Tonight I had the privilege of speaking at the New Hope Church Homeschool Commencement Ceremony.
Once again, congratulations to Caitlin Albrecht, Lissa Bleeker, Samantha Herrlin, Jordan Lueck, Josh Nelson, Hannah Taylor, Natalie Tebben, and Elly Vander Ploeg.
Here’s what I said to them:
Good evening, friends. And to all of the graduates let me, of course, say, “Congratulations.” This is no small accomplishment. It is a very important rite of passage, and you and your parents have every reason to be very, very proud. I’m very honored and grateful to have been asked to address you this evening.
But I have been very much at a loss in thinking about what I might say that would be helpful to you as you commence from homeschooling. I didn’t have the benefit of a Christian education in elementary school, high school, or college (Some of your parents are thinking right now, “Ooooh… Well that explains it.”). So, I am not personally acquainted with the unique challenges and advantages of a homeschooler entering the post-homeschooling world.
But what I would like to do tonight is offer you, briefly, an exhortation and a qualification. Two things that, I hope, will serve you well as you leave home and pursue further education or employment.
First, an exhortation: Cultivate the life of the mind.
We’re all familiar with the story in the Book of Matthew, where the Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. They had heard that Jesus had silenced their rivals, the Sadducees—that he had shut them up with his greater wisdom—and they wanted to see if Jesus really was as wise—as sharp—as they had heard he was. So they gathered together, Matthew says, “And one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
In other words, “What’s the big one? Which one is the law of laws? Which one is the one that if you keep just this one, you’re probably keeping all of the other ones as well?” And Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your… mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.”
Over the past half-century, the Christian church, the Christian faith, and evangelicalism in particular have come under attack from intellectuals. Many of the best and brightest minds in the world and in our country have turned away from Christ and have launched repeated, and effective, assaults on the truth claims of biblical Christianity. Unfortunately, with some notable exceptions, the response of the church to this aggressive anti-Christian intellectualism has not been an even more powerful and compelling Christian intellectualism, but rather a vapid anti-intellectualism. We have said, if not explicitly then implicitly, “If this is where intellectualism leads, then we will be anti-intellectual.” We have said, if not explicitly then implicitly, “If education fosters doubt, then we will be uneducated.” We have said, if not explicitly then implicitly, “If being smart makes people lose their faith, then we will be dumb.”
And so we have settled for attending schools that are Christian, but are not intellectually and academically rigorous. We have settled for Christian bookstores with shelves overflowing with books that soften your heart, but also soften your brain. We have settled for a form of public discourse in which Christians quote Bible verses at people but cannot vigorously and intelligently debate, point out the logical fallacies in arguments, and expose the impotence of the secularist project.
This will not do.
The answer, I think all of you will agree, is not anti-intellectualism, but a robustly Christian, God-entranced intellectualism. To love God with all your mind is not to be less educated than your opponents, but more educated; it is not to be dumber, but smarter—but not for the sake of fostering arrogance or triumphalism or pride. God doesn’t need any more arrogant, know-it-all Christians. He has plenty of those.
Rather, love God with all your mind in a way that is marked with the love and humility of Christ himself, who knew more than any of us; who had a world-class mind; who baffled the teachers in the temple in Jerusalem as a boy, and yet loved his enemies enough to die for them as he begged the Father to forgive them.
So, whatever is next for you, whether college, tech school, military, or employment, do not neglect to love the Lord your God with all your mind. Do not view education as a means to a job—as a hoop you have to jump through to get what you really want. Instead, view it as an opportunity to cultivate the life of the mind. Read, study, think, discuss, debate; read, study, think, discuss, debate; read, study, think, discuss, debate… repeat.
Second, a qualification: Education Does Not Guarantee Fruitfulness
Education is a non-negotiable—it is an absolute necessity—for someone who wants to love God with all their mind. But education (whether formal or informal) does not guarantee fruitfulness. Fortunately, God was kind enough to tell us what does guarantee fruitfulness.
A friend of mine, Sam Crabtree, came up with a formula for expressing God’s guarantee of fruitfulness—for both of you who enjoy algebra. It’s this:
If x > 1, then (Fa + V + K + Sc + S + G + Ba + L) x = E + Fr
Now, this comes right out of 2 Peter 1:5-8: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The point is that knowledge—even as important as it is—does not stand alone. If we are going to be effective and fruitful, knowledge must be accompanied by and compounded by other things in increasing measure. So cultivate the life of the mind. And along with it, cultivate the life of the soul.
Because most of you are leaving home, the cultivation of your soul is about to become an endeavor that you are responsible for to a degree that you have not previously been. Our parents are those who are primarily responsible for the cultivation of our souls until we reach adulthood. Before adulthood, our parents are those most answerable to God for the shape and maturity of our souls; for our knowledge of God; for our understanding and grasp of God’s Word and its doctrine; and for the maturity of our walk. Now you are the one primarily responsible, and it is crucial that you take ownership of that responsibility because of the unique challenges to the life of your soul that will come from both secular education or employment and Christian education or employment.
Secular schools can be deadly to your soul. And Christian schools can be deadly to your soul. But Christian schools are more deadly because the danger is much more insidious.
In a secular school, the danger to your soul will be apparent. It will meet you face to face in your atheistic freshman year philosophy professor, in the poli sci professor who scoffs at you because you take the Bible seriously, in the weekend social scene and party life, in the team that pushes you to belong with them by becoming like them. In a secular school, the danger doesn’t lurk. It doesn’t hide. It’s out in the open and it’s celebrated.
In a Christian school, the danger is harder to discern. It comes in the form of a student body that uses itself as the measuring stick of faithful living, rather than Christ; that reigns in those who are “excessively holy” (and thus making everyone else look bad) by mocking them as “high and mighty.” It comes in the form of making the Bible a textbook rather than the living, active Word of God that is not meant merely to be examined and analyzed, but to pierce to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discern the thoughts and intentions of your hearts.
It comes in the form of a subtle and hidden legalism that speaks loudly in praise of good grades, perfect chapel attendance, signed lifestyle agreements and Bible knowledge attained, but does not speak loudly enough that all our achievements and good deeds are as filthy rags to the God who sent his Son to be our only and perfect and all-sufficient righteousness.
So beware of secular schools and Christian schools; of secular employment and Christian employment. And do not relent in cultivating the life of the soul in the pursuit of Christ.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” May it be true of all of us, friends. I ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.