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“Now” to me has become a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017
I greeted the sun this morning on the crest of the hill behind my 1880ish Mennonite built farm. The foundation allegedly was part of an earlier structure, probably built in the middle 1700s.
I walked on this hill today to greet the sun and also to wrap myself in history. It is on this hill where I remind myself that I am part of something much bigger than my farm, much bigger than my lifetime. From this hill Algonquians braves, perspicuous German settlers, and now this old campaigner greet the dawn. I know my God liveth when I stand on this hill. Behind me is an old wagon trail. An earlier Mennonite tenant threw perfectly sculptured sandstone rocks that I have built stone walls to support perennial flowers and thriving holly bushes. At this point, at this  confluence seven springs join to provide my family with the sweetest, cleanest mountain water that a person could hope to experience. I hear the bubbling overflow from my spring house. Whitetail deer, bear, rabbits, and other critters, are even now gathering to enjoy its bounteousness. No wonder Native Americans fought for this land!
I peer over the horizon.  From this place, or nearby, hay chewing squint eyed dairy farmers peered at the smoke from the Flight 93 site only eight miles away. “Yep,” my neighbor observed, “Them A-Rabs are attacking us.”  Even then I wondered what a terrorist had against our old abandoned strip mining fields.
There was 16 years ago and this is now. “Now” to me has become a wonderful thing.  I am as young (at heart) and full of fight as I was then, when America struck the first blow for freedom, on that beautiful autumn morning in early September. 

No, I am as young as any man alive, at any time. As I am reminded as I serve the Lord’s Supper, I (we) join a cloud of witnesses who celebrate and proclaim the goodness and mercy of our God! I remember again, that I am alive, will always be alive. Not in some smoky pantheistic karma, but in the presence of our Almighty God. In the pens, in the memory of my students, I, and all those who serve one another in Christ, who call Him Savior, shall live. This is not a therapeutic moment; it is a historical moment. An affirmation of the Creator who knows all, the only path to the destination where I am heading someday. 
September 11 has always been meaningful for me.  On September 11, 1975 I fell asleep at the wheel of my Fiat 128, hit a bridge, and spent the next year recovering in hospitals (2.5 months) and physical therapy (9 months). In feverish pain I suffered through Luis Tiant’s near victory in the 1975 series. Knowing I was soon to live in Cambridge, MA, I felt obligated to support the home time. I was discouraged, to be sure. Seemed like God had abandoned me! Here I was going to seminary to serve Him, and pow, look were I landed! And then I remember that my delayed Harvard debut meant that I met my beloved wife, Karen, my life partner of 40 years (so far) and mother of my (our) four children. She is sleeping now, even as I write this blog.  I reach for her in prayer as I peer down into our bedroom window. Even for the hour or so I will be away from her, until she joins me for breakfast (and cooks it too, I might add!), I will miss her.
Yes, I digress  but let me end it by saying, continuing to say, that I am as young and hopeful and full of energy as I have ever me.  No, I have more energy, the way old Caleb looked at the high country and asked only to be granted the privilege to defeat God’s enemies (Joshua 14). I stand again, this morning, look! I see the sun rising . . . its rays are accentuated, not dissipated, by golden and red sugar maples autumn leaves. Brothers and sisters, the promise is as real and alive as ever. “The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly!” (vs. 9).
Let’s roll! Let us take back what is rightfully ours, what belongs to our God. The thistle and the vine, the hill and the flat lands, this is our land.  It is our time. Let us bow down together and thank almighty God that we have been so blessed to be alive, to see the coming of His glory! The vindication of His Word!

