“[T]he old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.” –G. K. Chesterton
To riff off Chesterton, a man cannot draw a triangle with four sides no matter how resourceful a geometry teacher. A man cannot sketch a giraffe with a short neck no matter how creative his imagination. A man cannot write iambic pentameter with six feet and only four stressed syllables no matter how free a poet he fancies himself.
[I]t is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. (Orthodoxy)
More than art, life itself is limitations. A man cannot build his savings account by spending more than he makes no matter how much he increases his income. A man cannot procreate with another man no matter how official the State seal on his marriage license is. A man cannot define life however he wants. True liberty always exists within given boundaries given by God.
A sane man, a free man, will not claim he is a woman, a dog, or a result of millions of protoplasmic spasms. These are impossible. They are lies. And they imprison liberty.
When a man defines everything, he defies the truth, starting with the fact that he is not allowed to sit in the seat of the Ultimate Determiner of Definitions. When he attempts autonomy he becomes the greatest slave. God told Adam that in the day he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that he would die. As soon as Adam took the prerogative for himself to define what was right and wrong he lost his life.
This is why confessing our sins is an act of life. We hear and accept and act on God’s defined limits. We have sinned, but when we agree and submit to His law then we know the truth and the truth, with all its glorious limits, sets us free.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples that the cup poured out for them was the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). It is the sign of the promise revealed in Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31. The Lord committed to Israel that He would cleanse their sins, take away their hearts of stone, give them hearts of flesh, and cause each of them to know Him. This covenant stands out because it depends wholly on the Lord. As it’s been observed, no man can give himself a heart transplant.
Not only is this promise unconditional, it is also as reliable as the sunrise. Jeremiah explains what would need to happen before this promise could fail.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Thus says the LORD,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the LORD of hosts is his name:
“If this fixed order departs
from before me, declares the LORD,
then shall the offspring of Israel cease
from being a nation before me forever.” (Jeremiah 31:31–36)
God established the light and seasons of the sun to teach us about His strength and faithfulness. Through these God also shows His joy. As Chesterton speculated in his book Orthodoxy, “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun.” He does not get tired of calling the sun into place, and He does not tire of keeping His promises.
We Gentiles partake as the overflow of the new covenant life. There is a season when God is grafting in those who had no promise to receive the salvation, and even this is part of God’s plan to finally save Israel (Romans 11:25-27).
As we eat and drink communion week by week, as we cross off days on the calendar until the Son comes, as we take it for granted when our weather apps say the sun will come up tomorrow, then we have reason to trust God in all His good words to us.
I gave the following address at our end-of-year assembly on June 5th.
This year Mr. Sarr, Mr. Bowers, and myself (on Thursdays) read for you 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire during lunch. The Chestnut King is next and I’m sure it’s first in the queue for lunch breaks next year. N.D. Wilson’s trilogy works wonders for the imagination and I wonder if any of you have tried out the cupboards at your house to see if they lead anywhere amazing.
Henry York discovered a route to other worlds by accident. Then he learned how to go where he wanted with the help of Grandfather’s journals. If he set both compass locks in his room to the right numbers, then the back of the cupboard in Grandfather’s bedroom opened to whole chapters of stories. Badon Hill. Byzantium. FitzFaeren. Endor. Beautiful places. Bad places. Places for battle. Places of roots.
The Chronicles of Narnia tap a similar other-worldly vein. To get to Narnia at first, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy pressed through the back of a wardrobe. They couldn’t always get it to open. Sometimes the way was blocked. But Narnia held lifetimes of stories.
Wouldn’t you like to have one of these cupboards or closets in your house? Or at least know a friend who did? What if you didn’t have to wait for plaster to fall from the wall and find it by accident? What if you could go any and every time you wanted?
I am not asking these questions to tease you. I do want work up your hopes, but not in order to crush them. I’m not trying to trick you so that I can tell you to: “Grow up. Stop day-dreaming for make-believe places. Start living in the real world.” I am asking these questions because, if you’re interested, I might be able to help.
