Thursday, March 3, 2011

Transforming Culture

A few months ago the Barna Research Group released findings from a study that found "Six Megathemes" that are characteristic of the Church in the U.S. today. Among the six was this one:

"The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible."

The Barna article explains:
"Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. Partly due to the nature of today’s media, they have no problem identifying the faults of the churches and Christian people."

It was the concern for Christianity's influence on the culture that has motivated much of my work over the past 20 years. In 1991, newly arrived in the Lynchburg area, my wife and I learned of a new school that was practicing something called "classical Christian education." We were intrigued, and the more we learned, the more we knew that this was the sort of education we wished we had been able to have for ourselves, and this was the education we would desire for our children. A few months later, my wife was employed by New Covenant Schools as a teacher, and our sons were enrolled as students. A few years later, I became a member of the school board, on which I served for a number of years. My family and I were blessed in our association with New Covenant for at least 15 years.

From a beginning with about 16 students and volunteer teachers, New Covenant Schools has grown to a student body of about 350 within lovely, modern facilities located on 50 acres off Lakeside Drive. Graduates of this school have gone on to study at many first-class universities, including the University of Virginia, William and Mary, Johns Hopkins, and Duke. Perhaps more impressive in academic accomplishment is the performance of these students on the National Merit scholarship exams. Since 1996, New Covenant has graduated 95 seniors, and of these, seven were National Merit Finalists, and seven more were ranked as commended scholars. As a percentage of total graduates, this is a record unmatched, I believe, in any school, of any size, in the area. Arguing against the trend found in Barna's reseach, I do believe that the classical and Christian education found in schools like New Covenant is positive, lasting, and transformative in the lives of its students and the surrounding communities.

Around 1994, I read Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization. That book changed my life. In it, Cahill describes how, following the upheaval in civilization following the breakup of the Roman Empire, Irish monks in their remote monasteries preserved the learning of the ancient Greeks and Romans by copying manuscripts. It was such a simple thing--copying manuscripts. The monks labored in obscurity. But the fruit of their efforts was the preservation of culture, and indeed the creation of a new culture--classical and Christian.

Inspired by this example, I determined to open Inklings Bookshop in 1995. The purpose was to preserve and propagate learning--to help promote what I saw as the best of the classic literary tradition of the West. It has not been monetarily profitable. But I believe the quiet witness of promoting the good, the true and the beautiful has born some fruit.In modern society we tend to think that bigger and newer is always better. But the recovery of classical learning in schools like New Covenant, and the promotion of literary work in places such as Inklings, shows, I hope, that the life and learning of our ancestors offers great wisdom and promise for ages to come.
For the Barna research:

For New Covenant Schools

No comments:

Post a Comment