibid., 4.
6. D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2006), 116.
7. Serge Trifkovic, Defeating Jihad (Regina Orthodox Press, 2006), 265.
8. Robert Spencer, ed., The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2005), 17.

© 2007 Probe Ministries


“The Pope’s Inflammatory Remarks about Islam”

How would you access Pope Benedict XVI remarks in his lecture on Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections? and Islamic reaction? What was the essence of his lecture that infuriated the Islamic World?

Thank you for your question regarding the Pope’s comments on Islam and the resulting violent response from the Muslim world.

Not being a Roman Catholic, I do not usually read the Pope’s speeches. However, given the worldwide outrage by Muslims, I thought it important to understand what has caused such an intense reaction to his lecture at the University of Regensburg.

The speech was rather academic and mostly focused on the relationship between faith and reason in the Christian tradition. In it, the Pope gave quotes from the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II to a Persian Muslim during the siege of Constantinople in the late 14th century. The exact quote of the Emperor is “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Emperor went on to argue that spreading any religion by the sword is by nature unreasonable.

The irony of the situation we find ourselves in today is amazing. We now have Muslims burning churches, threatening to kill the Pope, and destroy the west, because he implied that Mohammed advocated the use of the sword to spread and protect the Muslim faith. It is equivalent to punching someone in the face because they called you pugilistic.

Muslims certainly cannot deny that Mohammed admonished Muslims to pick up their swords for Allah’s cause (see my essay Islam and the Sword at Probe.org). They also cannot ignore the fact that Islam conquered both the Persian and Byzantine Empires via warfare. Had it not been for the victory at Tours by Charles Martel, all of Europe would have fallen to the Islamic invaders.

When anyone in the west speaks against violence done in the name of Allah, Muslims are quick to equate the written word with “aggression” against Islam which then justifies all sorts of violent acts in defense of Islam and its Prophet. I can only hope that the media and our politicians will wake up to the double standard that occurs when words or ideas are equated with violent acts.

Don Closson

© 2006 Probe Ministries


Scientology: Religion of the Stars – A Christian Perspective

Don Closson gives an overview of the Church of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, from a biblical perspective, including analysis of why it is incompatible with Christianity.

Depending on your perspective, Scientology was either discovered or invented by the successful pulp and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. He and his followers claimed to have uncovered deep secrets of the mind and spirit. But while adherents say Hubbard’s discoveries can eradicate most of what ails humanity, critics argue that Hubbard invented a new religion with the same creative mind that fashioned popular works of science fiction. Hubbard’s critics add that this new religion was formulated to make its founder and close associates very wealthy.

download-podcastThe details of Hubbard’s life are highly contentious. The Church of Scientology offers a version that is remarkable in every way. According to the Church, Hubbard was studying Shakespeare and Greek philosophy soon after he learned to read. By age six, he had become a blood brother of the Blackfoot Indians and had learned their tribal secrets and legends, an honor that supposedly few white men could claim. The Church of Scientology also maintains that he became the youngest Eagle Scout ever, and by age nineteen had traveled over a quarter of a million miles to China, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, and other countries.{1} By his late teens they claim that he had absorbed the philosophies of the East. These facts are questioned by Hubbard’s critics who have posted their counter-evidence on the Web and in published materials.

The Church claims that Hubbard combined his unique background with personal research that resulted in a manuscript titled “The Original Thesis” which laid the foundation for his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, published in 1950. This work sold over 150,000 copies that year alone and continues to sell well today. In 1953, Hubbard founded the first Church of Scientology in Camden, New Jersey, and eventually planted churches around the world. In 1967, he appointed himself Commodore of a small fleet of ships from which he managed his empire while sailing the Mediterranean Sea. He returned to science fiction writing near the end of his life, publishing bestsellers Battlefield Earth and the enormous Mission Earth series.

Hubbard taught that the principles in Dianetics could do more for the common man than all the traditional psychological theories and therapies combined. Understandably, the American Psychological Association became alarmed. When challenged, Hubbard and his organization would sue health care professionals and anyone else who questioned their auditing therapy. Those who questioned the movement from the inside were labeled “Suppressive Persons,” and were punished and driven from the Church.

