Educational Limbo: How Low Can You Go?


It's hard to find a consensus among Christians when it comes to many issues of the faith. Certainly, regarding salvific issues—non-negotiables of the Gospel like the deity of Christ, salvation through faith alone, the bodily resurrection, and so on— there is unanimity. After all, those must be affirmed in order to actually be considered a true Christian. Yet, there is widespread disagreement between genuine believers when it comes to other aspects such as baptism (credobaptism vs. paedobaptism), church government (elder rule vs. congregationalism), or eschatology (premillennialism vs. amillennialism vs. postmillennialism).

With that in mind, what if I told you that there is one significant area of life in which most believers fall in lockstep? In fact, what if I told you that there was one same decision made by nearly 85% of Christian parents?[1] Furthermore, what if I told you that this choice accounts for upwards of 14,000 hours of a child's life?[2]

That issue is government education. An overwhelming majority of Christian parents are united in sending their children to public school.

Educational Limbo

What's fascinating about education is that despite its tremendous importance in a child's life, the most common reasons for sending children to public school are often merely pragmatic (ends justifying the means). Whether it's a pragmatic reason loosely based on Scripture (the misguided notion that other children won't be evangelized without the "salt and light" of their children in that hostile environment), or a pragmatic reason based on lesser priorities (socialization, test scores for college, sports, etc.), the bottom line is that many parents adopt an "if/then" rationale (rather than a biblical rationale) for their choice. "If we don't send Johnny to public school, then he'll miss out on..." or, "If Susie isn't in public school, then she won't be able to..." Of course, in a way this is understandable—without consulting the Bible it only makes sense that the decision would come down to utilitarianism.

Having said that, I think most parents recognize the inherent danger in government schools. And, of course, most parents care deeply for their child's spiritual well-being. Therefore, what this also means is that most parents probably have an unstated or subconscious limit to what they will tolerate their children being subjected to in a public school situation. In other words, the question for many parents is not whether or not the Bible actually portrays public school as the normative educational route for children. Instead, the question comes down to "educational limbo"how low will I go? How far down will I set the bar? What is the worst a school system can get before I have to take action? In the actual game of limbo, players compete to see who is flexible enough to lean backward and walk underneath an ever-lowering horizontal pole without falling. And when it comes to educational limbo, each public school parent has a personal limit to the amount of moral mischief he or she will tolerate before breaking.

For some, the bar is set at the transgender issue. As bathrooms and locker rooms have become bastions of gender confusion, some parents have said, "Ok, this is over the line."

For others, the bar is set at evolutionary theory. As science classes have become breeding grounds for intellectual dishonesty, some parents have said, "Ok, that's enough."

Still others put the bar at the removal of public prayer and the Ten Commandments. As schools have become strongholds of secularism, some parents have said, "Ok, we can't do this anymore."

Dr. Al Mohler describes educational limbo for one couple as follows:

I mentioned this just the other day; this is the most chilling thing I've heard in a very long time. I was talking to a man and his wife and they were explaining to me why they'd made a radical change in the education of their children just in the last few days. And it is because they were at dinner and their ten-year-old son heard the mother and father talking about issues related to a headline event with the LGBT complex of issues. And the ten-year-old son said, "That's hate speech, dad."[3]

It is most definitely commendable that the parents in the aforementioned scenario used such a startling turn of events to re-examine their child’s educational situation. They didn’t ignore the clear warning signs. Yet, we must also ask, "Is that the standard?" Is that how low the bar has to go? Does a child have to come home articulating an anti-God worldview before the problem becomes clear? After all, for a child to rebuke his father with such a secular perspective means that there has already been a worldview implanted in his heart (cf. Luke 6:45).

Wise Counsel

Truth be told, the problem is ultimately not where a parent sets the bar; the problem is with playing educational limbo in the first place.

That's because the purpose of education, like everything else in life, is to glorify God. When we begin with that premise, we see that the bar is not to be set at a particular level of godlessness, nor even supposed neutrality (which does not exist), but at Christ-exalting godliness. Of course, that cuts to the heart of why educational limbo is so commonplace: many people view public school as a morally neutral setting, disrupted only by occasional lapses into godlessness.

