In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul entered the city of Athens, encountered the religious and political leaders of the day, climbed to the highest point of the city, where speakers often perched, and began to reason and persuade the men of Athens. This famous speech on Mars Hill is considered by many to be one of the greatest moments of the early church. Not only did Paul boldly proclaim Christ, he did it in a winsome and eloquent way; the pagan culture of Greece was confronted and ultimately changed. This watershed moment in history took place because of the classical tradition.
Paul’s training as a Hebrew and a Greek prepared him to be used in ways that others were not. What enabled Paul to quickly enter a town, survey the intellectual climate, understand their fallacies and false beliefs, choose the right argument and then present it and defend it with such clarity? The classical tradition. The Apostle Paul was classically educated in the Greek syllabus. As a young boy, he memorized under a tutor in a grammar school. Later, he was schooled in Aristotelian logic, learning to think dialectically, which prepared him for studying rhetoric, the power of persuasion and presentation. Even more importantly, Paul was trained in the Hebrew tradition, in the scriptures. He memorized Scripture as a boy, giving him knowledge. He learned to reason with Scripture, understanding doctrine and the law, giving him truth. Finally, he was trained in how to apply knowledge and truth, giving him wisdom. Paul lived in the only time in history where the Greek and Hebrew traditions converged. What was once Knowledge, Truth and Wisdom, now became Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. This would never have happened if Alexander the Great had not sought to build a vast kingdom, or if the Greeks had not been defeated while the Jews were enslaved by the Persians. All of these events led to the blending of the Hebrew and Greek scholastic traditions. This became the educational culture of the day. And this is what made Paul successful on Mars Hill. This is what made him successful in each of his missionary journeys. This is what made him such a dangerous and devoted follower that Rome would seek his execution.
It is this same model of education that Covenant Academy seeks to employ in sending out our first graduating class into the world. We are training our students to be discerning – what argument should I use? – and articulate – how can I say this best? This is the training that the Apostle Paul received, a tradition handed down from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The classical community in Alexandria was a leading influence in the scholastic tradition which we now refer to as Classical Christian Education (CCE). We want our students to employ these same strategies, hold to solid theology and possess the ability to reason well, with grace.
Our students, though possessing various natural abilities, will rise to be leaders regardless of their ultimate vocation. In a world where so few possess mastery of more than one subject area, where so few are able to see all sides of an issue, where so few are able to resist forming hasty conclusions, students such as ours will be desperately needed. In a world where people seldom employ solid reasoning, those who are ruled by reason will be challenged to engage their co-workers, neighbors and fellow church members to not only defend truth, goodness and beauty, but to define these as well. Our graduates, given a strong foundation in the grammar school, the skill of reasoning in the logic school and the gift of persuasion in the school of rhetoric, will possess the tools of learning so that they can continue to learn any subject. This skill of study and learning is honed through the process of writing and presenting a formal thesis paper on a topic chosen by the student. The thesis requires intense research, study and integration of subject matter, as well as logic and rhetoric skills. Once the thesis is written, the students are challenged to defend it before a panel of teachers and in front of an audience of their peers. This disciplined process prepares them for further study in the Liberal Arts and for life.
The preparation for life is what the Apostle Paul was referring to in his charge to fathers in Ephesians 6:4. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” This follows Paul’s admonition to the children, reminding them to obey their parents. Why does Paul remind the fathers not to exasperate their children here? Children are exasperated when we ask them to do something that we haven’t prepared them to do. Paul is referring to our authority as parents; we are called to be shepherds, not dictators. But there is another aspect to this passage. We want them to follow what we’ve taught. We want them to keep the faith. We want them to be salt and light in the world. And we should. But Paul warns us with this admonition: don’t exasperate them, prepare them; bring them up in the full nurture and instruction of the Lord. The Greek word used here is “paideia.” By using this word, he is reminding the Greeks to bring up their children in the culture of the believing world, including the full education given to the Greek child. Remember, Paul was classically educated as were the people of Ephesus. Paul is telling parents: don’t just make them obey; bring them up to think God’s thoughts. Instruct them fully in the classics and how to think about them. Paul, the recipient of Knowledge, Truth and Wisdom, would have recognized any school as incomplete if it did not have the most critical piece of training, Rhetoric: the ability to engage their culture, provide a biblical worldview and make an impact for the Glory of God. It is for this reason that Covenant Academy has started a high school.
When our first graduating class of 2016 visited a rhetoric class at Houston Baptist University, our high school freshman were able to contribute and engage meaningfully in a discussion among students who were four years older and a semester into their college experience. Our students enjoyed the opportunity and wanted to return. The college wanted them to return as well. Colleges have recognized the impact that the Trivium has in preparing students for higher education. On our way back to school the students asked why it was possible for them to understand and participate in a college rhetoric class when they were just starting high school. My response: “Because that is what your parents and teachers have been preparing for you to do for the last ten years. A classical education is designed to prepare you for harder studies at a younger age. Your parents have sacrificed to give you an education that puts you significantly ahead of your peers.” Each of the students had the same response: profound gratitude. Suddenly they realized that they were the recipients of a legacy. I look forward to the way that God will use these young men and women. I look forward to the Mars Hill moments that they will use to defend truth, goodness and beauty to a watching world.