The Worldview of Scientology: Cosmology

Scientology claims that its belief system does not conflict with the beliefs of Christianity. However, upon investigation the religion holds fundamental propositions about reality that create an impassible gulf between the two worldviews. If one accepts L. Ron Hubbard’s view of the cosmos, it will impact every other worldview component. Scientology has unique beliefs about the nature of humanity, ethics, what happens at death, the direction of history, and even how we come to know what is true. These beliefs reveal differences that are not just surface issues; they go to the heart of our existence as human beings.

Scientology assures us that it leaves the nature of God or a supreme being undefined so that it is open to people of various faith traditions. However, it does make claims about the origin of the cosmos we live in and how things have gotten the way they are. In fact, these ideas have much in common with Gnosticism. It appears that L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, was both aware of this ancient belief system and added original features to it in coming up with a new story of human origins.

Gnosticism competed with the early Christian church and was written about and refuted by church leaders. It combined ideas from Jewish, Christian, and pagan sources, and taught that the material universe is a mistake; in fact, it is evil. Its focus was on enlightened individuals who came to see this physical world for the illusion and mistake that it really is. By discovering secret knowledge, this person would lead others to the truth and eventually help them to transcend the trap of this earthly prison. Hubbard claimed to have been one of these enlightened people and that he had acquired knowledge that no other person has ever possessed, calling himself a “celestial mediator.”

Hubbard used the acronym MEST to represent the material, energy, space, and time of our universe. He argued that MEST is the product or projection of a vast number of spirit creatures called thetans who became bored with a non-material existence and decided to emanate a universe to play in. Over a long period of time, these thetans forgot that this reality, this universe, is a product of their own design, and they began to perceive it as being real.

According to Hubbard, this “agreed upon” reality is not the product of a self-existing creator God who exists outside of the cosmos as the Judeo-Christian worldview teaches, but is instead an illusion and a barrier to overcome in order to advance as an individual. Much like Hinduism and Buddhism, Scientology finds that the reality in which we dwell is part of our problem instead of a gift from a holy God. This belief alone should be enough to keep Christians from trusting in the gospel according to Hubbard.

The Worldview of Scientology: Human Nature

Hubbard claimed to have mastered Eastern thinking at an early age, so it is not surprising that his view of human nature borrows from Hindu and Buddhist thought. Much like Vedanta Hinduism, Scientology teaches that the only real component of humanity is an inner spirit being or spiritual spark. According to Hubbard, our minds are just a database of pictures or a conduit for the spirit, and that our bodies, along with the rest of the cosmos, are only imagined and are a hindrance to discovering the truth about our real nature.

Scientology teaches that this inner spirit being is a thetan that is both “good” and “divine.” It is a being of infinite creative potential that projects or creates the universe in partnership with all other thetans. Thetans are immortal creatures who dwell in illusionary physical bodies, but over time have become confused and now believe that their physical bodies are real.

According to Scientologists, thetans who have not benefited from the practices of Scientology are trapped in a reactive state of mind and cannot operate normally. In this state, humans are more like conditioned machines rather than individuals with a free will. Even worse, they have collected negative experiences called engrams as they have migrated again and again into new bodies in a never-ending cycle of reincarnation. Each of these engrams must be tracked down by a trained Church of Scientology auditor and removed before a person can advance to a healthier mental state.

Once freed by the practices of Scientology, the thetan within is promised increased freedom, intelligence and even spiritual powers. This increased capacity is claimed by many who have been “cleared” through auditing. Church publications make no guarantee regarding the results of auditing, but they do say that “auditing techniques work 100 percent of the time if they are applied correctly.”{2}

According to Hubbard, the problems facing humanity are educational rather than moral; a lack of training, not rebellion against a holy God. We are not morally deficient, but instead ignorant of our true nature. Our only “fall” is our belief that we are primarily physical beings rather than spiritual entities.

