A Booze-Soaked View of the World

Thomas Rhett at Merriweather in 2021

Yesterday someone mentioned to me that a relative had been unable to get a hotel room in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Saturday night because “some country singer was in town.” Who was the singer, I wondered? Turns out it was Thomas Rhett. But I had never heard of Thomas Rhett, so I was curious. After all, the venue at which he appeared can  accommodate 12,000 people for a concert, so who is this guy?

Well, his full name is Thomas Rhett Akins Jr., he is the son of country singer Rhett Akins and he has released six records. (I guess by now you can tell I don’t pay much attention to country music). But I wanted to know more. Why would every hotel room in the city that is home to slightly more than one-fifth of South Dakota’s entire population be booked for this concert?

Beyond the fact that he is obviously a popular act on the country circuit I don’t think I have found the answer to that question. But I have found out enough about Rhett’s music to know that it is disappointing that he is so popular.

What do I mean by that?

That his current tour is titled the “Bring the Bar to You Tour” was my first clue that alcohol is clearly an important part of his persona. His website includes a link to the site for Dos Primos Tequila (which you actually have to enter your birthdate to access), a tequila that Rhett and his cousin “dreamed up” in order “to create a tequila that blended Mexican tradition with southern sensibility.” VIP tickets for Rhett’s current tour include “dedicated cash bar service throughout the show” when the concert is in an arena, one drink ticket and a tasting experience of Dos Primos Tequila where permitted.

Skimming through the lyrics of Rhett’s songs makes it clear that both alcohol and sex play a prominent role in his writing. When I googled Thomas Rhett, I was helpfully provided with a link to a list of his top 20 songs on the website Taste of Country. Here’s what I found:

