History of SACE
The goals associated with "advancing Christian education" reflect the challenges of many historic settings. However, through the last century and a half of American history, the two central challenges associated with this advancement have been to inform Christian families about the value of a distinctively Christian education, and to convince the public that religious schools are a vital to the education of the American citizenry. The history and name of SACE reflects aspects of this struggle that extend to early nineteenth century England.
Nineteenth Century Society
An organization by the name of “Society for the Advancement of Christian Education” existed in Britain during the nineteenth century. It is likely that this organization inspired some within the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) to propose, in 1892, the same name for a U.S. based society to promote Christian education. This was at a time when many parents were increasingly accepting the idea of common education because it alone was publicly funded, appeared to preserve “American” civic values in the face of a feared Catholic influence, and reflected the growing influence of the philosophically modern academy. The proposed “society” failed to gain support, and public education continued to become distanced from religious roots.
Religion and Culture
Over a century later, the name, “Society for the Advancement of Christian Education” (SACE) was given new life by former missionary, Christian educator, scholar, and strategist, Craig Engelhardt, SACE’s founding director. He describes its origins:
“The genesis of SACE was a love for God and five months of service with Youth With A Mission in India. There, in 1990, I gained a new perspective on people, society, and faith — one that not only linked cultures to religious beliefs that shaped the citizenry, but also viewed cultures as “testimonies” of the nature, power, and priorities of the gods behind the cultures. This was a new idea for an American who had assimilated the beliefs that religion had little relevance to society and society had little relevance to God. A healthy society merely required a “good” (secular) education system and abundant natural resources. I came to find that the qualities of a nation (good and bad) were frequently linked with particular belie
fs about reality. I believed that the poverty and disease I encountered in India were not merely reflections of their education system or the supply of natural resources, but they were the outworking of particular ideologies — ultimately, religious ideologies.
“This association of religion with culture, though new to me, was not new to some of the Indians I talked with. Gods are not always visible, but they are made visible through the individual and corporate lives of those committed to them. I will never forget a market place comment that cut deeply into my heart; as I turned away from buying an otoscope because of its poor quality, the seller, who had traveled in America said, “Yes, I don’t blame you. Your country is Christian and makes superior products, but we are a Hindu nation and we have what is really important. We have families that stay together.” My heart was grieved not because of American family dynamics, but because our divorce rate gave God a black eye. This caused me to wonder about the influence of our movie industry, American business practices, our government’s international relations policies, etc. Did these draw people to want to know the God they associated with America? American Christians may seek to distance God from our culture, but being the majority faith (nearly 82% of the U.S. population is Christian), the association is difficulty to avoid.
“I realized that whereas most Evangelical Christians consider their personal lives and speech to testify of God, few seemed to grasp the ways in which the myriad facets of culture can testify of God. If God is the source of beauty, value, justice, truth, commitment, compassion, fun, freedom, invention, wholeness, relationships, and provision, why did not Christians point to the cultural out-workings of these things as testimonies of God?
“I returned to America with to seek to understand the often subtle roles and foundations “beliefs” play in shaping not only the lives of individuals, but the cultures of nations. In this quest, I visited a spiritually and philosophically strong Christian school (Christian Heritage School) and studied under its headmaster. Here, I not only gained a better understanding of the link between religion and culture, but I found that the school day is vital to the Christian nurture of children. Children must be taught how to associate their faith with life and culture. It requires intellectual and academic rigor to discern how Biblical principles engage the arts, government, economics, family life, etc. I became convinced that without a good Christian education, it is difficult for Christian children to develop the understanding, character, or commitments to shape the diverse aspects of their culture to reflect the wisdom, compassion, creativity, and beauty of God.
SACE of the Twenty First CenturyThough the concern to see God revealed through culture “as a city set upon a hill” was born in my heart in 1990, and many years before me in the hearts of the Puritans and others, it took form as a concern of SACE in December 2009. It does not reflect an exclusivist vision of national superiority, but rather a concern for all nations. SACE hopes to see all peoples and all nations come to wholeness, and it believes that this is best achieved as people come to know and love the God of the Bible and shape their societies through His wisdom. Since this goal involves the broad nurture of the minds and hearts of Christian children, the two central goals of SACE are straight forward: 1) Christian schools must be strengthened to draw from Biblical ideas in all areas, (follow the “Stronger Schools Discussion" and 2) Christian schools must be made available to all interested families (follow the “School Choice” discussion).
In the years to come, it is hoped that SACE and all its members will leave as a legacy, not only children who love the Lord with “all their hearts, souls, and minds” but cultural characteristics that Christians can point to as evidence of the goodness of God!
Society for the Advancement of Christian Education