Racial Reconciliation: The Only Hope is the Church

Saturday, September 9th, 2017
     My old professor, Harvard University’s Dr. Robert Cole in his book The Spiritual Life of Children describes an interview he had with a young African-American child named Ruby Ridges.  This child was being accosted by angry segregationists as she walked to school. In the face of so much hatred, Cole wanted to know why she was smiling.
     “I was all alone,” she began, “and those people were screaming, and suddenly I saw God smiling, and I smiled.”
     Then she continued with these astonishing words: “A woman was standing there [near the school door], and she shouted at me, ‘Hey, you little —-, what you smiling at?'”
     “I looked right at her face, and I said, ‘at God.'”
     “Then she looked up at the sky, and then she looked at me, and she didn’t call me any more names.”
     In order for reconciliation to occur between races, there must be a profound and sincere acceptance of responsibility for our bad choices.  We must own our responsibility. How blind and judgmental we can be, we religious people!  At the same time, like Ruby Bridges, we must continue to believe racial reconciliation is possible.  To remain hopeful in the face of hopelessness.
     Jesus Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  And He loves all children, red and yellow, black and white. Period.  I know that this seems simplistic and somewhat chauvinistic. There is no other way to eternal life or present happiness.  And I suppose that is the bottom line in my discussion of racism.  As early as 1976 John Perkins was saying the same thing–only the gospel can transform people (Romans 12:1). The goal was voiced by Martin Luther King, jr.: “. . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will sit down at the table of brotherhood together.”  This Christian ideal lost its spiritual moorings and the integration cure began to choke the life out of the very ideal of racial harmony it was intended to save.  I believe that the time has come for all Christians to integrate one another.  But to do so in the name of Jesus Christ and biblical veracity.
       Integration was a clear goal for the early church.  After all, the example of the cross drew all persons into hopeful relationship. Paul had no trouble defining his gospel and his life as `the message of the cross.’  On the contrary, he boldly declared that, though the cross seemed either foolishness or a stumbling block to the self-confident (i.e., modern humankind!) it is in fact the very essence of God’s wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:18-25).49 The cross will be a stumbling block to the white supremist and the black nationalist.  But it will be the Christian’s Hope of Glory.  The world does not need a new religion–it needs Jesus Christ–crucified and resurrected.  And, at risk of sounding simplistic and redundant, as we make Jesus Christ Lord of our lives we will see our racial attitudes change.
      Don’t get me wrong.  What I am suggesting is truly revolutionary, or, as the theologian Walter Brueggemann suggests “subversive.” The church–our church–is called to a higher commitment.  A radical commitment.  The choice for Christ occupies first place, above parents, children, job, and, if necessary, life itself.  The gate leading to health and wholeness in our world is not reasonable size.  It is narrow.  In that sense, I am calling us all to a radical faith, a prophetic faith.  We are called to a major reclamation project of our views of atonement so completely presented in Scripture and in our Confessions.  And racism, after all, is a direct threat to the atonement.
    The challenge for the Church is to be different in a meaningful way.  To be in the world but not of it.  To lead America away from the self-destructive cliff to which racism has brought us.  The call to us all is to find our identity in Christ alone–not in color, creed, ethnicity or any other category. Again, though, I am convinced that racial reconciliation is coming for one very important reason:  men and women and the organizations that they represent are falling down on their knees and asking God to give them strength to change.  Faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ–more than any other single factor–will bring peace.  This outspoken subservience to the Lordship of Christ, the open admission that peace will not come in any other way, makes the present moves to reconciliation to be more hopeful.  Nothing quite like this happened in earlier reconciliation attempts.
In William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished a white boy named Bayard is reflecting about his black friend Ringo: “. . . Ringo and I has been born in the same month and has both fed at the same breast and has slept together and eaten together for so long that Ringo called Granny ‘Granny’ just like I do, until maybe he isn’t a n—er               anymore or maybe I isn’t a white boy anymore, the two of us neither, not even people any more: the two supreme undefeated like two moths, two feathers riding above a hurricane.”
       The Church is called–somehow–to ride above a hurricane.  To be that peculiar people about whom we read in Scripture.  To find a unity that transcends the substantial barrier race represents.  This is no small feat, but one that the Church must undertake. And soon.  By showing American society the way out of racism the Church of Jesus Christ has a unique opportunity to reclaim Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “center of the city.”  Using Augustine’s City of God as a standard, the Church is called to be an efficacious model of reconciliation to a fragmented and broken community.   We are all on a journey–white, black, yellow, and red—whose ending is the City of God.
Finally, Christians are called by God to serve our culture even though our ultimate loyalty and hope is in the city of God. I believe, with all my heart, that the road to Christian revival must pass through the school of racial reconciliation.  There are several examples of racial reconciliation in our country today and I am truly encouraged. But there is much work that remains.  As I have intimated before, until the Church finds a way to bring racial reconciliation in a widespread way into its own camp, American society at large has no hope of doing the same. As we begin the 21st Century this reclamation project will be America’s most valuable gift to the world.
           The whole world waits with bated breath . . .

 

The Homeschool Community

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Never in the history of a people, has there been such opportunity for a cultural demographic: the homeschool community, to affect, laudably, culture. Homeschooled students in increasing numbers are being admitted to college and awarded scholarships. To God be the glory!