  • Number 1 is “Die a Happy Man,” which references how happy “last night” made him, between the bottle of wine, the look in her eyes and dancing in the rain. The second stanza says, “that that red dress brings me to my knees/ Oh, but that black dress makes it hard to breathe” before calling her “a saint, you’re a goddess, the cutest, the hottest, a masterpiece.” The good news is, Rhett (along with some help) wrote this song for, and about, his wife.
  • Number 2 is “Life Changes” which is a song about changes Rhett has experienced in life, including becoming a successful singer, getting married, adopting a child and then his wife getting pregnant. Nice enough song and nothing at all objectionable. With a few exceptions, that’s about where the good news ends, sadly.
  • Number 3 is “Marry Me,” which starts out okay—saying “she” wants to get married, she wants her grandfather to do the service and she wants to keep it small so as to save her father some money. But then we find out that the guy singing the song is not the guy she wants to marry, so he will have to take “a strong shot of whiskey straight out the flask” in order to get through the wedding. This could be an okay song—yet another song about the guy who misses out on the love of his life, songs that can be found in numerous genres. But the line about whiskey, and the implication that liquor can help someone get through life’s hard times is a sign of a recurring theme in Rhett’s songs.
  • Number 4 is “Death Row.” Could have been good. Includes the lines, “How Jesus is the ticket/And narrow is the road/About how all we need’s forgiveness/’Fore we see them streets of gold.” Near the end, the song says, “I can’t say that he’s in Heaven, who am I to judge his soul?/But Jesus don’t play favorites, ain’t a name that He don’t know.” It is true that Jesus doesn’t “play favorites” and someone on death row could go to heaven—but it would have been nice if the conclusion had made clear that doing so depends on that needed forgiveness.
  • Number 6 is “Unforgettable.” There are other songs by that title and there are other songs with the same storyline as this one—a memorable first meeting with a beautiful girl. The problem is, the guy in this one who is remembering that meeting says, “I was drunk, said I was sober.”
  • Number 7 is “Look What God Gave Her,” a song that one could quibble about in parts but that is mostly about seeing a beautiful woman.
  • Number 8 is “T-shirt.” Somehow, remarkably, it doesn’t mention alcohol, but it is a song about making out. Heavily. With very little left to the imagination.
  • Number 9 is called “Beer with Jesus.” The idea behind the song has merit—imagine being able to have a conversation with Jesus, hanging out with Him one on one, asking things like how to turn the other cheek and what happens when earthly life comes to an end. The problem is, this song has all of that taking place over a few rounds of beers.
  • Number 10, “Star of the Show,” is an ode to Rhett’s wife and is basically a song about how good looking she is, no matter where or when or in what. Fairly typical country fare, but it does still manage to include a reference to ordering a drink.
  • “Ya Heard,” which is Number 11, is a song about all of the prayers Rhett has seen answered—being married to his wife, having a successful singing career, having children. The only real issue I have with this song is that it clearly implies that we know God hears our prayers when we get what we prayed for, and that is certainly not accurate.
  • Number 12 is “Be a Light.” This is an inspirational song that encourages listeners to make difference in the world. This is a good song that could, with a more clearly stated message be a great song. What is it missing? The reason for being a light—and the source of the ability to do it.
  • Rhett’s Number 13 song is a duet with his father entitled “Drink a Little Beer.” The title is pretty self-explanatory; the song is all about unwinding and having a good time with friends while drinking. The lyrics include “a Yeti full of iced-down booze” and “a jar full of lightning juice.” To be honest, I am not certain what “lightning juice” is, but I feel certain it is alcoholic. The moral of the song? The recipe for fun is beer, music and girls.
  • “To the Guys That Date My Girls” is the Number 14 song. It is a quintessential tale of a dad threatening the guy who shows up to date his daughter. Interestingly enough the song includes a warning about the need for the guy to mind his manners around the mom but makes no real reference to minding manners around the daughter. The only real instruction, other than showing up early and getting home on time, comes immediately after a tacit acknowledgement that sex is on the guy’s mind, and says “But when you pull her close/just save some room for Jesus/’Cause if you ever cross that line/I swear, boy, you’re gonna need him.” Here’s hoping that most fathers give a bit more meaningful instruction.
  • Number 15 is “It Goes Like This.” Fairly typical country song about a boy meeting a girl, and there is no mention of booze, but the song clearly implies that the very first meeting goes well beyond a hello and a conversation.
  • “Craving You,” at Number 16, is a duet with Maren Morris, another singer I’ve never heard of before. The song itself is about the undeniable allure a girl can have on a guy. But there are some problems. First, the lyrics compare the effect to that of a cigarette or 100 proof liquor. The song also says, “Well, girl, my self control’s so paralyzed/When it comes to you, no, I ain’t got no patience.” It does not require any creativity to realize the danger in lyrics that embrace the idea that a guy can lose his self-control and his patience because he wants a girl so badly.
  • Number 17 is “Things Dads Do” and this could have been a wonderful song about the things that fathers do, and why, while raising their sons. And maybe this is the kind of dad that Rhett had and/or the kind of dad that he wants to be, but he includes some characteristics I think we could gladly do without. For example, the song says that when the son has his first heartbreak, his father will suggest talking it out over a beer. Two problems. One, as I have already mentioned, is the continuous suggestion that we need alcohol to help us cope with the pains and struggles life brings our way. Two, I think every guy I have ever known has experienced their first heartbreak before they were 21, making a discussion over a beer not just a bad idea but against the law. When the son does get married, though, dad will pay for the booze, the song says. Later, when he comes to visit, he’ll ask why your refrigerator has “weird beer” in it. And when he is sitting in the waiting room of the hospital awaiting the arrival of his grandchild, dad will be “chewin’ Red Man.” Here’s hoping these are not the things most dads do.
  • “Remember You Young” is Number 18. This, too, could have been a sweet song about the reminiscences that we all have about friends, spouse and children when they were younger. But this song, too, has two glaring problems. First, references to drinking and partying in younger years (I know, no surprise). Two, near the end, the song says, “Yeah, I hope when we get to Heaven/He looks at us all like we’re kids/Shameless and painless and perfect and ageless/Forgives all the wrong that we did.” One should never assume we will all get to Heaven—especially when one follows it by hoping that God will look at us as shameless and forgive us of “all the wrong that we did.” There is indeed a way that that can happen, but it takes admitting ones sins and accepting Jesus as Savior, not hoping God just decides to forget about all of our wrongdoing and let us into Heaven.
  • At Number 19 is “Church Boots,” which is basically a celebration of being the same guy all the time no matter where he is or how much money he makes. The problem is this: the song proudly proclaims that his church boots are his work boots and his partying boots and he doesn’t think “the good Lord minds.” I am sure He doesn’t. But I suspect He does mind this: “Go straight from the farm to the bar to the back row pew.” God isn’t concerned with someone wearing dirty boots to church. He is, however, concerned with someone who makes going to church just one more thing they do—and a think that has no impact on how they live their lives the rest of the week.
  • “Us Someday,” at Number 20, is harmless and even a fine little country song. It’s too bad, though, that as he sings about what their future would hold Rhett includes kids running around the backyard, family round trips and Little League games—but not church.

