Is it important to be taught in a distinctively Christian way? Does it make a difference to know Christ first before knowing the “facts”? Our first study in the Always Ready Study Group (ARSG) was focused for the most part on the idea of “neutrality.” This is easy for Christians to accept when it comes to “spiritual” issues: as a sinner either you trust in the work of Christ, or you accept the full wrath of God as punishment for your sins, but when it comes to mathematics, history, and science that’s different…right?
Truth: Correspondence or Coherence?
In Van Til’s book A Survey of Christian Epistemology, he talks about the theory of truth. On the one hand, you have those who claim that we can know a fact is true when we can verify that it matches reality “out there.” This is the Correspondence Theory of Truth.
On the other hand, you have those who claim that we know a fact is true when we understand and can explain that fact in relation to all other facts. Van Til uses the example of a “cow.” What is a cow? It is an animal. And what is an animal? It is a living thing, and so forth. We can follow this train of reasoning to see that we don’t understand a cow, an animal, life, and inanimate objects, unless we understand them all together and in relation to each other. This is the Coherence Theory of Truth.
Those are the non-Christian understandings of Correspondence and Coherence anyway. As Christians we can say that we hold to a theory of truth that has elements of both of these theories, and is closest to the Coherence Theory, but the Christian understanding of “coherence” is different. We see the problem raised by the Coherence Theory of Truth to mean that we cannot understand a cow, an animal, life, or indeed anything in the Universe unless we understand everything, and this means that only God can fully understand any fact. We then conclude that a fact is true and justified if it corresponds to God’s knowledge, and if we understand it in the way that God understands it in coherence with all other facts.
So, Christian School or Not?
Let’s come back around to our original question. Do mathematics, history, science, etc. need to be taught in a distinctively Christian way? The answer is: Yes. There is a qualitative difference between a Christian and non-Christian understanding of the same fact, and it comes down to the Christian understanding of the Coherence Theory of Truth. A non-Christian understands the War of 1812 as a random conflict that occurred when the will of one nation rubbed against the will of another, and sees nothing more to it.
However, a Christian understands (and seeks to understand) the War of 1812 as an act sovereignly decreed by God as He providentially guides history for His purposes, and must do so to understand it fully and correctly. If we’re missing that piece of the story, then we misunderstand the whole thing.
Similarly, the non-Christian struggles to explain how the abstract world of mathematics makes contact with the concrete world of reality. Why is it that we can use mathematics to build bridges and skyscrapers? The Christian sees mathematics as part of the whole orderly creation designed by God, and held together by the power of His word. Again, we see a fact in relation to all other facts in the Christian framework.
So we see that even if we set aside differences in the content of knowledge (i.e. the Christian knows the fact of the trinity, but the non-Christian does not) and method (i.e. the Christian understands the Bible as truth and the standard of truth, but the non-Christian does not), there is still a qualitative difference between the way a Christian and non-Christian understand the same fact. This is what we mean when we say there is no neutrality, and this is why we must say that a distinctively Christian education is necessary.