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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Holy Bible, Book Divine, Precious Treasure, Thou Art Mine"

"It was in every hand; men struggled to procure it, read it eagerly, and would even kiss it. The words it contained enlightened every heart." - J. H. Merle D'Aubigne on the effect of Erasmus' New Testament in England

I decided to count the Bibles in our house today. It wasn't easy because we have so many. Some of them are tucked away on bookshelves. At least one is in a box in the garage. I finally counted twenty complete Bibles: eighteen in English, one in Spanish, and one in German and English. I didn't even try to count the New Testaments. I still have the little red New Testament the Gideons gave me in the fifth grade. Some of the kids have keepsake New Testaments from the church. We also have the New Testament in Greek, but it's hard to say how many other copies are lying around in nightstand drawers or packed in boxes under beds. And these are just the physical copies of the Scriptures we have in our possession. I'm not counting electronic versions or those available via the internet.

In his history of the Reformation, J. H. Merle D'Aubigne writes of Englishmen struggling to obtain a copy of a New Testament that wasn't even written in English. It was a Latin and Greek polyglot translation. Yet even this was so precious that they read it eagerly and kissed it.

And today we keep old Bibles in the garage. Is the Bible less of a treasure than it was five hundred years ago, or have we grown so accustomed to owning the Scriptures that we no longer appreciate their worth? Do we put off reading the Scriptures today because we know that our Bibles will still be there tomorrow and the next day?

D'Aubigne says the words of the Bible "enlightened every heart." There's very little spiritual growth and enlightenment in the Church today. Have the Scriptures lost their power? Or is this just the telltale sign of neglected Bibles?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Natural and Unalienable Rights?

In my previous post, I mentioned The Young American, or, Book of Government and Law by Samuel Griswald Goodrich (1844). I'm still not finished with the book, but what I have read has kindled a few thoughts on "natural rights."

Goodrich, like Jefferson and Locke, believed in the law of nature, or the ability of man to derive moral values through  reason alone. Goodrich teaches that "savage" societies follow natural law. Natural rights descend from this natural law.

Romans 2:14-16 appears to support the idea of natural law:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. [ESV]
However,  I believe it would be a mistake to assume that men arrive at a "law written in their hearts" through nothing but human reason. Consider Romans 1:18-21, which say:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Clearly, verse 19 teaches that God has revealed something about Himself to every man. This revelation is not sufficient for salvation, but it is enough to make every man "without excuse" before God. This is the real law of nature - that God has revealed His divinity, power, and character to all societies, and they have suppressed this truth in unrighteousness.

Natural law gives rise to the concept of "natural rights." Jefferson called these "unalienable" rights in the Declaration of Independence. It is significant that the Bible doesn't speak in terms of "rights," i.e. that which is due to someone by just claim. (Some modern translations use the word "rights," but the underlying Hebrew or Greek words do not connote the meaning we presently ascribe to the word.) The Bible does speak of responsibility, duty, and accountability. So for example, while the Bible does protect life, it does not speak of the "right to life." Instead, it gives all men the responsibility to protect life - "Thou shalt not kill." The Bible does not speak of the right to own property, but it protects ownership by giving all men the responsibility to respect the property of others - "Thou shalt not steal."

The distinction between the "rights" of Enlightenment philosophy and the responsibilities of the Bible is critical. With the former, man is preeminent and God is all but absent. Essentially, the world owes me MY rights. With the latter, God is preeminent, and every man is accountable to God. I must protect the life of my neighbor and respect his property because God says so.

Although Jefferson gives a nod to God as the Creator, the Declaration of Independence does not acknowledge any responsibility or accountability to God. It merely speaks of "unalienable rights," putting man and his happiness at the center of all things. We should not be surprised then that there has been a proliferation of rights. Every special interest group now demands its "rights," and often these so-called rights are in direct conflict with God's Word.

The point of this post is that even when we use "Christian" books for homeschooling, we should read them through the lens of the Scriptures.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Homeschooling with Free E-Books

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the moveable-type press on the Medieval world, and I think the same can be said of the internet and digital media in our day. Billions of pages of information can be accessed in mere seconds. It is truly amazing!

Electronic books are just a small part of the digital world, but their potential influence exceeds that of any social media outlet. Books contain ideas, and ideas change cultures.

I have only recently begun to see the homeschooling benefits of free electronic books. The copyright on a book expires after 75 years. Then that book becomes part of the public domain, and it may be digitized and made available to everyone for free. This means that old textbooks, written during an era when Christianity was the prevailing worldview in the West, are in the public domain. I already knew this, of course, as we have used reprints like Charles Coffin's The Story of Liberty (1875) in our homeschool. The advantage of digitized books, however, is that they are FREE!

As I have been putting together curriculum for next year, I have found some great old textbooks online. I access them on my Nexus 7 tablet through Google Play, but they are also available at Google Books. Some books are also available at The Gutenberg Project, The Baldwin Project, and Internet Archive.

So what have I found? For my soon-to-be-first-grader, A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston. Eggleston helpfully includes both vocabulary and narration exercises at the end of each chapter. Because the book was last updated in 1917, I'll have to fill in the more recent events. We also plan to use New Language Exercises for Primary Schools by C. C. Long (1889). This delightful introductory grammar book is based on the premise that "the child learns by example and practice: not by rules or theory." It is divided into first grade and second grade sections. Home Geography for the Primary Grades, also by C. C. Long, introduces young students to the rudiments of geography (and science). The lessons are written in a conversational tone and include many questions for the student to answer. Poems That Every Child Should Know by Mary Elizabeth Burt (1904) is a multi-level book that begins with simple nursery rhymes and progressively becomes more difficult, ending with poems by Shakespeare, Keats, and Whitman.

The older kids will be using A Practical and Critical Grammar of the English Language by Noble Butler (1874). One of the things I love about these older textbooks is that they begin by introducing students to the first principles and vocabulary of the subject. Examples are taken from the Bible and other classical works of literature. We will also be using Composition-Rhetoric by Stratton Duluth Brooks and Marietta Hubbard (1905). My favorite textbook find thus far has been The Young American, or, Book of Government and Law by Samuel Griswald Goodrich (1844). I haven't finished reading it yet, but I can already see that Goodrich teaches the biblical principles of government as I have learned them from the Foundation for American Christian Education. I am also looking at a couple of geography texts by Matthew Fontaine Maury.

I won't attempt to cover literature in this post as the number of novels, historical fictions, and biographies available digitally is overwhelming.

I do want to offer a word of caution for anyone considering using old textbooks. Though these books generally present a Christian worldview (and often do it better than texts from modern-day "Christian" publishers), you may encounter some out-dated ideas concerning "races." I put that word in quotes, because there is really only one race - the human race. You should just be aware that writers of the past were products of their culture, and they were less enlightened on this subject than we are today.

Finally, you don't need an expensive tablet to use digitized books. I am looking for a couple of used Nook Simple Touch e-readers so that we will have enough reading devices for school. You can also download Calibre or another similar e-reading software (free, of course!) to use your laptop or computer as an e-reader. (Note: Kindles use a proprietary operating system that does not read some file formats. I think there is a work around, but I wouldn't recommend buying a Kindle if you plan on using a lot of old books.)