College graduates assume most of the leadership roles of this country. They make most of the decisions, write most of the literature, and adjudicate most of the court cases. In short, college graduates make most high culture! Christian college graduates can be world-changers for Christ!

The term “high culture” was introduced into English largely by Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy (1869). Around the same time, German scholars wrote of Kultur, meaning that there is a mystical spirit permeating society, something that is more profound than Western civilization itself. Indeed!

High culture creates the best that has been said and thought in the world. It is a force for moral and political good. It promotes and creates the way of life that a civilization enjoys—the art that it views, the movies it enjoys, the books it reads. I am not talking about fads and froth but about the things that determine how we think, govern, and worship. The term is contrasted with popular culture, as well as with traditional cultures. I want you to create a wholesome, godly high culture, something more profound and ubiquitous than anything in Western culture.

To reach this goal, young people need to be the best they can be for our God. Join the high-culture creation epicenters of education, government, entertainment, health, law, and religion; go to those spheres, and make a difference.

The SAT Prep for the Thoughtful Christian will prepare you for college and therefore to be world-changers for Christ, to create a new high culture.
Here are a few nuances of the SAT:

1. No penalty for wrong answers. You and your fellow students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers while taking the new SAT.
2. Revamped essay. Instead of composing a personal essay for the writing section, you will read a passage and then analyze how the author persuades the readers. Although content passages will change, the essay question itself will be the same on all tests.
3. Evidence-focused reading. Just like the essay section, the reading section will also be more focused on content evidence. You will be asked a question about the text and then need to give evidence best supporting your answer. If you get the first question wrong, it could be difficult to answer the second and third questions correctly.
4. Context-based vocabulary. The new SAT will ask you to define a word based on how it is used in context. Sample questions show familiar words that can have various meanings. More than ever, learning Greek and Latin roots trumps vocabulary memorization every time.
5. More graphs and charts. The new test will have an increased emphasis on questions that make students gather information from graphs and charts.
6. More emphasis on grammar, syntax, and dictions. You will also be asked to revise sentences in order to make them consistent with standard English practices.
7. Primary-source texts. The new SAT reading section will include excerpts from U.S. founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. You will not be expected to be familiar with the documents beforehand, but that would not hurt!
8. Stress reduction. Scripture memorization will calm your fears and help you focus!

I am excited! “Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour, and caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping” (Rupert Brooke, who died in World War I, in 1915)

Grievance Mentality

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

When conflicts occur, sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning observe in an insightful new scholarly paper, aggrieved parties can respond in any number of ways. In honor cultures like the Wild West or the street gangs of West Side Story, they might engage in a duel or gun fight. In dignity cultures, like the ones that prevailed in Western countries during the 19th and 20th Centuries, “insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery,” they write. “When intolerable conflicts do arise, dignity cultures prescribe direct but non-violent actions.”

These affronts, offenses, are called grievances and they develop into grievance mentalities or identities. A grievance is a wrong considered as grounds for complaint, or something believed to cause distress. A grievance becomes a mentality when a person, a culture, or a society begins to function out of that perceived grievance. In the history of Civil Rights, the politics of difference (African-American scholar Shelby Steele’s term) led to an establishment of “grievance identities.” By the 1980s the African-American community gained identity according to grievances committed by the dominant group. They sought to document the grievances of their group, testifying to its abiding alienation. African-American and whites alike were punished for not recognizing and accepting this litany of grievances. They lost their way.

Christians have been taking offenses and participating in grievance mentalities for centuries. Peter, in Acts 10, is threatened by the notion that alien Gentiles, in wholesale fashion, would be welcomed into the Kingdom of God. Peter reached for his Teddy Bear and looked for a safe place in law driven, exclusive Judaism. It would not happen. Paul reminded his friend Peter that all were outcasts, all were saved by grace through faith. Peter would be wise to get onboard.

And so should we, homeschoolers. We live in a threatening, debilitating culture that is opposed to what we believe and know to be true. We celebrate the life of an unborn child; our nation murders him/her. We embrace biblical marriage; our nation legislates that biblical marriage is only one choice. And so forth. In 2017 we are in danger of embracing a grievance mentality.

To do that will subvert the movement. If Peter’s views would have been adopted, the Church would have become a declining sect, disappearing in one generation. The African-American reform movement, after such a propitious start, to a large degree, has become a petty, parochial, ignoble reflection of existential liberalism.

Homeschoolers we do not have to become like the pagan to share Christ with the pagan—we merely need to remain true to ourselves, to our core values, to our God. Peter had nothing to fear from the Gentiles. God had everything under control. We have nothing to fear from secular America or the secular university. We serve an awesome, powerful God!