It wasn’t in this Top 20 list, bur Rhett also has a song entitled “Beer Can’t Fix,” the point of which is that no matter what you may be going through, it “ain’t nothin’ that a beer can’t fix.”

So… Could it be worse? Definitely. At least there is no profanity or explicit sex as is so prevalent in some other popular music these days. But it could also be better. I am well aware that country music has long included references to alcohol; Garth Brooks’s “Two Pina Coladas” and “Friends in Low Places” come immediately to mind (and also clue you in to the timeframe of when I paid any attention to country music). But for someone to be so popular that he packs out an arena that holds 12,000 people should prompt us to wonder why. What is he singing? What worldview is he promoting? What way of life is he celebrating? Do we really want the awards for Male Artist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year and so on to go to someone who is promoting such pro-alcohol messages? The fact that he seems to be a loving husband and father and he throws Jesus into some of his songs actually serves to make the impact of his songs that much more threatening. If you’re a Thomas Rhett fan, that’s your choice, of course—but in the words of the old children’s song, “be careful little ears what you hear.”

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Built into your bones

I recently finished reading Yeonmi Park’s autobiography In Order to Live. Park was born in North Korea and eventually escaped to China–where she found her mother and herself in the hands of a human trafficker. After some time they were able to make their way to South Korea. The book is an interesting read and an insightful firsthand account of life in the Hermit Kingdom, but that is not what I am going to address here. Something Park wrote, though, jumped out at me. As she was describing all of the things that she learned upon arriving in South Korea that were contradictory to what she had been taught from infancy about the incredible power of the Kim family, she wrote this:

It’s not easy to give up a worldview that is built into your bones and imprinted on your brain like the sound of your own father’s voice.

Park’s point was that even though the things she had been taught about North Korea in general and the Kim family in particular are, once you know the truth, absurd, it was difficult for her to come to terms with that at first because of what had been taught to her for so long. It had been taught by her father–and her mother–and it had been taught so long and so often that it was embedded in her. It was as she said, built into her bones and imprinted on her mind.

Now in the case of Park she was taught something that was not true and therefore the result was dangerous and debilitating. But the example still proves an excellent one for the power of teaching children from an early age. God knows this, of course, and that is exactly why He told the Israelites so many times that they were to teach their children about Him–who He is and what He has done. They were to teach them young and teach them often. It was not to be confined to the Sabbath or to special occasions, but to be an everyday part of their lives. The most familiar example comes in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which reads:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The Hebrew word translated “diligently” in verse 7 above is shanan, which literally means to whet or to sharpen, like a stone, a knife or arrows. Strong’s Concordance says the word figuratively meant “to inculcate.” That is precisely what God had in mind when He gave this instruction to the Israelites and it is precisely what had happened to Yeonmi Park. Inculcate means, according to dictionary.com, “to implant by repeated statement or admonition; teach persistently and earnestly.” Is synonyms are “instill, infix, ingrain.” God instructed His chosen people, and His people still today, to teach their children from an early age and with such frequency and insistence that they become inculcated with the truth.

Here is how some other translations render Deuteronomy 6:7:

  • You shall teach them diligently to your children [impressing God’s precepts on their minds and penetrating their hearts with His truths] (Amplified Bible).
  • and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time… (Contemporary English Version)
  • Repeat them to your children (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • You must teach them to your children (Living Bible)
  • Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children (The Message)
  • Impress them on your children (New International Version)
  • Repeat them again and again to your children (New Living Translation)

I think you get the point. Instilling a biblical worldview in children–an understanding of the world and all that is in it based firmly in the truth of God’s Word–does not happen by accident or by a one-time or even once-in-awhile instruction. It takes intentionality, repetition, consistency and perseverance. In his commentary, Joseph Benson says the verse means to teach God’s truths to children “so as that they may pierce deeply into their hearts.” Matthew Poole says the exact same thing. I like how the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges puts it though: “make incisive and impress them on thy children; rub them in.”

