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Education in the Word in an age of the picture
Dr. C. Van Dam

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picture Let me begin by raising the issues that were brought to my attention and on which I was asked to comment. [1]

We live in a society that is becoming more and more conditioned by images (especially television). Such conditioning generally results in quick, but also much superficial understanding. Verbal communication no longer has the uncontested place it once had. (Cf. J. Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word [1985].)

All this has implications for the teaching process. If our children are likewise conditioned by images, and if pictures have a paramount place in their life, how are we effectively to pass on The Word and the full implications of the gospel in all subject areas to them? How can we teach our children to listen patiently to God's Word when much of society today impatiently and selectively grasps what matters to them from pictures they see? More specifically, what exactly is the role of the Word and listening at school, as opposed to that -of images and pictures?

A related area of concern is that unless our children are able to listen to and understand God's Word, there will more and more be a dichotomy between what is said and heard in church (and to some extent in school) and what is said and heard in their "everyday life."

What does Scripture and now specifically the Old Testament tell us about the place and function of the Word and pictures in the teaching process? How can these questions (and answers) help us in providing direction in our own educational endeavours? What is the message of the second commandment for Reformed teachers?

Reflecting on all these concerns. I am only too conscious of the fact that what follows will only be a small beginning to answering them.

Our task as teachers

Before we get into these questions as such, it is necessary to highlight one aspect of our teaching office so that we can approach the problems raised in a fruitful manner. The aspect I am thinking of is that Scripture speaks of a teacher as a father and their students as children (sons). Thus when David in Ps. 34:11 speaks as a teacher, he says: "Come, O sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord." Think also how the Lord Jesus calls the students of the Pharisees who perform exorcisms, "sons" of the Pharisees (Matt. 12:27; cf. Acts 23:6). One finds this manner of speaking especially in the book of Proverbs. It is generally agreed that when "father" is mentioned, the teacher-father, the wise man, is usually in view rather than the natural parent and that when "son" is mentioned, the student is in view. [2] However, there are enough passages in Proverbs that do refer to the natural parent-child relationship (e.g., Prov. 1:8), or passages that are ambiguous as to their first reference, to underline that there really is no essential difference in the duty of parent or teacher when it comes to instructing and promoting the growth of true knowledge.

Now the name "father" for teacher raises all kinds of positive connotations and allusions with respect to the teaching task, but within our present context I would like to underline one in particular. Their task concerns the very life of their children. Parents who gave physical life to their children are also to be God's instruments for giving their offspring life in communion with God, eternal life, as well as the ability to make a living. (The religious and the practical, as man today often puts it, went together.) A teacher's task is likewise. It too is life-giving, with a view to equipping for life service in this world and with a view to eternal life. (Cf. e.g., Ps. 78:5-7; Prov. 5:13ff). [3] Also a teacher's mandate, though in the first instance given by parents, is ultimately from God.

Now as those who are in the service of God, the Father of us all, we do well to consider how He, our heavenly Father, has taught and teaches His people. The manner in which He teaches His own can be instructive for our present topic. The first thing we notice is the priority of the Word, although what is seen is not to be neglected.

The priority of the Word

When God relates to His people, He speaks to them. Thus He blessed Adam and Eve after their creation (Gen. 1:28-30); He commanded the man about eating from every tree except the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16ff.) and after the fall into sin, He called man and spoke to him (Gen. 3:9). By speaking, He informed Adam and Eve of the way of life and of the promise of the coming salvation. It is by speaking that God communicated to many more since He addressed earth's first couple. When prophets spoke on God's behalf, as His mouthpiece (cf. Ex. 4:15ff.; Jer. 1:9), then their message was prefaced either by "the word of the LORD" came to . . ." (e.g,, Jer. 1:4; Hos. 1:1; Joel 1:1) or by "thus says the LORD" (e.g., Ex. 4:22; 5:1; 1 Sam. 2:27; Jer. 33:2, 10,12). In the fullness of time, when God came in the flesh, then with divine authority the Son said. "truly I say to you" (e.g.. Matt. 5:18,26; cf. Luke 5:1; Jn. 3:34, 14:24). Clearly the spoken word is of paramount importance. This is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. The first emphasis is on what is heard and not on what is seen.

