There are a number of reasons for this growing problem of illiteracy. Despite the fact that the government would like us to believe that the real problem is lack of funding and investment in the latest computerised technology etc., these things count for very little in providing a good education. In Britain the real problems affecting ability to make use of a good education are not lack of opportunity and poverty. Rather they are personal and family problems of a moral and spiritual nature. There is a hierarchy of needs in life for all people, and in the case of children the correct ordering of this hierarchy is essential to their being able to make good use of the educational opportunities before them. An education is of very little value to someone who is homeless and starving. Before one can make use of a good education one needs to be fed, clothed and given a home. Most children have these needs met in our culture. But there is another vital priority that needs to be met before a child can make good use of an education, namely, a stable, loving and disciplined family environment. Without this it is unlikely that a child will be able to make good use of his education, no matter how good that education is. Most behavioural problems afflicting school children today boil down to a deficiency at this level. The Christian ideal of the family—i.e. the married heterosexual two parent family in which the husband and wife remain faithful to each other—is now in a minority in Britain. The decline of this ideal of the family has produced a culture in which a significant percentage of children are having to deal with situations such as their parents going through a divorce, or not having a father or mother, or their single parent’s dysfunctional relationship with the latest live-in partner etc. The emotional turmoil and pain that this kind of family instability causes makes it very difficult for those children having to live through it to make good use of their State-funded, information super-highway saturated education. Until they have their home lives sorted out so that they can develop emotionally in a normal way they will not be able to make good use of their time in school. But do our mamonist politicians take this into account? Not in the least. They do not seem to be able to see past the ends of their own noses. The answer is always deemed to be money. Throw more money at education and we shall get better results. But it does not work. Things get worse not better because the problems are not financial problems, they are behavioural problems that have their root in society’s abandonment of Christian morality. Rather than trying to reverse this problem, our governments seem intent on stripping away as many of the Christian values from our society as they can. They are making the problem worse by their own espousal of secular values and their insistence on the creation of a secular culture. As a result children from dysfunctional families grow up with dysfunctional lives and contribute to the creation of a dysfunctional society in which the values and virtues of being educated (rather than merely schooled) are abandoned. Modern secular values and a highly educated society are ultimately conflicting ideals. The abandonment of Christian family values is one of the causes of illiteracy in our society.
Of course this is not the only cause of illiteracy. Another problem is the way television, and now computers, have changed the way people become informed. Information is not passed on by means of reading to the same extent. To a large extent TV and computers are replacing education with programming. The ability to think critically about the vital issues of life is not on the agenda today. Instead information cramming for the purpose of acquiring a “qualification” (i.e. a certificate) is what matters. This is achieved by drilling not by the encouragement of understanding and critical thought about the real issues confronting the individual and society. And the passive intake of information via the media, TV, videos etc., in which images and the content of the message change constantly and nothing is studied in great detail, seems to have produced among very many people a shortened concentration span and an aversion to applying themselves, perhaps even an inability to apply themselves in a disciplined manner, to thinking for themselves. The result is that people leave school with their heads full of certain kinds of information but with very little understanding, and often no desire to understand the purpose of their lives beyond the mundane task of “getting on” in life. And this brings us to another cause of illiteracy in our society.
The fact is many people just cannot be bothered to use their minds. There are many who do not fall into the category of those who were not able to make good use of their education because a more fundamental human need was lacking in their hierarchy of needs in childhood. They went to school, availed themselves of the opportunities to learn and acquired the skills needed to become educated people. But in the end they might as well have not bothered for all the good it has done them. These are people who simply do not want to be educated, who do not want to understand the vital issues of life and interact with the world in which they live in such a way that they make a meaningful contribution to the development of human culture. Their aim in life is not to make good use of their lives, equipment for which is surely the proper purpose of a good education. Rather, the meaning of life is football, or the next holiday, or getting a better car etc., and the only real purpose of a good education in their eyes is to facilitate their progress up the banal ladder of modern materialism. Such people pass through life passively, resisting by all means possible the hideous idea that any meaningful thought should take up residence in their minds. Despite their ability to use their minds constructively and meaningfully they object to any suggestion that they ought to engage their intellect in life as well as their emotions and passions, and they reject anything that might lead them to do this, particularly if it manifests itself in the shape of a book. This is functional illiteracy, a kind of self-imposed exile from the contemplation of anything meaningful and a refusal to consider using the mind in any way that would compromise this state of intellectual paralysis. There is another and much better word for this condition though: ignorance.
It is particularly troubling, however, that this culture of illiteracy is as strong in the Church as elsewhere, in some respects even stronger. Even many Christians who are able to use their minds and who are required to engage in intellectual activity for their jobs and hobbies will baulk at having to do this in church or in relation to their faith. Ignorance is bliss for many Christians. In one Church house group I attended I was asked by a university graduate in astrophysics to repeat a question I had asked in words of not more than two syllables so that he could understand it—a request that could not even be asked in words of not more than two syllables.
