A Philosophy of (Christian School) Education

This book was a pleasant surprise: Piety and Philosophy: A Primer for Christian Schools by Richard A. Riesen (2nd ed.).  Riesen has been working with and in Christian schools for many years and has worked through the major issues and discussions that come with Christian schooling.  This book, Piety and Philosophy, is Riesen’s wisdom and experience put to paper for others to glean from.

One major argument of the book is this: although you cannot find a clear proof-text or texts in Scripture that command education, it is something Christians may and should do.  I appreciate how Riesen stays away from biblicism by stepping back and taking a big picture view of why education is good.  In other words, he says that education is not strictly speaking a biblical obligation, but it is a Christian obligation.  Here are his reasons:

First, education is “simply practical.”  That is, the Bible does not forbid education, and it is something that humans naturally do – we are learners by nature.  Therefore, we should educate, and do it well.  Christians can be educated to the glory of God.  Second, there is the “ameliorative argument.”  “Education is biblical in the sense that even though there is nothing about schools or education in the Bible, almost no one would deny that education improves, edifies, ameliorates.  It is a good thing.”  It is even a means of loving others.  Third, since we are created in the image of God; learning and expanding our ability to think is part of the image of God.  “The training of intellect is profoundly important, and tied to our essential humanity.  To educate is to make more humane, or in Christian terms, to cultivate the imago Dei.

A fourth reason for education is the argument from history.  Riesen notes then summarizes Gregory of Nazianzus’ emphasis on intellectual training: “Education is a good thing, says Gregory.  We ought therefore both to use and enjoy it.  Even what is bad in secular literature can be helpful, because it teaches us by contrast the superiority of our own doctrine.” A fifth reason for education is the theological argument.  By this Riesen means that the Christian message itself is an intellectual thing and thus it lends itself to the project of education.  Theology is an ally of education, and the Bible itself tells us to think.  Finally, there is the apologetic argument for education.  This is “the Christian interest in education required for its own defense.”

In the rest of this helpful book Riesen talks about the benefits of the liberal arts, Christian intellectualism, what makes a Christian education Christian?, can it be too academic?, spiritual formation, the difference between church and school, and the interaction of piety and education.  If you’re in education or are interested in education from a Christian point of view, I very much recommend this book: Piety and Philosophy by Richard Riesen (2nd ed.).  Even if you don’t agree with it all, I’m pretty sure it will challenge you, make you think more about education, and encourage you towards education in a robustly Christian way.

shane lems


4 comments on “A Philosophy of (Christian School) Education

  1. Truth2Freedom says:

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.


  2. Richard Bush says:


    Thanks for introducing this book on your blog. I used this book as a resource while working as an administrator in two schools In Memphis. I met Dick at a Paideia Conference in Nashville a number of years ago. He was just as convincing in person with his arguments as he was in his book.

    I would also suggest A Passion for Learning, by Bruce Lockerbie, and Norms and Nobility, by David Hicks.
    Both of these works focus more on classical learning, but they are superb resources for educators.

    All the best,
    Richard Bush


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