This emphasis on the word does not mean that the visual is lacking in God's relationship with His people and in His revelation of Himself to them and His teaching them. We will come back to this point. For now we can note that we often read that "God appeared . . . ," for example, to Abraham in the form of a man (Gen. 18:1), to Moses in a burning bush (Ex. 3:2), and to Solomon in a dream (1 Kings 3:5). The phrase "God appeared" has the literal meaning "God was seen" or "was visible." It is striking how God's glory appeared to Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire during the Exodus and wilderness wandering (Ex. 16:10; cf. 13:21ff.). So Israel could see God's presence and know He was with them. In this way God met the human need to see and not only to hear. However, there is no doubt about the fact that the high point in God's selfrevelation came when the LORD spoke directly to His people from Mount Sinai. So awestruck were the people that they asked Moses to speak on God's behalf to them: "but let not God speak to us, lest we die" (Ex. 20:19).

Another example that comes to mind of the priority of the Word is God's response to Moses' request, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory" (Ex. 33:18). Moses wanted a visible guarantee that God would be going with them to Canaan. God obliged by showing Moses as much of His glory as possible (Ex. 33:19, 21ff.). However, the stress in God's selfrevelation was clearly placed on God's speaking and explaining His name Yahweh. When the actual revelation took place, we do not even read of the visible revelation of God's glory, but we are informed of what God said in explaining the significance of His name Yahweh. "Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and fourth generation" (Ex. 34:6ff.). What Moses heard was of more significance than what Moses saw in seeing the true glory of God.

The primary stress on the Word, rather than on something visual must be placed within the wider context of how Scripture informs us of the place of the Word of God. God's Word is effective. It accomplishes that for which God spoke it. We read in Is. 55:10ff.: "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Cf. Heb. 4:12). That is because this word is God's Word. It is this Word that works faith. As Rom. 10:17 puts it: "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the preaching of Christ." What the eye sees does not as such work faith. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the plea of the rich man in torment that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers lest they also end up in such anguish is answered in a telling way. "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

Over against the tendency of fallen man to trust his eyes more than his ears, the Scriptures tell us that the Word of God is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and is truth (Jn. 17:17). It sets the standard. The Word can therefore even specifically refer to commandments. Indeed, what we call the Ten Commandments are referred to in the Old Testament as the Ten Words (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4). God's commandments can be obeyed, for "the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut. 30:14; cf. Roman 10:8).

The teaching task and the priority of the Word

Coming now to our task as teachers, we have a special responsibility to pass on the Word of God and its implications for all of life to our students. The Word has to be passed on. That indicates already something of the priority of language in our instruction. It is God's Word. That indicates something of the authority with which we must speak when we pass the treasures of the Word on. God's Word demands to be heard! Listening is a must.

We need wisdom here. We saw that as teachers we are "fathers" to our student "children." Our concern includes the fostering of the true knowledge of God and working for that life relationship with God. That cannot be done overnight. It takes time and the confidence of the students needs to be won. We need to look at the long range perspective with each teacher doing his part in awakening in our students the positive desire to know more about the LORD so that they are eager to listen. So we seek to be God's instruments for imparting life to those in our charge.

We can be highly motivated, for these are children of Father in heaven and they are already in a covenant relationship with Him. So you as teachers too have your place within the context of the home and the church in seeking as it were to impart faith. For that reason, listening is indeed imperative! Faith comes from hearing the Word (cf. Rom. 10:17; Heb. 4:12). Without faith the Word cannot be truly discerned (I Cor. 2:14).

But how has God helped His children to really listen and be confronted by the wide scope and great depth of the Word of God and so begin to understand the Word, also as it affects all of life? It is at this point that I am convinced that we can speak of the need for images and visual aids in the language of the relationship between God and us, - mind you, not on their own, but in a serving relationship to the Word.

The place of the visual

If I understand E.W. Schaeffer-de Wal correctly, then she may be going too far when she writes: "The language of the relationship between God and us is definitely not the language of imagery (or the language of images) but it is a verbal language." [4] Much as I affirm that God speaks to us through His Word and that He cannot be understood without the Word, yet, it is not purely an "either-or" dilemma as presented above.

When we speak of the Word of God, we speak of God's revelation of Himself. Without doubt there is the priority of language; however, images and visual aids were not neglected. [5] God recognized them as necessary so that the Word might be as effective as possible. Signs served the Word, and indeed could not be understood without it.

