CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IN A PLURALIST SOCIETY
‘Pluralist’ can be used both in a descriptive and an evaluative sense. A society might be said to be pluralist in the former sense if it is the case that there exists within it significant numbers of adherents to a plurality of world–views. These may include not only religious outlooks but also those which are alternatives to them and which have the same kind of function in the life of the individual or group as those which are clearly religious. In this first descriptive sense, it seems evident that modern Western societies are pluralist. Indeed, the state schools of such societies are also likely to be pluralist in this sense and within any classroom in such a school – at least at the secondary level – the teacher will probably be relating to pupils who represent among themselves a plurality of worldviews. The second sense goes beyond mere description to a positive evaluation of this plurality of worldviews. This evaluative sense applies more to outlooks than to societies but a society is pluralist in this sense to the extent that such an outlook finds general acceptance among its members. This sense has both strong and weak versions. A weaker version might hold, for example, that plurality of worldviews is a good thing because it provides for the possibility of change and development through the competition of differing outlooks for acceptance and the dialogue that may take place between them. A much stronger version might seek to transcend the variety of competing alternative worldviews with an outlook which both explained this variety and sought to replace it with an all–embracing view or a ‘world theology’ so–called.
The task for the Reformed epistemologist who seeks to work out a view of education which is consistent with his theory of knowledge is two–fold. It has to do with both the attitude he ought to take towards those whose viewpoints differ from his own and the extent to which he ought to engage in co–operative activity with them in a task as important as the education of children. He might hold that dialogue with holders of opposing viewpoints is itself a compromise of his position and that the only appropriate kind of school for the Reformed Christian teacher or student is one that is itself Reformed in outlook. Indeed, he might go further and advocate a form of apartheid in the separate development of communities of believers of different basic outlooks, each with their own schools for their own children. This is the antithetical form of Calvinism taken to its logical outcome and there are examples of its outworking to be found in some parts of the world. However, as we saw earlier, there has generally been a tension between this emphasis in Reformed theology and the more positive account which, on the basis of a doctrine of ‘common grace’, gives more place to common notions or common ground between differing outlooks. A more positive Reformed Christian could well take a rather different attitude toward those of differing basic outlook and would find it rather more acceptable to work along with them in a common educational institution.
The problem here is one of the limits of tolerance. Of course, this is a problem not only for the Reformed Christian but also for the holders of a wide variety of other worldviews, if not for all. Even the most thoroughgoing of liberals faces what has become known as the ‘paradox of liberalism’ for, it seems, liberalism provides for and even requires the tolerance of all viewpoints except those which are intolerant. The most liberal advocates of multi–faith religious education do not give the same credence to all viewpoints: they do not generally encourage teachers to develop in their pupils sympathetic insights into Nazism or Satanism. The limits of tolerance can also be a problem among holders of more or less the same worldview. The problem here concerns how far a viewpoint may diverge from what is accepted as ‘orthodox’ and how to relate to a fellow–believer over those points of belief and practice over which there is disagreement. Those Christians who lay most stress on the antithesis between Christian and non–Christian viewpoints are often those who tend most easily to sectarian division among themselves.
7.1 CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES TO OTHER FAITHS
Discussions in recent years of how different religious viewpoints should relate to one another have tended to take place within the framework of a classification proposed by John Hick. He suggests that the three main views of the relation between the different religious traditions are what he labels ‘exclusivist’, ‘inclusivist’ and ‘pluralist’. He defines these as follows:
“By ‘exclusivism’ I mean the view that one particular mode of religious thought and experience (namely, one’s own) is alone valid, all others being false. By ‘inclusivism’ I mean the view … that one’s own tradition alone has the whole truth but that this truth is nevertheless partially reflected in other traditions; and, as an additional clause special to Christianity, that whilst salvation is made possible only by the death of Christ, the benefits of this are available to all mankind. And by ‘pluralism’ I mean the view – which I advocate – that the great world faiths embody different perceptions and conceptions of, and correspondingly different responses to, the Real or the Ultimate from within the different cultural ways of being human; and that within each of them the transformation of human existence from self–centeredness to Reality–centeredness is manifestly taking place.”1
Before I go on to examine these in an attempt to see which would be more consistent with Reformed epistemology, there are a couple of general comments which I shall make on Hick’s classification.
First, Hick presents these three alternatives as progressive stages through which “most thinking Christians”2 have been moving over the last hundred years or so. He likens this to the changes within astronomy from a simple Ptolemaic picture of the universe with the earth at the centre through the stage of the addition of epicycles or smaller circles centered on the original circles to the third stage of a Copernican revolution and its paradigm–shift to a helio–centric picture of the universe.3 However, I think it can be plausibly argued that both exclusivism and inclusivism are well represented on the contemporary Christian scene and that both are held by thinking Christians and that pluralism is more of a minority view–point at the present time. If so, Hick’s likening of these options to the successive stages of a process of scientific development seems quite questionable since there has been by no means a complete ‘paradigm–shift’ from exclusivism to inclusivism and still less from inclusivism to pluralism.
Secondly, Hick’s alternatives are not exhaustive of the possibilities. For example, he ignores the alternatives of relativism and syncretism although they could perhaps be viewed as forms of pluralism albeit not identical with that which he advocates. He also leaves out naturalism in all its forms since the naturalist is not, in his terms, “open to the transcendent”.4 However, it might well be argued that many have sincerely considered the religious options and concluded that a naturalistic humanism is the right response to life as they find it. Further, Hick’s exclusion of these alternatives suggests that his own account is itself exclusivist and that this form of pluralism also has its own limits of tolerance. I shall return later to the issue of the criteria for the exclusion of some worldviews and the acceptance of others.
7.1.1 IS REFORMED EPISTEMOLOGY NECESSARILY EXCLUSIVIST?
The advocates of Reformed epistemology have often been charged with holding an exclusivist theology. John Hick says that contemporary Reformed epistemologists and notably Plantinga tend to be theologically extremely conservative and probably strongly inclined towards an exclusivist theology of religions and he calls upon them to abandon their allegiance to “a sixteenth century set of theological ideas”.5 He suggests that this need not involve abandoning the basic tenets of Reformed epistemology since, he says, he himself has long held a view which is similar to Plantinga’s on basic belief in God.
