A golden oldie…

of my own.

Seemed like a good time for me to republish a slightly edited and updated version of an essay I wrote several years ago. Hope you find it useful.

A Neutral Education?

“…we should approach claims on the part of a textbook and curriculum publisher to know the truth with great, great caution (not to say suspicion). God has not revealed His truth through publishers. He has revealed it within the context of a faithful, local worshipping community. “

Although I generally refrain from theological discussions online (the article below will explain why), I’ve been disturbed by discussions which pit The Well-Trained Mind against Christian classical education. If you’re interested in this topic, read on.

In 1998, New York publisher W. W. Norton bought our proposal for a book about classical education. We were delighted; we thought that The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (which I co-wrote with my mother, Jessie Wise) fit beautifully into Norton’s list, which includes the Norton anthologies — collections of classic literature which have been used by generations of college students — and numerous twentieth- century classics of philosophy, history, and literature. Norton, one of the last large independent publishing companies, hasn’t been swallowed by a conglomerate; it is willing to publish books that go against the “best educational philosophy” of the present day, which we saw as a great advantage, since we rarely agree with any of the philosophy that comes out of schools of education. Norton’s interest in a book about classical education was proof that this time-honored way of teaching was indeed experiencing a welcome renaissance.

Publishing with a “secular” company did, however, prove more complicated than we had anticipated. We soon found ourselves in an ongoing debate with our editors about the proper tone to take towards Christian belief. As Christians ourselves, we ground everything we do and write in our commitment to our faith; our beliefs and practice are shaped by the historic creeds of the orthodox Christian church, particularly the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, which we return to in our worship time and time again; our commitment to our local church, in which we see Christ’s Great Commission acted out through hospitality, through worship and through the celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is central to our lives. Yet Norton, with its eye on the “wider reading public,” was concerned that the book not exclude parents who do not identify with our Protestant beliefs. Our chapters on the place of religion in history were edited, and edited again. At one point, an editor even suggested that we not recommend any curricula from religious publishers, in order to maintain “neutrality” on the subject of religion.

We resisted this, arguing that the academic rigor of some our favorite resources from religious publishers were simply not matched by any “secular” resources. And we also objected that leaving religious curricula out was not, as our editors suggested, “neutral,” but rather showed a disturbing hostility towards Christian home schoolers and their beliefs. I wrote a defense of our position which eventually was incorporated into Chapter Eleven, “Matters of Faith: Religion”:

Education cannot be neutral when it comes to faith: it is either supportive or destructive. The topic of education is humanity, its accomplishments, its discoveries, its savage treatment of its own kind, its willingness to endure self- sacrifice. And you cannot learn — or teach — about humanity without considering God. Let’s take biology as an example. Mammals are characterized by, among other things, their tendency to care for and protect their young. Do mothers love their babies because of sheer biological imperative? If so, why do we come down so hard on fathers who neglect their children? It’s a rare male mammal that pays attention to its young. Do fathers love their babies because of the urge to see their own genetic material preserved or because fathers reflect the character of the Father God? How should a father treat a defective child? Why? (p. 212, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home).

Our editors agreed; the argument stayed in the book, as did our favorite resources. And in the second part of the book, when I argued that a truly classical education must acknowledge the claims of faith, our editors agreed again. I wrote:

[E]thics cannot be discussed in some sort of “neutral” fashion. If you are a theist, you believe that human character comes from a Creator and reflects some of the Creator’s qualities. If you are a materialist, you believe that human character is primarily the result of biological factors, some of which can be controlled, some of which can’t. If you are a Christian, you believe that moral absolutes are binding upon every human being. If you are an agnostic, you believe that moral absolutes are unknowable and that making pronouncements about moral absolutes thus reaches the height of arrogance. What sort of neutral ground can these views meet on? None. (p. 546, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home).

In this, I simply repeat the argument against “neutrality” made by Cornelius Van Til, J. Gresham Machen, Francis Schaeffer, and other thinkers who shaped my own education. But The Well-Trained Mind, when it was published in final form in the fall of 1999, was marketed by the publisher as “non-sectarian.” Is the book indeed “neutral?” And if so, why?

In The Well-Trained Mind, we suggest the use of many “secular” texts, such as the Usborne History of the World, the Kingfisher Illustrated History Encyclopedia, and Paul Johnson’s History of the Renaissance. For science, we have recommend Wild Goose chemistry kits, “Science in a Nutshell” science kits from Delta Education, the Reader’s Digest/Dorling Kindersley series How Nature Works, How the Universe Works, How the Body Works, and many other materials. Our reading list for middle grade students includes secular history books as well as Pilgrim’s Progress and Reformation biographies such as those of Martin Luther and John Wycliffe. Our Great Books list for twelfth graders includes Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, and C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

As the book became popular, these mixed recommendations drew numerous questions from Christians using The Well-Trained Mind to organize their own classical programs. Why do we — Christians who have the centrality of our faith as the organizing principle of everything we do — choose to approach education in this fashion? Don’t we believe that the knowledge of God is central to true education? How could we publish a book that didn’t explicitly assert God’s sovereignty over each specific area of the curriculum? Why was the book so secular?

The presence of “secular” book recommendations is not, itself, reason enough for such objections. After all, such Christian publishers as Greenleaf Press, Canon Press, and Veritas Press have always sold books that are not written from an explicitly Christian perspective, and Christian parents (the same ones protesting the “secular” nature of The Well-Trained Mind) buy and use these books. Veritas Press, while asserting that “Should God fail to exist, the certainty of two plus two equalling four would no longer be with us,” nevertheless sells the Saxon math program, which never specifies the philosophical grounds for all those math fact drill sheets. Canon Press sells John Milton Gregory’s Seven Laws of Teaching, which isn’t explicitly Christian in content — and our own book, “secular” though it may appear.