I would like to illustrate this point first with reference to God Himself and His selfrevelation with respect to His very person, how God showed the eyes of Israel something of His glory so that it became tangible as it were to them. We have already touched on the first two examples. The LORD went before Israel "by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people" (Exodus 13:21ff.; cf. 14:19, 24; Numbers 14:14). In this way the LORD very concretely showed His presence. Through this cloud the LORD also effected a type of nonverbal communication. When God caused the cloud to go up from the tabernacle, Israel knew they had to travel. If the cloud was not taken up, Israel did not need to travel that day (Exodus 40:35-38; Numbers 8:15-23).[6]

At the Sinai, the LORD also used Israel's perception, not just by the ear, but also by the eye to impress on them His presence and greatness. We read in Exodus 20:18 that "Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly" (cf. Deuteronomy 5:4). At a later date, a select number from Israel went up the Sinai to have a meal of covenant fellowship with God. Exodus 24:1013 informs us that they went up "and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness . . . . they beheld God and ate and drank" (cf. Exekiel 1, especially v. 28b). Also, as covenant mediator, Moses spoke to God face to face as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11; cf. Deuteronomy 34:10; also cf. Jeremiah 32:4). This included that he beheld "the form of the LORD" (Numbers 12:8). This is more than seeing God in a vision or dream (cf. Psalm 17:15; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4).

Also when it comes to the message of the LORD, we find a wide array of images that appeal to perception through the eye rather than the ear. Think of the tabernacle and later the temple, as well as the elaborate rituals and feasts connected with the service of God. These were not incidental, but pictured the gospel! These "pictures" were crucial for Father's teaching the covenant children in the old dispensation. The LORD did not want His children to be brought up only by hearing the gospel. He also wanted them to see it and to perceive it by means of their physical eyes. As a teaching principle we can learn from this. We certainly cannot dismiss this as something belonging to the Old Testament and having no further relevance for us today. In this context one can also think of the two sacraments that the LORD has given us. Also in the last age, our heavenly Father wants to make use of our eyes in reinforcing the message of His Word and strengthening our faith.

Some teaching principles

If we reflect for a moment on what has been said up to this point and also try to place ourselves in the situation of Israelite parents and children according to data found in Scripture, several principles that are very important for us today become evident.

First we must reaffirm the priority and dominant position of the Word in our teaching. It was the Word of God that had to be passed on to the children. The gospel with all its ramifications had to be taught to them. The well-known words of Deuteronomy 6 come to mind. "These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:69). Whenever and wherever possible, the sustained teaching had to continue.

However, it was not to be a long, uninterrupted, and difficult monologue. Children could and were expected to ask questions. After all the Word was to be understandable and so practical and usable to them. If the Word did not speak to them, then questions were to be asked. As the LORD said further on in Deuteronomy 6, "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and statutes and the ordinances which the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son, We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand . . ." (Deuteronomy 6:20ff.), and the great deeds of the LORD are recounted. An answer was to be given! God demanded it and therefore children could expect it! A clear answer, one they could understand and that would encourage further listening. A practical answer which showed the relevance of salvation for their situation, namely, living a life of gratitude to God and enjoying true life with Him.

The Word was to be clear. When God spoke from the Sinai, Israel understood. Although God came from heaven, He spoke their language. This is also evident from the languages that Scripture is written in. God used the languages current at the time the revelation was given. So we have to speak in such a manner that the children can understand. We must never in any way encourage or promote a special religious or church language over against the so-called ordinary language of everyday.[7] Life is a unit and we must speak to our students in such a manner that they understand irrespective of the subject. The problem of "children" (students) not listening can be a problem of the teacher not being able to communicate and make the subject meaningful for them. We need to speak to them and not at them. If questions are forthcoming, rejoice. You're getting through. Already in the Old Testament God told parents, the first teachers, that they could expect questions. Questions indicate that what has been said relates to their situation and to their life. It means they can talk about it and therefore also speak to God Himself concerning the things that have been learned. It means that the student is part of it and belongs and that the world of God and His Word is not foreign to him. It is obviously very important that also today the Bible continues to be related to this life. Thus teaching the Word by verbal means must be and remain the first priority.

