Rockbridge Academy Blog
This article was written in March 2020 by Nathan Northup, Rockbridge Academy Bible teacher. He went to be with the Lord on November 2, 2023. His legacy will live on through the hundreds of people he loved, served, and counseled, both in his ministry to the church and in the Rockbridge community.
“Kick in the gates of hell! I’ll see you on the other side!” is the charge I imagine a great military commander bellowing out to his troops as they storm forward with swords raised high to take captive the great fortified city: Death. The Lord Jesus Christ said that the gates of Hades (death) will not prevail over His Church. As Christians, we know that we have been delivered from the dominion of sin and death and into the glorious kingdom of our Lord and thus enlisted as soldiers in the great battle, not against flesh and blood but against the principalities in the heavenly places.
In particular, here at Rockbridge Academy, our very motto is to TAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE and make it obedient to Christ Jesus. The principle is clear throughout the Christian Scriptures that WORSHIP IS WARFARE when we consider all the oddly warlike language used to describe our journey. Every baptism, prayer, song, sermon, sharing in the body and blood of Christ, hearty joyful giving is an act of war. This war is waged with faith, hope, and love. We’ve been given weapons for offense and elements for defense. We desire that God destroy all of His and our enemies by capturing their hearts and adopting them into His family, enlisting them in His army, converting them to change their allegiances. We pray and preach and praise to this end. So then, when we gather as God’s New Covenant people for corporate worship, we have drawn our battle lines, and we go to war. All who are in this battle were once on the other side of the field and were graciously conquered by our triumphant King who leads us in His glorious procession.
This is why, every Monday in the Dialectic Bible classes, I ask for war stories. These war stories are testimonies of what God was doing in their life during the battle in the previous Lord’s Day corporate worship. Most of the time, the students testify to the Word of God given by their pastors, but we also hear stories of baptisms, confirmations, first communions, missionary testimonies, and more. I will sometimes jest that very rarely, if ever, have I had someone come back from the battle and testify to what a great encounter they had with the only true and Triune God during the tithes and offering portion of the service.
When all is said and done, I desire for my students to see the hand of God working in their midst and to rejoice in what He is doing as He works through them to destroy evil in our lives and the world around us. When we head off to worship Christ our King, let us kick in the gates of Hell so that when we have overcome on that great Day, we can look back across the battlefield and raise our swords and glasses to the One who has overcome and trampled down death by death giving us His very life that we may conquer and live with Him!
When all is said and done, I desire for my students to see the hand of God working in their midst and to rejoice in what He is doing as He works through them to destroy evil in our lives and the world around us.
A culture that plans for, prepares for, and carefully nurtures the principles of faith, family, and freedom over long generations will in the end prevail.
What comes to mind when you think of the Scots? Until recently the cheer “Go Scots!” did not resonate with me. It resonated because of repetition but had little connection to anything deep or meaningful. This was strange considering I spent twelve years in school at Rockbridge Academy and played soccer at the time our mascot was introduced. My desire to understand why the Scots are a fitting Rockbridge mascot was fueled by the realization others were asking the same question. I have coached the middle school girls’ soccer team for two years now, and if the chatter on the sidelines is any indicator, I do not think we know what we mean when we say, “Go Scots!” It does not refer to the Scottish terrier, and it is spelled with one ‘t’ not two. Time and tradition have ingrained the Rockbridge Scots into our collective memory, but if pressed could you give an answer for who the Scots were and why they are a fitting mascot for our school?
When I played soccer for Rockbridge in middle school, we did not have a mascot. “Go Rockbridge!” was our cheer. However, by the time I entered high school, a mascot was bestowed upon us: the Scots. My class, the class of 2011, boasted our very own bagpiper, Rob Schonthaler. He often played his bagpipes at soccer games. This made quite the impression on visiting teams and fueled an initial tidal wave of excitement for our new mascot. Rockbridge was finally like all the other schools…or was it?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a mascot is a “person or thing that is supposed to bring good luck or that is used to symbolize a particular event or organization." From the French mascotte, the term was popularized by composer Edmond Audran’s comic operetta, La Mascotte, in 1880, a story in which a household fairy brings good luck to an Italian peasant. However, a mascot should be more than a talisman. I suggest in the context of a Christian school, the mascot should represent a standard to which the school holds. At Rockbridge Academy our standard is Christ. Our aim is to help students see Christ in every subject so they may serve Him wholeheartedly in thought, word, and deed. What is a fitting image for this standard? The Scots, a people captivated by the glories of Christ.
