Brian Phillips at the Circe Institute Blog recently published “11 Christmas Books Everyone Should Read.” I have already read a few of them, but wanting to get a little more of the spirit of Christmas, I have decided to pick a couple off the list and read them this year. Maybe you will consider doing the same. Here is his list; he gets so excited that his list of 11 becomes a list of 15. It is loaded with several obvious selections, some traditional classics, and a few fresh choices.
1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
2. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman
4. Christmas Spirit by George Grant and Gregory Wilbur
5. The Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Luke, and St. John
6. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
7. God Is in the Manger by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
8. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
9. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
10. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
11. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
13. The Man Born to be King by Dorothy Sayers
14. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
15. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie
Jingle bells and read on!
by Augustus Toplady (1837)
Happiness! thou lovely name,
Where’s thy seat? O tell me where!
Learning, pleasure, wealth and fame,
All cry out, “It is not here.”
Not the wisdom of the wise,
Can inform me where it lies,
Nor the grandeur of the great
Can the bliss I seek create.
Object of my first desire,
Jesus Crucified for me!
All to happiness aspire,
Only to be found in Thee;
Thee to praise, and Thee to know,
Constitute my bliss below;
Thee to see, and Thee to love,
Constitute our bliss above.
Lord, it is not life to live,
If Thy presence Thou deny;
Lord! If Thou Thy presence give,
‘Tis no longer death to die.
Source and Giver of repose,
Singly from Thy smile it flows;
Peace and happiness are Thine,
Mine they are, if Thou art mine.
Whilst I feel Thy love to me,
Every object teems with joy;
Here, O may I walk with Thee,
Then into Thy presence die!
Let me but Thyself posses,
Total sum of happiness!
Real bliss I then shall prove,
Heaven below, and heaven above.
Over the years I have discerned many motivations that parents have for sending their children to Regents Academy. One of the most common, it seems, is insuring that children are in a safe place, a place of protection from things in the world that parents perceive as harmful influences. Now, some folks may accuse these parents of attempting to “shelter” their children. When I hear that criticism, I like to repeat something I heard a conference speaker say once: “You’re accusing me of sheltering my children? What are you going to accuse me of next – feeding and clothing them?!”
It is the duty of parents to protect their children, to the extent that they are able, from harm and from evil influences. And it is a comforting thought for parents to know that they are leaving their children in a safe, nurturing, structured environment at Regents Academy where teachers actively seek to shepherd and care for their children.
However, the three primary enemies of the Christian are, unfortunately, present and active at our school – the world, the flesh, and the devil show up anywhere sinful people gather. And it would be presumptuous of parents to believe otherwise. We, as Christian parents, should be ever-watchful. Enrolling our children in a Christian school is not a guarantee that the Bible will automatically be the dominant influence in our children’s lives or that the draw of the culture won’t overwhelm their hearts. Likewise, Christian school administrators and teachers must not assume that since we have the word “Christian” in our school’s mission statement, Christian teachers in our classrooms, and Bibles in our students’ lockers, our influence is a given. The watchwords are diligence, trust, and vigilance.
So, with these things in mind, I share some more words of caution from an article by classical educator Brian Douglas, who wrote in First Things about five temptations for classical Christian schools. Here are two final temptations that call for vigilance and wisdom.
The fourth temptation is to neglect the Word of God. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, classical Christian schools need to integrate the Bible into our entire curriculum. Some in these education circles criticize other Christian schools for having what amounts to a secular curriculum with a Bible class on the side. The complaint is that this approach functionally teaches a secular-sacred divide that undermines real Christian faith and practice.
While this complaint has merit in many cases, we need to take care lest our schools fall into the same pit. Unless we carefully integrate biblical education throughout the entire curriculum, across every subject and grade, it would be very easy for our graduates to know more about Achilles and Dante than Abraham and David. The Word of God is our source for God’s wisdom; without it we only have the wisdom of man.
The final temptation is to assume that a classical Christian school will automatically influence a student more than the broader culture. We should pay careful attention to our students’ long-term goals, for they most clearly reveal the depth of the culture’s influence. Students tend toward materialistic goals because that is what they learn from the culture around them. Overcoming the intrusion of materialism into our schools is probably the biggest obstacle a Christian educator faces.
Students are humans, and humans are perpetual factories of idols. Every student brings some variety of idolatry into the classroom. The most common and most subversive idols are divine gifts that become valued above God himself: intelligence, finances, skills, moral goodness, even a good Christian education.