I’ve been doing some reading and I’ve been doing some looking around. I found the door. It’s here, at the school. If you want, I’ll tell you where it is and, if you want, you can go through it and spend your entire summer break in another world. You can live like Henry York Maccabee or Penelope or Anastasia or Uncle Frank or Aunt Dotty. Do you want to know which door it is?
It’s that one.1
“Now wait a minute,” one of you says, “I’ve gone out that door over a hundred times this last year. That door leads to a concrete sidewalk and an asphalt parking lot.” You’re right. But maybe you’re not looking at it quite right.
The reality is that the greatest adventures are not the ones you choose but the ones that God writes for you. The best stories aren’t always the ones that shock you like sticking a paperclip in an electrical socket, but they will still put a charge into you. Will you see it? That’s the question.
G.K. Chesterton helps us to tumble our mental combination locks into the right place.
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. (All Things Considered, 41)
This springs from an essay he wrote titled, “On Running after One’s Hat.” Men think that chasing their hat in the wind is a headache, a hassle, a bother. Why? Why not see it as a delightful and fun game? Why not join the game and play? Do you suppose that once you walk out that door, something (or someone) will be a bother to you at some point this summer? If yes, then you are ready for an adventure.
In another essay (“On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family”) Chesterton observes,
A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. (Heretics, 83)
The things are that out of our control make for the great stories. Gilbert argues that the most out-of-our-control elements, (so, according to him, the place where stories come alive), are found on our street, with our neighbors and with our family. Think about your family first.
When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we also step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which could do without us, into a world which we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairy-tale. (82)
He also addresses why it is so much more exciting to live on our own streets then to take a trip to Timbuktu in search of adventure. Some men (and kids) want to travel, want to explore far-off places thinking that there they will find thrill and escape boredom. A boy such as that
says he is fleeing from his street because it’s dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting. It is exacting because it is alive. (78)
The real adventure is living with and interacting with the ones you can’t get away from. The stuff of stories is loving your neighbor, the ones out your own front door.
We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. (79)
God also makes your brother. And your sister. And your mom and dad. God will appoint each of you to backseats of cars or on benches around kitchen tables with beings who will live forever. That’s wild. There is a catch, though. You only have a short time to enjoy the ride.
You will go out that door and away from school for three months. What stories will you have to tell when you return? Epic love for those who weren’t kind to you? Heroic endurance of cleaning your room until every thumb’s width is organized? Poetic joy, a Tolkien like song about your faithfulness to obey your parents?
May God protect you and bless the pages of your summer chapter, raggants included.
- Any ol’ door will work. At this point in my address I pointed to our customary point of entrance and exit. ↩
I gave the following address at our school’s fundraising dinner last Saturday night.
It’s been said that a man shouldn’t put all his eggs in one basket. That assumes, really, that all your eggs are of equal value. Putting a bunch of unremarkable eggs into a bunch of baskets diversifies a portfolio of unremarkable investments.
But what if you found the egg? What if you found the treasure of all eggs? What would you do to secure it for yourself? How much would you be willing to spend to make it yours? Would you still prefer multiple baskets of low-budget eggs rather than owning one of ultimate value?
Once upon a time a young man was working in a field. As he drove his ox into a far corner one summer afternoon, the plow hit something hard. He didn’t find an egg, he found a nest egg. He unearthed years of dirt from a box full of some families’ future, buried by them long ago to protect their fortune. He could hardly believe it. Here was treasure enough for generations. He quickly recovered the trunk and ran for home.
Early the next morning he pursued the purchase of the entire field. The asking price was a number too large to fit in his financial books. What would he do?
Jesus told a one-verse-long version of this story that Matthew recorded for us.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44, ESV)
Different sources provide conflicting positions, but it seems that the law usually gave ownership to the finder. In this situation, however, the finder may have been an employee of the landowner. He may have been concerned that his boss, the owner of the field, would also claim ownership of the treasure. In order to close every loophole and leave no legal doubt, the finder sold everything he had in order to buy the field.