I understand and I celebrate the veritable stampede of capable evangelical homeschoolers into the 10-20 most competitive universities in the USA. Never in the history of academia has a cultural group—Christian homeschoolers—been so vigorously recruited and lavishly rewarded. God’s favor is truly on this homeschooled generation of youth.

So what do we fear? Whom do we fear? Only God and we reverence and love Him because He loved us first and sent his only Begotten Son to be our savior.

Finally, in the 40 years since I matriculated out of Harvard University I have watched my classmates assume the most powerful positions in the world. This I have learned: failure and success is not measured by accumulated wealth or human accolades—no what really matters is what God thinks. The most grievous indictment of my generation was that we learned much knowledge and we applied it to our life situations. Somewhere along the line, however, we lost our passion. We forgot who we were and Who He is. We need to raise this generation to be madly in love with Christ. We need to get them to take their eyes off the problems and look to the solution to these problems! You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Strange Fire

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

The normal life of a movement/organization like this, the homeschool movement, is 25 years. Organizational theory tells us that we are in the status quo phase moving to the decline stage. At this point, we have more invested in the infrastructure of the movement than we should. We are after profits to pay for our substantial investments in the institution. I say this with no prejudice. For profit and not for profit–all are forced to hustle to make ends meet. This quells the prophetic spirit and invites sensational–to use homeschool patriarch Steve Lambert’s word “strange fire.” We have to draw the masses so we invite the dilettante, the unusual, the opinionated to fill our keynotes. The purpose is to invite more people and pay the bills. Period. This sort of thing ultimately generates a sort of mediocrity on one hand and outright heresy on the other. We see this in our penchant to promote Doug Phillips and David Barton, the latter, especially, curry favoring to our monolithic vision of everything. This is normal. Richard Hofstadter, a historian, warns us that in a democracy leadership often moves to the mediocre and existential, instead of the confessional. For instance, can you imagine ugly Abraham Lincoln being elected to the presidency today? Ironically, in our pursuit of the sensational, the generalists, people like myself–with the most credentials and education–are often frozen out of the mix. I have rarely been asked to be a keynote because I discipline myself to presenting the facts, not hazy inflammatory conjecture. Facts, let’s face it, bore most people. So . . . what next? We must regain a prophetic, confessional (vs. existential) voice. We must return to squeaky clean excellence in everything we do. Unless the movement can regain this, we might very well sink into the social history cesspool, and be an interesting footnote that historians mention. I repeat: this is a fish or cut bait moment: either we discipline ourselves and stop promoting aberrant “strange fire” speakers or we disappear as a major sociological, culture-changing force in the next few decades.

How to Teach History

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

History is a light that illuminates the present and directs attention toward the possibilities of the future. The history is only the “past” however, without a study and assessment of the written record of events as well as the events themselves. History is a social science–a branch of knowledge that uses specific methods and tools to achieve its goals.

Historians examine archival footprints. Some of these are written records: diaries, letters, oral histories, recordings, inscriptions, biographies, and many others. At times history seems merely to be lists of kings, of wars, and of other significant things. As a result, history seems like a study of a bunch of dead people. Who cares? Like Huck Finn we quip, “After supper the Widow Douglas got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.”

But history is alive and full of interesting, glorious, and useful things! And it is terribly relevant to all of us.

There are lots of different histories. The Earth, the world of nature, and the universe all have pasts, but they have no histories. Histories have to do with real, alive (or once alive) people. Only human societies have histories, based on collective memories from which they reconstruct their pasts.

Not all attempts to reconstruct the past have resulted in histories. My Uncle George (not a real uncle but just a family friend), Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, had an entirely different view of African History than I, a father of three African-American children. Uncle George had a delusional “history” that was very much like a Nazi propaganda film, but it was not a “history.” It was a “past” made up of venal images, obscured remembrances, and visceral prejudices that stewed in his poor, conflicted mind.

My history was big enough to love Uncle George—and I did—may he rest in peace—and my three children. And in my life, these four people were brought together into eternal rest. Perhaps that is the best thing one can say about this world history. It brings everyone together in one history.

To be a true history, an account of the past must not only retell what happened but must also relate events and people to each other. It must inquire into causes and effects. It must try to discern falsehood in the old records, such as attempts of historical figures to make themselves look better than they really were. It must also present the evidence on which its findings are based.