Scientology offers us a plan for self improvement; through hard work and applying Hubbard’s discoveries, anyone can reach a god-like existence. Through successful auditing, you too can become an OT or Operating Thetan, and wear Scientology’s OT bracelet, a sign that you have reached “total spiritual independence and serenity.”{3}

This is directly in conflict with the message of Christianity which states that our problem is a moral one, and the only solution is accepting the gift of forgiveness provided by Christ’s death on the cross.

Scientology and Knowledge

Hubbard was enthralled by creative people and the creative process. As a successful screen and science fiction writer, he placed the artist at the pinnacle of culture. He wrote that “A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists.”{4} His stated desire was to better the entire culture by improving the lives of its most creative thinkers. As a result, the Church of Scientology built Celebrity Centres around the world for the special needs of artists and celebrities. Here, celebrities can go through the necessary process of auditing to clear themselves of negative engrams that is provided by the Church, while in an environment that keeps fans and the paparazzi at a distance. Artists are also highlighted in Scientology’s publications, and celebrity Church members Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, and John Travolta are all outspoken proselytizers for the church.

Part of Scientology’s attraction to, and reliance on, artists and celebrities results from Hubbard’s view of reality and the nature of knowledge itself. He believed that reality is the projection of billions of thetans who created it out of boredom. Matter, energy, space, and time have no independent or objective reality; they are dependent on thetan creativity. Hubbard argued that truth itself is so strange that a typical person cannot distinguish between science and science fiction. At one point Hubbard compared being a thetan to the fantasy world in Alice in Wonderland. He noted that thetans can “mock up [invent, or make] white rabbits and caterpillars and Mad Hatters,” implying that they would find themselves right at home in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.{5}

Only operating thetans can see reality for what it is and Hubbard claimed to have greater insight than everyone else. Since Hubbard was considered to be the most enlightened thetan, anything he declared to be true was to be accepted by his followers without question. He used and nurtured this obedience when the Church came under attack by individuals and the government, especially when someone inside the organization began to question his authority. As noted earlier, those who disagreed with Hubbard were labeled “Suppressive Persons” and marked as fair game to be deprived of property via lawsuits or even to be physically injured by other Scientologists.

Christianity acknowledges and celebrates humanity’s artistic gifts which they believe reflect our being created in the image of God, the ultimate creator and artist. It also affirms the role of reason in the process of investigating the nature of God’s creation. But as the book of Hebrews says, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . through whom he made the universe.”{6} Our faith is in this Jesus, not the words of L. Ron Hubbard or the Church of Scientology.

Scientology and the Christian Faith

I recently received an email from someone who was dialoguing with a Scientologist. The Scientologist confidently claimed that Jesus died on the cross because the Jews could not accept his Buddhist teachings. She explained how Jesus had studied in China and become a Buddhist prior to his ministry in Palestine, and that the traditional view of what Jesus taught and why he died was only an opinion. Finally, this follower of L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology argued that one’s sins can be forgiven only if a person pays to experience the auditing process offered by the church and eventually become an OT or Operating Thetan.

Other beliefs held by Scientologists add to the chasm that separates it from biblical Christianity. People who have left Scientology claim that it teaches a “back-story” to the current human condition. But only those who have attained the highest levels within the organization are given access to the information.

Hubbard’s story goes something like this. Seventy five million years ago an evil leader called Xenu decided to eliminate the excess population from a galactic confederacy consisting of twenty-six stars and seventy-six planets. With the help of psychiatrists, he tricked billions of people into submission and exported them to the planet Teegeeack or Earth. The paralyzed victims were stacked around active volcanoes in which hydrogen bombs were placed. According to the story, the bombs were detonated and the disembodied souls or thetans were captured and brainwashed into believing in the existence of a God and the devil. Hubbard blamed the evil Xenu for planting the ideas of Catholicism and the image of crucifixion into the minds of the hapless thetans. This process also deprived the thetans of their own sense of identity, resulting in their clinging to the few physical bodies that remained after the explosions.