Hick makes a distinction between basic beliefs such as the belief that he is in the presence of God and and what he terms “secondary … optional … interpretative theories” such as that Jesus had two distinct natures or that the Christian awareness of God is the only authentic awareness of God. However, some of the beliefs that Reformed epistemologists put forward as being properly basic seem difficult to link with Hick’s pluralism. He himself gives ‘I am in the presence of God’ as an example but this seems to make God personal as do other examples of Plantinga’s and Alston’s, such as ‘God is speaking to me’. But Hick says elsewhere that different conceptions of the ultimate – some of which take God as personal while others do not – arise from the variations between different sets of human conceptual schema and spiritual practice.6 If it is acceptable to Hick to take as a basic belief one that entails that God is personal then it would seem that he must allow that basic beliefs are also interpretative. This seems to remove the basis of his distinction between basic beliefs and secondary interpretative theories although it does raise the problem about the theory–ladenness of claimed perceptions of God with which I attempted to grapple earlier.7
Perhaps there is some truth in the claim that theology and epistemology can be separated since, for example, a claim which is formally similar to that of Reformed epistemology could be made for the statements ‘Allah is speaking to me’ or ‘the Bhagavad–Gita is a self–authenticating divine revelation’. Nevertheless, if there is a priority over epistemology of ontology (part of which has to do with the nature of spiritual reality and is therefore theological), our assumptions concerning what is there to be known will influence our theory of how we know it. So when it comes to making a substantial claim in epistemology, this will require reference to particular views of what is there or what God is like. To claim that ‘God is speaking to me through the scriptures’ requires use of particular concepts of God and of scripture. This is part of what I earlier termed ‘semantic information’ which is necessary for the existence rather than the justification of the basic beliefs in question.8 No particular belief can be properly basic without concepts like these because no such belief can exist without them.
If a Christian claims that God is speaking to him through the scriptures and authenticating to him statements about the death of Christ on the cross and a believer from another religious tradition claims that his scriptures tell him that Christ did not die on the cross, the Christian who is a theological realist cannot accept both these incompatible beliefs as being true. His self–authenticating belief seems to exclude incompatible beliefs and to that extent at least he must be exclusivist. What if the other claimed a divine revelation which supplemented rather than contradicted his Christian revelation? How he will respond to this will depend on his beliefs about the finality of revelation in the Christian scriptures and he may well hold that the Christian scriptures claim finality for themselves.
So if the Reformed epistemologist makes the claim that God is speaking to him through the scriptures, the meaning of such a claim depends on the concepts of God and scripture that he is operating with and how exclusivist his position is will also depend – at least in part – on those concepts. And because appeal is being made to a revelation which is both personal and propositional, it would seem that he must at least be exclusivist in relation to claims to revealedness for those propositions which clearly contradict those which he holds to be divinely revealed.
Insofar as Reformed epistemology is exclusivist, why exactly is this taken to be something objectionable? What is wrong with being exclusivist? After all, to believe something is to believe that it is true and therefore, presumably, that what contradicts it must be false.
Hick and others give a number of reasons for finding exclusivism an unacceptable view of the plurality of religions. Foremost among them is the argument that it is largely a matter of geographical accident whether one grows up a Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist so that exclusivism on the part of an adherent to any one of these religions makes possession of truth and salvation depend upon an accident of birth. Hick allows that there are “spiritual immigrants” but claims that these are very few in comparison with the populations through which religious traditions are transmitted from generation to generation. He writes:
“Realistically viewed, one’s religious commitment is usually a matter of ‘religious ethnicity’ rather than of deliberate comparative judgement and choice.”9
But how does this show that exclusivism is mistaken? It can easily be turned against Hick’s own exclusion of non–religious alternatives wherein there is no spirituality or, as he puts it, no ‘openness to the transcendent’. There are areas of the world and populations where the predominant worldview is not a religious one so it would seem to be a matter of ‘ideological ethnicity’ (extending his idea) whether one grows up with any religious view at all. If Hick’s own argument is valid, it would seem to count against his own exclusion of these alternatives. In addition, talk of how few ‘spiritual immigrants’ there are makes the whole world religious situation rather more static than perhaps it really is nowadays – whatever it may have been in centuries past – for there are parts of the world where thousands of people are changing their religious affiliations – and many, it would seem, are doing so in a direction which is away from any religious faith at all. What I would term Hick’s ‘geographicism’ also fails to take account of the influence of mass media across geographical and cultural boundaries in this dynamic situation. And, I think, he fails to take account of the distinction between ‘nominal’ adherence to a religion and becoming a committed believer, a step which the presence in one’s situation of both the practical atheism of nominal religion and the theoretical atheism of secularism makes rather less automatic and more a matter of deliberate judgement than he seems to allow.
Further, it is argued that exclusivism (in, at least, its traditional Christian form) condemns the majority of the world’s population to hell and that this is inconsistent with the Christian doctrine of the universal love of God. Perhaps this is what really underlies the preceding argument for Hick writes of “the old Christian presumption of a monopoly of saving truth” which, he says, “generated the paradox of a God of universal love who has ordained that only the Christian minority of the human race can be saved” and, he continues, “it is precisely this paradox that has called for a ‘Copernican revolution’ in our Christian theology of religions”.10 However, again, this argument may be too strong for Hick’s purposes for, if valid, it must count against any view of salvation which is less than universalist and it would seem that, according to Hick’s own view, it is the great world religions that are ways of salvation and their different conceptions of salvation are “specifications of what, in a generic formula, is the transformation of human existence from self–centeredness to a new orientation, centered in the divine Reality”.11 It would seem that there is no salvation outside the great world religions and, again, what Hick terms the problem for the exclusivist (Christian or other) of a plurality of religions becomes for him as a religious pluralist the problem of a plurality of worldviews, some of which are non–religious. Admittedly, Hick is talking of the experience of salvific transformation in this life rather than of a person’s destiny on the great day of eschatological verification but by no means all conservative theologians would say that those who have never heard the gospel of Christ go to hell. It would seem that the varying possibilities in the doctrines of the fall, sin, grace and human responsibility need to be taken into account before it can be assumed that the paradox that Hick alludes to cannot be resolved satisfactorily.
In addition, Hick criticises Christian exclusivists for failing to do justice to the universal love of God and, at the same time, he holds that the policy of converting the world to Christianity is “an anachronistic by–product of a past imperial age”.12 The Christian exclusivist is held to be indifferent to the fate of non–Christians and to condemn millions to hell but if he engages in missionary work, then, apparently regardless of his attitude or manner of approach to those of other faiths or even how much he may have to suffer for his belief in the uniqueness of Christianity, he is an imperialist!
A third kind of argument against exclusivism takes up the note of presumption and claims that the religious exclusivist ignores human fallibility,13 the influence of cultural factors upon beliefs14 and the like. But although this may be true of some religious exclusivists, it is not necessarily the case and therefore does not count as an argument against the position per se. A person may well be fairly strongly exclusivist and yet hold many of his beliefs – including some of the more basic of them – in a way that does admit at least the logical possibility of his being mistaken in them. The version of foundationalism set forth earlier may be linked with a fairly exclusivist view but it is nevertheless a moderate foundationalism as against the stronger versions of classical foundationalism. Such a position can coexist with a deep commitment to controversial opinions and, as Hick himself says of his own position, the logical possibility of being mistaken – in relation to what he admits to be a minority view – “should not prevent us from proceeding upon the best understanding that we have”.15
It is also sometimes argued that exclusivism tends to be sectarian16 and, as a result, productive of social disharmony.17 This can be answered in a similar way by simply denying that a person with exclusivist views is necessarily sectarian unless it be the case that to hold a controversial set of beliefs shared by some but not by all is inevitably sectarian. I shall return to the issue of social disharmony later in this chapter.