One of the reasons I like that in particular is that rubbing it in requires contact. It requires being up close and personal. Rubbing it in cannot be done from afar. It cannot be done only by words or by pointing the child to a book. No, rubbing it in means getting right there beside the child, rubbing shoulders, bearing burdens, opening hearts, sharing honestly, apologizing when necessary, correcting when needed.

This instruction from God to teach children consistently about Him is not limited to the Israelites nor to the Old Testament. It appears repeatedly throughout Scripture. There are multiple instances in Deuteronomy, but here are some other examples, though not an exhaustive list:

  • O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. (Psalm 71:17)
  • We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:4)
  • Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
  • Teach these things and make sure everyone learns them well. (1 Timothy 4:11, TLB)
  • But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

3 John 4 says, “I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth” (NLT). I agree with that sentiment. In keeping with the thought shared by Park, I cannot imagine any greater joy than knowing that when my children think about God’s truth it is my voice they are hearing. Oh Lord, grant me the discernment and yieledness to parent my children according to Your Word, teaching them Your way and your Truth.

“The fragrance of spiritual devoutness”

George Müller died in 1898. Arthur Pierson died in 1911. Pierson wrote a biography of Müller, entitled George Müller of Bristol, an excellent book. In the book he shared a concern about the education of children of Christian parents. More than one hundred years later that concern has proven to be incredibly prescient. Here is what Pierson wrote…

Many Christian parents have made the fatal mistake of entrusting their children’s education to those whose gifts were wholly intellectual and not spiritual, and who have misled the young pupils entrusted in their care into an irreligious or infidel life, or, at best, a career of mere intellectualism and worldly ambition. In not a few instances, all the influences of a pious home have been counteracted by the atmosphere of a school which, if not godless, has been without the fragrance of spiritual devoutness and consecration which is indispensable to the true training of impressionable children during the plastic years when character is forming for eternity.

Solomon write, in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” That is certainly true in this instance. Pierson could easily have written that rebuke yesterday and it would have been just as accurate, if not more so, as when he wrote it.

It is not my intention here to attack Christian parents who send their children to public schools, but it is my intention to offer a word of caution. It is my hope that perhaps those parents will take time to reflect on the decisions they have made regarding the education of their children and perhaps prompt them to reconsider.

I know that there are some very good public schools in the United States, schools that are safe, staffed by competent and even caring individuals and that provide students with a top-notch academic education. There are certainly public schools with fantastic facilities. Despite those perks, there are real problems with even the very best public schools. It simply is not possible for an educational setting to be morally neutral or for any teacher to teach in a morally neutral fashion. Every person (and therefore every teacher) has a worldview. Every public school has rules which prevent the inclusion of some things and require the inclusion of others. Often those things which are excluded are the very things Christian parents should desire for their children while those things which are included are the very things Christian parents would likely desire that their students not be exposed to or influenced by.

Quite simply, there is not–and in the current climate of the United States cannot be–a public school that contains “the fragrance of spiritual devoutness and consecration which is indispensable to the true training of impressionable children during the plastic years when character is forming for eternity.” Parents need to carefully and prayerfully consider the atmosphere and environment in which they are placing their children. Between kindergarten and high school graduation a student will spend some fifteen thousand hours in school. That’s nearly two full years of life if the child were in school 24/7.

The character of children is being formed for eternity and in many instances that character is firmly established by the time the child leaves home. What influences are shaping the character of your child?

What Really Matters

Today on USAToday.com Ann Oldenburg has a story entitled “Jane Fonda: I have ‘so little time left.'” Oldenburg’s post, in USA Today‘s Life section, is not really much of a story. Rather it is a overview of a recent Fonda blog post, with extensive quotes from the post. The gist of it is that Fonda, who is 76, has recently been “contemplating her age, her mortality, her emotions.” Nothing wrong with that, of course, and I suppose rather fitting for anyone who is 76 years old. In reality, though, I think such reflection is appropriate for any person of any age. My hope and prayer, though, would be that such reflection has a completely different result than what Fonda shared.

