Reviews

“Handbook of Christian Education” by Ron Horton — A Book Review

In Handbook of Christian Education, Horton provides a biblical philosophy for Christian education, outlining biblical teaching on education and deducing biblical principles regarding the teaching of subjects in a standard curriculum.

Horton, Ronald. Handbook of Christian Education. Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2017.

Synopsis

Part 1

In Part 1, Horton addresses the Christian Philosophy of education, teaching and learning, educational methods, and educational censorship. In chapter 1, Horton argues that the purpose of Christian education is

to conform the redeemed student to the image of God in Christ.

p. 13

For Horton, regeneration precedes Christian education, and the Christian school serves as an extension of the main institutions for discipleship, namely, the home and the church. Chapter 2 talks about the process and setting of learning. In chapter 3, Horton provides helpful criteria applicable to determining a teaching method: power, efficiency, appropriateness, and variety. In chapter 4, Horton argues for a “biblical” position of censorship, against the permissivist [sic] and exclusivist positions, based on three criteria: gratuitousness, explicitness, and moral tone.

Part 2

In Part 2, Horton applies biblical principles to the study of Bible, English, History, Mathematics, and Science. Teaching Bible requires qualified teachers with a balanced lesson plan. Teaching English reflects the character and works of God as a verbal communicator. The Christian history teacher must distinguish between Christian and secularist thinking about the past, including an understanding of God’s sovereignty, human depravity, and biblical principles on government and economics. Even mathematics

advances the student in Christlikeness…for both reasoning and ability and the physical universe are the work of the Creator.

p. 127

The Christian science teacher presupposes creationism and understands the limitations of science. Part 3 discusses two ancillary studies—Visual/Performance Arts and Recreational Activity/Sport—demonstrating how speech, music, art, and sports can be used to conform redeemed students to the image of God in Christ.

Analysis

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

This monograph is replete with Scriptural passages as Horton seeks to provide a biblical foundation for Christian education. While this is admirable and excellent, Horton sometimes has the tendency of using Scripture further than what the biblical writers intend. He takes descriptive passages and makes them prescriptive. For example, Horton argues that a teacher must have a variety of methods, and he supports this by citing Jesus’ various methods of teaching and healing (p. 41). He probably does not mean it, but his statement implies that to use only one method of teaching is not to be following Christ. Consider the following:

the injunction ‘be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48) is a mandate for teaching all the verbal and intellectual skills traditionally known as English studies.

p. 113, emphasis mine

Horton takes the command to be perfect and applies it to English studies. Is someone prone to grammatical error underdeveloped in his sanctification? Undoubtedly, Christian education as a means of discipleship must certainly rely on the Bible for foundational principles of discipleship (2 Tim 3:16), but caution must be exercised for using the Bible to provide something it never claimed to be about, namely, a philosophy of education.

Seven Helpful Insights

Despite the above weakness, one appreciates Horton’s philosophical and biblical clarity on the following areas. First, Horton correctly states that the institutions mainly responsible for discipleship are the church and the home; the Christian school acts only as an extension of the church and home. Second, the importance of unifying faculty and staff to be sold out on the foundational principles is key. Third, I appreciate the philosophical view on academic grades. Horton warns against both an obsession with grades and a negligent disregard of them. He views grades as a means for evaluation, not an end in themselves (p. 26).

Fourth, Horton’s criteria for censorship are wise and helpful, though there needs to be an acknowledgement that not all literature can neatly fit into these criteria. Horton presents a middle position between immediate exposure to the evils of the world on one hand and complete seclusion on the other, avoiding the two opposite extremes. The middle position teaches the student how to discern and defend against the evils of the world. Complete seclusion does not prepare them for the time they leave the gates of the Christian school, and immediate exposure carelessly leaves them unprotected from the world.

Fifth, one of the most helpful contributions is this concept: if Christian education is essentially discipleship, then teachers must be disciple-makers. Anything less than this does not work, or one must redefine the overall purpose of what it means to have a Christian education.

Sixth, Horton has expressed a Christocentric view of the purpose of Scripture, namely, to reveal Jesus Christ as Redeemer and King (cf. Luke 24:25–27; John 5:39) (pp. 82–83). Lastly, Horton recommends that teaching the Bible in a Christian school requires certain academic and spiritual qualifications similar to teaching other subject matters.

Conclusion

Handbook of Christian Education contains philosophical reasonings behind wise advice from an experienced educator to a new generation of educators; but it should not be viewed as the approach to Christian school education. Though one may not necessarily follow every suggestion on the book, the suggestions should at least be considered carefully. Christian educators should appreciate and follow Horton’s example of applying and aligning his philosophy of education with Scripture. While disagreement may exist on some of Horton’s interpretation and application of biblical passages, there is no disagreement that he is desirous of practicing Christian education rooted in Scripture. This criterion alone makes Handbook of Christian Education a must-read for all Christian educators.

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