Presbyterian theologian Dr. Gordon Clark responds to that line of thinking:

Now, in public schools, children receive a pagan education. One hardly expects the public schools to teach that most compact and most consistent expression of Christianity, the Shorter Catechism. But the teaching of the Bible is also prohibited, and in some places even the reading of the Bible is outlawed. Obviously the public schools are not Christian. But many people reply, though they are not Christian, they are not anti-Christian, they are neutral. But, let one ask, what does neutrality mean when God is involved? How does God judge the school system which says to him, "O God, we neither deny nor assert they existence; and O God, we neither obey nor disobey thy commands; we are strictly neutral." Let no one fail to see the point: the school system which ignores God teaches its pupils to ignore God, and this is not neutrality but the worst form of antagonism, for it judges God to be unimportant and irrelevant in human affairs. Any Christian, it seems to me, should have sense enough to see that subjection to pagan influences works an injustice to the child.[4]
Doing math without acknowledging the Math-maker is not morally neutral.

In other words, doing math without acknowledging the Math-maker is not morally neutral; it's the sin of Romans 1:21. There is no area of life in which we can legitimately claim to glorify God and yet willfully leave Christ out of the picture. History, Government, Science, Art, Industry—all things belong to Him and exist for Him (cf. Heb. 2:10). All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him, thus we must submit to His lordship even in the area of education. Every mathematical equation, every scientific principle, every historical fact—they all belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One in whom are all the riches of wisdom and knowledge (cf. Col. 2:3). In fact, because "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10, emphasis added) those who educate without first acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ are actually operating on borrowed capital!

And here's the stark reality of Dr. Clark's comments: they were made on October 31, 1935! If nothing else, that should put into historical perspective what educational limbo looks like today.

But let's go back even further, circa 1890, in which Presbyterian theologian A.A. Hodge made the following comments:

It is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheistics or agnostics may be. It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of Atheism which the world has ever seen.[5]

Did Hodge's predictions come true?

Commenting just a matter of days ago, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis seems to think so:

I think parents need to repent of just handing their kids over to the secular world. That's what they've done. They've basically handed them over to a system. You know, it's about time we faced up to it—the public education system, by and large, is nothing but a church of atheism. They've thrown the Bible out, they've thrown God out, they've thrown creation out, they say in their textbooks you can explain the whole of reality by natural processes. What is naturalism? It is atheism.[6]

So, why is educational limbo not a game you want to play? Because apart from Christ, the bar is already at the floor. That's right—although many parents live under the illusion that the moral limit they've set is biblical, the reality is that whether a public school is explicitly anti-God, or just feigning neutrality, the limbo bar isn't even midair. You might be the most flexible human in history, but you can't win that game.

Sola Scriptura?

It's often said, "Don't worry, we'll definitely pull our kids out of public school if things get really bad." Really bad? By whose standard? God has already set the bar; the Bible gives us normative standards for educating children. Scripture equips us for every good work (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17), and God's Word tells us all we need to know for life and godliness (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3). Everything you need to know for living a godly life, including how to educate your children, can be determined from the Bible. That is the essence of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Yet, for many parents, the idea that education is not a bar that they get to determine for their own family is simply unconscionable. Far too often, committed Christians profess the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and yet jettison that very doctrine when it comes to schooling. But if the Bible is a transcendent book from a transcendent God, wouldn't it make sense that the normative standard for education would transcend all times and cultures? Surely it's not a game of limbo that lowers with each successive generation. Perhaps the reason why upwards of 85% of parents have abandoned Sola Scriptura when it comes to schooling is because they intuitively know where the bar would be set. With that said, if you search the Bible for answers on how to educate your kids, be careful—you just might find them.


[1] Voddie Baucham, "Family Driven Faith Radio Interview," Resurgence, Grace Family Baptist Church, Houston, TX, August 27, 2007.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, and Al Mohler, “General Session 8: Q&A” (presentation, Shepherds’ Conference 2016, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, March 11, 2016).

[4] Gordon Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education (Jefferson, MA: The Trinity Foundation, 1988), 206-207.

[5] Ibid., 72.

[6] Ken Ham, "What Are the Effects of Neglecting to Biblically Train Up Our Children?," NCFIC Daily Devotional, accessed January 12, 2018,

Josh NiemieducationComment