But both of these publishers also provide a central story of Christianity around which various resources (both secular and Christian) are organized. In contrast, our book — while insisting that neutrality is impossible, and that issues of faith and belief must be central in classical education — nevertheless refrains from laying out a Christian theology of knowledge. As Doug Wilson truly points out in “The Biblical Antithesis in Education,” such a theology of knowledge is vital for true education to take place:

As Machen states, truth is truth however learned. It is possible to teach students to balance their checkbooks without any reference to God. But this is not education; it is merely mental dexterity. Students are not being taught to think thoroughly. They are merely being trained to function in a particular way. When a student is taught to think, he will relate what he learns in one class to the information offered in another. But he can only do this when he has an integrating principle — something that will tie all the subjects together.

Can a Christian find an acceptable integrating principle in The Well-Trained Mind? Or did our publisher excise it in the interest of selling more books?

While it’s true that Norton copy editors changed my wording and eliminated some specifically Christian theological points, I do not want to claim that the final form of The Well-Trained Mind is “Norton’s fault.” Given that I signed the contract and spent the advance, I’d be in an entirely indefensible position if this were the case. I would have “sold out” to a secular publisher for the sake of finding a wider readership, allowing my own convictions to be “cleansed” so that I could go and cash Norton’s advance check.

In fact, The Well-Trained Mind reflects a deep commitment to Christ-centered education and accurately portrays my own convictions about what Christian education should be. There is an integrating principle to the book, but it is one that grew out of our own experience as faithful members of a Christian community — and I think it is one that many Christians will feel uncomfortable with.

I want to suggest — classical educator that I am — that in our immense and proper regard for the Word of God, we have elevated words in general (books and the Christian print culture which grew out of the American publishing scene) to a wildly exaggerated place of respect. We have allowed publishers, writers, and curriculum authors an authority which is unmatched even by the authority of the local body of Christ. I am not suggesting that we somehow lower our view of Scripture, but I am suggesting that the victory of the printing press has not strengthened Christianity. If it had, wouldn’t the church of Christ be stronger now than in the first century? Look at the fragmented, divisive, confrontational state of American Christianity; look at the hundreds of Bible versions that jostle for supremacy on bookstore shelves; look at the power which theologically bad books (from Left Behind to Chicken Soup for the Soul) exert over American Christians; look at the place that the Christian bookstore has assumed in determining the average Christian’s view of marriage, material gain, and work. And then consider that the New Testament church flourished with a low literacy rate, with Scriptures that were not printed and thus had to be read aloud — and so were always read and interpreted within the context of the obedient, faithful, local, believing community.

The church of Christ, not textbook writers, should be responsible for providing the central Christian story that must inform all true education. When I wrote in Chapter Twenty of The Well-Trained Mind, “When you’re instructing your own child, you have two tasks with regard to religion: to teach your own convictions with honesty and diligence, and to study the ways in which other faiths have changed the human landscape. Only you and your religious community can do the first,” I was not attempting to maintain neutrality. Rather, I was asserting that a Christian education can only be provided by a Christian community — parents, in obedience to and in faithful relationship with their local church.

What Is A Christian Education?
Christian education is that which has the knowledge of God at its core. But how do we obtain this knowledge of God, and how do we teach it?

American Christians, influenced by a culture that exalts individualism above all else, are far too ready to answer, “I obtain the knowledge of God from God, through Christ, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and I teach it to my children in the privacy of my home.” I wouldn’t contradict anything in this statement — but I suggest that it is incomplete. Do we need something other than God’s freely-given grace to bring us to a saving knowledge of God? No — but throughout Scripture, this grace is always given in the context of God’s work with His chosen people as a whole. Adam and Eve were created to know God — and to give birth to a people who would know and worship God along with them. In a sin-corrupted world, Abraham was called by God, alone in his tent — but he was called so that he could be the father of a whole new people, who would know and worship God in company with each other. And Christ came, not to call individuals to a sort of private union which would exalt each soul to a solitary divine ecstasy, but to create a new community — a people who would join together to worship God. When this community came to life, we read in Acts 2, they spent all their time together: worshipping, living, eating, and (without a doubt) teaching their children. Their supernatural unity, visible to the pagans all around them, brought scores more into the knowledge of God — and into the community of the faithful.

American evangelicalism has been far too ready to dismiss the centrality of the church in God’s plan for Christianity, far too eager to embrace an individualistic view of salvation — and far too dependent on books, rather than on community life, to shape their spiritual disciplines. Yet God’s salvation must be lived out in a community of believers. As Robert Godfrey of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals writes in “The Electronic Church”:

The necessity of the local church is clearly taught in Scripture and is indispensable for the Christian life. … God’s saving work…is not concerned with individuals in isolation. Rather, God is redeeming a people whom he calls the Body of Christ, the church. … The Bible is clear that Christians are also required to be part of the institutional church’s life, particularly the life of the local church, which God himself has brought into being and structured by his Word.