A focus on faith, family, and freedom contributed greatly to the Scots’ success and influence on Western civilization. These characteristics were especially notable between the end of the 5th century through the end of the 8th century AD. The Celtic church was established during this time due to vibrant missionary work. The Scots were few in number and occupied a small geographic area, however their faith in Christ proved to be a solid rock on which their culture flourished. Their faith informed all spheres of life. The church was synonymous with the local gathering place, a center for worship and dialogue on societal matters.
For the Scots, catechism and discipleship were the means by which the younger generations were trained in the faith. The family was the wellspring of society. Families were organized by clan. The clan structure produced fierce loyalty and a sense of belonging. Bagpipe tunes were used strategically as a gathering tool for clan meetings and in battle. Each clan was identified by a unique tune and tartan. In keeping with the Scots’ traditions, Scotland the Brave has always been played at Rockbridge graduation ceremonies. While the song was written in recent years, it harkens back to the gathering tunes of old.
Alongside faith and family, the Scots held freedom in high esteem. The Arbroath Declaration of 1320 was the first legal document of its kind to uphold notions like an individual right to life and liberty, separation of powers, and checks and balances. The United States owes much to the Scots as forerunners in the fight for freedom. A people committed to following God and taking the task of stewarding their time and talents well produced generations of believers whose impact on Western civilization is beyond measure. As Dr. George Grant says in his lecture, Why the Scots?, “a culture that plans for, prepares for, and carefully nurtures the principles of faith, family, and freedom over long generations will in the end prevail.”
The Scots—this is our mascot, our standard. We are a small school, but our hope is to make a worldwide kingdom impact. We are unashamedly Christian, come alongside the family in training their children, and seek to lay a solid educational foundation for future generations. We train our students for greatness.
The Scots—this is our mascot, our standard. We are a small school, but our hope is to make a worldwide kingdom impact. We are unashamedly Christian, come alongside the family in training their children, and seek to lay a solid educational foundation for future generations. We train our students for greatness. Now, when you think of our mascot, I hope you think of the cloud of witnesses, especially those faithful Scottish saints who have gone before us. May the principles of faith, family, and freedom be our tune and our standard as we look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Go Scots!
One year ago, Mr. Northup retired from teaching at Rockbridge Academy after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Mr. Northup greatly impacted my life so when I was given the opportunity to write about his life, I took it. This article is dedicated to Mr. Northup and his family for their 17 years of love and support of Rockbridge Academy.
I know many of us are wondering how he is handling the cancer, but more so why he, of all people, got cancer. Mr. Northup was one of the greatest Bible teachers I (and all of Rockbridge) could have asked for. He displayed his faith in every word and deed, and his love for his students and the subjects he taught was unmatched so, why did Mr. Northup get cancer? This question can be restated in this infamous question: why do bad things happen to good people?
That was my main question for Mr. Northup, and he answered it. Before I reveal exactly what he said, make sure to actively look for the providence of God in Mr. Northup’s life throughout the rest of this article.
Mr. Northup was born in Rhode Island and moved to California a year later. At eight years old in California, he dreamed of becoming a real-life Tarzan but he had two problems preventing him from becoming the rope-swinging monkey-man. For starters, he lived in California, and one cannot be Tarzan when climbable objects are limited to a “cactus and a palm tree in the backyard.” This problem was solved when he moved back to Rhode Island the same year where trees grew as commonly as the California cacti. His other problem was more serious: he needed a Jane, but where to find the perfect girl? He did not need to look far; across the street lived the future Mrs. Northup, Merry Dupre. Mr. Northup said that from a young age he knew he was going to marry her. If she made a great Jane, which she did, then she would make a great wife. Obviously, he convinced the girl across the street that he was worth keeping around as they have been married for 27 years and have had five children.
Mr. Northup’s youth in Rhode Island involved street fights and big older brothers. Our teacher was small for his age but hotheaded. He was known for roughhousing and the kids on his street beat him up multiple times. However, they stopped picking on him after Merry’s brother began looking out for him. Her brother was big and strong with a statement 70s hairstyle, a mohawk.