This brings us to the second principle, namely, the necessary use of visual aids. In the Old Testament the LORD demanded the use of what could be seen in helping to bring the Word also to children. The whole way of life was immersed with sacrifices, festivals, and memorials. All these visual stimuli not only helped integrate faith into the fullness of life but also prompted questions from the children. For example, with respect to the Passover sacrifice, the LORD said through Moses: "When your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?'you shall say, 'it is the sacrifice of the LORD's passover, for He passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when He slew the Egyptians but spared our houses'." (Exodus 12:28ff.) Again a clear answer had to be given and a historical consciousness of the great deeds of God was imprinted in the children. Even if there was no question, the opportunity had to be seized to tell the children the meaning of what they saw. For example, regarding the eating of unleavened bread, the LORD demanded that they tell the significance of it to the children (Exodus 13:8). Sometimes the LORD commanded that memorials be erected so that children would see and ask about their meaning. Think of the twelve stones erected in the Jordan as a memorial of the miraculous crossing in the time of Joshua. Then were to be erected "that this may be a sign among you, when your children ask in time to come, 'What do those stones mean to you?'Then you shall tell them . . ." (Joshua 4:8). Note how all these visual helps serve the passing on of the Word and the great deeds of God as well as the remembering of the contents of the Word.

Similarly prophets made use of visual aids. When the prophet Ahijah is about to tell Jeroboam that the LORD will tear the kingdom from Solomon and give ten tribes to Jacob, then he took off his new garment and tore it into twelve pieces (1 Kings 11:29-31). In Isaiah 20 we read that Isaiah had to go naked and barefoot through Jerusalem to reinforce this message from the LORD. "As My servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians captives and the Ethiopians exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot . . . ." Judah would therefore hope for help from these nations in vain (Isaiah 20:3-8). More examples could be mentioned. However, it should be pointed out the use of "visual aids" went to quite some length. For example, Hosea's married life was to be a picture of what happened between God and His adulterous people. Think of the initial command of the LORD to Hosea: "Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the LORD" (Hosea 1:2). And Ezekiel was told that his wife would die and he was not to mourn, for Ezekiel was to be a sign to the people. They too were not to mourn when their precious temple was desecrated. It was God's just judgment (Ezekiel 24:15-27). It is important to notice that the signs and pictures which were given could not be understood without the Word. They are there for the Word and are not independent of it. They serve the better understanding and remembering.

On the basis of all this, I am convinced that teachers can and should use visual aids where responsible and possible to support them in their task of getting the Word and the implications of the Word across. Although we no longer live in the old dispensation, yet the principle of "illustrating" the great salvation deeds of God is still relevant. To this very day our heavenly Father speaks to His children also through images and pictures. One can think in this context of the rainbow (Genesis 8:8-17) and also the sacraments. Notwithstanding the special place of the sacraments, these signs and seals are in agreement with this principle of using visual aids. In a more general context we confess that God makes Himself known to us "by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most beautiful book" (Art. 2, Belgic Confession). I therefore reject the dilemma as that is rigidly put forward that the language of the relationship between God and us is definitely not the language of imagery (or the language of images) but is a verbal language. Insofar as we can use pictures to reinforce the transmission of the Word to those in our care, it is justified. One can think in this context of the effective use that can be made of pictures in so-called children's Bible story books (although we must be very careful here!). The imaginative use by teachers of visual aids can only be applauded and encouraged. Positive use can be made of the technological advances that are ours. The key thing is that it must all serve the transmission of the Word, for that is the crucial thing! An important precaution is therefore that our pictures and images be very carefully chosen so that they are not burdened by secular connotations.

The second commandment

So far I have said nothing about the second commandment and its relevance for our subject. We must be brief and I will try to touch on the main point.

To understand this commandment we must realize that image-making had a very specific function in the ancient Near Eastern world in which Israel lived. An image was not just considered to be a picture of the god in question. No. It was the dwelling place of the divine reality. Decisive was that the image was animated by the deity taking up his residence there. [8] If man did his duties to that image, then man had that god in his power, so to speak. For at bottom the essence of imagemaking is to have the god under your control, in your power. [9] In this way heathens thought to have some security because the god or gods were now at their beck and call.

When we keep this background in mind, we can understand Israel's decision to make a golden calf as an image of the LORD who led them out of Egypt. Israel grew restless because Moses delayed to come down from the Mount. God seemed to have left them. In such a situation there rose a demand for an image! Israel wanted, so to speak, to have God close by, under their control according to the pagan way of thinking of their day. When the calf of gold was made, then Aaron said, "Here is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt! . . . Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD!" (Exodus 32:4ff.). They had their image. God was now with them. No more worries! The Catechism therefore rightly places the second commandment in the context of the correct worship of God, as well as stressing the point that no image of God can be made (Q.A. 96-97).