Yet American Christians, Godfrey warns, tend to prefer individualistic freedom:

The care Christ and the apostles took to provide us with officers and an institutional church should make a great impression on us. Christ and his apostles established an institutional church to help us in our need and weakness. Elders are appointed for our sakes, and we need to submit ourselves to their authority in the local church if we are to be obedient to the Lord and his vision of the Christian life. Submission to elders is closely tied to the question of church membership. Some people today object to the idea that Christians must be church members, suggesting that such a requirement is unbiblical. But surely Christ established eldership in his church. Elders are necessary to teach and admonish and discipline us. But how can elders carry out that work unless we submit to them? What is church membership but to join our local congregation and submit to the elders’ authority? … Many people do not like the idea of a disciplined church. They believe they should be able to do whatever is right in their own eyes. Such an attitude reflects the militant individualism of our society. But it does not reflect Christ’s teaching about the life of his church. Proper discipline by the officers of the church is necessary for the well-being of individual Christians as well as for the church as a whole. Such discipline can take place only in the context of membership in a local church.

If the authority of the local church is so important to the Christian life, how can it be any less important in Christian education?

The Well-Trained Mind is not a book of science, a book of history, a book of literature, or a book of theology. It is an overall plan for education, laying out an entire curriculum for the home educator. This overall plan for education must have a theological center which encompasses every single subject. But who is responsible for providing this theological center? Should my mother and I lay it all out for you, so that you can give your child a godly education?

Think again about the requirements of Christian education. Dozens of classical educators have written definitions of “truly Christian” education; consider, for example, Doug Wilson’s “The Biblical Antithesis in Education,” which points out that Christian education is primarily a matter of discipleship: God has given to parents the responsibility of educating their children through training in God’s ways.

This is not a responsibility which can be assumed by any other party. Wilson’s particular complaint in this essay is that parents are too ready to let the government, “the guarantor of ‘quality’ in teaching,” take on the role of determining what is right and true in education. “But God has placed the responsibility in one place,” he writes, “and to move it to another for the sake of ‘quality-control’ is abdication.” The responsibility for teaching truth to children belongs to believing parents who are faithful members of a local church. If you should not abdicate this responsibility to the government, why should you abdicate it to curriculum writers or religious book publishers? You cannot see our lives; you cannot determine our faithfulness to our local church; you cannot see the fruits of our lives. We can provide you with a good plan for teaching grammar and math, but I do not believe that we should usurp the job of your believing community by explaining the ways of God in history to your children. The Christian narrative that gives shape to education must, in the final analysis, be provided by parents who are guided by faithful pastors.

I believe that Logos School, the original Christian classical academy, recognizes this when they write, in their foundational documents:

Every school must teach on the foundation of some kind of worldview. That worldview may be boldly stated, or it may be implicit — but, it is always present. At Logos School, our foundational worldview is the unchangeable Word of God — the Bible. Because God created the world and everything in it, all creation is subject to Him. Because God revealed Himself in His creation, in the Bible, and in His Son Jesus Christ, we may confidently teach all subjects in the light of His Lordship. This, in turn, affects more than mere academics. We strive to practice biblical living and teaching everywhere, not only in our curriculum, but also in our administration and our staff.

Logos recognizes the shaping role of the believing community in the teaching of worldview. For the home educator, the church must act as this believing community. The gospel is understood within a faithful believing community, not alone with one’s Bible; and gospel-based education is formulated and applied within a faithful believing community, not alone with one’s Bible and a copy of The Well-Trained Mind (or any other homeschooling book).

Why Don’t We Recommend More Religious Curricula?

Logos School appeals for charity in inessentials: “We are absolutely committed to the central principles of the Christian faith,” read the foundational documents, “but allow for a variety of convictions on secondary doctrinal principles.”

We feel the same way: our readership includes many different groups of faithful Christian believers. But religious curricula inevitably bear the stamp of particular cultural expressions of Christian: Baptist, Mennonite, Reformed, Catholic, and more.

So we were faced with a practical problem: Whose curricula should we recommend?

In reviewing religious curricula for The Well-Trained Mind, I continually found myself dissatisfied with their content and wishing that I could teach (for example) history without continually explaining to my son that our local church sees American history quite differently than a “providential” history text, well-intentioned though it is. I found myself continually feeling that these curricula were usurping a teaching position that belonged to our church, my husband, and myself.

Consider the example of grammar. When my oldest son was in the elementary grades, I used A Beka Book grammar, which I thought was the best available. Yet when using the third-grade A Beka Book grammar text, I found myself continually encountering a particular view of salvation which I thought was limited and (in the end) wrong. The exercises continually refer to “getting saved” and “accepting Jesus” as though the central event of salvation is a single point in time during which the child is instantly transformed from pagan to Christian in the blink of an eye. Yet our worshipping community is centered around the reality that belief in Christ is an ongoing discipleship of obedience, not a split-second decision, and that “being saved” is only a partial description of salvation.

Furthermore, the exercises continually refer to children who invite other children to church and then lead them to Christ, apparently independent of family, worshipping community, or any other group of God’s people. “Keith asked his friend, ‘Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior?’ The boy answered, ‘No, but I would like to.'” Salvation is thus shown to be a point in time, something to which children can arrive at independently with the help of other children — and that’s all that’s ever presented in this book. “All Christians should be happy,” read another exercise, leaving me to wonder whether A Beka really sees no difference between the emotional state “happy” and the spiritual state “joyful,” and if they really saw the Christian life as a perpetual tiptoe through roses.

