Monday, July 20, 2009

Apparently Lutheran Theology *Does* Conflict with the Underlying Philosophy of Classical Education

I was discussing with my dh - a Lutheran pastor - the accuracy (or lack thereof) of The Latin-Centered Curriculum's (LCC) description of Luther's beliefs toward classical education, and ended up getting completely blown away.

Dh advanced the position that, however hard we may try to find the truth, we can only succeed in actually finding it with the help of the Holy Spirit. Basically, sin has so thoroughly tainted everything - including the natural world and our reason - that on our own we are thoroughly incapable of ever grasping actual Truth. Sin corrupted all our data, and there is no way that we - equally corrupted by the Fall - can even have the slightest clue what it originally was like. We may very well find out accurate facts about our sinful world, but they are - at best - twisted, distorted reflections of actual Truth. And truth mixed with lies is ultimately still a lie. Only through the Holy Spirit can we discover actual Truth. (It's just like how we can not help but sin except through the continual help of the Holy Spirit.)

(Natural law would be something of a special case. It is directly written on our hearts by God, and - like all works of God - it is perfect. But it was done after the Fall, and in response to it - the law wasn't needed when we were in perfect communion with God, after all - and thus doesn't suffer from the data corruption effects that the rest of God's perfect creation suffers from. However, even though the law is perfect, our reason - outside of God - is still flawed, and thus can't help but mix lies in with the truth.)

Well, that is depressing. And flatly contradicts at least some of the basic premises of classical education. Objective truth exists, but it is not knowable outside of God. Not only it is impossible to know Christ without God, it is impossible to truly know anything without God. Sure, reason alone could never save your soul, but apparently it alone can't do much of anything, period.

Yet, does this understanding of human reason and its limitations violate basic premises of Christian classical education? More to the point, does it do so in a way that makes it impossible to have a historically meaningful classical education that is also grounded in Lutheran theology?

Well, based upon this explanation of true Christian education, written by William Michael of the CLAA, I would say that authentic classical education that is authentically Lutheran is possible. He writes that "[t]rue education teaches human beings to seek truth, goodness and beauty by the use of faith-enlightened reason." Despite our disagreement on the efficacy of non faith-enlightened reason, I am in complete agreement with that statement.

But even so, the more I read about the Scholastics, and about how thoroughly they - and through them the Catholic church - were influenced by Aristotle's philosophy, the more I'm starting to agree with Mr. Michael. If a true classical education requires adopting an Aristotelian worldview (which is not an indefensible position to take), rather than just studying Aristotle's works, then it really *isn't* possible to have an authentic classical education that is also genuinely Protestant.

But is adopting an Aristotelian worldview required to have an historical meaningful classical education? That's the kicker - I'm still trying to figure it out.


Gene Veith said...

Luther's version of classical education was NOT the scholastic version of the Middle Ages but the literary version of the Renassaince! The kind that insisted on going back to the original sources (such as the Bible!). It can't be denied that the kind of education Luther and Melanchthon started to teach everyone how to read the Bible was classical in this sense.

Daisy said...

Wonderful post. I have eschewed much of classic education because of this very dilemma. I'm interested in hearing more.

gomice said...

I am reminded of the Catholic catechism teaching regarding the state of creation: that the "good" still exists past the fall and therefore can still be found. In depression contrast, Luther taught that ALL is corrupt, as pointed out in the post.

I'm Lutheran, but I find the Catholic understanding more consistent with the omnipotence and ultimate mercy of God. And this discussion about authentic classical, I'm sure, is well understood as angels dancing on the head of pin, a distinctly Catholic endeavor, as I recall ...

Anonymous said...

(followed your blog link from WTM board)

I just finished reading Who Killed Homer? and Climbing Parnassus.

To put it simply, I was blown away by the desire of the authors to think like Greeks. A short trip through the New Testament shows the problem with that.

We are pressing on with classical education, but the "Why" has been clarified in my mind. I Peter 3:15 is the "Why." I want my boys to be able to answer anyone's humanistic idea of wisdom with the wisdom that is from above.

I agree with the authors of the aforementioned books that our children will not have a real understanding of important works created since the time of the Greeks and Romans if they do not also understand the Greeks and Romans. So, we will study the Greeks and Romans, but the Bible will be open all the while. They can learn critical thinking along with the academics.

I want my Christian children to know *why* the wisdom of God is foolishness to the Greeks. 1 Cor. 1:22, so they must learn the difference.

Anonymous said...

I just posted on William Michael's CLAA. My daughter is enrolled.

Nice blog. Christ's peace to all of you.

Jennifer @ Quiverfull Family said...

Well, I suppose this is one of the reason we are eclectic with classical influences. I do believe that the emphasis upon pagan philosophies and thought forms can become overwhelming in a strictly classical education.

Have you read Teaching the Trivium by the Bluedorns? I do believe that elements of a classical education can be redeemed and applied within a Christian context, but not the whole kit and kaboodle.