Passing on Truth

Two events this weekend have got me thinking: the wedding of Angela’s cousin Leslie and the commissioning service of my buddy Mark Brucato this morning at College Church, at which I presided. Here’s the commonality—while viewing the photos of Leslie growing from a girl into womanhood and while seeing Mark develop over the two years of his residency into a mature minister, we have observed a torch, as it were, passed on from one generation to another, a rite of entry that not only grants access to new responsibilities and privileges, but also a change of personal character on the most basic level.

I like how C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) underscores this notion when he explains the necessity of passing on correct teaching to the next generation.

“This very obvious fact—that each generation is taught by an earlier generation—must be kept very firmly in mind . . . None can give to another what he does not possess himself. No generation can bequeath to its successor what it has not got. You may frame the syllabus as you please. But when you have planned and reported ad nauseam, if we are sceptical we shall teach only scepticism to our pupils, if fools only folly, if vulgar only vulgarity, if saints sanctity, if heroes heroism. Education is only the most fully conscious of the channels whereby each generation influences the next. It is not a closed system. Nothing which was not in the teachers can flow from them into the pupils. We shall all admit that a man who knows no Greek himself cannot teach Greek to his form; but it is equally certain that a man whose mind was formed in a period of cynicism and disillusion, cannot teach hope or fortitude.

A society which is predominantly Christian will propagate Christianity through its schools: one which is not, will not. All the ministries of education in the world cannot alter this law . . .1

[E]ven if we were permitted to force a Christian curriculum on the existing schools with the existing teachers we should only be making masters hypocrites and hardening thereby the pupil’s hearts . . .2

To convert one’s adult neighbour and one’s adolescent neighbour (just free from school) is the practical thing . . . If you make the adults of today Christian, the children of tomorrow will receive a Christian education. What a society has, that, be sure, and nothing else, it will hand on to its youth. The work is urgent, for men perish around us.”3


1 C. S. Lewis, “On the Transmission of Christianity,” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology & Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1972), 116-117.

2 Ibid., 118.

3 Ibid., 119.

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