Darrow Miller and Friends

EUPRAXIA: Education for Skills is Not Enough

The goal of the Puritan vision for education was the practice of right living.

Noah Webster (1758-1843), the father of American scholarship and education, was in the line of the Puritans and their radical Pilgrim cousins. He was a descendent of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony and America’s first historian. Webster’s textbooks and his dictionary, Blue-Backed Speller, laid the foundation for cultivating a biblical worldview in the new nation. His 1828 Dictionary captures the language of liberty and the constitution. More than that, he preserved the biblical meanings of words as they were used in the world’s first Christian constitutional republic. As a New Englander, his legacy is rooted in the Pilgrims.

Christ and the Bible were at the center of the Puritan vision for education. Accordingly, Webster makes the same connection: “Education is useless without the Bible.”

America’s worldview of Biblical Theism, per Webster and the Puritans, shifted to the Deism of the French Revolution (1792-1802) partly through the influence of Horace Mann (1796-1859). This trajectory was continued by the influence of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) whose theory of evolution (1859) justified an atheist worldview, the framework that powerfully shaped modern secular education.

Horace Mann, the secularists’ “Father of American Education,” saw the public school as the “great equalizer,” to bring “social harmony” to the community and nation. Mann separated knowledge from virtue. The Puritan vision of Eupraxia was jettisoned.

Compare that with one of the authors of the First Humanist Manifest (1933), John Dewey (1859-1952). Dewey’s vision for American education was acquiring technical skills for a consumer society. He was a secularist whose goal was to remove from the public schools all references to God. People only have value as they can contribute to the common good. Dewey moved the goal post from a body of knowledge to practical skills.

Thus was the robust, practical Puritan vision of Technologia reduced to knowing things and gaining skills to participate in the global consumer economy.

education according to Puritans

Dr. Leland Ryken, Professor of English at Wheaton College, writes in his book Worldly Saints:

The Puritans were par excellence the people who saw God in everyday events. They wrote diaries in which they traced God’s grace in their daily lives. They confidently expected to find God in “the milk-house, the stable, the barn, and the like, where God [visits] the soul.”

God is the God of the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. His hand is equally evident in a field of flowers and in the grandeur of the billions of galaxies that make up the universe. For the Puritans, every act of life and work was sacred. It was the application of the circle of knowledge in everyday life, including one’s vocation, that distinguished the Puritan approach to culture and nation building.

The forefathers of the Puritans, the European Reformers, wanted to reform all of life, as captured by their Latin motto Reformatio Vitae. To accomplish this they needed a comprehensive framework, what became known as Technologia.

The Reformers, as the Bible posits, saw the church as the primary agent for the transformation of society. Thus, not only the purpose, but also the structure of the church was to bring reformation to society. To disciple the culture they needed to teach the cities  and the nations to obey all that Christ commands (Matt. 28:18-20).

Our dear friend Dr. Elizabeth Youmans, educator par excellence, writes:

Pastors were the key influencers of this era. They were the educators in the communities. They taught young boys during the week and their sermons, which often lasted several hours on Sundays, taught the adults. In the colonial era, pastors’ sermons were passed through the congregation and fathers would dissect the sermon at night around the fire with his wife and children. He would re-teach the principles contained in them and help his children learn how to reason with truth and apply it to their own lives. The sermons of this era was the library of the general public. They were used mightily by God to educate several generations, who are now said to be the most literate of any generation in history. The Bible for the Calvinists was their primer of education and their political textbook.

John Calvin, the French pastor and Reformer in Geneva, believed that the church had the primary teaching role for the entire society. The church was to help shape the conscience of the nation. They followed a threefold strategy: preaching the gospel to individuals, teaching the city, and expecting application by both individuals and society. Here we find the root of Christian internal self-government based on Veritas and the circle of knowledge.

Discipleship was not limited, as it often is today, to spiritual exercises – teaching believers to pray, read the Word, worship, fellowship, and evangelize. These are essential, but not sufficient for reforming a society.

Disorder in the individual or family life leads to disorder and poverty in society. A society cannot move out of poverty until minds and hearts of individuals and families are in order. Individuals were expected to take responsibility to govern their own lives and their families. Part of this self-governance related to work, thus the Protestant Ethic–Work, Save, Give—that led to the economic transformation of those nations touched by the Reformation.

The Reformers in Geneva understood that the church has a teaching role in society. It is to fill the city and the earth “with the knowledge of God.” Calvin and his fellow Reformers studied the scriptures to see how they applied to all areas of life. The church became the educator of the city. New converts were taught the implications of their new faith in all areas of life. The church has the task to contribute to the building of the city or the nation from the foundations of a Biblical worldview, and Biblical principles, to bring a moral and metaphysical vision to the nation. Pastors and civic leaders came from all over Europe to see the Geneva “laboratory” – a city experimenting with applying Biblical patterns to all of life.

It was Jesus who confronted the darkness of this world with the words: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” John 8:12. Then Christ pivots to proclaim to his followers:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5: 14-16

The reformers in Geneva took the words of Christ seriously. Geneva became known as “The Protestant Rome” and “The City Set on a Hill.”