As a result, those who have not benefited from Scientology’s auditing process are possessed by a collection of dysfunctional thetans trying to control their every thought and action. Once cleared by Hubbard’s auditing, all the confusion supposedly disappears. There is more to this “history according to L. Ron Hubbard,” but it quickly becomes obvious that Scientology and its founder are teaching another gospel.

Either one can be saved via Hubbard’s auditing process, which promises to give people “total spiritual independence and serenity,” or we are saved by placing our faith in what Jesus Christ did on the cross, but not both.{7} Either we are divine-like beings who can overcome all our moral and mental deficiencies in the Church of Scientology, or we are creatures that were created “good” but are fallen due to rebellion against a holy God. To argue that the two systems are compatible doesn’t make much sense.

Notes

1. What is Scientology? (Bridge Publications, 1993) p. 26-32.

2. Ibid., 93.

3. Ibid., 150.

4. Ibid., 259.

5. John Weldon, Scientology: From Science Fiction to Space-Age Religion
(Christian Research Institute, Statement DS-170, 1993). PDF available at www.equip.org/free/DS170.pdf

6. Hebrews 1:2

7. What is Scientology?, 150.

© 2006 Probe Ministries


Education Myths

Don Closson offers 5 myths about education commonly held by the American public, from a Christian perspective.  These myths include neutrality, more money is the solution, teachers are underpaid and school choice harms public education.

The Myth of Neutrality

Most of us assume that those involved with our public schools have at least one thing in common: the belief that the kids come first. This assumption allows us to believe that a kind of neutrality exists among the various participating parties. Since they all have the best interests of our children in mind, we can trust their motives and their actions. It also leads some to believe that there is no place for politics in schools; again, thanks to the myth of neutrality.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that no such neutrality exists. Our schools are highly political and are a battle ground for the various groups hoping to cash in on the huge amount of money Americans spend on public schools every year. Politics is all about deciding how our tax monies will be distributed, who gets what resources, when, and how. In the 2003-04 school year, America spent over $500 billion on public schools with about 60 percent of that amount going to actual classroom expenses. But even though we spend more on public education than any other industrialized nation, our schools continue to fail to adequately educate those who are most in need of a good education: our inner city students.

Despite being in an almost constant state of reform, the school districts in our largest cities perform poorly. In New York schools, only 18 percent of children receive a Regents Diploma after four years of high school. Those numbers fall to 10 percent for black and Hispanic students. Yet year after year, regardless of their performance teachers, principals, and central office staff cash their paychecks. Teachers unions, textbook publishers, and even colleges and universities that earn millions training and retraining teachers, thrive on their connection to the annual education budgets of our nation’s cities. As New York Post columnist Bob McManus once put it: “This is the New York City public school system, after all, where power comes first and kids come last—but where money matters most of all.”{1}

The entrenched bureaucracy that has grown up around the education industry knows how to protect itself and its link to the billions of dollars being spent. The lobbying efforts of teachers unions, national organizations representing school board members and superintendents, as well as the textbook companies all fight for influence in Washington and state capitols.

It must be said that there are many teachers, principals, school board members and countless others involved with our schools who are diligently and conscientiously working to educate our nation’s children. However, the way that our school systems are organized virtually guarantees that politics will reign supreme when important decisions are made on behalf of our most needy students.

In this article, we take a look at five myths about public education held by the American public.

The “If Only We Had More Money” Myth

Rarely do representatives of our nation’s teachers unions, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers write about deficiencies in our public schools without blaming them on a lack of adequate funding. The “we need more money” mantra has been heard so often that it is ingrained in the minds of most Americans and goes unquestioned by most. But is this always the best explanation for the failure of our schools to educate well? In fact, inadequate funding is only one of many possible reasons for poor performance.

The U.S. has been increasing per pupil spending consistently for the last fifty years. From 1945 to 2001, inflation adjusted spending has grown from $1,214 per student to $8,745. Measuring increases in performance over that period is more difficult. We do have good data from the early 1970s when the National Assessment of Educational Progress began. Unfortunately, scores for twelfth grade students have remained essentially flat in reading, math, and science over that time period, and graduation rates have changed little. Many studies have concluded that although we have increased our educational spending significantly there has been little or no significant improvement in our schools.

