Andy Olsen’s Mixed Reaction to Classical Christian Education

It was exciting to see classical Christian education featured on the cover of Christianity Today this month. 

However, in the editor’s note, Andy Olsen notes how historically mixed the relationship between Christianity and the classics has . been. And to an extent, he is right.

The early Church, Olsen argues, considered the teachings of Athens to be a great threat to Trinitarian doctrine because of Gnostic and Arian heresies and their notably Greek origins. 

This tension between the Church and the classics, however, has soundly been addressed by thinkers in the classical Christian tradition. 

Augustine Anticipated the Olsen’s Reservation

Augustine provided the Church with a rich frame of reference for understanding how Western ideas could be used to enjoy God more fully. Like most things, how we think of the classics is a question of how we order our loves.

As Augustine notes

“The good make use of the world in order to enjoy God, but the evil, in contrast, want to make use of God in order to enjoy the world.”

While Olsen is right that a deep study of the Greeks and the Romans could be harmful to the Christian worldview of students, the classics are like any other earthly goods–they can be harmful, if our affections are not correctly ordered.

For example, when we worship our marriage for the sake of itself, we can become blinded by inward-focused love and selfishness. But, when we see marriage as a way to understand Christ and his Church, the institution is glorifying to God.

The same could be said of politics, family life, parenting, and your career. There will always be rich, earthly goods; the question is whether we will order them to fulfill Godly ends.  

And, so long as we are determined to incorporate the true, the good, and the beautiful of earthly classics to understand the beauty and truth of God’s world, we will have correctly used classical education.

But I digress. 

From Theory to Practice

While Olsen may not be sure what to think of the new emergence of classical Christian education, he is sure of one thing: classical Christian education is here to stay. 

Olsen makes this fact clear.

“The movement has become mainstream enough that we chose to reintroduce it to our readers on the cover. It is growing rapidly among homeschool circles and in the charter school industry. And it is no small irony that the liberal arts now count among their most vocal defenders some of the most religiously and socially conservative groups in America.”

CCE is moving from theory to practice, and it is not going away anytime soon.