“How come,” Fonda wrote, “pretty things, kind deeds, sad stories, acts of courage, good news, someone’s flax [sic] of insight, all get me crying or, at least, tearing up?” We’ve probably all been around people like that at one time or another, and I suppose we’ve all even been that person at one time or another–seemingly over-emotional and “touched” by even the littlest things. Fonda’s conclusion is that her emotions are “way more accessible” than they were when she was younger and they are so because she has come to the realization that her remaining time is precious. “I have become so wonderfully, terribly aware of time, of how little of it I have left; how much of it is behind me, and everything becomes so precious,” she wrote.

Such a perspective is, of course, biblical. James 4:14 says, “[Y]et you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (ESV). I like how The Living Bible words that verse: “How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog—now you see it; soon it is gone.” In other words, whether we are 76 or 36 or 16, we have no idea how many more days we have ahead of us. Fonda has been blessed to live to 76. She seems to be in good health and, who knows, she may live another couple of decades. She doesn’t know, and neither do I (I’m at the 36 mark myself).

It is because we do not know how many days we have on earth that we must use what days we do have wisely. Paul wrote, in Ephesians 5:16, “[make] the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The ERV presents the verse this way: “I mean that you should use every opportunity you have for doing good, because these are evil times.” The Amplified Bible says “buy up every opportunity,” and the Contemporary English Version says “make every minute count.” This is not a message that is unique to the Bible; you hear it often at events like high school commencements and you hear it from plenty of motivational speakers. The reminder to use our time wisely is one we all need.

Sadly, Fonda does not seem to have grasped the “using time wisely” concept. The things that she has determined are important and that move her during these limited days she suggests she has left are things that may have merit but they are not things or eternal significance. Fonda says she now sees the beauty in the small things, and wonders if maybe part of the reason is not that she will soon be on the other side of the dirt. “Maybe, without my being conscious of it, there’s the reality that in a few decades (if I’m lucky) I will be in the earth, fertilizing some of the very things I look at now and tear up over,” she wrote. I don’t know about you, but thinking about the possibility of becoming plant food is not something that would cause me to tear up in any good way. When her time is up, and she does die, Fonda’s wishes are quite simple: “I’m not going to be cremated, uses up too much energy and gives off too many toxins, nor do I want to be in a coffin. Just dump me in a hole and let me morph into whatever as quickly as possible.”

Fonda’s worldview is evident in her interpretation of what happens after death. “Morphing into whatever” is not what happens, of course. (I have to reiterate, though, that if that is what I believed I really cannot imagine being so sanguine about it). Those who hold a biblical worldview believe that they must “redeem the time” because we are stewards of our time, we are to make the most of the minutes, days and years we have on earth, drawing closer to the Lord ourselves and pointing others to Him by the way in which we lead our lives. That can be done in many ways, in many places and in any occupation or activity. Those who believe the Bible seek to make the most of their days because they know that death is not the end.

Fonda evidently believes that death is the end. What that has motivated her to care about seems odd to me, though. She writes, “I ache for unwanted children in the world,” and I can understand that one. Children who have no one to love them, who face each day struggling one their own for survival, are a legitimate cause of emotion, of caring, of tearing up. That kind of care and compassion motivates people to action–people like Katie Davis, who founded Amazima Ministries and has adopted many little girls in Uganda while working to improve life for hundreds more.

But what else does Fonda care about besides unwanted children? Here is the complete thought from her blog: “I ache for unwanted children in the world, for polar bears, and elephants, whales and Monarch butterflies, and dolphins, gorillas and chimpanzees.” Though I suspect she did not intend it to, the rest of Fonda’s statement completely nullifies her concern for unwanted children. Taken as a whole, Fonda’s “aches” for various wildlife minimizes her ache for unwanted children. When one sees unwanted children on the same plane as polar bears and butterflies one has a tremendously warped sense of God’s creation. Polar bears and butterflies and dolphins and maybe even gorillas are beautiful and wonderful and part of God’s creation, but they are nowhere near as important as children. Only human beings are created in God’s image. Only human beings have a soul. Only human beings will live for eternity. Yes, we must be good stewards of the earth and demonstrate proper care for creation, but we must never allow children and critters to be considered equals.

Towards the end of her blog Fonda wrote, “Maybe because I’m older my heart is wider open, like a net that wants to catch all the things that matter.” Let us not forget, however, that when everything matters equally, nothing matters.

“…the answer is increasingly no.”

