Using literature from worldy sources is often a hot-button issue in Christian education. Below is a compelling argument compiled from various sources by Dr. Glenn Holzman for how to rightly use non-Christian literature in Christ-focused education:
Much of the literature and many of the textbooks used in a Christian school were written by non-Christians. These materials contain assumptions, concepts, conclusions, and sometimes language that are contrary to Christian values. This does not imply that the Christian school in any way endorses the worldview of the authors or the content of their works. All literature and textbooks should be read and analyzed in light of God’s Word while being open to new insights about oneself, the world we live in, and the source of all truth, God, “the author and finisher of our faith.”
It is recognized that academic considerations require students to be familiar with works of great writers. In some instances, a student or parent may object to the reading of a particular book because of its content or its terminology. To exclude all writing by non-Christians would mean the removal of much of the cultural heritage of the Western world. The need, therefore, is for careful selection of materials and for the guidance by the Christian teacher in the analysis and evaluation of what is read. Thoughtful planned selection of learning materials is critical. The following should be considered when selection of reading materials is considered:
- Is the work appropriate for the general objectives of the curriculum?
- Is the work appropriate to the specific objectives of the unit or section under study?
- Is the work appropriate to the mental, emotional and spiritual development of the student?
- Is the work the best possible choice to lead the student to and enlarged understanding of the topic under study?
- Does the social, literary or political merit of the work exceed its potential for offending the conscience of the student or the parent?
- Is evil represented as purposeful or for its own sake?
- If purposeful, is it present in an acceptable degree or is it more conspicuous or vivid that the purpose warrants?
- Is evil presented from a condemning perspective? Is it made to appear both dangerous and repulsive? What is the attitude in the work toward it? Do the noble characters within the story condemn the action?
- Does the piece preserve moral purity while providing for the development of moral understanding and judgment?
- Is our use of the objectionable material presented only for its own sake, or is it purposeful?
- Is the objectionable material too potent to serve well as a negative example?
- Will the objectionable material be presented emphatically as a negative example? That is, will what it portrays appear dangerous and repulsive, regardless of the author’s intention?
Even when such criteria are applied to the selection of material for use in the curriculum, it is conceivable there will still be books and materials which students or parents find objectionable. In such cases, the principle of deference to the conscience of another (Romans 14:12-16) needs to be applied. We cannot, in a cavalier fashion, insist that a particular book be read regardless of the student’s or parent’s objections. Although it might be argued forcefully that according to Christian theology (Mark 7:18-23) evil lies within a person and not without, the fact remains that respect should be given to the conscience of another believer.
Whether or not learning material has educational merit is a matter of professional judgment and that judgment is the responsibility of faculty members and administrators. However, when possible, a list of reading must be sufficiently comprehensive so that if there is an objection to a particular reading, others may be substituted without penalty to the student. Such procedure preserves loyalty to Christian principle as well as flexibility of choice. This may not be possible in a college-level dual credit course, thus requiring a course change for the student.
Some argue that no book containing non-Christian concepts, profane language and sexual reference should be found in a Christian school. The consistent application of such a policy would result in meager and inadequate choice of materials for learning. Moreover, it is a major goal of Christian education to cultivate discrimination, judgment and evaluation. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. Likewise, we are to be as gentle as doves, but as wise as serpents. Our students will not live isolated from the world. They will be exposed to humanists, naturalists, atheists, agnostics, cultists and every other non-Christian belief. Teachers are asked to make clear distinctions between right and wrong for the students at those times when immorality in literature is encountered. Prior practice during students’ school years in analysis and evaluation, under the guidance of Christian teachers, will help sharpen students’ judgment and discrimination – skills that will be critical as they go out into the secular post-modern society.
Dr. Glenn Holzman is the secondary principal at Cypress Christian School, a K-12 private school in Houston, Texas. The writing above is a compilation of ideas pulled together from various sources over the years, and is meant to be of assistance to instructors or administrators in curriculum planning.