So, insofar as the Reformed epistemologist holds a cognitive view of faith and a propositional account of divine revelation, he will hold that certain beliefs are true and that those which contradict them are false. To that extent at least, his position will be religiously exclusivist. But the arguments against exclusivism can just as easily be turned against any position which seeks to maintain its beliefs against those which contradict them – as Hick does in his defence of religious pluralism – and so cannot count against exclusivism. We are exclusivist if we hold that what we believe is true and that what is incompatible with what we believe is false. This hardly seems objectionable.
7.1.2 INCLUSIVISM AND REFORMED EPISTEMOLOGY
The case against exclusivism may well be based upon a caricature of the range of views that could be termed both conservative and exclusivist. For example, the ‘no salvation outside the church’ doctrine may be presented as if, in all its forms, it always and only requires membership of the ‘visible church’ through baptism. But many believe that there may be members of the visible church who are not Christians – in the sense of an allegiance which goes beyond purely nominal adherence held on to because, say, of parents’ wishes or social pressures – and that there may be, on the other hand, those who are not baptised whom God will accept. Again, if exclusivism is presented in terms of a believing response to divine revelation, the impression can be given that the exclusivist holds that only those whose belief systems are fully in accord with traditional orthodox Christian doctrine are truly among the people of God. But there are many who would maintain that only those who are regenerated and have faith in Christ are truly accepted by God – and in maintaining this are in that respect exclusivist – who would at the same time be quite unwilling to say how much or how little revelation of Christ is required for a response of saving faith or how full an adherence to traditional Christian doctrines is needed. Presumably some minimal apprehension of Christ is required to make it meaningful to say that a person has faith in him. This would not be to say that a maximum of true belief is not to be sought after or thought desirable for the follower of Christ but only that it is not required for salvation in the sense of divine acceptance.
It is this range of viewpoint that makes the distinction between exclusivism and inclusivism rather unclear. There are several distinct, albeit not independent, ways in which a religious position may be said to be (more or less) inclusive or exclusive.
One way of defining exclusivism and inclusivism is in terms of truth. The exclusivist claims that one tradition alone possesses the truth while all others are false whereas the inclusivist allows that the truth possessed wholly by his own tradition may nevertheless be partially reflected in other traditions. However, as it stands, this is not an adequate basis for the distinction in question. If by ‘truth’ we mean any true belief whatever or by ‘the truth’ we mean the entire set of true beliefs, then nobody could claim that his tradition alone possesses the truth. For a start, unless one is omniscient, there must always be more truth to discover. Secondly, such an exclusivist could not communicate his truths to anybody of any other tradition since there would be no common apprehensions, concepts or insights to provide a base for communication. It would therefore seem impossible that people of other traditions should always be incorrect in all their beliefs! In this sense inclusivism is the only possible option and even then it has to be modified to allow that the whole truth cannot be possessed by any tradition or individual but only, presumably, by God.
So the distinction cannot be made simply in terms of truth but only in terms of truths of a certain kind. Here there is a range of possibilities including religious/theological truths, the truths of the core beliefs of a tradition, revealed truths and saving truth. To make the distinction that we are seeking in terms of religious/theological truths would seem to leave the exclusivist committed to the position that a person who does not share his position cannot make any true theological statements. So that if he is a Christian exclusivist he is forced to deny, for example, the truth of the Muslim claim that God is compassionate. As it stands, this would seem an untenable position but it is rather more plausible when developed in terms of the different concepts of God and of divine compassion that may be held by the Christian and the Muslim. The Christian may well and, I think, plausibly affirm that the Muslim is talking of a God who is rather different from God as conceived within traditional Christianity. It may be claimed that the Christian and the Muslim differ in the content of their basic or core–beliefs and that this is at least part of what makes the distinction between Christian and Muslim meaningful and, in the same way, that between exclusivism and inclusivism. In this sense, exclusivism could be seen as the claim that the core–beliefs of a particular worldview are exclusively true while inclusivism would allow that some of the core–beliefs of the favoured position may be reflected in other traditions. However, I do not think this gets to the root of the matter because it is likely that the Christian exclusivist will go on to maintain that his core beliefs are true if they are revealed by God and only insofar as they are revealed by God – and the same could apply to the exclusivist of another tradition, e.g., the Muslim or the Mormon.
I think this reference to revelation is more central to the claims of the Christian exclusivist and to those of exclusivists of at least some other traditions. Understood in these terms, the inclusivist will see some other scriptures or parts of them as containing divine revelation insofar as they overlap in content with or cohere with or, at least, do not contradict statements in the scriptures of his own tradition. The Christian exclusivist whose theology is conservative – as Hick sees Plantinga’s to be – is likely to claim that the Christian scriptures are uniquely the self–authenticating divine special revelation. This is not to deny that there is a general revelation available to all but simply to limit the scope of special revelation for our time to the contents of the Christian scriptures. Nor is it to deny the possibility of God’s revealing some of this content to people who do not have access to the written scriptures themselves as, for example, in the stories told by some missionaries of how they have found peoples or individuals who already have parts of the Christian gospel revealed to them in dreams, visions or the like long before anybody came to them with a knowledge of the Christian scriptures. Indeed, it would seem quite possible on such an account that the scriptures of other traditions might contain either generally or specially revealed truths. Rare indeed would be the Christian exclusivist who would deny that the Jewish scriptures are the Word of God. Indeed, both his and their scriptures contain a substantial section in the ‘Wisdom Literature’ of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job where what could be termed common sense is incorporated into the scriptures although, significantly, it is set in what Charles Martin terms “a God–fearing framework”.18
The Christian exclusivist whose exclusivism is defined in terms of revealed truth will regard the contents of his scriptures as uniquely the special revelation of God which authenticates itself to him under certain appropriate conditions. This does not mean that his interpretation of them has this kind of status since this is something that he should always be prepared to submit to the scriptures for validation and, where he finds it necessary, correction or improvement. If he adopts this attitude then he avoids the charge of presumption or arrogance and he can consistently be inclusivist at least to the extent of allowing (provisional) truth to parts of other scriptures and to common sense insights whilst at the same time maintaining that other traditions are basically mistaken in their core beliefs and concepts.