I also found myself disagreeing with the continual identification of America as God’s promised land. Apparently the A Beka curriculum writers see nothing incongruous with juxtaposing (as they do, in one exercises on plurals) the two sentences, “No man can serve two masters” and “Many soldiers laid down their lives for American freedom.” There’s nothing wrong with either sentence, of course, but by interlarding Biblical commands with paens to the perfection of America, the text reveals an uncritical view of America’s roots that I personally do not wish my son to imbibe. “Mr. Vincent sang ‘God of Our Fathers,'” reads another exercise, which has a child ringing the bell in the church tower in order to start a patriotic church service during which the song “America” is the call to worship.

We much prefer, when possible to recommend good and thorough resources which do not teach doctrinal and sanctification issues that we feel should be entrusted to the worshipping community.

I made this point to a Reformed believer who was very concerned that our book did not specifically teach Christian doctrines; I used the A Beka exercises as an example of why we were reluctant to recommend Christian curricula. “But I would argue that this error in presenting salvation makes it an academically inferior curriculum,” he protested, comparing it to a phonics program that taught specifically Reformed doctrines. His point? The Reformed program was academically superior because its doctrine was Reformed. Yet faithful Eastern Orthodox believers find Reformed history resources (which often leave out the role of the Eastern Orthodox church) unusable for their children.

Wilson’s “The Biblical Antithesis in Education” lays out an either-or argument which, given the main point he is arguing in his essay, is justified: that there is no neutrality in education, and that education is either for or against Christ. He writes:

About a century before anyone was listening, R.L. Dabney described the impossibility of neutrality in education this way:

The instructor has to teach history, cosmogony, psychology, ethics, the laws of nations. How can he do it without saying anything favorable or unfavorable about the beliefs of evangelical Christians, Catholics, Socinians, Deists, pantheists, materialists or fetish worshippers, who all claim equal rights under American institutions? His teaching will indeed be the play of Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet omitted. [1]

Concerning the question of origins, he asked if a scientist could give the “…genesis of earth and man, without indicating whether Moses or Huxley is his prophet?” [2] The answer of course is that directionless, nonaligned education is by definition impossible. Certain worldview assumptions must always be made. They will either be based on biblical truth, or they will not. A certain direction must be chosen. It will either be the way God says to go, or it will not. There is no neutrality.

True enough. Yet there are many educational issues (as there are worship issues: exclusive psalm singing, head covering, use or avoidance of certain translations) which must be tackled in the context of the local worshipping community. When these issues are taken on by publishers, it is unfortunately far too easy for the word “heresy” to enter the debate. (And there is no possibility of looking at the life of the person making the argument to determine their faithfulness to God’s ways.)

Truth is important, of course; I do not want to fall here into the anti-intellectual trap of saying that doctrine is unimportant, that (for example) Roman Catholic and Reformed believers are bickering about inessentials and should just agree to teach their children that Jesus is God. But I am making a plea for intellectual humility — a plea which can very easily be mistaken for a claim that truth can never be known. I believe truth can be known; I believe God has laid down very clear guidelines for the life of godliness. What I am less sure of, given my own theological journey, is that I always have a clear view of those “secondary doctrinal principles” that Logos School mentions. And in the curricula I review, I am continually reminded of this failing when I see other believers interpreting matters of secondary importance and making them central to Christian education.

A prime example of this has been the young earth/old earth debate taking place within creationist circles. I have found (to my distress) that even mild suggestions I have made about beginning the study of history in 5000 BC have been attacked with great vehemence by some who hold to Bishop Ussher’s dating of creation at 4004 B.C. Although this has become a minority position even among young earth creationists, it was once dogma. Some years ago, I published a critical review of a Christian biology text which, in my opinion, dealt with evolution by putting up straw men and then knocking them down. I was immediately attacked as “unwilling to admit the truth of creationism” and thus contributing to a “secular” world view. Yet I had not questioned God’s creation of the earth, merely this writer’s interpretation of certain scientific details claimed to support it.

No doubt the writer, Bishop Ussher, and I could all say together in our worship, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Yet that central affirmation of God’s ultimate creatorship of everything that exists is not presented in most curricula, which instead hold (and make central to salvation) a particular stance on how and when God made heaven and earth. Fruitful discussion on this topic is sadly lacking from the Christian community.

In recommending a science curriculum, then, how should I proceed? My own study of Genesis 1 and 2 (done under the guidance of my local church) has convinced me that I do not yet understand everything implied in these two stories of creation; I do not see here a Scriptural mandate that should tie me to either a young earth or old earth creationist position. So should I recommend to home schoolers — who belong to communities of faith that are seeking for the answer to this very question — a biology text that may contradict their own church’s teaching on the subject?

Let me repeat: I am not saying that truth is unknowable. Instead I am saying that we should approach claims on the part of a textbook and curriculum publisher to know the truth with great, great caution (not to say suspicion). God has not revealed His truth through publishers. He has revealed it within the context of a faithful, local worshipping community.

If we ever come to a meeting of the minds over how to view the ways in which God created heaven and earth, it won’t happen by the divine intervention of textbook writers, or a particularly convincing article; it will come through the work of the Holy Spirit in the place where He chooses to work, the gathering of His people. I believe that God gives wisdom in these secondary principles to his faithful worshipping communities — not to writers of how-to books on home education.

Is The Well-Trained Mind A Christian Book?

In the end, I fall back on a definition that I have used in reference to my other writing. When people ask whether I write Christian novels, I answer that I write novels, and because I am a Christian, all of my writing displays who I am and what I believe. I don’t believe that a book can be “profoundly Christian,” only the people who read it; in the same way, I feel that truly Christian education is that education carried out by Christians for the sake of the kingdom of God, not education that uses (or avoids) certain books.

