Why history must be taught from a Christian perspective
Before I begin my series of reviews of various history curricula (and, no, these posts are not just for homeschoolers–I talk about that here in my first post, as well as why history is so important for Christian children), I’m going to take a couple of posts to narrow the field a bit. In this post I’d like to explain briefly why history is not just neutral facts and therefore, for the Christian, must be taught from a Christian perspective.
If you’ve spent any time on this site, you know that the authors here do not believe in neutrality. Neutrality is a myth. Anyone who writes anything, creates anything, teaches anything, performs anything–they all have presuppositions. These presuppositions affect what they believe to be true or what they believe can be true–based on their belief system–therefore these presuppositions necessarily change the way something is written or taught. Francis Schaeffer wrote, “People have presuppositions . . . By presuppositions we mean the basic way that an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions . . . provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.”1
What a historian decides to include in a history book (because no history book includes everything!) and how that historian decides to interpret that data (how he presents it, the order in which he presents it, the reasons he gives for its importance, the reasons he gives explaining its cause or background) changes the history (yes, even the “facts” or “data”). How a teacher decides to interpret what is in the textbook also changes history (which parts the teacher emphasizes, how the teacher explains the data, etc.). What we must realize is that history is not just the study of events, people, and places. It is not just neutral facts. “All historical study begins with a concept of the nature of man. A historian tries to discover not only what actions occurred at a particular time but also why they occurred.”2 Therefore, what one believes about man, about the world in which man lives, and about how or if the world is governed by a greater power affects how history is written, interpreted, and taught.
History books that are written by non-Christians teach history differently than a Christian would teach it. Again, history is not just a neutral series of facts and dates. First of all, the facts and dates themselves are changed significantly in a non-Christian (secular) history. Because unbelievers, by definition, do not believe the Bible to be historically accurate or historically true, they do not interpret historical evidence in light of the Bible. This problem is most often discussed in the realm of science, but the same problem is true of history. For example (one of many), secular archeological dating places the Old Kingdom of Egypt and the building of the Great Pyramid at around 3000 B.C. However, a literal reading of Scripture places the date of the flood at around 2349 B.C. If the Great Pyramid had been built in 3000 B.C., it would have been wiped out by a worldwide flood. But, as we all know, the Great Pyramid is still standing strong. (For a complete and biblically-correct chronology of Egypt, see this article and its accompanying book.)
As Christians, the question is, do we allow historical evidence to reinterpret what we believe about the Bible (which, as I stated here, changes our theology), or do we allow the Bible to interpret history? But that’s not even an issue for an unbeliever! Of course an unbeliever would choose historical evidence over God’s Word. And they would write it as fact and teach it as fact.
Even more prevalent than chronology and dating changes, the reasons for and meaning in history change in a secular writing. Whereas a Christian would write and teach history as the providential outworking of God’s sovereign hand over all time–understanding that man makes moral choices which impact history within that sovereign plan (indeed, the Christian affirms that morality even exists!)–the unbeliever writes and teaches history from a man-centered perspective. The emphasis in secular history is on the individual, and moral relativism prevails. One sixth grade secular history textbook instructs students to “evaluate both positive and negative consequences. Make a sound decision about which alternative is best for you.”3
Secular history textbooks also embrace cultural neutrality and historical relativism, even going so far as to “endorse and accept degeneracy. Such an approach converts Africa from a mission field desperately in need of God’s saving grace into a sister-culture of equal dignity and character. . . . [The Christian’s] attitude toward pagan cultures is not one of appreciation but of evangelism. The Christian must oppose teaching designed to foster world brotherhood on humanistic terms.”4
Additionally, in secular history textbooks, “sometimes propaganda masquerades as responsible history. . . . Modern instances of such propaganda include . . . ‘new leftist’ interpretations narrowly based on the author’s revolutionary presuppositions without regard to historical accuracy.”5 A humanistic account of history is catechizing our children in what they should believe about a past and about themselves as individuals. In all rights, that past belongs to God. By erasing God from history (and all the other subjects), “the state is able to perpetuate and protect its monopolization over the public square . . . faith and religion [have become] little more than instrumental means by which individuals find personal meaning and purpose for their lives.”6 (For a brief historical look at how secularism has entered education and thereby hidden Truth and hindered our witness for Christ, read this excellent article.)
History is not neutral. Every history book contains a worldview, and the information chosen for that book, as well as how it is presented and interpreted, reflects that worldview. A secular worldview is incompatible with a Christian worldview. One exalts man; one exalts God. One believes man’s findings; one believes God’s truth. Christian parents cannot afford to let their children’s thinking be shaped by a secular view of history. It’s a very subtle lie, and that’s what makes it so dangerous!
My next post will detail some basic characteristics of a good history book which will engage the child’s mind, will, and emotions, put history in the proper perspective, and help your child put all of life in the proper perspective.
About Becky Aniol
Becky holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and music, a master's degree in Christian education, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Christian education. She taught classical upper school grammar, literature, and history and lower school composition and grammar for two years, elementary school music for one year, and Kindermusik classes for four years before the birth of her children. She now loves staying home with her four children, Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline and homeschooling them classically.
- How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 19. Emphasis original. [↩]
- Ronald A. Horton, ed., Christian Education: Its Mandate and Mission (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1992), 113-14. Emphasis mine. [↩]
- Mounir A Farah, Andrea Berens Karls, World History: The Human Experience (New York: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 1999), 179, quoted in Josh McDowell, Knowing Good from Evil. [↩]
- Rousas John Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2001), 42. [↩]
- Horton, Christian Education: Its Mandate and Mission, 123. [↩]
- Stephen Richard Turley. “Classical Christian Education and Public Witness.” The Imaginative Conservative (blog), September 2013. Accessed September 7, 2013. http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2013/09/classical-christian-education-public-witness.html. [↩]