It is clear that all our information in regard to past events and conditions must be derived from evidence of some kind. Some evidence is better than other evidence.

To that end, I do not expect students to be completely neutral about historical sources. While I know that my students can never be completely neutral about history, scholarly historical inquiry demands that they implement the following principles:

  1. Historians must evaluate the veracity of sources.  There must be a hierarchy of historical sources.  Primary source material, for instance, usually is the best source of information.
  2. Historians must be committed to telling both sides of the historical story. They may choose to lobby for one view over the other, but they must fairly examine all theories.
  3. Historians must avoid stereotypes and archetypes. They must overcome personal prejudices and dispassionately view history in ruthlessly objective terms.
  4. Historians must be committed to the truth no matter where their scholarship leads them. At times historians will discover unflattering information about their nation/state.
  5. Finally, historians understand that real, abiding, and eternal history ultimately is made only by people who obey God at all costs.

After everything is said and done, historians are only studying the past. They cannot really change the past. Theories about the past come and go, and change with each generation. However, the past is past. It is over. Historians will debate about history, but they can never change history. Only God can change history.

God alone can change history. When persons are reborn in Christ, their present, future, and, yes, even their past is changed. History is literarily rewritten. They are new creations. That bad choice, that sin, that catastrophe is placed under the blood of the Lamb, and everything starts fresh and new. A new history for new people.

Let me illustrate. 150 years ago my great-great-great- grandfather, whose passion was to kill Yankees, was a slave owner in Eastern Tennessee. With that inheritance, like most white Southerners who grew up in the 1960s, I grew up to mistrust African-Americans. Like so many people captured by their history and culture, present and future became my past. However, when I was a senior in high school, I was saved. Jesus Christ became my Lord and Savior. My attitudes changed. It took time, but prejudices disappeared.

Ultimately, I married my New Jersey wife, Karen, and we adopted three African-American children—whose ancestors, by the way, may have been owned by my great-great-great-uncle!

Three of my children are African-American. Imagine! Quite literally, my history was rewritten. It has been changed irrevocably by my decision to invite Jesus Christ to be Savior of my life. In a real sense, family prejudice and death existing for generations ended in my generation. The destructive historical cycle that was part of my history has ended. No one, nothing can do that but the Lord. History has been rewritten!

My prayer is that if you do not know this God who can change history—even your history—these history texts might encourage you to invite Jesus Christ into your heart as Savior.

Online College Degrees—Pray About it!

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

The best approach to going to college is to present a terrific SAT/ACT score and offer a great transcript. The SAT/ACT is by far, without a doubt, the most important credential that you bring to college admission and college scholarship determination.  Absolutely.  Can I make myself any clearer!  In an age when schools are so different—schools even in the same zip code—when an A somewhere would be a C in another place—colleges MUST rely on the ACT/SAT score to determine admission. It has been that way for a while. It will be that way for years to come, if not forever.

Take the SAT and/or ACT junior year.  And then apply during your senior year. That is the ticket!

One question that I’m often asked, is, what about an online degree? Should I do that? No, you shouldn’t.

I want to define terms a little bit first. An online degree is a college degree of sorts, a sort of Bachelor of Arts, a sort of Bachelor of Science degree.  A sort of sort of. It purports to be like any other degree (never is a claim that it is better than a four year, resident degree!). But it is not. I know of no employer who would prefer an online degree employee over a four year college degree from a recognized university.  Do you? Would you hire an online degree graduate from Liberty University before you would hire a resident graduate from Liberty University?

Online college students stay at home and take all course work via the computer.  The course work plus CLEP credit equals an online degree. Occasionally they spend a week or two on site, but most of the work is at home.

This is different from taking some course work online.  A lot of people do that.  A lot of people get AP or CLEP credit. But most do not complete a degree that way. Taking a few courses is fine. There’s no question that you may take one, two or three courses online—or get some CLEP/AP Credit–but you should know that many colleges—the best colleges—will not give you credit for any online courses. Usually they’re basic courses that are essentially the same everywhere. Most general online course, or CLEEP credits, are not in your major area, and, they might save you some money.

Or not. Remember if you have a high ACT/SAT score the university/college that admits you will give you a nice financial package. Let them pay for your education. Besides, as I said, colleges that I attended will not give you credit for online courses. Period. No credit at all.

As I advised, don’t do it. I have some real questions about an online degree. You should too. If you don’t, call a few employers and ask them if they prefer online degree employees or employees who went to Vanderbilt or the University of Texas in Austin. Ask them if they would rather have an online degree graduate from an online program or a four year, resident graduate.