Some parents will find that this Christian education requires the use of theologically specific resources. Other parents — such as myself — will find that they are doing thoroughly Christian education using a world history text such as the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia along with plenty of discussion.

In the end, Christian education is that given to children by Christian parents who are in obedience to the elders of Christ’s body, the local church. It is our hope that The Well-Trained Mind will make this task easier without usurping — as books too often do in evangelical America — the authority of those elders.

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30 Responses to A golden oldie…

  1. Sebastian (a lady) says:

    I was reminded earlier in the week of the ending of the “About Us” intro of a magazine that I used to receive. After referring to their doctrinal positions, they concluded with: “Our statement of faith describes our doctrinal editorial policy; it does not define our boundaries of fellowship.”

    I think that I was reminded of this, because I’ve been feeling a definite lack of this sentiment lately.

  2. Holly says:

    Susan, this is brilliant. It’s so good.

    Of course, you realize that it will make no difference at all to those who already believe you to be a heretic?

    • Alia says:

      Probably won’t make a difference, but I am sure it makes her feel better just the same, as well as making me love her that much more. And you can’t make everyone happy. She is standing up for something that has been an increasing problem for some time, maybe not just for her, but in our world. She has said so much that just needed to be said and not enough people are saying it. The fact that it has been such a problem, for her recently, is ultimately is a good thing. People don’t change easily and if their feathers are getting ruffled, then chances are they are at least thinking, and that’s the first step. I have always thought that defensiveness was a sure sign of someone realizing (perhaps only subconsciously) that they are in the wrong. From everything I have see Susan has had no need to feel defensive, and has not acted so, but lots of people are acting out in defensiveness towards her. Those are the people that make me raise my eyebrows. They are working too hard at trying to be “right”.

  3. Heather says:

    These are excellent points you have made about things in the Christian community that have long disturbed me. My husband and I are generally looked upon oddly (unfortunately) when we talk with others about such concerns as you have addressed here.

    I love the statement that the commenter above quoted … “Our statement of faith describes our doctrinal editorial policy; it does not define our boundaries of fellowship.” … shouldn’t this be our personal policy as well? How many times over the course of my life have a gained new insights or seen things from a new point of view that have changed my doctrinal views? Countless. My eyes are ever-widening and I cannot so be so arrogant as to believe that I know it *all*, that all that I believe today is 100% true and correct doctrine. God is constantly teaching me new things, reshaping me and enlightening me.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  4. Kristina Taylor says:

    This article has helped clarify for me over the last several years how homeschooling curriculum, leaders, and ideas should be assessed. Thanks for reposting.

  5. Heather says:

    Does this mean you won’t be my virtual Titus 2 mentor?


    I have found this article very encouraging and challenging over the years. I have referred back to it several times for myself and also have sent the link to many others.

    I’m praying for you, Susan.

  6. I think I would’ve been put off by the WTM if you had been assertive about your particular doctrinal views. We are Christ followers, and we incorporate that into everything, but I’m always wary of publishers who try to teach that for me rather than leaving that up to my husband and myself. Don’t let them get you down. It’s a great book, and I recommend it all the time.

  7. dangermom says:

    One of the major things that works for me in WTM is that you assume that parents can take care of their family’s own spiritual needs. If WTM had been written to be used only by Protestants, I would not be using it. Nor, I’m guessing, would many of the other non-Protestant classical homeschoolers out there.

  8. Alia says:

    Susan, Justin says I shouldn’t tell you this because they would loose their piano player, but I don’t think you even realize how Eastern Orthodox you are! You would fit right it ;) Thinking of you and keeping you in pray during this trying time.

  9. Christene says:

    I am in my second year of homeschooling my four children. We tried public and private schools, and were dissatisfied. When we moved from Virginia to Georgia I began researching the idea of homeschooling. Originally, I was put-off by the idea. After reading WTM, I was convinced that it was the right decisions for our family. You captured my attention on the first page of the book, and I couldn’t stop reading it. Also, we love your Story of the World books. My children are interested in history because of the way in which you address it. We want our children to learn about religions other than our own, as well as understand how religion impacts history throughout the world. We handle religion through our church involvement, community service, and the way we try to live our lives. I appreciate your work. I have recommended your book to many people. Thank you!

  10. CaptiousNut says:

    Don’t sweat these people, Susan.

    Look, don’t worry about others, *nobodies* bashing you. These speakers only devoured their own credibility in doing so.

    And getting too defensive (not saying you have been) would be sort of insulting to the homeschooling parents who listen to your bashers. You have to presume that they are smart enough to think for themselves. You have to presume that they aren’t mindlessly believing everything that some speaker says about you, right?

    The only complaint I ever heard about your work was by some militant libertarian atheist. This homeschooling *mom*, a friend, told me that she thought The Story of the World was *too religious* – so she screened out those parts from her 5 year old daughter – because, you know, the little girl would have been irretrievably harmed!

    I disagree strongly with you on a few points (too much grammar! not enough computers! low math expectations! etc.) but agree with you on so much that I can’t even say – in the case it might swell your head to an un-Christian size! But I still strongly recommend your books and am even on my second go-around with WTM in less than a year.

    Here’s my review of WTM.

  11. Lindsey says:

    Thank you. You helped clarify and organize some of the thoughts I’ve had swimming around in my head about different curriculum. I had put my finger on many of my why-this-not-that reasons for my curriculum choices, but you helped me understand how to think about the issue further.

