My PhD Thesis

Towards a Reformed Epistemology

and its Educational Significance

1991 PhD Thesis (University of London Institute of Education)

© John Shortt

PDF version of thesis available here. PDF copy of the original thesis is available on the Institute of Education website at


Please note that this thesis (‘dissertation’ to North American readers) was mostly completed in the 1980s. Whilst I still hold firmly to the main thrust and to many of the arguments that I put forward then, there are several things that I would do differently if I were writing it now. Chief among them are the following:

1. I deeply regret the heavy use throughout of the language of ‘man, ‘mankind’, ‘he’ and ‘his’ and I would use inclusive language in its place.

2. The whole thesis was written in a strongly logical-analytical mode which reflected the prevailing approach in philosophy of education of the 1980s and of several preceding decades. If I were writing it now, I would seek to relate more to the post-modern context of today without, I hope, losing rigour of argument.

3. Instead of talking about ‘Reformed Christian teachers’ and ‘Reformed Christian schools’, I would talk instead of teachers and schools influenced by the broadly Reformed approach under discussion in this thesis.

The thesis was never published because I moved to a new and very demanding position immediately after completing it and the one publisher I had time to approach with it wanted to publish only the more philosophical-theological Part One but I was not happy to leave out Part Two (which deals with the significance for education of what was said in Part One). It appears here in the hope that it will be found helpful by users of this website.

Abstract of Thesis

This thesis examines Reformed epistemology as it finds expression in the writings of Abraham Kuyper, Cornelius Van Til and Alvin Plantinga.   It seeks to develop three main themes of this kind of approach in order to see whether they constitute an adequate foundation for a coherent account of faith and to examine their significance for educational theory.

The themes studied are: belief in God may be properly basic in a rational noetic structure; divine revelation can be selfauthenticating; and sin has noetic effects.   Discussion of the third of these is focused upon  rational autonomy and, in particular, upon the form it takes in the pancritical rationalism of W. W. Bartley.   The position developed is a moderate form of foundationalism which seeks to ground belief in God in an immediate awareness of him speaking through the propositions of scripture.   It opposes an ideal of theonomous response to divine revelation to that of unlimited rational autonomy.

The study of educational issues commences with an examination of the relationship between a Reformed Christian worldview and educational (or other) theory construction and argues for the transformation from within of the areas of knowledge through the introduction into them of Christian presuppositions.   In accordance with this strategy for the integration of faith and learning, a study is made of the implications of the Reformed critique of autonomy for educational aims and methods and for discussions of the issue of indoctrination.   The final issue dealt with is that of whether or not it is right or necessary to set up separate schools of Reformed Christian and other outlooks in our contemporary pluralist society.   The conclusion reached is that there is a place for good Reformed Christian schools but nevertheless the Reformed Christian teacher may, in good conscience, teach in a state school.