Reforming Education for Christendom

New College Franklin does education differently.

At no other time in history has higher education been as popular and prolific. Education is highly valued, and even held to be a right of all men. Most western countries mandate at least some years of education, and success in the job market is significantly dependent on the culminating mark of modern education, the degree. In America alone, there are more than 4,000 institutions of higher education, both private and state-sponsored. So it is undeniable that we live in an age of opportunity for higher education.

What is deniable, however, is that truly Christian higher education is readily available. As C.S. Lewis notes, secular education abounds, be it secular in mission or, equally disconcerting, in the form and structure of the school itself. Hence, we state the obvious to say that New College Franklin has not been established because of a scarcity of higher education. New College Franklin exists out of duty; the duty of Christians to Hear the Lord our God is one, and to raise up the next generation in the Lord. That is true education in the Word, and New College Franklin exists to play such a role in reforming education for Christendom.

Education in Modernity

Up to the end of the 19th century, New College Franklin would have been one among many like-minded institutions, since all higher education pursued common goals of truth and wisdom. To be sure, the definition of truth and wisdom these institutions held would vary from the Greco-Roman world to the world of medieval Christendom, but as long as organized bodies of education resembling today’s colleges or universities existed, they shared a definition of education. Theirs was an education that sought to address fundamental questions:

  • What is truth?
  • Who is God?
  • What is His creation?
  • What is man?
  • How is man to love, serve, and worship the Lord God?

Education in modernity no longer asks these questions. Why? The causes are numerous, but one significant event was the Morrill Land Grant Act, signed by President Lincoln in 1862 to establish the Land Grant education system. The Morrill Land Grant revealed a new philosophy of education with implications for how we define mankind. In the place of classical and Christian pursuits in higher education, the goal became vocational-technical training. Education no longer entailed the search for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Instead, it sought pragmatic, utilitarian purposes. Instead of the liberal arts, mechanical arts and agriculture took precedence; and higher education inherited new goals for a new end— a vocational-technical end. As man studies and acts, so he is, and under this new philosophy the culture of higher education treats man primarily as a utilitarian being. This is the predominant mode of education in modernity, and this mode is rarely true education— most often it is training.

This shift has been costly, and human priorities have been misplaced. Most students in higher education now expect college to be job training or certification — goals that reduce the holistic value of a classical college education. The inevitable question for classical studies is: what will you do with that? In other words, what job will that degree afford? These questions do have a valid place in higher education, but not at the front. When the goal of education is utility, man will become utilitarian. When the goal is pragmatic, so is man, and the value of education is grossly reduced — as is man himself. Education that seeks utilitarian ends externalizes the focus of higher education.  The emphasis is on passing a course of study for the sake of a degree rather than for the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that the degree should represent. It is this sort of education-as-training that the prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon elucidates: “I would have everybody able to read and write and cipher; indeed, I don’t think a man can know too much; but mark you, the knowing of these things is not education; and there are millions of your reading and writing people who are as ignorant as neighbor Norton’s calf.” As Quiller-Couch said, higher education is in danger of serving efficiency, while we have forgotten that efficiency is a relative term. Efficient for what?

Cultivating Souls – A Human Education

On the contrary, the ordo salutis provides a helpful model for how education works. The call of the Lord comes from without, but the change is within, and then this change is always externalized. The same is true in education. In other words, education should indeed take into consideration a student’s vocation, but the student, not the vocation, is the proper focus of education. Education that follows this truth imitates the natural order in which the Holy Spirit moves man. True education directs God’s light to the heart of man, and then a flame is lit within that alters every part of him — from within to without.

Scripture is clear that man is called to seek more than marketplace success. Our education is efficient, but it is efficient for a higher calling. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). True education cultivates the spiritual, physical and mental aspects of man into the image of Christ.

For centuries, the liberal arts, the freeing disciplines, have served as the curriculum for this holistic education. The student who encounters the Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) will emerge with a stronger mind and soul that can know and enjoy God and His creation. New College Franklin embraces this classical Christian tradition not to continue a tradition, but rather to see the redemptive richness of this tradition feed Christendom. We stand on this broad time-tested foundation as well as, more specifically, the educational vision of Jan Amos Comenius and Thomas Chalmers (New College, Edinburgh).

Hence all courses at New College Franklin are examinations of our culture emphasizing the basic classical scholastic approach of moral philosophy. Our students are entrenched in the moral drama of history by experiencing the great literary classics of theology, philosophy, poetics, mathematics, and science, including the resulting technological developments. Our curriculum explores the wide sweep of art, architecture, music, and language; and we approach all these disciplines with an emphasis on a Christian life paradigm.

The idea is to study human achievement in context — both in terms of its providential and cultural importance. Out of this integrated understanding of God’s world every other subject and discipline is formed.


New College Franklin exists to meet this need — to offer genuine education of the whole man. In Latin, education <e+ducere> means “to lead out of,” which implies that a student is led from somewhere to somewhere. Hence, there must be a specific goal of education.

New College Franklin seeks to cultivate the next generation of Christians, leading them out of darkness and ignorance through the light of the Spirit into the truth of the Son by the love of the Father. This Trinitarian education is the journey of maturity in Christ, the perfect Whole Man. Moreover, this purpose of education makes New College Franklin a rare opportunity in today’s fragmented culture of higher education. Made in the image of God, man is a Trinitarian being, and thus ours is a reforming education that humbly seeks Trinitarian life.

In an age of secularism, New College Franklin exists for Christendom — pursuing wisdom, discipleship, and mission.