He had to liquidate his assets, which must have taken some time. As the days passed and others watched him sell off all his possessions, I wonder if anyone counseled him against it, or if anyone else criticized his foolishness. To most it must have appeared that he had no idea what he was doing, though it was their evaluation that was uninformed. The investment demanded everything and yet what he gave up was nothing compared to what he got in return.
Likewise, when the true treasure of the kingdom of heaven is found, that value surpasses the price of any sacrifice. Turns out that not all eggs are of equal value.
Classical Christian education is not the same thing as the kingdom of heaven, but it is part of it. The kingdom of heaven isn’t only a personal relationship with Jesus, it is new life in a new community under new management. At Evangel Classical School we are trying to enculturate (pass on a culture) at each stage of our student’s development so that they can love the King, serve the King, and represent the King in everything they do. His kingdom is everywhere. Jesus rules over more than Bible class and personal quiet times. He owns everything. He has vested interest in how we work, create, dress, play, sing, and sweat. He cares about how we interact with our neighbors and with other nations. Everything in life takes its cue from who is King.
Much has been made in the church about worship wars, fights among Christians about song styles on Sunday mornings. Much has also been made by the church about culture wars, fights with non-Christians about what is acceptable, the morals our society is supposed to agree to abide by. But really, all of it is a worship war and every school is a worship center.
G.K. Chesterton summed it up simply:
We have a general view of existence, whether we like it or not; it alters or, to speak more accurately, it creates and involves everything we say or do, whether we like it or not. (Heretics, 132)
In our inescapable “general view of existence,” what God will be recognized? What God/god gets credit for math, history, science, English, art? The nameless god of the state? The great god of the mirror, Humanism? Or the Lord Jesus Christ? Who gets the worship?
The treasure is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven involves life in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ. Purchasing the field isn’t referring to the price of salvation but rather about the cost of discipleship. That discipleship affects every facet of our lives: how we vote, how we write poetry, how we tell stories, how we relate.
The government schools want to define the treasure and regulate how we walk in the field and police what height we bolt our drinking fountains to the wall. They tell us that the treasure is naturalism; science and technology and opposable thumbs answer all of life’s questions. Other education experts say that there is no treasure, or that everyone’s treasure is the same. And whatever you do, please don’t use red pen to mark wrong answers. It might hurt someone’s feelings.
But we Christians know the Creator of the stuff, and it is wrong not to acknowledge Him all the time. We know the God who makes and sustains and liberates. We know the One in whom all things hold together, the One who gives meaning to flesh and blood life on earth. Knowing Him and living in His kingdom is treasure.
The work is not first about educating our kids, or changing our country, but honoring our King. It costs us everything we have. And we don’t know how good we have it.
The school is like an owner’s group with families of believers pooling their resources to buy-in together to get the treasure. The treasure is the kingdom of heaven, and we want that glad worldview that sees everything under the good rule of our King.
This is what we’re doing week after week at ECS. The treasure is worth it. It is a joy to pursue it, but the field costs more than we can afford. The treasure (again, living consciously as the King’s servants and stewards) will shape generations. It will pay for itself, but not immediately and not necessarily in dollars. While trying to keep tuition as affordable as possible for as many as possible, we have asked our teachers–especially our part-time teachers–to work for little pay, though hopefully great reward. Each teacher and parent is giving what he or she has for sake of the treasure.
Time, tears, training, jump ropes, prayers, reading, more reading, more tears, and dollars, are going into this purchase. Would you consider helping us? This is a treasure for you, too. This treasure will serve children and parents and grandchildren and grandparents and neighbors and churches and business owners and mayors and more for years. Again, we could use your help.
Don’t take tonight’s word for it. Come and visit. Pick up a book on what it is exactly that we’re trying to put into place, the part of the treasure we’re referring to. Do all the above and then consider a monetary investment so that we can share the treasure with more families, so that we can get the field in order.
This is–when we can catch our breath for a second–our joy. It is the point of the parable (as well as the point of the pearl of greatest price next door in verses 45-46): when you find what is most valuable, giving up everything is gladness to get it. Discipleship in the kingdom of heaven is worth all our lives.