The spectrum of opinion from exclusivism to inclusivism could also be defined in terms of saving truth. Hick uses this phrase in relation to the exclusivism of religions which compete in their claims “to possess the saving truth”.19 Use of the phrase ‘saving truth’ can be misleading in that it suggests that it is true beliefs that themselves save a person rather than the grace of God through the person’s faith–commitment to the object of those beliefs. It is, I think, traditional Christian belief to require at least a minimal awareness of divine grace in the death of Christ for saving faith and, in that minimal sense, true beliefs. But, although true belief to that extent may be necessary for salvation, it cannot be held to be sufficient since it would seem that the devil must be one of the most orthodox in his beliefs. Possession of a complete set of true beliefs is therefore neither necessary nor sufficient for salvation while the kernel of true belief that is at the heart of faith–commitment is necessary without being sufficient. A person cannot trust in Christ without some awareness of who he is and what he has done but such awareness without trust cannot save. This is, I think, in accord with traditional Reformed Christian interpretation of the scriptures. It can have more inclusivist implications than might appear obvious at first sight in that, although it might insist that there is no salvation outside the church, it would allow that what counts is membership of the invisible church rather than of the visible church through its sacraments. In this way, it would seem possible that somebody brought up in another religious tradition and outwardly conforming to the general requirements of that tradition might really be a Christian believer because he has that minimal awareness of Christ and has responded to him in faith. Such a person might be an ‘anonymous Christian’, albeit probably not in as inclusive a sense as that of Karl Rahner’s use of the term to apply to those who do not have an explicit Christian faith but who nevertheless seek, consciously or unconsciously, to do God’s will even though they do not regard themselves as Christians and even though they may insist that they are not Christians but Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or whatever.20 In the face of such possibilities it would seem best not to judge a person’s spiritual state too hastily but rather to acknowledge with the apostle Paul that “the Lord knows them that are his”.21
The preceding are all definitions of the inclusivist/exclusivist distinction in terms of truth but Hick considers it more profitable to make the distinction in terms of salvation which he uses in a way that includes its functional analogies in the other major world religious traditions (liberation, enlightenment, fulfilment and the like).22 Hick distinguishes two concepts of salvation – a juridical concept and a ‘transformation–of–human–existence’ concept. Under the juridical concept, salvation is a matter of God’s acceptance of a person on the basis of Christ’s atonement. The exclusivist limits this to those who respond to it with an explicit act of faith whereas the inclusivist extends it to include those who have never heard of the death of Christ. Under the latter concept – which Hick himself opts for in the development of his pluralist position – salvation is a matter of the transformation of human life which may also be held to be exclusively experienced by Christians or inclusively extended to take place within the contexts of the other great world religions.23
Hick seems to regard these concepts of salvation as mutually exclusive and in the way he develops his own concept they do become so but there is no necessary contradiction between these ideas. Indeed, the Reformation theme of justification by faith properly understood cannot form an excuse for an antinomian casting off of all obligations to live a good life. The ideas of justification and sanctification go together in traditional Reformed theology so that both faith without works and works without faith are held to be dead. Sanctification is taken to be God’s gradual transformation of the believer into ‘the image of Christ’ in a process which is only complete in the world to come and then immediately so. This is a restoration of the divine image in man which was marred through sin. The effects of the fall are such that man is not as bad as he might be since the restraining effects of God’s common grace prevent him from going altogether to the bad and underlie his search for truth and goodness. On the other hand, the immediate effects of regeneration are not that the believer becomes altogether perfect at once – he is still a sinner and still has to struggle with sin in this life. This view of salvation certainly is exclusivist in that it confines salvation to the regenerate but they are not to be completely identified with the adherents of a ‘religion’ of Christianity and its institutional structures. In addition, it is inclusivist in that all that is good in the world is to be seen as evidence of God’s common grace to all if not of his special grace to the redeemed.
This gives a basis for the Christian believer to respect others as being made in the image of God and as truth–seekers like himself whilst at the same time recognising the reality and the effects of sin in them and in himself. He can thank God for every act of love and every evidence of the transformation of human existence. He can respect the integrity and sincerity of others even though he may see their belief system to be mistaken in certain, even fundamental, respects or some of their practices to be idolatrous. He can see others not as Hindus, Muslims or whatever but as people who share a common humanity with him and who are, like him, sinners in need of the grace of God and as such, like him, capable of intellectual self–deception and even very evil deeds. Such an attitude is rather more open and inclusive than that which the stereotypical exclusivist is generally seen to hold and yet it is quite consistent with an exclusivist insistence upon the need for regeneration or with Kuyper’s talk of two kinds of people.
This attitude and approach is, however, open to the objection that it restricts the possibility of progressive transformation and, with it, saintliness to those who are regenerate through faith in Christ. But what Hick takes to be the inductive basis of his pluralism is that, as he puts it, “the salvific transformation of human existence is going on, and so far as we can tell going on to a more or less equal extent, within all the great traditions”.24 Hick sees the great world religions as being centrally concerned with ways of salvation and salvation as being “an actual change in human beings from self–centeredness to a new orientation centered in the ultimate divine Reality”.25 He sees this new orientation as having spiritual and moral aspects. The spiritual is most clearly discernible in those we call saints and Hick claims that all the great world religions have those who are particularly “open to the transcendent” so that it seems doubtful that there is any higher incidence of saintliness within any one tradition. In regard to the moral aspect, he suggests that there is no good reason to believe that any of the great religious traditions has been more productive of love or compassion than any other. From this he concludes that no one of the great world religions is salvifically superior to the others. I think the main weakness with this argument is that it fails to account for the fact that it is not only the great world religions which produce outstandingly good or compassionate people. Hick excludes some from consideration because he sees them as not being open to the transcendent but the problem is that his criteria for the recognition of saintliness – “largely free from self–centred concerns and anxieties and empowered to live as an instrument of God/Truth/Reality”26 – could be applied to a secular saint as well. Hick accuses Christian exclusivists of defining salvation in such a way that only Christians can be saved but, because the criteria he offers for recognising the fruits of salvation in human life can be applied to other than adherents of the great world religions, his restriction of salvation to the great world religions is also a case of defining salvation in such a way that it is a necessary truth that only Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and members of other great world religious communities can experience salvation.27 On the other hand, traditional Christian theology is not necessarily embarrassed by the examples of what Hick terms saintliness from within other religious traditions since, as we have seen, it can well account for them in terms of its doctrines of man, sin and grace.
7.1.3 PLURALIST ALTERNATIVES
Reformed epistemology with its stress on the cognitive core of the faith response, its basic belief in a personal God and its emphasis on a self–authenticating propositional revelation seems to cohere most readily with an exclusivist approach to the plurality of world–views. However, this does not necessarily entail the kind of hard–line exclusivism which denies the possibility of any true belief about God to all but Christian believers. It can affirm all that is true and good in people of other outlooks albeit with a critical eye for all that is neither good nor true in others or, for that matter, in the Reformed Christian himself.