While Mr. Northup had his fair share of fighting, he also spent a good amount of time in church. He was brought to church as a child, but only began searching for God in his teenage years. He told me that, “Everyone at church had a testimony but I didn’t.” Mr. Northup decided to change that by becoming a rebel until he had a good story to tell.
Mrs. Northup said this time was short lived once they had their first child, Samuel, when he was 17 and a daughter, Nadia, at 18. With two children and little stability, Mr. Northup decided to start bringing the family to church, but he made a mistake and joined, as he called it, a “cult” instead. The church that the Northup family joined preached that one’s salvation depended upon their daily missionary work. One had to share the gospel every day to a random stranger to secure their own salvation. Mr. Northup realized that this teaching did not match his understanding of the Bible from his youth. The dissonance between his understanding of the Bible from childhood and what this church was preaching lit his heart afire for God and truth.
Mr. Northup was hungry and curious to know God’s word, so he sought out the youth pastor from the church he grew up in and began a mentoring relationship with him. To make ends meet he worked as a mechanic until he pursued seminary at age 20. He brazenly decided to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. At first, the college rejected him but that did not stop our teacher. He caught a flight from Rhode Island to Chicago to meet the admissions board face to face. He told them, “I am going to come, but how do I do this?” Seeing the passion of this young teacher changed the hearts of the board. Mr. Northup’s grades were not great, and he was behind in the necessary schooling, but his heart was ready to tackle any obstacle presented to him. The college offered him a deal: he would take night classes until he was ready for full admission into regular daytime classes. Eventually, Mr. Northup worked his way up to those daytime classes and even earned a full ride. During this time, he moved his family out to Chicago and received free housing from a nearby church in exchange for his cleaning services. His living costs were low, so he only had to provide food for his family. Thankfully, the window washing business was booming and he received a job cleaning windows for around $100 an hour.
Here, Mr. and Mrs. Northup had their third child, Josiah. After finishing college with a wife and three kids, he moved back to Rhode Island, desiring to impact children’s lives. He first thought about working at summer camps, but a week or two was too short to create a lasting impact. He then considered becoming a pastor, which he did for three years, but he still wasn’t achieving his goal of teaching children. He decided to change careers once more and become a teacher.
The first and only school Mr. Northup taught at was Rockbridge Academy. When deciding where to teach, Mr. Northup and his wife asked the question, “Who do we want our kids to be?” They came upon this one, strange way of teaching called classical Christian Education. They fell in love with the idea of teaching children with a focus on the liberal arts but centered around Christ. Mr. Northup told me concerning classical Christian Education, “This is the way Christians ought to be training their kids.” The Northups found a classical Christian school called Rockbridge Academy which they thought embodied the classical Christian spirit and teaching they desired for their kids. Mr. Northup applied to work here and hit it off with the school board, landing the job for a Bible teacher. He served at Rockbridge for a total of 17 years and during this time, had two more children, Luke and Emma. I asked him which Bible class he enjoyed teaching the most and he answered, “Christ in the Old Testament . . . We get to explore the question ‘where specifically is Christ?’”
Sadly, as we all know, Mr. Northup has left Rockbridge and pursued treatment for his cancer. He said that in these hard times, his wife, Merry Northup, has been his continuous rock and constant companion, a true helper. He is also very grateful for the time he can now spend with his immediate family and his three grandsons. God’s providence, which has shown itself time and time again, is clearly woven throughout Mr. Northup’s life. God has provided in countless ways from protection in his youth to free housing in college and ultimately a job at Rockbridge Academy. To end this story, I want to provide you with Mr. Northup’s answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” He said, “This sounds cheap, but I don't think that people are good; I think that God alone is good and He's gracious. I don't expect that I should get things because I'm good or because I'm not. He is. That's one part. The rest is grace. He's been gracious to me with everything from my family to provision. I don't expect that I should be taken care of. Everything is grace. I am grateful for the provision of my family. I can't do anything more than simply be grateful. I don't know if that's the right way to think about it, but that's what I think.”
Hannah Bates is currently in 11th grade and a member of the Rockbridge Review (student-run school newspaper) editorial team.
VISION and MISSION
Talk to any business guru, and you will encounter the terms vision, mission, and values. If vision is an institution’s overarching reason for being, mission describes the work they do to achieve this vision. Meanwhile, values (often called core values) are the collective beliefs and behaviors required of those who partake in the mission and subscribe to the vision.