Another reason I have questions about an online degree, is that the best graduate schools, will not admit online degree students. And what good is a degree, online, if you can’t use it, to go where God is calling you?

Another thing is, online degrees are terribly expensive! I know one online program that costs about $15,000 and you have nothing when you finish. If you don’t believe me ask people who have online degrees.  Ask them if they were able to go to graduate school.  Ask them if their degree is viewed the same way as a degree from the University of North Carolina or Messiah College. Ask them if they would do the same thing again.

You are hit both ways. You are ineligible for merit scholarships, ineligible for need based scholarships, ineligible for scholarships period. But you have a huge bill.

It no doubt would be cheaper for you to go to a four-year orthodox college on scholarship. And that will happen to you, if you have a high SAT and ACT score. You may, think you’re saving money by doing an online program, but if a regular college is, giving you a huge scholarship, it’s really cheaper then why not do that?

There are a lot of convention speakers who are vilifying big name schools and talking about how expensive they are. Well, did you know that homeschoolers receive more financial aid as a population group at Harvard and Stanford than any other population group?

$15,000 is a lot of money. You could spend $15,000+ and then need to pay for 2-3 more years in another college (if this college will accept your CLEP credits) because all you have is a bunch of CLEP credits (which are much less respected than AP credits).

If you really feel God is telling you to get an Online Degree, why don’t you do it on your own? Really, the entire Online Programs can easily be replicated by your own efforts.  Online agencies (except colleges—colleges do help you sign up for online courses) do nothing more than what you could do for yourself—FREE.  I could pay someone to get my social security for me. I see Ads on television all the time.  But why would I?  For a little bit of effort I could write and get one for myself FREE.  Don’t pay someone $15,000 for something that could cost you nothing if you would do it yourself!

You can also lose your health insurance if you are not a resident student.  That could cost another $400 a month for some students.

An online “degree” might cost $15,000. Texas A & M costs $7,500/year tuition. The University of North Carolina $5922.  You might spend $15,000 only to find that you need to spend another $28,000 because you do not really have a college degree!  Unfortunately, too, you might have taken yourself out of the running for scholarships because typically four year students do not give scholarships to transfer students.

How to Choose a Curriculum

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Venerable pioneers, those of you who have faded photographs of jean jumpers and paint chipped Flexible Flyer red wagons, do you remember those days? We had three—just three—curricula choices or we wrote our own. Incidentally, that is really why I wrote my first curricula—I did not like what was out there.

Those days, however, are over. Attend any home school convention and you will be inundated with flashy curricula.  They are everywhere. Hundreds of choices. In fact, success in homeschool teaching these days is determined more by what we don’t buy that what we buy! Effective homeschoolers have to learn to say no, or, we will have what I have in my home: a couple of bookcases of unopened curricula that “we thought” we would use or “it looked so nice.”  Right.

So how does one choose curricula? I would use the following checklist:

  • ·        Inquiry Based (Does the curriculum invite the student to engage in critical thinking, student-centered activities?)
  • ·        Age Appropriate (Does the curriculum reflect a vocabulary and sentence structure appropriate to your student(s)?)
  • ·        Colorful and Interesting (Does the curriculum appear in column? Are there pictures? Graphs? Is if printed on sturdy materials?)
  • ·        Answer Key (Does the curriculum provide an answer key?)
  • ·        Propagandistic (Does the curriculum reflect objective scholarship?)
  • ·        Need Based (Does the curriculum meet your needs?  If your child is going to college, is it preparing him to go?).
  • ·        Authorship (Check the credentials of the author of your curriculum).
  • ·        Organization (Is the curriculum organized in a user-friendly manner?)

These are exciting and important days in which we live. Never have a more critical generation—homeschooled or otherwise—grown up in America. It is important that all homeschool parents take seriously its duty of providing the best curricula to educate their children!

Our Young People Bring Possibility

Monday, May 1st, 2017

A transplanted Arkansas boy who now lives in the often-frigid Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania, I like my apple cider to be steaming and my house to be about 78 degrees. An anthracite coal-burning stove does the job, but there is one problem with coal heat, and it occurs about three o’clock every morning: the fire dies down to the point where the house is dangerously cold.

Is the home school movement growing cold? I think not.

