By Bryan Smith, Ph.D.
In this upside down world, we are told the idea of absolute truth is behind the times. It is old-fashioned. No, it’s worse than old-fashioned. It’s dangerous.
But I will state emphatically that there are absolute truths. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He also said, when praying to the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). There is truth because there is God—and He is not a silent God.
Postmodernism teaches that truth is relative and that we should learn to appreciate different perspectives—especially nontraditional ones. The Christian view of truth, they say, is dangerous. If young people are taught that there is absolute truth, they will enter life trying to force others to see things the way they do. The good life, they say, is the live-and-let-live life.
The end result of this thinking is that long-standing biblical truths get discarded by millions of people. In fact, many professing Christians have abandoned the teaching of absolute truth. 91% of teenagers claiming to be born again say they do not believe in absolute truth for morality. 1
Little wonder so few people believe in absolutes. How can they think biblically about all of life unless they are taught to see how the Bible is relevant to the subjects they study in school?
How can the Bible be integrated into the classroom? Christian schools and homeschools can use textbooks from a Christian publisher. BJU Press has been publishing Christian educational materials for 40 years. The Bible is integrated into every subject. And it makes a difference.
Think of the difference it makes in U. S. History.
For some teachers (especially those under the influence of postmodernism), U. S. History is about listing all of the wrong, cruel things that Americans have done. Such teachers hope to show that America is full of contradictions, and it needs to be deconstructed. From the beginning Americans claimed to be for freedom and equality. But Americans have owned slaves, broken treaties, stolen lands, and denied the rights of their fellow citizens just because of the color of their skin or their decision to love someone of the same sex. Nevertheless, they say, there is hope for America. If Americans will make a clean break with the tyranny of tradition and extend freedom and equality to all, America can be great. We will become a nation where there is no such thing as sin—where a brave new world swallows up mean-spirited Bible-thumping.
Christian teachers of history are, of course, offended by such an approach. Some, however, respond by jumping to the opposite extreme. For them, teaching U. S. History is about demonstrating that the Bible and Americanism both stand for the same things. They then set about to show that what America has been (up until the 1960s, that is) is a pattern for how God wants nations everywhere to live.
From a Christian perspective, both extremes must be rejected. The first approach has to be rejected because it attacks the Bible’s authority in obvious ways. But the second one also attacks the Bible, though in more subtle ways. First, it treats certain historical figures as good and wise who, by a biblical evaluation, were not. Second, it damages the credibility of Scripture because it sets students up for believing the postmodernists. If the teachers who claim there is absolute truth say that Benjamin Franklin was a Christian or that Thomas Jefferson was a lover of religion, then what will their students conclude when they find that they have been misled? Many of them will conclude that grand claims regarding truth are really ploys for oppression—lies spoken in the name of truth in order to press society backwards toward a twisted view of justice.
But education from a Christian worldview is different from both of these. It says that there is absolute truth. But this truth does not have its source in a political party, any period of history, or any movement formed by men. Truth comes from God and His Word. The right approach then uses the Bible to correct the past, as well as praise it. History is a record of the decisions of many people. From the Word of God, we can discern that some of those decisions were good, and some were evil. These decisions are important because they are the same sorts of decisions we must make now in our own generation, and later on in the next. As we examine the past through the lens of Scripture, we gain wisdom. We develop skill in living lives of good works wherever God calls us—whether in the home, at the polling booth or in Congress.
So when a Christian teaches the 1820s and 30s, she does not hide from the students that Andrew Jackson broke treaties with the Cherokees and that perhaps 4,000 of them died when they were forced to walk the Trail of Tears. But she then leads the students in evaluating these events from Scripture, pointing them to passages like Joshua 9:16-21, 2 Samuel 23:3-4, and Mark 12:31. She also explains that many Christians were outraged at what was happening to the Cherokees. Some petitioned the government to honor its treaties and do what was just. Some Christian missionaries even went to jail trying to protect the Cherokees. In the end, the teacher is able to show that though some Americans in every generation have made horrible decisions, others have made wise and noble decisions. And in all of these events, God has remained true. His Word has proven trustworthy. Such teaching shows students that if they set their hope on a particular nation, they will be disappointed. But if they set their hope on God, they will never be disappointed because the kingdom of God cannot fail. 2
But none of this is possible unless history is taught in a certain way. Without belief in absolute truth, the right approach is not possible. Our children need truth just as much as they need food, water, and love. They cannot live without truth. And they cannot have truth without God.
Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for over twenty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, he serves at BJU Press as the Bible Integration Coordinator. In this position he assists authors and teachers in the work of integrating faith and learning in the classroom. Bryan holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.
1. See “Americans are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings” in Barna Group, February 12, 2002. Accessed at https://www.barna.org/barna-update/5-barna-update/67-americans-are-most-likely-to-base-truth-on-feelings on July 11, 2014.
2. For an example of this kind of approach, see Heritage Studies 3 (Greenville, S.C.: BJU Press, 2014), pp. 133-59.