When it comes to our teaching task, the relevance of this commandment lies in my opinion first of all in the absolute necessity that we in our teaching make known to our students the true God as He has revealed Himself in His Word so that He can be rightly worshipped by them. There are many images of God today by which man tries to conceptualize God into someone that will be useful to man and serve man's purposes. In this way man seeks to control God and make Him to be what man wants Him to be. Some examples of modern images of God are: God is love. This translates "there is no hell." Or, God is a grand old man. This translates "God and His Word, are out of touch with reality. He is out of date. Pay lip service to Him but we can basically ignore Him." So there are more false images of God that could be mentioned. With many misconceptions about God currently circulating, we must be careful to show only the God of Scripture; - the God who cannot be manipulated or controlled and who cannot be reduced by humans to some image; the God who is sovereign and transcendent, who cannot be grasped, be it literally or mentally. God is God! We must convey a sense of awe about Him to our students. He is Creator and we are but creatures. As Isaiah 40 asks: "To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with Him? . . . To whom then will you compare Me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One . . . . Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 40:18, 25, 28a). God is more than we can ever imagine!

Therefore the revelation of God through His Word is such a miracle. There we see God as we are to perceive Him. There He has revealed Himself as He wants to be known to His people. There His glory, His love, His righteousness and His wrath are pictured for us. So we pass on the Word and God's selfrevelation to our students. That is the crucial thing. But we also do more.

We do not only use verbal language. Students must also see the message. They need a visual aid and that, within this context, is the teacher himself. Also in our speaking, in our attitudes and actions, we are to show them something of the greatness of our God and His holiness and sovereignty. After all, as teachers we ourselves are children of Father above, recreated in His image (Ephesians 4:22ff.; Colossians 3:9ff.; cf. Romans 8:29). Our students must be able to see that and so see something of the greatness of Father in us. One of the vital motivations for listening can be the desire to be like the teacher. "I too want so to know the Father in heaven and do my office as Christian and experience the peace and joy and surety of the new life! I want that!" If we are a picture of the new life with all the positive features, then some of the difficulty of listening is diminished for our students. Then what we stand for and speak about becomes attractive (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). As teacher ("father") so doing our calling over against our students ("children"), we may beget children after our godly image. Or better expressed, we may be God's instruments that they too be renewed after God's image, in whose image we by grace may be.

God does not want us to make an image of Him; but, He does want to make us new after His image. Our students need to be moulded by the Word and Spirit after the image of God. We may be instruments of God in that divine moulding process. The old creation must give way to the new. Again the priority of the Word is unmistakable, although the "children," students, cannot do without seeing their "father," teacher, after God's image. But the Word is indeed first. Our students (as well as we ourselves, of course) must more and more be moulded by the Word. Their thoughts must follow the patterns set by God. Their goals and desires must be in conformity with His will. We must therefore "soak" our students with the Word so to speak.


An important help is the memorization of Scripture. If important parts of Scripture are committed to memory, the Word of God will more effectively accomplish its purpose. Scripture says: "The Word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deuteronomy 30:14). Or think of Psalm 37:31, "The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip"; or Psalm 119:11, "I have laid up Thy Word in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee." (Cf. John 15:7; Colossians 3:18a.)

In our day, memory work is generally not regarded too favourably. It should, however, be realized that this resistance to memory work is a relatively recent phenomenon. The notion that truth can exist meaningfully in a book (for reference purposes, to be consulted when needed) rather than in a person's mind is a comparatively new idea [10] and certainly has no support in Scripture. Of course the material to be memorized must be meaningful and speak to the student's world. He must be able to understand and appreciate it. Then the material functions and has value in the life of faith. Then the Word of God is integrated in real life. [11] Here again, not only what our students hear but also what they see is very important. Are we ourselves good visual aids for showing our students how helpful memorized knowledge of Scripture is or can our students come to the devastating conclusion that the teacher ("father") himself does not know the passage he assigned to the class? So, why should we, "the children," bother? He seems to have made out all right? Can't we do without this work?

The importance of memorizing Scripture as a tool for integrating God's Word into life cannot be overestimated. Our students are constantly bombarded by worldly language and worldly images in so much of life, including the pervasive influence of the media, especially unfortunately the almost everywhere present television. How can we expect them to stand if they have not stored in their hearts and cannot remember very concretely the demands and promises of the LORD? The world seeks our heart, our very life. But God says, "Give Me your heart!" (Proverbs 23:26). The Word is used by the Spirit to bring about the new life and to nurture it. Think again of Psalm 119, "I have laid up Thy Word in my heart that I might not sin against Thee" (verse 11).