Old Testament Levitical priests had a duty to tend the fire in the tent of meeting, to keep it roaring and bright. The fire on the altar, the eternal flame on which sacrifices were offered to God, was not to go out. Other tasks could be deferred. But the fire on the altar was never to go out. (Leviticus 6:8–13)

Through the centuries believers have served well as fire tenders. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever . . .(Deuteronomy 29:29). This is a gathered inheritance kept alive by men and women of faith. In our own home school history the honor belongs to Hulsey, Harris, Ferris, and countless others.

Truth is restated; more than that, the reader will observe that saints throughout the ages have built on the faith of those who preceded them. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: that is true, and truth is the same, forever. Revelation of truth, though, is forever becoming better understood, we hope. The previous generation of believers passes the torch to us, and we pass it to the next, and so on. Each generation builds on the illumination of the previous generation. We trust that the world is better for it.

On my farm grows an oak tree that began its life 30 years ago full of potential, and it was beautiful in its own right. Today it is so much more beautiful than it was thirty years ago. It is the same tree, but oh, how much larger and fuller are its branches and fruits! Diurnally I remove acorns and leaves deposited on my truck. It is the same tree, still full of potential, but producing more fruit than ever. A vicious blight or uncaring gypsy moth may kill it someday, but I already see a new oak seedling growing in its redolent shadow.

I look at this new generation of home schoolers and I know that we are not going to run out of fuel. The Holy Spirit is still here to encourage, to inspire every generation. There is, I have no doubt, a new C. S. Lewis or Oswald Chambers alive today.

Fear is dissipated by promises; evil is overcome by good. A gathered inheritance. We again recognize that the secret things belong “to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). A gathered inheritance!

Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “The lightning illuminates all and then leaves it again in darkness. So faith in God grasps humanity, and we respond in ecstasy. And the darkness is never again the same, . . . but it is still the darkness.”

All of God’s saints—past, present, and future—are flashes of lightning in the sky. And the darkness is never the same again because the light reveals what life can be in Jesus Christ. “Memory allows possibility,” theologian Walter Brueggemann writes. A gathered inheritance. We bring memory. Our young people bring possibility.

Harvard and Heaven: Prospering in the Secular University

Monday, April 17th, 2017

 Who could imagine that a movement that began so quietly in the 1970s would generate so vital and an anointed generation that is emerging at the beginning of this century? It is a time to celebrate and to reflect.

In 2017 it is an uncontested fact: home schoolers are dominating college admission test scores, and, it is growing more evident each day that they are highly qualified and successful college students when they are admitted. When I was growing up, eons ago, elite prep schools dominated the college admission classes. Today, the new “elite” are home schooled graduates. They are the most highly recruited, most highly valued freshmen at secular and Christian schools alike. I am privy to a Harvard University online chat room, and recently I saw this statement posted. “If Harvard wants to be the best, the most relevant institution in the years ahead, it must recruit and admit home schoolers.” Indeed.

And Harvard has reason to worry. I spoke to a Yale recruiter and she told me that, while Yale wants home schoolers, home schoolers do not seem to want Yale. They are not applying to Yale. Likewise, I have two distance learning students who were heavily recruited by Ivy League schools. They both chose local alternatives (a state school and a Christian school).

It is not the purpose of this article to lobby for any particular post-graduate choice, although I found my wife at Harvard—and Intervarsity Fellowship on Thursday night in Cambridge is larger than the entire student body at Gordon College (a Christian College) in South Hamilton. Mostly for fiscal reasons, the majority of Christian home schoolers go to secular colleges. That is an uncontested fact. We home schoolers, for whatever reason, usually attend secular colleges.

Therefore, this article is about the secular colleges we will attend—how they got to be the way they are and how we can prosper in such a place.

First, to most evangelical Christians, the modern, secular, university is a hostile place. It was not always so.

In fact, the American university was built solidly on evangelical principles. There were no so-called “official” “secular” colleges until the rise of the land grant colleges in the middle of the 19th century. An early brochure, published in 1643, stated that the purpose of Harvard University (the oldest American university) was “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.” Harvard’s motto for 300 years was “Christo et Ecclesiae.” In fact, most of the U. S. universities founded before the 20th century had a strongly religious, usually Protestant Evangelical Christian character. Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Stanford, Duke, William and Mary, Boston University, Michigan, and the University of California had a decidedly evangelical Christian character in the early years of their existence but abandoned it by the 20th century. By 1920s, the American university had stepped completely back from its evangelical roots. This was true of almost every American university founded in the first 200 years of our existence.