Al Mohler begins his article “Is Public School An Option?” with this questions and statement: “Should Christian parents send their children to the public schools? This question has emerged as one of the most controversial debates of our times.” As I suggested in the previous post, I would have said “sure” if asked this question anytime prior to the early part of this century, and that was even after I had spent three years teaching in a Christian school. I felt that I had turned out just fine having attended public schools my whole life and, frankly, what I had heard and seen of some homeschooling and Christian school education made me cringe. I was convinced that public school education was usually more rigorous and better prepared students to be lifelong learners. Bottom line, I thought public school education was more legitimate.

Mohler writes, “Until fairly recently, exceptions to this rule [the expectation that parents would send their children to public schools] have been seen as profoundly un-democratic and practically un-American. Homeschoolers were seen as marginal eccentrics, Catholics were seen as hopelessly sectarian, and those who sent their children to private schools were seen as elitist snobs.” Perhaps not exactly, but that fit my way of thinking pretty well.

Of course, as Mohler also points out, public education in America was under the oversight and influence of parents and the local community for hundreds of years; “public schools were public in the sense that they were community schools maintained for and by the citizens of a community.” That way of thinking has certainly changed, and beginning with John Dewey the influence of the parents and local community members on the curriculum and policies of the local schools has significantly diminished.

As Mohler states, “decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court secularized schools in a way that separated the schools from their communities and families.” Of course I am not old enough to remember when there was prayer and Bible reading in school, so that removal happened before I came along. And in that small Midwestern town where I went to high school there was still release time once a week when students could leave the public school during the school day and go for an hour to the church of their choice for “religious instruction.” Students who did not wish to go could stay at school for a study hall. My public high school choir performed their year-end concert in a church and the performances included doctrinally-sound Christian hymns like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” So maybe my experience had not been the norm… And maybe the decreasing influence of the local community had not become the reality in the Midwest yet by the time I graduated high school.

What eventually changed my mind about public schools as a viable option and the legitimacy of homeschooling and Christian schools was the realization that schools were not ideologically neutral, which I had deluded myself into thinking they could be. Mohler writes, “The ideological revolution has been even more damaging than the political change. Those who set educational policy are now overwhelmingly committed to a radically naturalistic and evolutionistic worldview that sees the schools as engines of social revolution. The classrooms are being transformed rapidly into laboratories for ideological experimentation and indoctrination.” If I may be so bold I would disagree with Mohler on that last part, because I am now convinced that classrooms have not been transformed into “laboratories for…indoctrination” but rather always have been. “Indoctrination” means “the act of indoctrinating, or teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view.” Public schools have always done that because it is impossible to teach without doing it. Christian schools do it, too; in fact, that is the whole reason most parents who send their children to Christian schools do so!

Am I suggesting that it is not possible to take a non-ideological position on any subject or that a teacher cannot impartially present information to students? No; that can be done–though it often takes real intentionality to do. What I am suggesting is that every teacher has a belief system, a worldview, that influences their way of thinking about every subject, and that worldview comes through in their teaching.

What has happened is that the right and wrong that public schools used to teach have become various versions of right and debate over wrong because everything is relative. What has happened to the public schools is the removal of certainty and absolutes and facts and the substitution of questioning and relativism and opinion. This is what has led to the ridiculous stories we hear and read about graphic sex ed classes, infringement of student rights to gather or pray or express a minority viewpoint and the support by public education leaders for teaching an acceptance and even and embrace of sinful behavior.

What caused me to change my mind about public schools, and to pretty well determine that my own children will never attend a public school, was the realization that what the schools teach–even the decent ones–is almost always taught from a perspective and toward and end that is completely at odds with what I believe and what I want my children to believe; specifically, what the Bible says. Local control of public schools is increasingly rare. There is more local (and school-level) control than many of the loudest conservative voices claim there is, but it is not enough. The tidal wave of mental manipulation and cconvictionless character has crashed into the public school system and as the water settles the ruins are increasingly visible.

Paula Bolyard, blogging for PJ Lifestyle, has responded to Mohler’s article, too. She correctly writes, “This is one of the most difficult questions a Christian family must wrestle with as school curriculum and speech and behavior codes increasingly stand in opposition to Christian teachings.” I am not by any means attempting to make light of this issue or suggest that it is an easy decision. There are people I know well and respect (indeed, people I am related to) who have chosen to send their children to public schools, and I am not sitting in judgment of them. I personally think that many of their reasons are flawed, but that does not mean they do not hold them sincerely. I will address some of these arguments in a future post.