Geneva became a light for Europe and for what would later become the United States. The light spread from John Calvin’s (1509-1564) Geneva to John Knox’s (1514-1572) Scotland, to Puritan England (1660s) and finally to Puritan “New England” (1620-1680). The First Great Awakening (1734-1750) of Jonathan Edwards led to the founding of the new nation – the United States of America.

The concept of Geneva’s City on the Hill came to America through the wealthy English Puritan lawyer, John Winthrop (1587/8 -1649). Winthrop was the “CEO” of the venture capital corporation Massachusetts Bay Colony (a business enterprise) and twelve-term governor of Boston. While on the ship Arabella, on his way to the new world, Winthrop preached the sermon “A Model of Charity.”

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God.

David Scott wrote that Winthrop’s sermon represented “a Christian model of commerce built on the radical precept of divine love. The entire text of the sermon is about business ethics, about the importance of the gospel changing the way we view how we actually live at the office.”

He continues:

The Christian piety of Puritanism pervaded society to a large degree because Integrationists extended the development of their Christian mind to include its practical applications to the working occupations. A great tragedy of the current meta-physical void in the Christian worldview is the loss of this Christian understanding of work and vocation.

Today, because of this vacuum, instead of discipling our nations, the nation disciples the church. Because the church has lost the Puritan vision for education, she lacks the theological foundation for nation discipling. The modern process looks something like this: The church tries to speak relevantly to the culture and thus often adopts the language of the culture. Then she makes accommodation to the culture and ultimately is held captive by the culture.

For the church to disciple the nation, she must be rooted and grounded in Truth and the circle of knowledge. The language of scripture should be the language of discourse; theological language is to shape the mind and speech. The church, rather than accommodating culture, needs to call the nation to kingdom culture – truth, beauty, and goodness.

Noah Webster, the founder of early American education, was America’s first lexicographer. Webster watched the rise of atheism in Europe, and the French revolution which sought to establish a society free from religion as opposed to the American concept, freedom of religion. He understood that a nation would be shaped by her words and that whoever defines the terms would define the nation. He understood the need for the new nation to have a dictionary based on a Biblical worldview and principle. Such a lexical reference would be a powerful influence to form or reform government, education, the arts, science, and family. So he labored from 1808, when he came to Christ, until 1828 to define the words that would build a nation specifically grounded in Biblical worldview and principle. Those today who want to learn from the Puritan vision, and/or to reform their nation around a Biblical worldview, would do well to make friends with Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.

The church is to be the force for emancipating the city and the nation to live in freedom in the marketplace and the public square.

David Scott explains the importance of Eupraxia as applied in the market place, the arena of vocation:

Vocation functions spiritually as a kind of performance art—a participation in God’s ongoing mission for creation. The human being as an artisan can follow in the footsteps of the Divine Artist. Through this circular pattern of the created order, humanity can fulfill its cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-28) and return glory back to God.

Our good friend Dr. Christian Overman summarizes the importance of the Puritan Vision of Technologia:

Work, at its core, is an act of governance. Governance over wood, metal, cows, cotton, and carrots. Governance over sound waves, electrical currents, and wind. Governance over computer keyboards, fiber optics, and digital images. Governance over people. Governance over things. Governance over ideas.

For more on this see Dr. Overman’s excellent article The Missing Curriculum of God Centered Work.

At one time, education in the United States was rooted in Technologia. Consider Harvard’s motto: Cristo et Ecclesiae – For Christ and the Church. Or the motto of Yale: Urim and Thummin Light and Truth.

To restore America—to build godly nations—we need to return to the Puritans’ comprehensive and Christ-centered concept of Technologia.

– Darrow Miller

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).


  1. Dennis Warren

    July 20, 2012 - 10:38 am

    I’m thinking some folks may benefit through knowing we can read the 1828 Webster definitions via several free on-line sites … (e.g. you can google ‘websters 1828 dictionary online’)

    Below is a link for the definition of “Liberty” from one such site:


    I have found it’s usually very helpful to read through all of the definitions for the word – ( I have been using Webster’s 1828 Dictionary for several years now, first via PDA and now smartphone devices, e.g olive-tree’s comprehensive Bible reading / with related study books software – allows the purchase of the the full 1828 Dictionary for off-line reading, etc…). I’ve also used it it offline on the PC, through Bible study software such as SwordSearcher.


    • admin

      July 20, 2012 - 2:32 pm

      Thanks, Dennis. Great tools there.

      Gary Brumbelow

  2. Jon Davis Jr.

    July 20, 2012 - 1:19 pm

    A great quote from this article:

    “Discipleship was not limited, as it often is today, to spiritual exercises – teaching believers to pray, read the Word, worship, fellowship, and evangelize. These are essential, but not sufficient for reforming a society.”


    • admin

      July 20, 2012 - 2:33 pm

      Yes, indeed, Jon. Thanks.

      Gary Brumbelow