Reformed epistemology can therefore be more inclusivist than might at first sight seem likely but not to the extent of the thoroughgoing form of inclusivism which allows all the benefits of the death of Christ to extend to those who have no faith whatever in him. The move to such an inclusivist stance would require a fairly radical redefinition of the central Christian claims.
This would be even more true of a move to one of the pluralist alternatives. One of the best–known of these is that advocated by Hick himself. He proposes that we see “the thought–and–experienced deities and absolutes as different manifestations of the Real within different historical forms of human consciousness” and “the divine noumenon, the Real an sich, as experienced through different human receptivities as a range of divine phenomena, in the formation of which religious concepts have played an essential part”.28 He writes:
“We should therefore not think of the Real an sich as singular or plural, substance or process, personal or non–personal, good or bad, purposive or non–purpose”.29
Hick talks of the Real ‘revealing’ itself to human beings but he goes on to qualify this by insisting that it does not entail divinely disclosed propositions or miraculous interventions in the course of human history but that it is “a response to the circumambient presence and prevenient pressure of the divine Reality”.30 Clearly here the possibility of special/propositional revelation is dismissed and Hick’s approach becomes essentially anthropocentric. It would seem that it cannot be reconciled with Reformed epistemology with basic themes such as those elaborated in the central section of this study.
Although Hick may claim support for his thesis of the ineffable Real an sich in some of the writings of mystics of various traditions,31 he effectively tells the followers of most if not all traditions that their view of the Real is deficient and proposes a new theology to replace those that exist at present. His is not a purely descriptive thesis at a different logical level from those of the sets of beliefs of the major world religions, a thesis which leaves everything as it is. He tells the traditional Christian believer that the time has come to leave behind the traditional doctrine of the Incarnation “together with its protective envelope, the doctrine of the Trinity” which makes it difficult for Christians to move to a pluralist position.32 He suggests that the advaitist Vedantic Hindu is mistaken in thinking that the Real is only authentically experienced as the impersonal absolute being, Brahman.33 Presumably, too, notwithstanding his protestations that as a Christian he is not in the business of telling members of other faiths how to conduct their affairs,34 he must regard them as just as much in need of demythologisation and a similar kind of Copernican revolution in their exclusivist theologies of uniqueness as that which he advocates within Christianity.
Because of this I think it can be fairly claimed that Hick is just as exclusivist in his own way as those he criticises. His theology may seem wider in that it attempts to embrace the plurality of world religions but it is in fact quite narrow if it requires radical change in them all to a new and different way which rests on the basic premise that salvation is equally going on in them all. It is also, as I noted earlier, exclusivist in the way in which it grades religions and excludes altogether the loving and compassionate naturalistic humanist whose openness to the transcendent has led him to a considered judgement that there is no transcendent ultimate Reality. He may exclude the member of the Jim Jones cult for lack of love/compassion/unselfish good will but his exclusion of what I have termed the secular saint shows that salvation is also a matter of basic belief. This, I think, makes his exclusivism, although different in scope, no different in kind from that which he condemns.
7.2 CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS IN A PLURALIST SOCIETY?
The qualified exclusivism that I have suggested should characterise the Reformed Christian is often associated with a move to set up separate Reformed Christian schools. However, there are at least two questions to face in relation to the setting up of separate Christian schools. One is whether Christian parents should entrust their children’s schooling to institutions which are not explicitly Christian and this is the one which tends to receive most attention in discussions among Christians. But a second question is one faced by Christian teachers: should they teach in schools which are not explicitly Christian or should they, if possible, withdraw into Christian schools? This second question has not received by any means the same amount of attention in recent discussions.
Sometimes the former issue is approached from the point of view of an attempt to reconcile the apparently opposing principles that require the Christian, on the one hand, to be the salt of the earth and light of the world and, on the other, to bring up his children in a Christian way under Christian influences.35 Something of the conflict between these principles might seem to be resolved if the salt–light principle is applied to the choice facing the Christian teacher and the Christian upbringing principle is applied to that facing the Christian parent. However, the position is not as clear–cut as this. If the Christian teacher finds the system or curriculum to be humanist, naturalist, Marxist or whatever in its basic outlook and therefore, at that level, impossible to reconcile with his basic Christian beliefs, he still has to balance acting upon the salt–light principle with that which requires him to teach consistently with his Christian outlook. So the avoidance of compromise with what he sees to be in error will be an issue for such a teacher. And it is surely this avoidance of the corruption that is perceived to be in the world – manifested partly in false views of reality – that also underlies the obligation that the Christian parent may feel to bring up his children in a Christian environment. If a curriculum is unacceptable for its Marxist or Muslim or Humanist presuppositions then it is so both for the Christian teacher and the Christian parent. On the other hand, the Christian parent will probably see the education of his children as, in part, a preparation for life in a world which is far from Christian and will face the problem of how best to prepare them, if they are also Christians, to be salt and light in that world. Being ‘cocooned’ from it in the environment of a Christian school may not be the best preparation for this. Perhaps at root the problem for both teachers and parents is how to follow the teaching of Jesus by being in the world and yet not ofthe world.
Those Christian teachers or parents who favour the setting up of separate Christian schools have to face some fairly major objections to the whole idea of having a system of separate schools to reflect a pluralism of worldviews. I shall examine ways in which a Reformed Christian might respond to these objections.
7.2.1 THE CHILD’S RIGHT TO AN OPEN FUTURE?
That children’s future choices are restricted thereby is a fairly common objection to the ‘closed pluralism’36 of separate schools for children of different faiths and worldviews. Paul Hirst expresses it as follows:
“The committed ethos of the school will restrict undesirably the choice of children in important aspects of life when they should be open to a variety of influences within the generally agreed framework of the common morality of the society.”37
To this it could be responded that every school has a ‘committed ethos’ of some kind or other. I think that Hirst would agree that this is so but he would go to insist that the kind of school that he would commend would be committed in a way that did not tend to restrict children’s future choices but would rather, on the contrary, enlarge and deepen their capacity for choice. This would be provided by a commitment to an education which seeks that “in all areas, beliefs, values and attitudes and so on are held by individuals according to their rational status, there being a fundamental commitment to the progressive rational development of personal beliefs and practices rather than uncritical adherence to, or determined defence of, any particular set of beliefs and practices whatever their source.”38 Such commitment is, according to Hirst, logically more fundamental than any particular religious commitment but if some of the discussion of rational autonomy earlier in this study is along the right lines then we may have here two basic commitments which are mutually exclusive. The kind of commitment which Hirst advocates is exclusive of faith–commitment in response to a self–authenticating divine revelation. The strong internalism of its insistence upon reasons and evidence means that immediately justified belief of this kind is not acceptable.