Unlike the parable, we aren’t concealing the treasure, we’re advertising it. We aren’t keeping the treasure for ourselves, we want more people to have it. This isn’t an individual betterment, it is for the community.
We are not asking for you to give so that we won’t have to. It is our joy to sell what we have to buy the field. So as I say, we are not asking you to fund in our place, we are asking you to join us in the joy. This is one egg that’s worth it.
We will never be really happy without being really humble. Only humble eyes seen how many things there are that are amazing. A proud person’s expectations are rarely satisfied. A humble person enjoys everything as unexpected or undeserved. He gives thanks always and everywhere because he knows he’s getting great stuff.
It is the humble man who does the big things. It is the humble man who does the bold things. It is the humble man who has the sensational sights vouchsafed to him, and this for [these] obvious reasons: first, that he strains his eyes more than any other men to see them; second, that he is more overwhelmed and uplifted with them when they come…. (Chesterton, Heretics, 28-29)
whereas it had been supposed that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by extending our ego to infinity, the truth is that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by reducing our ego to zero. (Chesterton, ibid., 69)
True happiness it isn’t about having a lot. More is not a way to be more merry. Nor does gladness perforce come from giving up what we’ve got. It’s just as easy to be a hoarder when you only have one precious than when you have a kingdom.
It’s why communion has every reasonable and dangerous expectation of turning into a party. If every sin is paid for, then we have nothing whatsoever to boast in. We cannot take any credit for anything good. The cross of Christ humbles us before our guilty sentence and eternal punishment. All of pride is killed. Seen from that angle, how could we possibly be more happy?
Only those who know they don’t deserve it can really delight in it.
Even though we do the same thing around the same time in our service every Sunday morning, those who benefit most from our time of confession are probably those who are most surprised. I’m not talking about visitors. In one sense those of us who participate regularly should be more surprised each successive week that we have more sin to confess.
We are Calvinists so we have a hold on the petal of total depravity, even the one-pointers. We believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We believe that even when God regenerates us He doesn’t sanctify away all our sinful practice instantly but progressively. We believe that a Christian who says that he has no sin makes God a liar. So how can I say that there is a place for surprise when we come to see our sin?
We are surprised because we also believe the gospel. We believe that God saves sinners and that means we are dead to sin–in reality. Believing the gospel means that we’ve been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life–right now. Believing means that God has granted to us all things pertaining to life and godliness–for the present. Believing means that God set the seal of His Spirit on us to make us more holy–before heaven.
We are likely to be surprised by an exhortation that exposes another sin to confess because we believe that the gospel has taken root in our lives. Our optimism, our hope in the gospel, motivates better confession.
G.K. Chesterton observed that only optimists reform anything. Cynics and pessimists see evil and, well, they knew it would be. Optimists are still startled by injustice. “What?! That’s not right! That doesn’t belong!” Anyone can rail against unrighteousness. Only a man with gospel hope will want better.
The pessimist resents evil solely because it is a grievance. The optimist resents it also, because it is an anomaly; a contradiction to his conception of the course of things. (All Things Considered, 53).
We are not naive about sin, and certainly not sentimental towards it. We acknowledge that we are sinners being saved but we also acknowledge that the power of gospel overcomes the power of our sin. God calls us to mortify our sins, put them to death. He also calls us to believe that sin will in fact be put to death and stay dead, even as we confess it and repent.
The following post is my address during the inaugural convocation of Evangel Classical School yesterday.
Many school years ago Solomon wrote that the end of a thing is better than the beginning. I did not graduate highly enough in my class to argue with him, but I do know that you can’t get to the end without a beginning. You’ve got to start somewhere. This is our start, a sunny first day of school, an historic beginning for Evangel Classical School. Lord willing, we’ll finish well, however long it takes us.
When the end is worth it, it’s worth getting going even if you don’t have everything in place. C.S. Lewis wrote,
If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.