    I think my husband and I will now be able to better articulate our reasoning with each other and make sure that our biases toward or against certain curriculum have legitimate causes. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I’m annoyed by certain curriculum without defensible reasons.

    This also helps me understand why your book and approach to education resonates with me as it has.

    There’s a lot to learn as our family begins this whole thing!

  12. Marcy says:

    “God has not revealed His truth through publishers. He has revealed it within the context of a faithful, local worshipping community. ”

    ummmm, no. God has revealed His truth through His Word. The belief that He has revealed it through the local worshipping community is as dangerous as not knowing the Biblical context of the “Christian” curriculum you choose for your homeschool.

    “In the end, Christian education is that given to children by Christian parents who are in obedience to the elders of Christ’s body, the local church.”

    wrong again. Christian education is that given to children by Christian parents who are in obedience to God.

    I will choose the well-trained heart over the well-trained mind any day.

    • Kristina Taylor says:

      I appreciate what you have to say as I can see you are attempting to defend the Word of God. However, I think you might be misunderstanding Susan.

      Ms. Bauer said God revealed truth “within the context” of the faithful, local worshiping community. Paul and Peter wrote their epistles to churches. It is the job of the local church to preach and teach what the Word says. The church is the context through which we are to be taught. I do not think she disagrees that we know truth from the Scriptures.

      Again, I believe she agrees that Christian parents should be obedient to God. She is going further by saying they do so by being obedience to the elders of the Christian body. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

      This all is very difficult for us because we live in America where, unfortunately, we all go to church but have a pitiful regard FOR the church. Scripture has a much higher view of the church community than individualistic Americans. Susan is attempting to think seriously about this issue and we think piety and intellectualism are at odds when they are not. We can have a well-trained mind and a well-trained heart.

      God bless!

  13. Kathleen says:

    This is an excellent post/article. One of the reasons I chose to use SOTW for history is because I was having a very difficult time finding a history textbook that supported my and my husband’s viewpoint. Every time I picked up a “Christian” textbook I would inevitably run into some teaching that went against my understanding of scripture. I asked my husband what I should do and his response was that there is no perfect book except the Bible and I would just have to make the most of whatever text I was using, tweaking it to align with our beliefs as I went along.

    A Beka comes from an Arminian viewpoint – I am Reformed in theology. Veritas comes from a Presbyterian brand of Reformed – I am Baptist. Rod and Staff comes pretty close, but they are strict pacifists and their history texts emphasize this quite a bit. I love my country, but I am not in the “providential American history” camp. America is a wonderful place. I am blessed and thankful to live here, but I think the only truly Christian country is called Heaven. I totally get why you have written your books the way they are written and appreciate them and you for that.

    I can use your materials and, as I go through them with my children, I am able to pause from time to time and teach what my church interprets Scripture to be saying. I don’t have to “undo” any wrong (in my estimation) teaching first.

    I also love that you are a strong supporter of the local church. So many these days are of the opinion that the institutional church, even a small local assembly with elders and deacons, is too structured for them and they take the view that they can worship God anywhere – in a meadow, on a hilltop, etc. While I do believe God can be worshiped anywhere, I also believe that Christians must submit themselves to the authority of a local church. Thank you for stating that so strongly in your post, Susan.

    But I am still confused about a couple of things this post does not address concerning the events of the past week. Your company/publishing house, Peace Hill Press oversees/owns Olive Branch Books, correct? So that leads me to believe you have some connection/relationship with the author of “Telling God’s Story,” Peter Enns. Is that correct? I am sincerely confused about why this man, who clearly does not believe in the infallibility of scripture (and I am not just referring to his beliefs concerning creation), who believes that Jesus erred (or in other words, sinned) and is therefore not God in the flesh, was chosen to write the Bible curriculum your company sells. This does not seem to line up with everything you have stated in this blog post and it has me seriously confused. Would it be possible for you to address this particular issue – that is, why Peter Enns’s seemingly agnostic Bible curriculum is the one your company prints and sells?

    A few days ago you had a post on the Parent’s General Board of the WTM forum stating that you have no connection whatsoever with Biologos, Peter Enns’s organization. It has since been removed, but in it you also said this:

    “3. Peter Enns, who has written a book for the Olive Branch imprint of Peace Hill Press, sometimes blogs for Biologos. To my knowledge, he has a publisher-author relationship with them. He has a publisher-author relationship with Olive Branch Books.”

    When you say, “to my knowledge” it makes it seem as if you, yourself, are not even connected with Olive Branch Books, but this seems like a logical impossibility considering it is your company, Peace Hill Press, that owns OBB, the company that publishes his curriculum. Can you please explain this? I am not trying to be difficult or beligerent. I am just seriously not getting what you are saying here, and I would like to hear your words on this, not anyone else’s. Do you know Peter Enns? Did you hire him to write the curriculum you sell? Did someone arrange for his book to be printed by OBB without your knowledge or consent? The more details you can share, the better it would be for everyone. There is much speculation going on and I think it would be much better to lay it out for all to see so that all the rumors can be put to rest.

    I am one who supports Ken Ham wholeheartedly for taking a stand and defending the truth of God’s word. I was not at the SC convention so, obviously, cannot be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that he did not speak in an unkind way. However, I have heard him speak on many occasions (mainly on video, but also in person) and I have no reason to believe that he spoke in any other than a firm, but kind, way in a sincere effort to warn homeschoolers about what he believes to be a dangerous curriculum. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt since he has not given me any reason to do otherwise. I see nothing wrong with what he said, biblically speaking. We are commanded to discern truth from error and to warn others about false teachers. From all that I can glean from the many articles and posts surrounding this controversey, that is all I can conclude that Mr. Ham did.