I think what it comes down to is this assertion by Bolyard: “The stakes are very high. Consider the effects of thirty or more hours a week in a government school where you have no control over what your children are taught — where your local teachers have little or no control over the content of their lessons. Where the federal bureaucrats — many of whom have antipathy toward your Christian values — dictate what your children learn, all day long. How much time are you willing to invest in debriefing your children?” That’s just it. Students will spend some fifteen thousand hours of their lives–their most formative years–in school. Does it make any sense for me to knowingly and willingly place my children for that length of time into an environment that I cannot control and that I increasingly am in opposition to? I don’t think so. If I do, I will have to deal with these candid questions Bolyard asks: “How will you convince them that you are the authority on any given subject — that what you’re teaching them is right — and not their teachers? Is it fair to put a young child in the position of choosing between what their teacher is telling them and what their parents and Sunday school teachers say?”

Nearing the end of his article Mohler asks and answers the question that is the basis for the entire article. “Is public school an option? For Christians who take the Christian worldview seriously and who understand the issues at stake, the answer is increasingly no.” I absolutely agree. In fact, I may well have left the word “increasingly.”

The Safest Poison?

I have mentioned here before that I am part of an online community of Christian educators and in the forums provided through that community there are many discussions on a wide range of topics of interest and concern to Christian educators. Not too long ago there was a discussion about science textbooks for high school science classes–how to select the best books, thoughts on the offerings of specific publishers, etc.

One of the comments was made by a school administrator who quoted his school’s biology teacher. Part of his comment was this statement: “What I found was that the [publisher’s name] was a good curriculum; however, my concern was with the student text generating student interest. There seemed to be a lot of text compared to pictures, models, graphics, and diagrams.” I found this statement troubling for a couple of reasons. First, we are talking about textbooks for a high school science class, not an elementary school class. By the time they reach high school students need to have learned how to learn, and they need to be beyond the stage when their interest in and attentiveness to a text is driven primarily by the colorful pictures and graphics a book may contain. There is a place for graphics, illustrations, models, etc., I do not dispute that, but selecting a textbook because it has the best graphics–or, on the contrary, excluding a textbook because it does not have great graphics–is a dangerous basis on which to make a decision, not to mention silly one. One of the best series of history books I have ever seen is the four-volume The Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer, and those books contain no photos. Whatever maps or illustrations are included are in black and white, yet students enjoy the books because they are well-written and tell the narrative story of history.

The second comment made by the quoted biology teacher was, unfortunately, exponentially more troubling than the first. He explained that their school eventually chose a textbook from a secular publisher, and hailed the wonderful extras that came with the adoption of that book, including access to online resources. Then he made this statement: “Choosing this secular curriculum has been a blessing because my class is very captivated and ‘in love’ with biology. It was the least infiltrated with evolution compared to other secular publishers.”

Now I need to state here and now that I am not one who holds rigidly to the position that Christian schools should only utilize textbooks and resources from Christian publishers. My philosophy has always been that the textbook that will best meet the needs of the students is the one that should be used, and that it is the responsibility of the teacher, regardless of the textbook used, to ensure that courses incorporate a biblical worldview. And I have not seen the specific textbook in question, so I cannot definitively state that it is a “bad” book or that it should not have been selected.

What I can say with confidence, though, is that the very suggestion that a book is “okay” because it is “the least infiltrated” with evolution or any other theory or position that is counter to Scripture is highly troubling. Does the individual in question think that his assertion is even possible? A textbook is either infiltrated with evolution or it is not. A person either has a biblical worldview or they do not. A person is either for the Lord or he is not. There is no middle ground. And infiltrated, by the way, does not mean that the book contains the theory of evolution. Every good biology textbook should include the theory of evolution, since part of effectively teaching students is exposing them to the various theories that exist and equipping them to counter those that are in opposition to Scripture. No, infiltrated means that the textbook’s author’s wrote the book with an evolutionary worldview. It means that they believe that human beings evolved from apes, and apes evolved from something else, and on down the line to the primordial ooze or whatever building blocks man supposedly evolved eventually from. It means that the book’s author’s deny that God spoke the world into existence.