This worship of ignorance, particularly in regard to the doctrines of the Christian faith, has produced a serious deficiency in the Church’s witness to the world. Apologetics—giving a reasoned defence of the faith—is required of all Christians (1 Pet. 3:15). Understanding the faith is not an option therefore, but a requirement of effective witness to Jesus Christ. Emotional testimonies of conversion to the faith and the like will not fulfil our duty to bear witness to the truth of the gospel. We live in an age in which secular humanism has made a frontal assault on the intellectual veracity of the Christian faith, and moreover, in which the Church has, by and large, failed to defend the faith against this assault. As a result many Christians have swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the secular humanist myth of evolution. The facts are out and they stand witness against Christianity in the minds of many Christians no less than non-believers. Instead of challenging this error Christians have come up with “theistic evolution,” which is an attempt to mould the Christian faith into a form that will accommodate the facts as interpreted by secular humanists. But this is nothing more than an accommodation by Christians to the religious apostasy of the modern age. The Christian doctrine of Creation and the doctrine of evolution are based on contradictory religious presuppositions. It is absolutely vital that in our apologetics we make this point clear. If we fail to make this clear and, and having made it clear, fail to hold the non-believer to this point and demand that he address it, we fail to provide him with biblical apologetics that holds him to account for his religious apostasy.
This is why the traditional apologetic method of relying on evidence for the Creator is ultimately futile. It is the fundamental difference between the religious presuppositions of the believer and the non-believer that accounts for the conflict between evolution and Christianity. No matter how much evidence the Christian puts before the non-believer the latter will always interpret that evidence in a non-Christian way because his basic presuppositions about the origin, nature, meaning and value of life are different from those of the Christian faith. In other words, he starts from a different religious perspective, and it is this that accounts for his interpretation of the facts. Facts do not speak for themselves; they are spoken about by human beings with theories about what the facts mean. This does not mean that evidence is of no value, that is does not have a role to play in apologetics. It most certainly does. But arguments from evidence must be set in a context that recognises and exposes the fundamental role that religious presuppositions—the non-believer’s as well as the believer’s—play in understanding and interpreting the evidence. When this is done the theistic evolutionist theory is seen to be no more than a compromise with the presuppositions of secular humanism and the dominant world-view created by those presuppositions, namely the atheist religion of evolution, and therefore just as inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture as the undirected, random evolutionary perspective of the non-believer.
In the past Christians have often been leaders of culture and science not worshippers of ignorance or followers of the latest fads of apostasy. The vigorous intellectual tradition of Christianity is something the modern Church should cherish and emulate. We should aspire to be thinkers for Christ, not mindless morons addicted to chanting repetitive choruses that mean virtually nothing. God requires us to use our minds in his service, i.e. to worship him with our minds (Rom. 12:1–2).
Our appreciation of much of the best in human culture requires us to be educated. The Church has always in the past proclaimed the importance of education and led the way in establishing educational institutions. But why is education so important to the Church’s mission? Not merely because the educated person can “get on” better in life and earn a larger salary etc., but because an educated society can pursue the cultural mandate and the great commission more effectively than an uneducated society can, and as Christian it is our duty to pursue the cultural mandate and the great commission. “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men” (Ps. 115:16). As Christians we are called to develop the earth, physically and culturally, for the greater glory of God and to disciple the nations to Christ. This requires intellectual maturity. Unfortunately, intellectual immaturity as a way of life has become entrenched in the popular culture of modern Britain, and the Church has followed the world in this. If the Church is to fulfil her cultural mandate she must abandon her infatuation with ignorance and apostasy and provide vision and leadership for the world around her, and she must lead the way in developing an ethos of intellectual maturity and integrity that will bear fruit across the whole spectrum of cultural life. This is what the Church has done in the past, however imperfectly, yet with inestimable benefits for mankind as a result, and this is what she must do again. Christianity does not work by magic. God works through his Church—i.e. the members of his body on earth. When the Church is faithful to her calling, when she dedicates herself to the works that God has called her to, the result is the advancement of Kingdom for the greater glory of God and the benefit of the whole earth.
One of the difficult problems we face today is how to get the Church to recognise the importance of her cultural mission once again. Another problem is how to convince Christians that they must abandon the ethos of ignorance and intellectual immaturity regarding matters of the faith that presently hamstrings their ability to pursue the cultural mandate effectively. Until we have addressed and overcome these problems the Church will remain ineffective in her calling to disciple the nations to Christ. A Church that is illiterate in her understanding of the faith and the cultural mandate will be unable to fulfil the great commission. As such she will have lost her saltiness and will be fit for nothing, except to be trodden under foot by men (Mt. 5:13). Unfortunately, this is the sad state of the Church on the whole in Britain today. If the Church in Britain is to recover from this condition she must pursue understanding and intellectual maturity in her practice of the faith. This means that Christians must repent of the culture of ignorance and illiteracy that presently dominates the life of the Church and dedicate their minds to God’s service, as Christ commanded (Mt. 22:37; Lk. 10:27).
1. On presuppositional apologetics see Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company,  1967); A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1969); A Survey of Christian Epistemology (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company). On the importance of religious presuppositions as they relate to scientific work see Colin Wright, “Karl Popper’s Scientific Enterprise” parts 1–3 in Christianity & Society Vol. XI, Nos 1–3 (Jan., April & July 2001); “The Presuppositions of a Christian Scientific Enterprise” in Christianity & Society, Vol. XIII, No. 1 (Jan. 2–3). On the problems with theistic evolution (i.e. Christian compromise with the religion of evolution) see Stephen C. Perks, Baal Worship Ancient and Modern (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 2010).