“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.’” – Proverbs 25:11
A few weeks back we started our series on the six characteristics our school has established as being the most essential qualities we hope to cultivate in our students, called the “Desired Outcomes of GFA Graduates.” These are the six qualities our school board has identified as the most important goals of a GFA education. The first outcome we discussed was that of a sound reason and a sound faith: that our students would leave GFA secure in their faith, having thought deeply about what they believe and why they believe it. Our last newsletter we explored the second outcome, virtue and mature character: that our graduates would be young men and women of exceptional character who impact the world for Jesus through the way they live their lives. Today we move on to our third Desire Outcome, which is that our graduates would possess a masterful command of language.
Let’s start by talking about what the Desired Outcome of a masterful command of language is not: it does not mean that students can speak three languages fluently, or that they have years and years of Latin or Spanish. Instead, a masterful command of language means that our students realize that words are powerful, they can recognize when people are using that power against them, and they can turn that power around and use it for God’s glory. Generations that went before us seemed especially aware of the fact that words are powerful: they can build up, they can tear down; they can bring life, they can bring death; they can persuade and they can criminalize; for example, Proverbs 18:21 reads that “life and death are in the power of the tongue” and the Book of James describes the tongue as a “restless evil” that is like the spark that sets an entire forest on fire.
There is a famous scene from The Lord of the Rings that illustrates the power of language exceptionally well: Saruman had betrayed the Free Peoples of Middle-earth and had sent his army to defeat them; while his army was away, the Ents marched to war and overthrew his fortress, subduing him in the process. As Gandalf leads King Theoden, Aragorn, Gimli, et al. to go and talk to the defeated Saruman, he warns them not to listen to the words of Saruman. Even though they all know of Saruman’s treachery, he is such a powerful speaker that his words still seem sweet and enchanting to anyone simple enough to entertain them; he possesses such a masterful command of language that he is able to convince his audience to reject even what they know to be true.
The power and importance of language and argument is one of the most important parts of what it means to be human that is at risk of being lost in our current moment. Instead of discussing important ideas with one another and trying to use language and sound reason to persuade others, political and cultural personalities instead shout at each other, call each other names, and attempt to have those who disagree with them removed from the public sphere, or what has become known as being “cancelled;” for example, instead of engaging in the argument of whether or not it is good for a civilization to have babies aborted while in the womb, the pro-abortion crowd instead calls the pro-life crowd fascists and demands that no one else listen to them. No civilization can continue in the direction we are headed. Something has to change.
Classical Christian education provides an antidote to the incivility and dehumanizing cancel culture of our day by producing students who can both think as well as articulate great ideas. As important as this is, there is still a piece missing; Hitler illustrated for the world that someone who possesses a masterful command of language can still go very, very wrong. The famous Roman educator Quintilian called the ultimate goal of education “a good man speaking well”; that is, a person who possesses virtue and mature character – GFA’s second Desired Outcome – coupled with the ability to persuade others to similarly become virtuous and mature is the true product of a great education.
Jesus exemplified this idea perfectly. When Jesus spoke, He spoke powerfully, beautifully, and persuasively, so much so that His listeners were willing to leave everything in order to follow Him. As the Book of Acts and the many epistles that follow show, His disciples possessed a similar command of language, and the world was transformed as a result. We hope that as a product of their GFA education, our alumni can go out into the world, speak the good news of the gospel in a persuasive and beautiful way, and see the world similarly transformed to the glory of God.