That has implications that are vast, and will touch every page of that textbook, despite the biology teacher’s assertion that “Evolution references were primarily localized in the evolution unit.” Baloney. The evolution references may be localized, but the idea of evolution, the belief in evolution, and the implications of evolution are not localized; they cannot be localized. I would certainly hope that a biology teacher at a Christian school would not say that the creationist viewpoint is localized to the chapter on origins in Christian textbooks, or that his own creationist viewpoint is localized to his teaching about origins. I would hope that his viewpoint infiltrates (to use his word) every lesson he teaches.

With that in mind, the suggestion that the book “least infiltrated with evolution” is a good and safe choice is really not much different than saying that the student’s can drink the beer with the lowest alcohol content, smoke the cigarettes with the lowest nicotine content, watch the movies with the lowest number of obscenities or least amount of nudity, use the drugs with the lowest likelihood of addiction, and play Russian roulette with the gun with the fewest number of bullets. Those suggestions are absurd, I know. But the textbook least infiltrated by evolution is not really any different…because there is no amount of poison that is safe.

Christian Teacher Appreciation

Yesterday I shared about the value of teachers, shared some recollections of the best teachers I have had, and in general shared about what makes a great teacher. Everything that I said yesterday would be true of any teacher, at any level, in any setting. There are some additional opportunities and responsibilities that Christian school teachers have, though, that those in secular settings do not have.

A Christian teacher, in a Christian school, has the wonderful responsibility of presenting everything he or she teaches from a biblical perspective, integrating biblical principles into each and every lesson. The Christian school teacher has an opportunity that even Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders and pastors often struggle with, and that is the opportunity to make clear connections between what the Bible says and what the textbook says, between the Bible and every day, real world life.

This does not happen by accident, and it does not even necessarily happen in every Christian school. Sadly, some Christian schools look much the same as their secular counterparts, with the only difference being the word “Christian” in the school’s name and perhaps a prayer or two scattered throughout the day.

I was involved once in trying to start a Christian school. The name selected for the school did not include the word “Christian” and as I was talking about the school around the community several people asked me why it did not. I told them that a large part of the reason was that “Christian” means different things to different people, and there are a lot of people who claim to be Christian yet provide no evidence of that claim in their daily lives. Our goal was that the school and its faculty/staff would speak for itself and that the “Christian-ness” of the school would be evident even if not “advertised.” Actually, the absence of the word “Christian” in the school at which I currently serve is a plus, in my opinion. Instead of Christian School or Christian Academy, this school is Sunshine Bible Academy. I like that a lot, because being true to the Bible and its truth is far more important and more distinctive than what some people mean when they say Christian.

In his book A Christian Paideia, D. Bruce Lockerbie addresses the importance of teachers this way: “A school isn’t ‘Christian’ because it says so on the cornerstone or signboard. There is no such thing as a biblical brick or a charismatic chem lab or a sanctified schoolroom. Only people can be a Christian. A school is Christian–or not!–because of the living members of that school’s population.” I could not say it any better than that. The teachers are what makes any school great or not great–not the facilities, not the textbooks, not the technology. Those things are wonderful, and they are valuable tools, but if you have the grandest facilities, the newest textbooks and the latest technology, but you do not have teachers–specifically, excellent teachers–those things will not amount to much. Likewise, if a Christian school does not have Christian teachers, who are walking with the Lord, growing in their relationship with Him, seeking His guidance and discernment for their daily responsibilities, modeling His love and grace through their interactions with students, and integrating biblical truth into their lessons, the school will be Christian in name only.

I did not attend Christian schools. I was in public schools my entire life, and I had some very good teachers in those schools. And even though I recall very few of my teachers ever being antagonistic toward a biblical worldview–and I am confident that some of them had such a worldview themselves–I was never in a classroom where I was taught how math can demonstrate characteristics of God, how God’s hand is evident throughout human history, how so many elements of the study of science testify to the evidence of a Creator….

Lockerbie goes on to say of Christian educators, “Our role is to teach girls and boys how to read, how to count, how to write, how to listen, how to discern, how to interpret, how to think, how to analyze, how to synthesize, how to critique, how to know. And in that act of knowing, how to acknowledge who God is and what His claims on one’s life may be.” Amen. If you are a Christian educator, thank you. If you are a parent who makes sure that your child gets an education from Christian educators, thank you. And if you received or are receiving an education from Christian educators, thank God for that blessing.