Bible Study · Church · Classical Education · Preaching · Uncategorized · Worship

How Classical Education Changed My Preaching or “Let’s Define our Terms”

You may not be aware that my wife and I currently homeschool. Now, we are not one of “those” families whose children don’t see the light of day until they turn 18. Our kids also are involved in dance, library programs, and other community activities.

I want to give a short disclaimer here. Let me also say that I don’t believe that you have to homeschool to be a good Christian. We have a variety of reasons that we have chosen to homeschool. Homeschooling is not the point of this post. The church I pastor includes families whose children are homeschooled, and familes whose children go to  public or private school. We all get along because we are united in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at the center of what we do, not our educational theory.

Years ago when we were considering  homeschooling, one of the first questions we asked ourselves was what kind a educational goals we desired. I’m not necessarily talking about what kind of curriculum we would use but what would be our theory of education. We chose classical education.

I will not share everything about the theory of classical education. Although if you are interested in reading about it click here. Classical education has been used for centuries. In 1947 a woman named Dorothy Sayers helped rejuvenate this form of education. There are now nearly one million children being educated classically in the states right now.

One basis of classical education is what is called the trivium. It’s not just a good form of learning, but Dorothy would say it’s how humans learn best. The trivium is composed of three parts: the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric.

In the United States when we think of grammar we often think of English. But this is really not the case. Grammar is the basics of the subjects and defining your terms. So you can have the grammar of math, the grammar of science, and so forth.

One of the guys in our church, Logan, always reminds us of the grammar phase. Whether in a Bible study, or theological discussion around the fire, you will often hear him say, “Let’s define our terms.” I always appreciate that, because often we talk about things, and if we don’t have a base definition, or our definitions of a word are different, we are not able to have an intelligent conversation without confusion.

The dialectic phase is the part of a child’s life where he learns how different parts of grammar work together. We could also call this the logic phase. The older a student gets the more easily  he or she can handle this kind of information. It’s not that they can’t understand any small part of this when they are younger, but usually it takes time for a child to be able to master this phase.  More wisdom and understanding are required of the student.

Lastly is the rhetoric phase. This phase is developed throughout the teen years. When we think of rhetoric nowadays we think of people who are spinning and twisting information to their desired outcome or yelling about something. That’s not what rhetoric is, or at least it’s not what we would call proper rhetoric.

Rhetoric is a persuasion of the truth whether by written or verbal means. If you have proper rhetoric skills, you can understand what other people believe about the grammar and dialectic phase. After dissecting  it, you can then debate with them about the holes in their thinking. It is the ability to take apart someones false logic, and prove to them the logical means by which you believe.

Again my wife and I hold to this theory of education. This very much simplified  it, but it provides a basic template for what we teach. Too often several things go wrong. Either some jump straight from the grammar phase  to the rhetoric phase, skipping the dialectic phase, and therefore they do not know how things work together. This results in poor rhetoric.

Other times children who are we helped with the grammar stage are moved through the dialectic phase, but never end up making it to the rhetoric stage. They are people who often understand what they believe, but are unable to understand what others believe. They are unable to talk on the rhetoric stage because they don’t understand how other people understand things.

So what does the trivium and classical education have to do with preaching? How can it change the way we have Bible studies at our church, or teach our children theology? I think we need to understand the trivium to understand how people learn in all areas of life. This includes theology.

First we need to give them the basic facts of theology and doctrine. Then we need to talk about the dialectic phase of how certain theologies and doctrines work with other theologies of Christianity. Lastly we need them to understand their side and the other side well enough that they can discuss and engage ideas get a theological academic proper way.

There are several struggles  facing the church today. One is that people entering our churches are less likely to have grown up in church and do not understand theologies of past generations. So when I teach on a passage or subject I want to make sure that everybody understands the grammar phase.

This might slow down teaching a little. But I think it’s worth taking the time to explain basic theological words and doctrinal ideas as I preach. I can’t go back to the basics every time. What I can do is slow down just a little bit to ensure  more people understand Scripture.

For example if I use a theological term like sanctification, I can add to that theological term – “which means spiritual growth.“ Just taking three seconds to add those simple words can help more people understand what we are talking about. The same can be true for describing people of the Old Testament. I don’t assume everyone sitting in the pew has the grammar of Old Testament history from their childhood or previous church experiences.

The problem for a lot of churches is that they often talk on the dialectic phase or, worse yet, on the rhetoric phase when teaching, without laying a foundation. Sometimes that foundation needs to be laid week by week, and other times it needs to be laid over time. Either way we should make sure that our audience understands what we are talking about.

I also attempt to do the same thing here on this blog. The tagline for our blog is “Attempting to make simple deep things of God.” What I’m trying to do is break everything down to an understandable manner so  everyone can learn something. I know I’m not always 100% successful at this but this is the goal that I’m pressing toward.

How does your pastor communicate with you? Can you communicate with him when he is teaching things you don’t understand? How are you communicating the message of Jesus and Scripture to others? Do they know what you are talking about or are you just speaking what we call “Christianese” to them? The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is important, and we want people to understand it.

Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes  or Googleplay.