King Alfred’s Legacy in Education

Alfred the Great, beginning in the 870s, sparked and led a revival of Christian education in Wessex that spread throughout Britain, shaping it—and, by extension, America—as we know it today.

Read this description from “The White Horse King,” a biography of Alfred by Ben Merkle (pgs 178–187):

“When the king had searched the tumultuous history of early medieval Britain, he had happened upon descriptions of a golden age, a time when the kings ruled in peace. These were times when the people were moral, with little crime and great respect for their rulers. These were times when not only were their shores free from the raids of pagan plunderers, but the people actually advanced their own territories and extended their borders. And these were times when the Anglo-Saxon tribes were Christian tribes, not just in name only but faithfully worshiping the God of the Bible with a vibrant and fruitful faith. And the clearest testimony that Alfred saw for their eagerness to worship the Christian God was their dogged perseverance in the discipline of Christian learning

By neglecting the study of the great works of Christendom, the Bible in particular, the Anglo-Saxon people had lost not only the ability to read but more important, the ability to understand the wisdom of God. England, through here intellectual lethargy, was slowly devolving into a pagan nation, a people who neither knew nor served the Christian God…

            The Anglo-Saxons’ own lethargic apostasy had been the cause of the fall of the various Anglo-Saxon nations. If Alfred was to have a victorious defense policy, clearly armies and burhs were not enough. If Wessex wanted to be successful in her ongoing struggle with the plundering Danes, then the nation must devote itself to a revival of Christian learning and Christian worship… the king of Wessex finally took this warning to heart and set about reviving Christian learning and worship throughout his land…

            If Christian virtues were to return to England, then the Anglo-Saxons would need to return to Christian learning… the purpose of recovering education was to recover piety…

            Schools for the Anglo-Saxon children were established throughout the parishes of the Wessex countryside and were aimed at teaching the very basics of reading and writing in the Anglo-Saxon vernacular in the hope of inspiring a lifelong hunger for learning in the students… in order to drink freely from the fount of wisdom—the Holy Scriptures and the works of the Western church. Alfred aimed at having the young noblemen of Wessex thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts before they were old enough to begin training in the other necessary ‘manly skills’—those of hunting, riding, and fighting…

            Alfred was convinced that learning to read would entice the minds of his noblemen to wander through the great works of Western literature and intoxicate them with the wisdom contained therein. Then, having drunk the heady draughts of learned philosophers, theologians, and poets, the noblemen of Wessex would apply their newly acquired wisdom as they worked in their own official capacities and would, subsequently, bring blessings to Wessex. Like King Solomon of ancient Israel, King Alfred considered wisdom the quintessential kingly virtue. Thus, any man who aspired to a ruling office must begin training himself in this royal skill.”

The whole book is well-worth reading—get it here.

A Simple Catechism for Kids

Here’s the latest iteration of a simple catechism I’ve been working on for my children: A Year’s Catechism.

The bold sections are what I’ll have my younger kids memorize first… And I would probably save the full questions, especially the later, longer questions that I haven’t made more concise, for when the kids get older.

On Bible Translation

“To say that the best approach to truth is the direct route of bald prose is to assume that what is said can be divorced from how we say it—that style is irrelevant to content…

The attempt to cleanse the biblical prose of its poetic elements in the cause of clarity is necessarily misguided. It is equally misguided to maintain that language sterilized of its beauty is somehow more ‘accurate…’

No one questions that modern translators are competent in Hebrew and Greek. It’s their facility with English that is subject to doubt.”

— Martin Cothran, “Archaic on Purpose”

Bonhoeffer’s Strategy of Resistance

Excerpted from “Paths of Resistance,” by Joseph Thomas.

“But Bonhoeffer soon discarded Gandhi’s approach, recognizing its impracticability in confronting Hitler. Gandhi’s nonviolent tactics were predicated on the assumption that the oppressor could be shame, shown his hypocrisy, and forced through public pressure to live up to his ideals. The British believed they were operating on Christian principles for the uplift and betterment of the Indian people. When it was made clear—after many protests, boycotts, and physical blows—that their policies were missing the mark and were rejected by most Indians, the British reversed course and eventually left India.

None of this was possible with Hitler, Bonhoeffer realized. Like all totalizing ideologies, Nazism was about converting people—and using force where this failed. More than one German of high standing approached Hitler believing he could change the Fuhrer and his inner circle of idealogues. It never happened. When Bonhoeffer heard that the Christian leader Frank Buchanan, head of the oxford Group, sought a personal audience with Hitler, he scoffed, ‘The Oxford movement was naïve enough to try and convert Hitler—a ridiculous failure to recognize what is going on. We are the ones to be converted, not Hitler.’

