What does beholding the glory of Christ have to do with classical education? Everything. This conviction is stated in the mission of Veritas: To disciple students to delight, discern, and display the glory of God in Jesus Christ through classical education in every area of life. But what does it mean to delight, discern, and display the glory of Christ? And why through classical education?
First, we need to think about what it means to delight, discern, and display the glory of Christ. The three verbs here describe specific actions—to delight, discern, and display—which correspond to the three stages or aspects of classical education: trivium. The three actions correspond to the heart, head, and hand, indicating the engagement of the whole person. But I want to focus on the fact that the three actions are all acts of “beholding” (or “receiving” and “responding”) what God does, as opposed to acts of “forming” or “making” something. This is not to deny that education involves training our students to have knowledge or skills with which they make and form things. These actions emphasize the priority of receiving—rejoicing, recognizing, and reflecting—the glory of Christ, with the understanding that abilities to form things that are meaningful and honoring to God flow only as a result of receiving and beholding the glory of God.
Why is the act of receiving or beholding Christ a priority? Because Christ is not only the source of our salvation, but also the source of our sanctification. He is our life (Jn. 11:25), wisdom, sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). We become more like Christ, not by mere moral reformation, but by more fully receiving who He is to us and for us.
That brings us to the next question of: “ How do we receive Christ, or how do we delight, discern and display the glory of Christ?” First, by beholding Christ in the context of all areas of life. That’s what classical Christian education excels in. It seeks to behold the truth, goodness, and beauty of God in every area of life. Classical Christian education is the most extensive and comprehensive kind of education because it seeks the glory of God in all of creation and in the highest of human achievement, not for the sake of man’s praise, but for the sake of enjoying God.
More specifically, the way we behold the glory of Christ varies in different fields of study. In the subject of history, we study the glory of God as revealed in time and over time. John Mark Reynolds, in his book When Athens Met Jerusalem, argues cogently that, the reason Christ came to earth at the height of the Greco-Roman culture was to show that Christ is the fulfillment of the highest ideals among the philosophers and writers. Thus, in history, we behold Christ by means of studying human longings and its fulfillment in Christ.
In the study of the languages and literature, we behold Christ by studying the language and the cultural contexts of the literature. Christ is the same Christ regardless of the cultural context, but the way in which his love, mercy, and wisdom is manifested is manifold, particular to specific cultural time and space. Thus, a careful study of the tools of the language, genre, cultural context, literary figures and devices, and authorial intent contribute to a refined appreciation of the glory of Christ. Peter Leithart’s study guide on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and his study guide on the works of Jane Austen and Shakespeare show how we can more fully enjoy Christ through literature.
In the study of science and math, the glory of Christ is beheld as we contemplate on nature. Whereas in history and literature the redemptive power of God is seen in the context of a broader cultural-historical context, in math and science, the focus is more on creational qualities of God such as his wisdom, power, and goodness in creation. But it is often in contemplating on the creational qualities of God that we come to truly appreciate the redemptive work of God in Christ. A good example can be seen in Psalm 8:3-4, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers…, what is man that you are mindful of him?” In observing the nightly sky, the Psalmist realizes that God truly cares for him (creational quality of God), but he also realizes that God has established strength out of the mouths of babies to still the enemies (redemptive qualities of God). Sociologist Rodney Stark has done all of us a great favor by showing historically how greatest scientific discoveries throughout history were made by those who truly beheld the glory of God in nature (cf. Ps. 111:2). Several classical mathematicians have shown how to teach in a way that leads a student to discover the glory of God (Paul Lockhart, Francis Su, Mitch Stokes).
Thus, we behold the glory of Christ first by seeing the glory of God in natural revelation—history, literature, and nature. But in order to properly discern the glory of God in natural revelation, students must simultaneously grow in beholding the glory of God in Christ directly through the meditation of the Word of God. This training is essential, both because without the light of God’s Word, we are prone to misinterpret the light of God in nature, but also because Christ’s light is more fully experienced in specific contexts of culture, time and place. This training is obviously not easy. A student can easily mix-up what the Bible teaches about Christ and the ideas of man. Yet, there are good examples from history of how great Christian thinkers have appreciated insights from even pagan writers because they bring the light of the redemptive work of God in Christ to bear on the light of God revealed in nature. Louis Markos, provides some excellent examples in history in his book From Plato to Christ.
In sum, a combination of theological depth and classical breadth is essential in training our students to more fully delight, discern, and display the glory of God in Jesus Christ.