This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Idolatrous Homeschooling

The following is a re-post from an article I wrote last year. Someone asked if I had written anything on homeschooling and I remembered this post. It was an article I wrote in preparation for speaking at a homeschooling conference. Since writing this article, we've had a child begin attending public school. I should probably write a follow-up article on Idolatrous Public Schooling. 

This Friday, I have the privilege of leading two workshops at the APACHE homeschooling conference.  One of my talks is entitled "The Idol of Family."  While Whitney and I have enjoyed our years of homeschooling very much, the homeschooling lifestyle can easily cause my heart to begin to create an idol out of my family.  Homeschoolers face some unique temptations to idolize the family because of decisions they have made regarding the structure of their lives.  

Before I continue, a few caveats:

(1) What I'm saying is not an attack on homeschooling.  It's some "in-house" observations.  All decisions we make can lead to creating an idol of something.  

(2) The idol of family is not a problem exclusive to homeschoolers.  In some ways, I could just switch around some words and give this talk to Christian school parents or public school parents.  If our family went to Peoria Christian School, I'm sure I'd have some observations about the manifestation of idolatry in the hearts of private schoolers.  In the coming years, I'm sure my heart will be challenged as my kids attend public school and I'll have another talk or two about that.  

(3) Don't read between the lines too much.  I'm not trying to launch a veiled attack at anyone.  I'm not really a movement homeschooler and so although I'm aware there are homeschooling "camps" (or militias?), I'm not a member of any, nor do I understand all of the differences between them.  I may be saying some things that sound like an attack on some camps but, to the best of my knowledge, that would be unintentional.  (That being said, maybe the nerd picture is a little harsh...?)

(4) Loving one’s family is biblical.  The danger comes when I set my heart’s ultimate affection not upon God but upon the five other individuals who make up my immediate family.

In my talk Friday, I’ll be defining idolatry, briefly looking at the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2, then considering six signs you struggle with idolizing the family.  Here’s a rough overview of some of the things I plan to say about those six signs.
Six Signs You Struggle with Idolizing the Family 

#1: You abuse your God-given parental authority. 

Homeschooling parents, as they envision the type of children they would like to raise, can become confused regarding the nature, extent, and purpose of their authority.  This leads them to potentially abuse the authority God has given them.
The purpose of parental authority is not to impose our will upon someone else.  As Jesus said regarding the difference between our natural understanding of authority and God’s design for authority among believers: 

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
The purpose of authority in Scripture is to serve.  Parents exercise spiritual authority not by conforming their children into caricatures of themselves but by helping them know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

This doesn’t mean that biblical parental authority is devoid of decrees and dictums that are to be obeyed.  To the contrary, as biblical parental authority is properly exercised, children should be all the more careful to follow their parents' instructions exactly.  But the goal of exercising authority is radically different for the believer who wishes to avoid idolatry.  The parent is mindful of the biblical restraints placed upon his sphere of authority.  There should be a reluctance to go beyond that sphere or impose his will.

Homeschooling parents can struggle with the notion that their children will act in ways that are contrary to their preferences for their life.  Their idolatrous conception of what the ideal family looks like may drive them to exercise authority in realms where it is unwise to do so.
#2: You are motivated not by trust in God but by fear of man. 

God calls us to trust in Him and believe in His good plan for us.  Making decisions regarding  your children’s schooling because you are fearful of people is idolatrous. 
This does not mean we should treat sinful influences in our children's lives lightly.  God has called you to be mindful of the environment you place your children.  If a family decides that the best school for their child for a period of time is in their home, that is wonderful.

Do not, however, be so fearful of the world’s power that you believe God is at its mercy.  A teacher does not have the power to turn your child into a communist or vegetarian.   God still sits enthroned in the heavens and laughs at the schemes of the rulers of the earth (Ps. 2:1-4).
#3: You respond sinfully when your goals for your family are not met.

Our reaction to disappointed dreams reveals what we really worship (James 4:1-10).  When our goals for our family—however noble—are frustrated, the response of our heart reveals whether we were worshipping God or an idol.
#4: You view your children as an end instead of a means.

Hannah desperately longed for a child.  But as 1 Samuel 1-2 makes clear, she did not view her precious child as the end goal.  Even the gift of a child was a means to worship God.
Your children are not the end goal.  Your children are yet another means God has given you to engage in worship of Him.

#5: You teach your children to have an unbiblical view of the family.  

The way many homeschoolers conceive the family is not how the Bible would understand family.  They rightly love the individuals who live in their home, but they are tempted to believe that their familial responsibilities are fulfilled by simply meeting the needs of the nuclear family. 
In Exegetical Fallacies, D. A. Carson addresses “semantic anachronisms.”  Carson writes: “This fallacy occurs when a late use of a word is read back into earlier literature” (33).  The way we center our lives around the nuclear family is a recent cultural phenomenon.  When we encounter the family in Scripture, we are sometimes guilty of the semantic anachronism of which Carson speaks, assuming that Scripture understands the family the same way we do in North America.  

It is important to teach children not to idolize the nuclear family.  Our family doesn’t exist simply to meet the needs of the individuals who live under our roof.  We seek to honor and care for our grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and the family of God.

#6: You teach your children to have an unbiblical view of the church.

The unbiblical view family leads to an unbiblical view of the church.  Homeschooling families can become so consumed with their nuclear family that they don’t have the energy or desire to engage in ministry in the local church. In some circumstances, families may even say that homeschooling is their ministry. 
But this attitude is harmful for both the church and the family.  It deprives the church of the vital spiritual gifts that the members of the family possess.  It hurts the family as they fail to experience the joy of serving others.

I pray that God blesses our children as we strive to help the grow in their walk with Christ.


  1. I needed this..especially with homeschooling my son..this has helped regroup and refocus on what the soul purpose is which is to glorify God in all that do..not about me but raising our son to grow into a man with a heart for God

  2. The church as you are describing it IS un-Biblical. God has nothing to do with academic education. But even spiritual education is not going to come from a Christian church. It comes by seeing God in other individuals and in His creations. You do not see that insomebody's home, and God did not create the organized Christian church. Man did that.

  3. Thanks for posting, Anonymous. Your comments address a lot of different issues and are a little off-topic, so I'm not going to really respond to them except to say I'm glad you're reading the blog!