However, a ‘tu quoque’ answer is not the only response that can be made to this objection. The Reformed Christian could go further and argue that his approach could be held to be more acceptable than one based on Hirst’s commitment provided that it is worked out in a way that recognises and brings about an understanding of the religious and controversial nature of such basic commitments. The Reformed Christian’s commitment does not need to render him any less opposed to indoctrination than anybody else – he can encourage rational questioning to the limits of rationality but he may define them differently to Hirst. It may not be so much the fact of the committed ethos of the school that matters as the way in which it is exhibited and communicated to children. Undoubtedly, Christian schools can be highly indoctrinatory in their procedures – as can separate schools of other faiths and, indeed, state maintained schools as well – but they do not have to be so. Hirst may be effectively acknowledging this in his use of the word ‘tend’ in a separate objection to the setting up of separate schools when he writes:
“They will tend to be inadequate in their support of open, critical, rational education, particularly in the areas of religious and moral education.”39
The tendency may well be there but this is something to be recognised and resisted within Christian schools rather than accepted as a reason for not setting up such schools.
There is another way in which the committed ethos of the school might unjustifiably restrict children’s future choices and this has to do with content rather than method. This may be nearer to the heart of Hirst’s objection since he says that the children “should be open to a variety of influences within the generally agreed framework of the common morality of the society”. The concern may be that, however rational the method, the approach could be that of what I earlier termed ‘committed partiality’ in that only one worldview is dealt with rather than the range of outlooks of the alternative of ‘committed impartiality’.40 I suggested then that neither of these fell foul of the definition of indoctrination that I was proposing but I left open the possibility of one of them being held to be miseducative on other grounds. Denial of what Joel Feinberg terms ‘the child’s right to an open future’,41 could form just such grounds.
In order to avoid the controversial issue of whether it is meaningful to talk in terms of moral rights – as opposed to legal rights – I shall pose this problem in terms of the educator’s obligations rather than of children’s rights. Is there an obligation upon parents, schools, teachers or others responsible for a child’s education to try to see that he becomes acquainted with and gains an informed understanding of a range of worldviews? This is something unlikely to be true of education under some totalitarian regimes, e.g., in some Communist and Islamic states, and in some closed communities within pluralist societies.
A clear example of this closed educational situation is in that provided by stricter communities of the Protestant Amish people in the United States. The religious faith of the Amish is expressed in a total way of life which is regulated by biblical texts and community rules. They are very efficient farmers even though they refuse to use modern technological aids. They are extremely self–sufficient, try to insulate their communities from outside influences and refuse to become involved with any of the state’s provisions, e.g., social benefits or insurance. They are a law–abiding people but they have come into conflict with the state in regard to their educational provision for their children. This is because they believe that their children’s formal education should cease at the eighth grade when the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic necessary for their community life, work and worship have been mastered and it is this that has brought them into conflict with the authorities in at least two states in the United States.42 Less extreme cases than that of the Amish might not restrict the child’s future choices to the extent of making him fit for only the way of life of a pious farmer but Christian, Muslim or Communist schools could well have in common with the Amish the restriction of influences to that of just one worldview.
Is restriction of education to just one worldview wrong and, if so, why exactly is it so? In line with the suggestion that separate schools restrict children’s future choices, it could be argued that if such schools teach only one worldview – not that the fact that a school is a Christian school entails that there is no teaching about other faiths but assuming that the curriculum is limited in this way – they thereby pre–empt children’s decisions about which faith they should adopt. And the Christian should surely hold that this is a much more important matter than restricting the choice of career to that of being a pious farmer or a pious farmer! However, as stated, this argument is rather voluntarist and it is questionable whether it is really a matter of deciding to adopt a faith. Certainly, as far as Reformed epistemology is concerned, becoming a Christian may not be at all a matter of weighing up reasons and evidence for and against a position.43 But even if stated in less voluntarist terms this argument, pursued to its logical conclusion, would place an impossible burden upon educators. How many alternative faiths must a person know about and which ones and to what depth of knowledge before he can make such a choice? Is it necessary anyway to know about any of the other major world religions before one could conclude that one could not accept the Christian position? I would suggest that potential defeaters of Christian basic beliefs are by no means limited to arguments from within other worldviews and obvious counter–examples include internal incoherence and such obstacles to belief as the problem of evil. An adequate education in the Christian worldview should face such potential internal defeaters honestly and openly but I would argue that the ‘choice’ for or against Christianity does not really depend upon knowing about any particular alternative perspective.
Hirst’s limiting of alternative influences to the “framework of the common morality of the society” would seem surprisingly relativistic in its implications. It would presumably exclude Satanism and Fascism, for example, from the legitimate influences in our society but it would exclude Humanism and Christianity in some Islamic states and could insist upon voodooism in some societies. I think a case can be made for studying the major faiths that find allegiance in the global village of our world but on grounds other than an appeal to the need to widen children’s choices. A stronger objection to separate schools that teach only one worldview is along the lines that they encourage social fragmentation and it is to this I now turn.
7.2.2 DO CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS LEAD TO SOCIAL FRAGMENTATION?
The perceived tendency towards social fragmentation is a common objection to the idea of separate schools for those of different worldviews. Hirst expresses it in the following terms:
“Such schools necessarily encourage social fragmentation in the society along religious lines. The pluralism of a system of separate schools seems to me not to be the pluralism of a positively–developing rational critical society, for such a society will wish its major institutions to encourage unity amongst its members, a unity born of an open, rational, critical approach to all of life’s concerns.”44
Again, I think this argument is only valid on the two–fold assumption that these separate schools go in for indoctrination and that they only teach the worldview of those who run the school. Neither of these need be the case but I do think there is an argument here for the teaching of other faiths in all schools.