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean I do not support you. I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt as well. I am not pleased with the way in which the GHC organizers have handled this. Your name and reputation have been dragged into the fray as well, quite possibly unfairly. I want to hear what you, not posts on FB or other people’s blogs, have to say about this particular conundrum.

    • Susan says:


      “To my knowledge” referred to Dr. Enns’ relationship with Biologos. Of course I an connected with Olive Branch Books. I own it, along with my father, mother, and husband. I read the Telling God’s Story books and approved them.

      There have been a number of half-truths and distortions spread about these books. It is not an “agnostic Bible curriculum.” Please, please go to scribd.com and read the entire first year curriculum for yourself. I am not sure how or why ANYONE who has read Telling God’s Story could describe it as “agnostic.” It is a reverent and orthodox treatment of the Gospels which fully supports the divinity of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of Scriptures.

      Dr. Enns fully affirms the divinity of Christ. He believes that Scripture is trustworthy. To say that he “clearly does not believe in the infallibility of Scripture” is just plain wrong. His book “Inspiration and Incarnation” clearly DOES affirm the inspired and trustworthy nature of Scripture. I would encourage you not only to read Telling God’s Story–which you will find ENTIRELY in line with orthodox Christianity–but also to read Inspiration and Incarnation.

      I would like to add one other thing. Much of the criticism of Dr. Enns is based NOT on TGS, but on lectures and articles he has written in an academic context. In an academic setting, where there is an understanding that all listening are committed to the Christian faith, the job of the professor is then to push students to think more clearly and more deeply about the nature of their faith. In the current discussion, individual sentences have been pulled out of this context and distorted.

      I appreciate your taking the time to post, and I appreciate your willingness to investigate. I also appreciate your point that this fight ought to be between AiG and GHC. I agree with you.


      • Kathleen says:

        Susan, I realized just after I posted my reply that the phrase “to my knowledge” was referring to Peter Enns’s relationship with Biologos – sorry for that misunderstanding. Also, I did not realize that the entire book was available to read online, so thank you for pointing that out. I will investigate that further. And, also, I can understand why a lecture in an academic setting may come across differently to the general viewer. My pastor often poses rhetorical questions during his sermons; he sometimes states a false viewpoint for emphasis to see if we are all wake – if these statements and questions were recorded, taken out of context and viewed by people who did not hear the whole sermon, I’m guessing my own pastor might be labelled a heretic! Thank you for your quick response. I’m off to scribd.com now.

      • David says:

        Thank you for the scribd link. On p. 52 of “Telling God’s Story,” Dr. Enns states:

        “Most of us are familiar with the controversies surrounding Genesis and science.”

        Really? There is a controversy surrounding Genesis and scientific research into alternative forms of energy? There is a controversy surrounding Genesis and Maxwell’s equations? There is a controversy surrounding Genesis and the management of wolf populations in Yellowstone National Park?

        No, there is no controversy between Genesis and science, but there is a controversy between Genesis and some people’s interpretation of natural history. I think it is a foolish and deceptive thing for any Christian to say there is a conflict between Genesis and science. That shows an ignorance of real science and is poor theology.

        Evolutionism is a belief about natural history, and is not real science. Page 107 of Mortimer Adler’s book, “Conditions of Philosophy,” helps to clarify:

        “Men who are scientists (such as geologists, paleontologists, evolutionists) sometimes attempt to establish the spatial and temporal determinants of particular past events or to describe a particular sequence of such events; but when they do so, they cease to be engaged in scientific inquiry and become engaged in historical research.”

        On p. 24, Dr. Enns adds more confusion to the Christian walk:

        “the single most important biblical concept for living a Christian life, not only today,but during any era: [is] wisdom.”

        I disagree. The single most important concept from beginning to end is faith. Wisdom is undoubtedly important in the Christian life, it is just not the most important concept.

        Please consider removing “Telling God’s Story” from your lineup, and write Christians a less confusing book that understands real science and real Christianity. Write us a book that celebrates faith AND wisdom. I agree with theologian John Frame, and many other Christians, that Dr. Enns writings do “nothing to promote confidence in the truth of the biblical text.”

        • Susan says:


          Thank you for coming here to post.

          I have to disagree with you, though. Telling God’s Story is not a science text; we have no intention of publishing science materials at the present time. Telling God’s Story DOES show a clear understanding of real Christianity. It is focused on the heart of Christianity; the life, work, death, and resurrection of Christ.

          In addition, the text clearly states again and again that God is the maker of heaven and earth. This is not confusing, nor is it “poor theology.”

          Once again, I support the right of every parent to choose the material they find best helps them teach their children. It does not sound to me like TGS will be useful to you, but the reverent and careful lessons about the life, work, and mission of Jesus will be extremely helpful to many. I would also continue to encourage you, as I have encouraged others, to read the entire text of the Instructor’s Guide found on scribd.com. The quotes you cite are from the Parent’s Guide, which poses a number of questions for parents to consider as they decide how to teach their children. The Instructor Guide contains the actual material to be taught to children. I think you may find it reassuring.


          • David says:

            Hi Susan,
            You are right, TGS is not a science text, but I don’t think anybody, especially me, is claiming that it is. You are totally missing my point, so let me state it again.

            My point is that TGS is creating a conflict where there is no conflict. There is no controversy with Genesis and science.