Various explanations have been given for why more money hasn’t resulted in improved student performance. One of the most popular is that much of the increase in funding has gone to services for disabled students and special education programs. The special ed complaint is answered by the fact that we don’t have a higher percentage of disabled students; rather, we are choosing to label students disabled who in the past would have been called slow or under-average learners. The percentage of students with severe disabilities has actually remained level between 1976 and 2001, and the number of students classified as mentally retarded has actually declined.{2} Regardless of what label we give these students, increased dollars spent should result in improved performance, but it hasn’t.

Some argue that a smaller fraction of every budget dollar actually goes to classroom instruction, but whose fault is that? Others complain that students are harder to teach today due to the effects of poverty, greater healthcare needs, and the fact that they are more likely to speak a foreign language than in the past. However, childhood poverty rates have held fairly steady since the late 70s and has been declining since 1992.{3} One of the best indicators of health care for children, the child mortality rate, has improved 66 percent in the last thirty years, so it is hard to argue that today’s children have poorer health care. The only argument that holds up is that more students have a native language other than English. But this factor alone does not explain why the huge increases in spending have not resulted in better performance.

Teachers Are Badly Underpaid

Another myth is that students perform poorly because teachers are severely underpaid.

Every few years we are warned about a looming shortage of teachers or that teachers cannot afford to live in the cities in which they teach, resulting in either inferior teachers or large classes. For instance, during the internet boom of the 90s, it was feared that teachers could not afford to live in Silicon Valley due to the high cost of real estate. But a number of years later, the San Jose Mercury analyzed housing data from that period and discovered that there was no crisis. In fact, 95 percent of the teachers who taught there lived there, and about two thirds owned their own homes.{4} In fact, teachers fared better than software engineers, network administrators, and accountants when it came to home ownership.{5}

Others argue that the best and the brightest stay away from teaching because salary rates compare poorly to similar professions. But most researchers compare teachers’ annual salary with the annual salary of other professions without taking into account the one hundred eighty day work year for the typical teacher. Adjusting the average teacher’s annual salary of $44,600 to a full-time equivalent brings it to $65,440. This amount represents a respectable middle class salary by anyone’s calculation.

Another way to look at the issue is on an hourly basis. In 2002, high school teachers made an average of $31.01 per hour. This compares to $30 per hour for chemists, $29.76 per hour for mechanical engineers, $28.07 per hour for biologists, and $24.57 per hour for nurses.{6} Doctors, lawyers, dentists, and others do make more per hour than teachers, but their education is far more rigorous, and they often require long internships or residency obligations.

Even when one compares benefits other than income teachers fare well. One researcher discovered that half of all teachers pay nothing for single-person health care coverage, while the same is true for less than one-quarter of private-sector professionals and technical employees.{7} Another type of employment benefit that teachers enjoy is job security. It becomes remarkably difficult to fire a teacher who has been employed by a school district for three or more years. Tenure protection for public school teachers give them almost unparalleled job security compared to professionals in the private sector.

The reason that teaching does not attract the best and the brightest is more likely tied to the way that individual teachers salaries are determined than the average amount paid. A recent study found that the inability of teachers to make more money by performing better than their peers is the main cause for the declining academic abilities of those entering the field.{8} Talented people want to know that they can earn more if they work harder than others around them.

School Choice Harms Public Education

Another controversy that has generated myths of its own is the debate over educational choice or voucher programs. There are two popular misconceptions: first, that research has been inconclusive regarding the benefits of voucher programs, and second, that educational choice damages public education.

Whenever the topic of school vouchers comes up in major media outlets the consistent message is that research on their benefit to students is mixed at best. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time magazine have all sounded the same warning. Time wrote, “Do vouchers help boost the test scores of children who use them? Researchers are trying to find out, but the evidence so far is inconclusive.”{9} Why would publications and even researchers equivocate on the benefits of vouchers? There are a number of possible reasons. Ideology can play a role. If one has come out against vouchers it’s difficult to affirm them regardless what the research says. Financial interests might also play a role if supporting vouchers might result in the loss of funding or readership.

