The unique culture that exists at Arma Dei Academy is not, in fact, a product of any effort on our part to be countercultural per se. It is not, in other words, a product of persistent crankiness or contrariness in relation to present-day Western thought and practices. It is, rather, a product of persistent efforts on the part of Arma Dei’s faculty and staff to glorify God by providing an excellent classical Christian education founded upon a biblical worldview, an education that equips students to live purposefully and intelligently in service to God and others. Our school culture, to put the matter another way, is a fruit of faculty and staff who are committed to helping students discover their identity and purpose in the biblical truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, that they are guilty and corrupt by virtue of the Fall and their own sinful actions, and that they are redeemed through Jesus Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death in their place. Arma Dei’s culture is a product of faculty and staff persistently inviting students to grow into the extraordinary identity—sons and daughters of the living God—that they have been freely given through faith in Christ’s person and work and to reflect Christ’s sacrificial service to them in their relation to God and to others.
Of course, a culture that properly reflects such biblical truth will, de facto, find itself out of sync at significant points with the beliefs and values of present-day American (or, more broadly, Western) society. The principal junctures at which the culture of Arma Dei Academy chafes against contemporary Western beliefs, trends, and mores are, I suspect, readily apparent to anyone who has spent time in our classrooms or in substantive conversation with the families that comprise our community. Contemporary culture, to name one such point, defines freedom as the absence of all restraint upon choice, and so invites children of increasingly young age to “freely” choose the most basic elements of their identity (their ethnicity, their gender, etc.). At Arma Dei Academy, by way of contrast, we unashamedly invite students to align their self-perception and sense of self-identity with those truths about them determined by their Creator. We simultaneously invite them to experience true freedom—the freedom that comes from aligning one’s self-perception, objectives, and choices with one’s proper, created nature. A fish, after all, is most free when it swims, not when it chooses to become a bird and leaps from the water in an effort to fly! Students, likewise, are most free (and most fruitful) when they align their self-understanding and their choices with aspects of their person established by God both in creation and in their redemption.
Contemporary culture, to name another point, identifies the pursuit of personal happiness, no matter (it seems) the moral cost, as the inalienable right and proper objective of every human being (and so of our children). We name every individual’s chief end as the pursuit of God’s glory. The insistence that we are creatures, created for the glory and the delight not, ultimately, of ourselves, but of our Creator, is intrinsically opposed to contemporary culture’s deluded philosophy of human origins and correspondingly self-centered philosophy of right living. But the culture that we pursue at Arma Dei—one characterized by persistent pointing to God as both our Creator and the Goal of our lives—reaps significant dividends for students. It orients them toward the eternal joy of right relationship with God, and so away from the transitory happiness that this world regularly promises. It equally orients them away from service to self—a cardinal virtue in contemporary society—and toward joyful, sacrificial service to God and others.
Contemporary culture, to name a final point of difference, invites children of school-age to assume the posture of consumers in relation to society as a whole. It simultaneously gives them much to consume, no matter the consequences for their mental, emotional, or physical health. Our modern world is inundated with products aimed specifically at youth—video games, social media platforms, phones, movies, music, etc.—despite the unambiguous evidence that the regular consumption of such products is detrimental to the cognitive development, mental health, and social skills of young people. At Arma Dei Academy, we invite our students to assume the posture of contributors rather than consumers in relation to society. We invite our students to ask not what they can take from, but rather what they can give to, others. And we unashamedly encourage our families to restrict, if not eliminate entirely, their children’s access to the various forms of entertainment and/or technological tools of social networking that present-day society so desperately tries to convince them they need. Our reluctant stance towards technology in the hands of our students, and the impact that stance has upon our school culture, is not driven by collective Luddite sentiments. It’s driven, rather, by a desire to equip our students for lives of service to God and others by giving them scope to serve God and others in their lives at present! Our culture’s technological tools, quite frankly, undermine rather than foster opportunities to serve others as Christ has first served us.
Other points of contrast between present-day cultural values and the values we seek to inculcate in our students at Arma Dei could be noted. The bottom line is that, here at Arma Dei, we are in the business of intentionally fostering good citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Phil. 3:20). That business puts us at odds with modern education, which inevitably seeks to produce good citizens of some earthly kingdom or another. We believe, of course, that good citizens of heaven stand to do this earth and its kingdoms considerable good—much more so than earthly kingdoms and their citizens recognize! But we do not take our educational or our cultural cues from any earthly kingdom’s definition of human flourishing. We take our cues from the Word of God, and so from our mandate to equip the children entrusted to our care to live purposefully and intelligently in service to God and others—or, in the language of Scripture, to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).