Over the last few years, and especially over the last year, a growing number of us have realized how much there is to learn and, in particular, how much we, as Christian parents, have to learn. The simplicity of being made in the image of the Triune God means that we are to be mini-creators everywhere we go. Not only that, but we’ve also come to appreciate Abraham Kuyper’s declaration that rings out over a planet full of opportunities.
There is not a square inch [one thumb’s width] in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”
The world is Christ’s, we are Christ’s, and He would have us live everywhere and in all things for His sake. That means that building homes and governing nations should be done for Him, which means that math and history and politics must be mastered for Him first. We are to sing songs and write books for God, which means that we must learn how God made harmony and poetry to work in His world. It also means that we must learn how to read, which means that we must start with the alphabet and phonetics, which means we must learn how to sit still. Christ cares about it all, so we must care about it all.
Today is a small beginning. God admonished His people not to despise the day of small things in Zechariah 4. His people were returning home from exile and were charged to rebuild the temple as they anticipated the Messiah’s coming. With such a huge project before them, with so few raw materials and with so many enemies, God encouraged them that He was pleased for them to start small. Likewise for us, though the beginning is small, we trust that God is pleased with it.
G.K. Chesterton famously said that “[I]f a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” And here we are.
On one hand, our beginning is small, it is less than ideal. Our second greatest certainty is that we will do some things badly. So be it. Our greatest certainly, though, is that the opportunities are so great that we can hardly wait to get to work and try to catch up to where we should be. Christ is Lord everywhere so we have to start somewhere. Jesus has no jurisdiction clashes; you name it and He reigns over it. His reign covers everything He created and holds together in the universe; no principle or person is neutral. We want students who will grow up to laugh at any worldview that denies it. This is our Christ’s Lordship worship boot camp in a basement, as little as it may be.
On the other hand, it could be said that we already have too many good things to claim that this is hard. We have a delightfully suited-just-for-us place. We have more pencils than the apostle Paul. We have 30 years of a classical education movement ahead of us to learn from. We have families involved here who actually have lives worth sharing with students. We have a local church that supports us. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Institutes of John Calvin and beautiful chairs and a magical mascot that hardly anyone one knows what it is…yet. Considering how many things we have to be thankful for, it’s hard to say that we have it hard.
What makes it hard is that we’re entering a new field in the battle between good and evil, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. We are taking aim at the world system, at rebellion and unbelief, and we can be certain that the enemy would prefer us to sit on the sidelines.
Evangel Classical School is a front-line offensive campaign for Christ’s sake. From the first meeting of the school committee less than a year ago, we committed to fight and confessed that the first place we must fight is against the sin in our own hearts. We want to show the students how to deal with sin, to show them how to repent from laziness, fear, grumbling, and unbelief. By God’s grace we’ll kill our own sin first as we grow as disciples of Christ.
Isn’t that exactly what we want our kids, our students, and the following generations to have? More than brains crammed full of facts, more than grammar paradigms and dead languages and big textbooks and logic debates, we want our students to love God with all their hearts and minds and to believe that they are responsible to figure out all the ways that they can honor Him in the world no matter how crazy it seems! We want them to count the cost and then go to battle!
We don’t want our kids to want someone else to do it. We don’t want them to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We don’t want them to work in reliance on their giftedness but rather because they believe God. We want them to walk by faith, ready to deal with the challenges of the battle even if they don’t have all the resources. We want them to be starters and singers. We want them to be just like us, only better. We want them to have first days like this, only bigger.
We do not have everything we need. We don’t even know enough to know all the things that we need that we don’t have. As others have said, we are attempting to provide an education that none of us received in order to slingshot these young people into a life we are still learning to run. Whether they use five smooth stones or five Latin verbs, we want them to fell giants and fight the dragon. We want them to read great stories, as they learn to write great stories, so that they will live great stories. We know it’s right and we praise the Lord that He’s brought us to the first day of changing the world from a basement.
For this year at Evangel Classical School, and we pray for many school years to come, we cry Soli Deo gloria!
We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased
—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 153
In other words, doctrinal walls are good if they keep us safe and free.
It can also be wearisome to have the kids bouncing off the walls, but if the spirit is playful, it is good.