The Sabbath and John Dewey

What on earth does Dewey have to do with the fourth commandment? The question should be rather: “What does God’s Holy Day have to do with the education of children?” In a certain sense, Dewey directed the attention of American education back to children (at least in public schools). John Dewey applied pragmatism (the idea that if it works then it must be good) to education. Hence, today there is a strong emphasis on the experimentation in children’ s education. Dewey is so influential in secular education that his pragmatism came to be understood as the American Philosophy of Education. He was so committed to this idea that he went so far as to say that we change the world by teaching our children. Let the child express himself/herself; let the child experiment and discover what is right and wrong whether it works or not.

The great pragmatist who died in 1952 understood one thing correctly: that the future of a nation depends on the education of the next generation. However, Dewey (perhaps an agnostic) never understood education in the context of the total depravity of man (which, by the way, includes infants and children). If totally depraved people are left to experiment with their totally depraved hearts then the end result is a totally depraved understanding of reality. Dewey’s children will grow up with a distorted worldview where there is no God and experimentation with all sorts of sins are a practical outworking of this philosophy. This is the reason why the consequences of ideas have killed a generation of fertile minds.

What is our hope? Our hope rests in special revelation and the general revelation of God.¬† Special revelation determines that the focus of human nurture is Biblical not humanist pragmatism. Scriptures restore the broken world of Dewey to the new world of Christian education. General revelation* insists on applying the laws of education to reflect the principles and ontological brilliance of Scriptures in the realm of nurture and admonition. In Deuteronomy 6, the One true God is worshipped; but notice the context of this worship: it includes instruction to our children. God’s Holy law is to be a sign on your hand and shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
Notice the text:
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 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. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Christianity is education. True Education is Christianity. There can never be a divorce of these two concepts. If one is devoid of the other, the future of education will be pure experimentation in the darkness of pragmatism.

What about the Sabbath? The Holy Day needs to be shaped by the instruction of God’s eternal words. Children must be reminded of God’s promises and their minds need to be restored to the world of Christ and His Lordship. Sunday Sermons need to be communicated to children in a way which is understood. Big concepts need to be taught in the context of general truths. If the Sabbath is restored and becomes familial in nature, then Dewey’s idea that we change the world by teaching our children will come true. Except in this case, the kingdom of God will crush Dewey and exalt Christ.

* By General Revelation I do not simply mean nature. I accept Richard Pratt’s definition of general revelation that says that this revelation encompasses all things within nature such as human ability to create, education, art, literature etc.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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2 Responses to The Sabbath and John Dewey

  1. Anonymous says:

    Very good thoughts on education. However, I question the statement: “Christianity is education. Education is Christianity.” I think I know what you meant, but just to clarify, Christianity is CHRIST, not education. (Remember Clinton: “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”) :-)

    The act of education arises out of obedience to God’s command (note the text you quoted) and is a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself. The end of Christian education is faith, by grace, in God and His Word. The end of unregenerate education is depraved knowledge. No amount of “education,” especially Dewian education, can bridge this divide.

  2. U.T. Brito says:

    Thank you for your comments. My intention was not to say that Christianity is “only” education. My point was that without educating children in a few generations we will have a dead religion. A religion that is not embedded in its own writings and principles cannot exist.
    Indeed, Christianity is Christ. But if Christianity is not educated to think like Christ then it cannot stand. As I noted: “Children must be reminded of God’s promises and their minds need to be restored to the world of Christ and his Lordship.” This is my definition of biblical education.
    I think you will agree with my analogy if you think of the purpose of education.
    Excellent observation though.

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