Now often it is the worldly images that cause the greatest concern. And they should be a serious worry. However, I would like to contend that the corruption and secularization of language should alarm us at least as much. There appears to be a growing gap between the language we hear in church and on the streets. There seem to be two interrelated reasons for this. The first reason is that Christianity is waning in influence and Christians have withdrawn from certain areas so that many fields have only a secular language which stymies meaningful Christian participation in discussing issues there. [12] Coupled with that is a second reason, the degeneration of language. The present age is becoming so depraved that the words of Genesis 6:5 come to mind. "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." One could also translate: " . . . everything shaped by the thoughts of his heart was exclusively evil all the time." Whatever man contemplated it was always wicked. Today the forces of darkness have more and more claimed much language for their purposes so that much language now either carries sinful innuendo or relativizes morals. [13] A consequence is that many in the world can truly no longer really understand what Christians are talking about when they express themselves on issues dear to them and hence have little appreciation for what Christians stand for (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:11ff.). In this sense the antithesis between light and darkness comes out more clearly now than it has in recent Western history, and our students should be aware of this.

Why mention these things? To underline the great significance of truly impressing the Word on the lives and hearts of those in our care. It is a matter of life and death. Our students are not immune to the words and images of this world and for that matter neither are we as long as that struggle against the old nature is there. Hence the Word is needed to protect and nurture the life of our student and so to guard their heart, the centre of their consciousness. Proverbs 4:23 says: "Above all else guard your heart for from it flow the springs of life." Above all else! Therefore we need to continue to expose the words and pictures the world presents for what they are and we need to impress upon our "children" the great significance of the Word of God for all of life. It is of utmost importance that our students learn to distinguish and discriminate between the holy and the unholy, between good and evil. Armed with the Word of God and a correct understanding of it, this is possible. We are in the world, but not of it! Great discernment is needed. Again if we as "fathers," teaching parents in school, can illustrate, make it real and picture it, especially through our example, that is of tremendous help. We must never speak in a theoretical vacuum but speak practically (as instruction in the Old Testament was). We have the Word. It is practical and it is the Word of life! And also to our encouragement, it is an effective Word that will accomplish the purpose for which God sent it (Isaiah 55:11), also in the lives of our students.

This brings me to one final point. Since we train students for life service in God's kingdom, the exposure of darkness for what it is should at the same time serve as a challenge to advance the claims of the light of the gospel as the LORD gives opportunity and provides time before His glorious return. There is a task, both for us and our students, also in the fundamental issue of language and image, of communicating. Our students should go forth as able communicators of the Word in all of life, by speaking and applying it and reinforcing the spoken Word by themselves being pictures of Christ's redemptive work (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:3 and also Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; 38:26).


[1] What follows (in three instalments) is a slightly revised version of an introduction presented to a conference of Canadian Reformed teachers in Langley, BC, on 30 August 1988 and in Chatham, ON, on 28 October 1988.

[2] See, e.g., 1:2ff; 3:1,11,21: 4:10,20; 5:1; 6:1; 7:1 etc. See, e.g., W.H. Gispen, Spreuken (Korte Verklaring; 1952) I, 25 and H. Haag in G.J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren, eds., The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, II (1975), 152.

[3] See further on this C. Van Dam, "Wisdom, Knowledge and Teaching," CRTA Magazine, 15:2 (1985).

[4] E.W. Schaeffer-de Wal, "Christelijke opvoeding als vertaling III," De Reformatie, 82 (1986-87), 32, as translated in Orange Courier, Jan. 18, 1987.

[5] Cf. on this R.S. Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, (1957), 78-81.

[6] See W.H. Gispen, Numeri, I (1959), 147.

[7] Cf. K. Schilder, "Kerktaal en leven," in idem, Om Woord en Kerk, III (1951), esp. pp. 169-188.

[8] J.J. Stamm and M.E. Andrew, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research (1987), 82

[9] Ibid, 88.

[10] See M. Snapper, "The Dethronement of Memory in Church Education," Calvin Theological Journal, 13 (1978), 38-57.

[11] See on these criteria, M. Snapper, "Memorization in Church Education," Calvin Theological Journal, 16 (1981) 42-45.

[12] Cf. H. Blamires, The Christian Mind (1983).

[13] See C. Van Dam, "Language and Corruption," Clarion, 37 (1988), 100ff.

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