The most accurate way to research the impact of voucher programs is to perform random-assignment studies.{10} There have been eight such studies, and all of them found a positive effect or advantage in academic progress for students who received a voucher to attend a private school. Seven of the eight findings were statistically significant. The question left to researchers is to determine the magnitude and scope of the positive effect and to establish the conditions that result in the greatest amount of progress.

The second myth; that voucher programs damage nearby public schools, is also contrary to the evidence. Although not all voucher programs are large enough to impact the public schools nearby, those programs that have the potential to do so have been studied. The consistent finding is that the competition caused by vouchers always results in an increase in public school performance. For instance, as a result of Florida’s A-Plus voucher program, “public schools whose students were offered vouchers produced significantly greater year-to-year test score gains than other Florida public schools.”{11} Schools that faced competition experienced a 5.9 percentile point advantage on the Stanford-9 math test over schools not facing competition.{12} Other studies showed that even the threat of future competition produced public school improvement.

Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby studied the impact that the oldest voucher program in the country has had on student performance in Milwaukee’s public schools. Again, she discovered that “schools exposed to greater voucher competition made significantly larger test score gains than schools less exposed to voucher competition.”{13}

Studies in other states have supported the benefit of competition as well. Vouchers offered in Maine, Vermont’s “tuitioning” programs, and charter schools in Arizona and Michigan have all prompted better performance in nearby public schools.

Public Education Doesn’t Matter

Our final American education myth is often held by conservative Christians. It is the belief that public education doesn’t matter. The argument goes something like this: the public educational establishment has adopted a completely naturalistic worldview. And. as a result, it is hostile towards anything Christian, rendering it morally bankrupt.

While it is true that our public education system is primarily built upon the assumptions of naturalism, and that it is often hostile to both individual Christians and Christian thought. It does not follow that Christians, even those who chose to home school or place their children in a private Christian school, should be indifferent to the fate of children in our public schools.

Perhaps we can compare our situation to that of the Israelites while in captivity in Babylon. Although the culture was alien and often hostile, as ours can be today, and it would have been tempting to undermine its institutions and seek its destruction, God communicated via the prophet Jeremiah that the Jews were to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”{14}

Out of love for our neighbors and their children, we should desire to see them receive the best education possible. One of the earliest justifications for public education was that children needed to become literate in order to understand the Bible and apply it to their lives. In 1647, Massachusetts passed the Old Deluder Act which argued that public education was necessary because Satan attempted to keep men in ignorance of the Scriptures by keeping them from the true sense and meaning of the text. If they could read it for themselves they would be less susceptible to deception. The same need is present today. A literate society is not necessarily more open to the Bible and its message, but illiteracy places a large gulf between an interested individual and God’s revelation.

Another reason to not lose interest in the funding and functioning of our public schools is because we continue to pay for them. If we are to be good stewards of the monies granted us by God, we cannot ignore perhaps the largest single government expense. The amount of money spent on public education in America is massive by any standard, and the potential for abuse and misuse is equally large.

Into the near future, most American children, Christian and otherwise, will be educated in our public schools. Misinformation or political spin should not be allowed to shape our opinions or our decisions about education in the voting booth. The parties involved are not neutral. Although many have the best interests of the children at heart, power and money also play a major role in educational policy making.

Notes

1. Joe Williams, Cheating Our Kids (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 7.
2. Jay P. Green, Education Myths (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 24.
3. Ibid., 26.
4. Ibid., 72.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., 79.
7. Ibid., 82.
8. Ibid., 83.
9. Ibid., 147.
10. See chapter 13 of Education Myths for an explanation.
11. Education Myths, 170.
12. Ibid., 172.
13. Ibid., 173.
14. Jeremiah 29:7

© 2006 Probe Ministries