Although this kind of culture conflict is a problem for Christian education of every variety, it might be a more striking problem in classical schools because of the expectation that our graduates will be uniquely equipped to stand against the world and change the culture. That said, classical Christian education is perhaps also uniquely capable of addressing the conflict because it defines education in terms of the health of a student’s soul rather than the strength of a student’s skills.
The primary job of every Christian educator, regardless of grade level or subject matter, is to shape the heart. We should begin by warning students about the subtleties of pride in both its forms, arrogance and despair. We must teach them to think less of their own abilities and more of God’s. It will be difficult, but it is even more central to the goals of classical Christian teaching than the Trivium or the Great Books. The only way we can accomplish our task as educators is to demonstrate with our own lives that a truly successful life is one in which God is glorified for His faithfulness and love regardless of our personal performance.
Schools change over time. It’s inevitable. People come and go, communities wax and wane, and institutions morph. But here is something that is true of Regents Academy today and, Lord willing, always: our school is God’s school. The crucified and risen Jesus Christ is Lord at Regents Academy. He is the goal of our education, His Spirit is the power behind our work, and His Word is our authority and guide. We who labor day by day to teach and influence young lives are but instruments; it is God who must be at work to impart knowledge and wisdom and who enables us (in partnership with parents) to help children become what and who He desires them to be.
All of this is to say that if we will be true to our mission, and if we will truly be instruments of grace in the lives of children and families, then we must realize our limitations – and we must rely on God to change hearts, to build character in students, and to make our work effectual. Daily, we have to resist the temptation of thinking that we will succeed if we produce quick-worded, well-behaved kids with fat scholarships and meteoric test scores. Our goal is not that low. Our goal is to be used by Christ to impact hearts and lives for eternity. We strive not just to uphold a standard but to train students to love that standard – to the glory of God. And, with God’s help, never swerve from this purpose.
I am continuing to share some words of warning from an article written by classical educator Brian Douglas, who wrote in First Things about five temptations for classical Christian schools. Here are two more temptations that call for vigilance and wisdom.
The second temptation is to believe that academic rigor plus disciplined behavior equals a good education. It is easy for a classical Christian school to become known more for its uniforms, homework expectations, strictness, and the like, than for its gracious, loving environment. Yet we ought not treat education like a simple input-output situation, in which the right learning environment can program our students to be Christians. While students do need high expectations for their work and conduct, focusing on order becomes hazardous when it overtakes the joy of experiencing God’s grace. When this happens, students may learn to jump through the hoops, obey the rules, do the right things, but they do not learn to love God and others. That is moralism, the worst enemy of true Christianity.
Creating a truly gracious classroom is much harder than creating an orderly classroom. It is a challenge that requires spiritual preparation far beyond classroom management techniques. But the only Christian education is a thoroughly gracious education. It sounds so basic, but it remains true: Without God’s grace, we can only produce narcissists who are more focused on their own successes and failures than on the eternal reality of God’s love for his people.
The third temptation is to rely on ourselves rather than on God’s work in the hearts of students. It is easy for classical Christian schools to feel like we have the moral high ground in the midst of a fallen culture. After all, anyone who seeks out such a school believes it to be superior to other systems, especially secular ones. But the people of Israel are warned to not trust in their own goodness; it is not because of their own virtue that they will conquer the land.
The same is true for our schools. We will not successfully overhaul the education system just because we have the right methodology. Education cannot be reduced to a formula, even if the formula is a good one. Education is ultimately God’s work in the soul of a child, and forgetting that fact leads some educators to feel inadequate. We err frequently, do things for the wrong motives, misjudge students academically and spiritually, and fall short of the glory of God.
Focusing too much on our educational methods will lead us to despair. Self-assessment can easily leave us feeling either too strong or too weak. We praise our own accomplishments, and we feel inadequate based on what qualifications we lack. Whether our response is overconfidence or despair, anything but faith in God’s power and promises is idolatry. Our strength is from the Lord and not ourselves; He will accomplish his ends despite both our strengths and our weaknesses. We must remind ourselves, if God is not blessing our work as educators, then no measure of training, skill, or finances can overcome that. But if He is blessing our labors by changing our students’ lives, then nothing can overcome that either.
The Regents Academy boys Cross Country team excelled at the TAPPS championships at Waco on October 25. Senior Will Young won the state championship by finishing in first place while junior Aaron Bertke finished fourth. The team, with Caleb Henry, Jake and Luke Higginbotham, and Wesley Young, finished third in the team competition. Congratulations, Eagles!