It may not be the case that to understand all is to forgive all but surely misunderstanding and prejudiced views of others contribute in a major way to hostility and strife between peoples. It is not that peace and social harmony is the only value but it is a Christian value. The way of love for others is a way that seeks to understand them. Love seeks to communicate and inter–communication requires mutual understanding. Understanding of others must include understanding of their basic outlooks and of the ways in which they look at the world. So I think an adequate Christian education based on central Christian beliefs and values will seek to promote accurate understanding of other worldviews. This would seem completely in line with the doctrines of God’s creation of all in his image, his love for all and, not least, the Reformed Christian theme of his common grace to all. This would preclude caricaturing the beliefs of another worldview or comparing the worst elements in another worldview with the best in the Christian outlook or, as Nipkow puts it, introducing the beliefs of another merely “as a black foil in order to put the Christian answers in a bright light”.45
Seen in this way, multi–faith education is far from being a threat to Christian commitment – it is positively required by it. The fallen world in which children are growing up is a world of diversity in belief and learning to live in such a world requires understanding of that diversity. This understanding should not only be accurate but it must also avoid being superficial. It goes further than the kind of comparative religion which Charles Martin terms “a patronising Cook’s tour of what the natives do”.46 And yet there are limits to the understanding and empathy beyond which teacher or pupils cannot go in an education which is consistent with the exclusivism that I have suggested is entailed by Reformed epistemology. The approach advocated by the second half of the following comment from a prescription for an adequate religious education lies, I think, beyond those limits:
“Religious education … does more than study the role of religion in culture, investigate objectively the sacred writings, rituals and cultural products of religious communities, compare religions, or explore the religious phenomenon. It is not possible to understand the faith of others without participation in their worship and spiritual life. We cannot understand Buddhism without learning Buddhist forms of meditation.”47
Granted that seeking to understand another means more than merely looking at his beliefs and practices, it would nevertheless be inconsistent with a Reformed Christian outlook for a teacher or pupil to participate in the worship of another faith and insofar as understanding is said to require doing so then such understanding is unattainable. Respect for another’s beliefs is one thing but participation in his worship is quite another. Of course, it is not only the Reformed Christian who draws lines like this. There are for all theories of education and understanding acceptable limits to the process of identification with other outlooks. For example, it is unlikely that any would advocate participation in a Satanist ritual even though the sincerity of those involved may not be in question. All approaches to education will be exclusivist in that they will seek to encourage children to try to understand others but only within certain limits and the limits set by the Reformed Christian may well be narrower than those set by the common morality of his society. He cannot participate in the worship of those of other faiths unless he not only understands their beliefs but actually shares them. But insofar as the beliefs of others are opposed to his own basic beliefs, he cannot share such beliefs.
An additional reason suggested by some for teaching about other worldviews is that the study of the faith of others can illuminate facets of one’s own faith. This is fairly vividly portrayed in the following extract:
“… the messages of other faiths – whether it be the primal vision present in African religions, the note of joy and abandon (or, again, contemplation and discipline) in Hinduism, the notes of comprehensiveness, detachment, mystery, zeal and quietude in Buddhism, the rejection of racialism and class in the Muslim brotherhood, the passionate prophetism of many a new cult, the sense of history and law in Judaism or even the notes of critical judgement in modern agnosticism – … leave us with an echoing note that rings out from within our own Christian tradition, but, were it not for the others, we might not hear it. The spontaneity of the festival in another religion may remind us that it is children who are to enter the kingdom and the note of quietude in many an eastern faith presents a challenge to ‘poor talkative Christianity’ which may have forgotten that ‘the Lord is in his holy temple … let all the earth keep silent before him’ (Habakkuk 2:20).”48
Again a belief in God’s common grace and general revelation gives support to such a suggestion although it is by no means as compelling a reason as that which relates to social harmony.
Another reason for studying other worldviews is put forward by Anthony O’Hear. He suggests that even if a religious faith were true, its full meaning and implications would emerge only when confronted with contrary opinions and he continues:
“Heresy and secular thought have been instrumental and vital to the development and understanding of Christian dogma itself (especially in the patristic period) and of the significance of Biblical texts (for example, in the Victorian worry about evolution). Where there is no opposition to a ruling ideology, stagnation of thought is inevitable, and there are surely strong grounds for objecting to this, even if one is convinced of the truth of a religious faith or some other ideology.”49
This seems rather like saying that we would not understand goodness unless we also experienced evil. Perhaps there is some truth in such a statement but it does not seem altogether right. Does the recognition of mathematical truth require its being confronted with mathematical error? O’Hear follows Karl Popper on this point but, as we saw earlier,50 Popper assumes that truth is not manifest and thereby excludes the possibility of a self–authenticating divine revelation. To this Reformed epistemology stands opposed but, given our fallenness and fallibility in interpreting revelation, I think that the Reformed Christian can go some of the way with O’Hear in allowing some but not ideal value to the diversity of an open pluralist society and this without granting the whole critical rationalist and evolutionary epistemology which underlies his argument.
On the point of social harmony, it might be objected that the study of other worldviews is somewhat abstract when separated from meeting and communication with those who come from other traditions and that a Christian school is unlikely to provide opportunities for this. However, this objection rests on the assumption that the Christian school is part of a whole life insulated from external influences as is the life of the Amish. This is not necessarily so. A Christian school may well be open to the children of people of other faiths provided that they are clearly aware of its committed stance – and this is certainly true of some of the new Christian schools in this country. The children of Christian parents may also meet those of other faiths and worldviews in everyday life outside school and in a Christian school they should be encouraged to go out into the community as salt and light. A very significant factor is that of probable access to a vicarious meeting with other worldviews through the media and, in particular, through that of television.
Restriction of children’s future choices and the promotion of social disharmony may well be the consequence of education in a separate Christian school but it seems to me that in a good Christian school this will not happen. The presence of bad examples does not make the good either undesirable or unattainable.
7.2.3 DOES NURTURE HAVE A PLACE IN SCHOOL?
Another objection to the setting up of Christian schools is that it confuses nurture with education and ascribes to the schoolteacher a role which belongs to parents and/or churches. I shall contest this argument and suggest that it can actually be turned around and become an argument for Christian schools.
Hirst distinguishes what he terms ‘catechesis’ – but which others use fairly interchangeably with ‘nurture’ – from education because, he says, the former necessarily presupposes a particular religious position while the latter does not.51 John Hull says that religious nurture is a “convergent teaching process … which intends to foster or deepen the commitment of those who are already believers or are already inside the religious community” and he terms it ‘convergent’ because the personal faith of the teacher converges with the content of his lessons and with his hopes for his pupils. He distinguishes this from education which does not seek or assume convergence so that a teacher can educate a pupil with respect to Islam whether he (the teacher) is a Muslim or not and such an education will not necessarily deepen the pupil’s Islamic faith and will certainly not discourage him, should he be a Muslim. A teacher can educate a pupil in a religion and a pupil can benefit from such education whether or not either of them are believers in that religion but nurture can only be carried out by a teacher who is a believer in the religion in question and in relation to somebody who is inside that community of faith.52
From these definitions it seems clear that a Christian parent may both educate and nurture his children. It would also seem that a teacher in a Christian church may both educate and nurture children in the church. Why then should it be thought undesirable that a parent delegate part of the responsibility for nurture as well as that for education to teachers in a Christian school? After all, both are legitimate activities where parents and church teachers are concerned and, Hirst suggests, “education and catechesis, based respectively in reason and faith, are properly to be seen as complementary”.53 So it would seem that these complementary activities could well be carried out by Christian teachers in Christian schools.