            If Dr. Enns wants to talk about controversies between science and biblical texts, he should talk about how 21st century science shows there is a 0% chance that a virgin could give birth. That’s a real controversy. Of course, that would send him down a totally different path, one that elevates faith in God’s word above the attainment of wisdom. Instead of quickly disagreeing with what I am saying here, I hope you will instead give this some more thought.
            Semper reformanda,

        • Colleen in NS says:

          To quote David: “I think it is a foolish and deceptive thing for any Christian to say there is a conflict between Genesis and science. That shows an ignorance of real science and is poor theology.”

          “My point is that TGS is creating a conflict where there is no conflict. There is no controversy with Genesis and science.”

          I think you took Enns’ quote on p. 52, and his use of the word “science” in that quote, out of context. You might want to go back and read that paragraph again, and then read the rest of the section in which it is written, to get his context.

          Also, he said the controversies (he used the Scopes Trial and Intelligent Design debates – not other science topics – as examples) *surround* Genesis and science – he didn’t say they were *between* Genesis and science. Those controversies do surround Genesis and science (or natural history, whichever term you prefer for these particular topics).

          As to this quote: “Dr. Enns writings do “nothing to promote confidence in the truth of the biblical text.”” I disagree. I’ve read the whole parents guide. It actually gave me confidence that I could use this approach to Bible study/teaching, and understand God and truth a whole lot better than I used to with other study methods. Enns’ book was a breathe of fresh air and a sigh of relief to read.

          • David says:

            Hi Colleen,
            There is no controversy *between* Genesis and science, and there is no controversy *surrounding* Genesis and science. There is no controversy surrounding Genesis and scientific research into alternative forms of energy, etc. And I do understand the context of Dr. Enn’s writings, which is why I have a problem with them. The controversy is not surrounding Genesis and science, the controversy surrounds the historicity of Genesis and some people’s interpretation of natural history. This is why I included the quote from Mortimer Adler, in hopes that people who read this post would better understand the limits of science, one of which is that it cannot be used to explain history. That is why we call it history, not science. Evolution is a study of history, and, unlike a real scientific model, tells us absolutely nothing about future events.

            There is a lot of confusion about what evolution is, and Dr. Enns’ teachings do nothing to help clear up the distinctions between real scientific endeavors and research into past events. I apologize for not making myself more clear before regarding my concerns with Dr. Enns’ teachings in TGS.

  14. Paula Smith says:

    Did you not see this controvery coming? This is a HUGE issue in many churches. I attend a reformed church & so much of this man’s writings fly against all that we understand and believe.
    Dr. Ham spoke against writings and publishing in SC (during workshops that I attended) and warns us to pay attention and be prepared! The scientific, athiestic worldview CAN NOT be blended with clearly, traditionally accepted Truth. Dr. Enns is on dangerous ground and seems to be making an effort to please man – not God.
    I am so sorry that people left lectures and came to your booth in some mob mentality. That is regretful and I hope they are sorry for it. However, I do not think Ken Ham needs to be looked upon as a bad guy in all of this (not from your post, but others). He is a passionate speaker and I am thankful for his ministry – as I am thankful for your books and teachings. His publications help me teach my children science. Your publications help me teach my children grammar, writing, and history. You both are tremendous gifts to my family.
    During all of this, I keep thinking of Christ’s teaching us that the Word of God can be understood by children… perhaps intellectuals (Dr. Enns) should step back and revisit this concept. I was led away from Christ multiple times by the scientist and compromising (billions of years/apes/dinosaurs long dead) believers…. I am thankful that God didn’t give up on me and sent more other believers into my path. I was in graduate school – hearing one thing in class & another from these believers in an uncompromised gospel. God used them to give me the first glimpses of FAITH, GRACE, and TRUTH. For the first time, I read the Bible and saw it all simply – it unfolded clearly. The doubts and contradictions tossed into the mix by the world became clear. I only wish I had discovered Him sooner.
    I trembled when I read works and blog post by Dr. Enns after returning from SC and reading your blog, etc. He breaks my heart and I am praying for him. He also alarms me and I have discussed him with multiple leaders in my church family. I have also re-read Genesis several times since coming home.
    I am sorry this is a burden to you. I have to think that you knew it was controversial… but perhaps not quite the hornet’s nest that it is. Please see the sincere concern of those of us who reject what we are reading by Dr. Enns – not as trouble makers and nonthinkers… but as brothers and sisters in Christ who are alarmed by his teachings. (I apologize for the grammar errors – I am learning with my children!)

  15. Allyson A. says:

    Thank you for this post. I am grateful for your contributions to home education, and I appreciate your clarifications and the food for thought you provide here. ;-)

    Cheers and Best Wishes!

  16. Jennifer says:

    Hi Susan,

    Can you tell me where to find the scribd.com file you referred to? I searched for” Telling God’s Story”, but it did not come up. Maybe you could post a link? I would very much like to actually see the material before responding one way or another. I appreciate all the work you have done for the homeschool community and your reponses regarding this issue.

  17. Ulla Lauridsen says:

    I can see I’m going slightly off topic here, as I am not a Christian and not familiar with dr. Enns. Neither am I an American, but I am a reader of your Well Trained Mind. I had to start teaching my youngest at home because of dyslexia, and I needed some guidance. WTM was extremely useful to me, and while your passion for learning enlightens all, your Christianity is unobtrusive. I’m extremely thankful for that. Had you given off the vibe that only Christians can teach their kids well or have any worth, the book would have been less useful to me. As it is, my youngest will now grow up and possible learn to read and reason for himself in classical fashion in large part thanks to you.

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