Readers would be surprised to see how evangelical, Christ-centered early universities were. They had pastors as presidents. These men closely tied the identity of their university to a strong Christian world view. The core curriculum included Bible courses and Christian theology. These were mandatory Bible courses. All American universities insisted on a doctrinally sound content for sensitive courses and often required that faculty be born again Christians! Imagine this: the famous historian Frederick Jackson Turner was refused a professorship at Princeton because he was a Unitarian! Chapel attendance was required at Harvard and Yale! It is more than coincidental that the architects who designed early universities designed them to look like churches. At the University of Pittsburgh, for instance, the most prominent building on campus is the Cathedral of Learning.

Universities were founded because early Americans earnestly believed that American society should be governed by evangelical Christian people. They believed that American industry should be run by evangelical Christian entrepreneurs. They believed that American culture should be created by evangelical artists. The early American university was committed to making sure that that happened.

The marriage of spiritual maturity and elite education is a potent combination and to a large degree assured the success of the American experiment. Its divorce may presage its demise.

Today the university is not even loosely a Christian institution. Religion in the university and in public life is relegated to the private experience. So-called “academic freedom” has become a sacrosanct concept and precludes anything that smacks of religiosity–especially orthodoxy that evangelicals so enthusiastically embrace. Religion is represented on campus in sanitary denominational ministries and token chapel ministries (that were hardly more than counseling centers).

To a large degree, then, the American university abandoned the evangelical and the evangelical abandoned the American university.

This created a crisis in the American university and in the evangelical community. The secular American university compromised its “soul” for naturalistic; evangelicalism compromised its epistemological hegemony for ontological supremacy. In other words, the secular university became a sort of an academic hothouse for pompous rationalism. Evangelicals abandoned the secular university, and, until recently, more or less compromised their academic base. Evangelicals even founded their own universities but they were poor academic substitutes for secular offerings. Even as I write article, this is changing.

The university, if it has any value, must be involved in the communication of immutable, metaphysical truth. The American secular university is not about to accept such limits. It recognizes no citadel of orthodoxy, no limits to its knowledge. But, like Jesus reminds Thomas in John 14, our hope lies not in what we know, but most assuredly whom we know.

Most secular universities have concluded that abstract concepts like grace, hope, and especially faith are indefinable, immeasurable, and above all unreasonable. Not that God or the uniqueness of Jesus Christ can be proved, or disproved. There are certain issues which the order of the intellect simply cannot address, so we must rise above that to the order of the heart. Faith is our consent to receive the good that God would have for us. Evangelicals believe that God can and does act in our world and in our lives. Human needs are greater than this world can satisfy and therefore it is reasonable to look elsewhere. The university has forgotten or ignores this fact.

That is all changing—and partly due to the popularity of the American home schooling movement. In massive numbers the American home school movement—initially and presently primarily an evangelical Christian movement—is depositing some of the brightest, capable students in our country into the old, august institutions like Harvard. And, what is more exciting, the flashpoint of cultural change is changing from Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Stanford to Wheaton, Grove City, Calvin, and Liberty (all evangelical universities). Before long the new wave of elite culture creators will be graduating from American secular universities and Christian universities and they shall be a great deal different from the elite of which I was a part in the middle 1970s. I am not saying the secular university will change quickly—intellectual naturalistic reductionism makes that extremely difficult. However, I do see the whole complexion of university graduates to change significantly in the next twenty years. Never in the history of the world has such a thing happened.

Young people, make sure that you know who you are and who your God is. “By faith, Moses, when he had grown up refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” (Hebs. 11:24) Theologian Walter Brueggemann calls American believers to “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”

Refuse to be absorbed into the world but choose to be a part of God’s kingdom.There is no moderate position anymore in American society–either we are taking a stand for Christ in this inhospitable culture or we are not.

You are special and peculiar generation. Much loved. But you live among a people who do not know who they are. A people without hope. You need to know who you are—children of the Living God—and then you must live a hopeful life. Quoting C.S. Lewis, we “are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

Take responsibility for your life. Moses accepted responsibility for his life. “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” (Hebs. 11: 25) If you don’t make decisions for your life, someone else will.

Get a cause worth dying for. Moses accepted necessary suffering even unto death. You need a cause worth dying for (as well as living for). “He [Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebs. 11: 26). We are crucified with Christ, yet it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Gals 2:20).

Finally, never take your eyes off the goal. “By faith, he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.” (Hebs. 11:27). What is your threshold of obedience?

Young people, if you are part of this new evangelical elite, you have immense opportunities ahead of you. A new Godly generation is arising. You will be called to guide this nation into another unprecedented revival. We shall see.