Hirst allows the possibility of both being carried on in church schools provided they are kept sharply distinct from each other.54 Hill argues against Christian nurture being seen as a part of schooling because of its institutional features of compulsory attendance, compulsory curriculum and compulsory assessment and he continues:
“In addition, many (Christian schools) exhibit a benevolent pressure to conform, and to engage in religious acts of personal commitment, which violate the private space of the individual. … the school (is) a partner with other essential agencies in the full project of a child’s education, notably the home and voluntary groups such as Christian Unions in schools and youth groups in churches. The attempt to subsume the tasks of such agencies under the umbrella of schooling runs a grave risk of either inciting students to rebel against the pressure they sense they are being put under, or reducing them to a state of conformity and dependency which augurs ill for their ability to survive and witness in the open society.”55
The dangers that Hill alludes to undoubtedly do exist in many Christian schools but do they necessarily exist and is it not overstatement to term these risks ‘grave’? Awareness of the dangers can lead to their avoidance by means of good practice.
Perhaps the problem is that, in spite of statements made about nurture and education being complementary, these activities are actually seen as being antithetical to and in conflict with each other. This comes out in Hirst’s characterising of them as being based respectively in faith and reason along with his linking of nurture with what he variously terms ‘traditionalist’ and ‘primitive’ approaches to education in contrast with a ‘sophisticated’ concept of education.56 I think that the Reformed Christian should resist this sharp distinction between the bases of nurture and education. Both are based in a faith–commitment and are aimed at commitment. For the Christian his approach to education – like everything else he does – should be ultimately based on his faith in God and aims at commitment on the part of his pupils to beliefs which are justified either immediately or mediately. Hirst’s sophisticated education is, he says, under–pinned by critical rationalism.57 This is a faith which operates at the same logical level as the Christian’s religious faith. Hirst’s education aims at commitment “to the most rationally justifiable beliefs and values as (the pupil) can judge these in his particular circumstances”.58
At this point the basis of the distinction between these terms seems to be evaporating and nurture is becoming identified with a Christian teacher’s education of a pupil who is within the Christian community in the content of the Christian faith. In other words, Christian nurture is education in a particular context and content. But this blurs what is a meaningful and helpful distinction and I think it can be at least partly recovered by making a distinction between aims that are more immediate and those that are more ultimate. Nurture and education may share the same ultimate aims but, in relation to the Christian faith, education aims more immediately at understanding of the faith and nurture at personal commitment to Christ. Putting it another way, education in this context aims more immediately at faith at arm’s length and nurture at faith on one’s knees.59
I think it is fairly obvious that this kind of Christian nurture would be very out of place in the context of a captive audience in the classroom of a state school but I question whether it is so in that of a Christian school and whether the suggestion that it is not so can be sustained as an argument against the setting up of Christian schools. If I am correct in this then in a Christian school the Christian teacher can well combine the roles of educator and nurturer in these senses provided they are kept distinct. He can act both in loco parentis and in loco pastoris with, I think, a clear conscience.
7.3 THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER IN THE STATE SCHOOL
Much of the discussion of the issue of Christian schools versus state schools focuses on the bad examples of schools, text–books, teachers and so on taken from the category which is being argued against and good examples from that which is being argued for. There are good and bad Christian schools and good and bad state schools since there are different respects in which a school may be good or bad and these are not simply a matter of its religious commitment.
I have attempted to defend the setting up of Christian schools by arguing that they can be good – they do not need to indoctrinate or pressurize children and they ought to teach more than one worldview and the like. I also allow the right of Muslim, Jewish and other religious communities to set up separate schools for the nurture and education of the children of their communities. But arguments against Christian teachers working in state schools or Christian parents sending their children to state schools can be along the lines that they are based on a secular public ethic and inevitably indoctrinate into secularist beliefs and values. The Christian teacher who co–operates in this process, it is claimed, is therefore guilty of compromising his basic beliefs.
It is true that a system of state schools in a pluralist society requires a secular public ethic as a base. But it does not follow that this ethic is necessarily opposed to that of Christianity at all points. Values can be shared even when they are derived from different basic positions. For example, honesty is undoubtedly a Christian value but one does not have to be a Christian to value honesty and the same could be said of a host of other values which can be common to people of a variety of worldviews. This may be a matter of Van Til’s ‘borrowed capital’ referred to earlier60 or it may simply be the logical point that the same conclusion can follow from different sets of premises but, whatever the explanation, for the Reformed Christian it is ultimately due to God’s common grace to all (rather than the basis of a natural theology).
It is these shared values and concerns that provide a basis for Christian co–operation with non–Christian in an enterprise such as education. As Charles Martin puts it, “all play in the orchestra, but some are watching the composer–conductor while others ignore or dispute the existence of any conductor”.61
Of course, there may well come points at which the Christian teacher cannot co–operate. A Christian doctor may well work happily in a general hospital but he may not be able to carry out abortions on demand in that hospital or go to work in an abortion clinic. Likewise, a Christian teacher may well be able to go along with much of what happens in a good state school but he may not be able to use what he regards as pornographic literature even though it may be recommended for a certain course. It all seems to be a matter of judgement of how large is the area of shared insights and values and where and to what extent conflict occurs. To be secular is not necessarily to be secularist in philosophy but a secular school could be secularist in its ethos and, if so, a Christian teacher might well find that he could not, in good conscience, teach in such a school. Further, it would seem likely that the state schools of some totalitarian regimes might well be places where a Christian teacher could not teach without compromising his faith.
It may be objected that Christian ethics are for the whole of society and not just for Christian people so that a Christian in education cannot merely passively go along with what he is not unhappy about but should rather seek to see that God’s law is known and obeyed. But it does not follow from the fact that God’s law is for all that a Christian can impose this law upon anyone against their will. As we saw earlier in relation to theory–construction,62 the appropriate strategy is transformationalist and not reconstructionalist. God’s way is that of persuasion rather than coercion.
In certain situations, working in a state school may be impossible for the Reformed Christian teacher. In others it will be quite possible and in keeping with his commission both to fulfil the creation mandate and to be salt and light to the world as people see his good works and work. I therefore conclude that to teach in either a Christian school or a state school can well both be quite consistent with the Reformed Christian worldview.
In this chapter I have argued that Reformed epistemology coheres with a fairly exclusivist attitude towards other worldviews but one that is not necessarily as hard–line as it is sometimes portrayed. It provides room for shared insights and common values even though basic beliefs differ greatly. It provides a basis for respect for others as made in the image of God and seekers after truth. It is opposed to those forms of pluralism that require radical re–definition of basic Christian beliefs. In line with this, it is consistent with the setting up of good Christian schools wherein education and nurture may both take place and which do not indoctrinate or necessarily promote social disharmony. At the same time, Christian teachers may be able to work in state schools provided that their curricula and basic stances are not opposed to Christian basic beliefs and values. It may not be an ideal situation for the Reformed Christian but it can be one into which he may go with confidence in the common grace of God to all and the possibility of some commonness of insights and aims in spite of divergence at the ultimate and basic level.