So Bonhoeffer soon turned away from thoughts of creating peace activists to the idea of forming pastors capable of leading their congregations into resistance against the allure of Nazi anti-Jewish and nationalistic propaganda, pastors who could follow Christ ‘to the point of the shedding of blood…’

Discipleship became the key; obedience to Christ’s commands was the only sure road to resistance; faith was the catalyst. Only this approach could create the spiritual armor needed to resist Hitler’s evangelizing message…

And there was something else. Scripture memorization would be indispensable to the pastors’ very survival if they were placed in prison without their Bible. ‘We know that it was quite a long time before some of the brothers who were arrested were given Bibles,’ he wrote. ‘Weeks like that can prove whether we have been faithful in our reading of Scripture and whether in our knowledge of Scripture we have acquired a great treasury…’

Recognizing the ‘cost of discipleship’ and making efforts to inculcate the spiritual resources necessary to survive in an increasingly hostile climate seem more pertinent than ever.”

Read the rest of this insightful article on Touchstone.

Is Beauty an Absolute Value?

In my personal doctrinal statement, I state that God is the defining, transcendent, and absolute standard of truth, goodness, and beauty.

This statement is an important distinctive of a full-orbed, conservative Christian theology. As Dr. Scott Aniol puts it, “All truth is grounded in the reality that God is True. All virtue is grounded in the reality that God is Good. All beauty is grounded in the reality that God is Beautiful… Christians as image-bearers of God must commit themselves to thinking God’s thoughts after Him, to behaving in ways that conform to God’s moral perfection, and to loving those things that God calls lovely.”

“Beauty” is being used in the classical sense of not only that which is aesthetically proportionate and appealing, but more broadly as “that which is worthy of delight and affection.” We use other words beside beauty for this kind of concept—depending on what we’re talking about we may call something beautiful, like a beautiful landscape, or a beautiful song, or a beautiful face. But for other things we may use different terms such as lovely, pleasant, fitting, attractive, appealing, becoming, serene, delightful… but they all would fall under the category of beauty—it’s something that’s worthy of taking delight in, because it’s fitting in to its proper place or function.

When you say “why believe that?” the answer “because it’s true,” is sufficient—truth is in and of itself a worthy cause to believe something, because we ought to seek to align our beliefs with those of God. Because God’s perception is never wrong, He is the defining standard of truth. When you say “why do that?” the answer “because it’s good,” is an equally sufficient answer, because goodness is an absolute value, just like truth—that is, we ought to seek to align our morals with those of God; we ought to behave in ways that conform to God’s goodness.

So what I’m simply saying here is that when we ask “why delight in this, but not this?” the answer “because this is beautiful, and this isn’t,” is an equally sufficient answer, because we ought to be aligning our values, our loves, our affections, with those of God. We ought to seek to love the things God loves. Why? Because God is the defining standard of beauty, of loveliness, of what is worthy of delight.

In James K.A. Smith’s book, You Are What You Love, his basic premise is that the world is pulling young people away from the faith not primarily (although this is certainly involved) through trying to change their minds about things, but through seeking to capture their hearts. We can know the truth, but if we don’t love the truth, it won’t keep us from straying. And we can know the good, we can know what is right, but if we don’t love the good—if we don’t love Christ so much that we want to be like Him—knowing what is right will not keep us from doing what is wrong.

The view that beauty has an absolute, transcendent standard is an ancient view in classical philosophy, but has also been the traditional view of the church, especially since Augustine (and then Thomas Aquinas, who rounded out the idea). More recently, however, the common view that “beauty is solely in the eye of the beholder” has become the common view amongst Christians as well. In fact, Roger Scruton is an example of a thinking philosopher (and one of my favorites, at that) who rejects the transcendental trinity, arguing that beauty is actually not as absolute as goodness and truth. Scruton would argue that when you ask “why delight in that?” the answer “because it’s beautiful,” is not an equally sufficient answer because you’d have to go one more step and ask, “why delight in what is beautiful?”

I think, according to Scripture, though, the terminal answer to that would be because God is beautiful (Phil 4:8; Eph. 5:9–10). And that does seem to place beauty on the same level, philosophically, as truth and goodness—since the terminal reason for seeking truth and goodness is that God is true and good.

Pastors in Prison?

Recently, Pastor James Coates, pastor of GraceLife Church in Alberta, was arrested and imprisoned for holding regular church services. His trial is set to begin May 3rd, and most likely he’ll be in prison until that time. Several weeks prior, Trinity Bible Chapel, in Ontario, was also in legal trouble. Trinity Bible Chapel was assembling, contrary to Ontario’s dictates, so all 6 of their elders received citations for holding services, and the sentence was issued to the tune of $83,000 in fines… they’re still meeting.

The two clips attached below are unspeakably important.

One of the things I appreciate about this, about what’s going on both in Canada and the US, is that these are solid churches. These are sound, Bible-teaching churches. It’s not like we’re talking about fringe whackos; and it’s not like these are high profile pastors, or huge mega-churches or something. These are faithful pastors, seeking to shepherd in a manner in keeping with their commission from Christ.

I’m also praying that all of this will get Christians in America to wake up.

To read and hear more of the best material that’s come out on the church’s response to COVID-19, lockdowns, and recent political and ecclesiastical happenings, see my list here.

The first clip below is Pastor Jacob Reaume, the senior pastor at Trinity Bible Chapel, talking about the situation in Alberta. And the second clip is Pastor James Coates, from the Sunday before he was arrested.

Pray for these men and their families.