Is all this just pragmatic business banter? No. At its foundation, the vision-mission-values triad reflects the heart of God. If God himself had the vision to create a universe, set about a mission of redemption through His Son, while continually calling his people to live out the values of a kingdom, then we as a Christian school should emulate the pattern, both in form and content.
What is the vision of Rockbridge Academy—the intent behind why we exist—in the first place? What role do we play in this little corner of God’s kingdom? Space does not allow us to print our multi-paragraph vision script (Click here to find Our Vision. It’s worth the longer read!), but if I were to unofficially summarize the Rockbridge vision in a statement, I’d simply say it this way:
Rockbridge Academy exists to be a transformative learning community, graduating young men and women as thinking, compassionate, and intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, Rockbridge Academy’s mission statement brings greater focus to how we go about realizing this vision. If you look on our homepage, you’ll see a condensed version of our overall plan of action, stated more fully here:
To partner with parents in a distinctively classical and unwaveringly Christian education for their children, encouraging the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty in all of life.
Thus, confident in our vision to graduate thinking Christians, and having our mission set before us to do this through classical Christian methodology, we gird our loins in anticipation for the first school year unified on the Evergreen Campus as One Rockbridge. So far so good.
Nevertheless, just like Nehemiah surveying the walls of Jerusalem, tracing his way from tower-gate to tower-gate before proclaiming his intent to reset their foundations, it is worth tracing our way back through Rockbridge history to enumerate the core values that make us who we are. Faithful Jews surveying the wall that defined and laid claim to Jerusalem reflect the importance of rehearsing the distinctives that define our school. As a community then, we lock arms to proclaim to ourselves and to a watching world what it means to be part of Rockbridge Academy.
“There is not one square inch in the whole domain
of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all,
does not cry, Mine!”
CHRIST AS CORE
First and foremost, we acknowledge that our identity as a school flows from one person, Jesus Christ. We joyfully submit ourselves to his Lordship. We proclaim along with early 20th century Dutch statesman, Abraham Kuyper, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
If this truth does not permeate all of what we do as a school so that our students grow up in the humidity of God’s sovereignty, all is for naught. When we gathered through the summer as staff and board to assemble the core values of Rockbridge Academy, the centrality of Christ was the refrain, because He is the source from which the following five values flow:
We joyfully mine the content and pedagogy of a tradition that edifies our humanity in its celebration of truth, goodness, and beauty, while equipping us to see the integration of all things under the lordship of Christ.
You see, the best way we’ve found to raise up thinking disciples of Jesus is to leverage classical education because it not only frees our children to think through the tools of learning (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric), it also captivates their hearts with truth, goodness, and beauty, and uniquely proclaims the unity of all subjects. All of this allows us to point students to the fact that all of life coheres under the Lordship of Christ.
We believe education is a command of God to parents, who actively partner with teachers to pursue Christian discipleship of their children’s heart, mind, soul, and strength.
We need look no further than Deuteronomy 6 in the Old Testament and Ephesians 6 in the New Testament to be reminded that it is the parent’s grand and humbling privilege to daily educate their child in the whole of life [paideia, Gr]. From academics to etiquette, tying shoes to reading to respecting mom, parents are entrusted with an 18-year (and further) discipleship program to grow up their children. Meanwhile, the school comes alongside to provide and reinforce what is needed through these years. Daily, parent and teacher shoulder together in this effort. Partnership is paramount.
MY LIFE FOR YOURS
We seek in every situation to empty ourselves with love for others, encouraging adults to mentor students and older students to mentor younger, with everyone learning to serve from union with Christ.
Contrary to our children’s universal aversion to emptying the dishwasher at home, we find that students love to serve. Young men and women long to be reminded of the masculine and feminine reality of the adults they are becoming. Boys love to demonstrate their muscles at work. Young ladies love to show their resilience and diligence. Entrusting both with sacrificial work in community answers that age old question they long for adults in their lives to answer for them.
Do I have what it takes? Absolutely, you have what it takes!
Do you see me? Yes, beautifully done!
WORK FROM A PLACE OF REST
We find our value and identity in Christ, measuring success by faithfulness, thereby encouraging habits of rest for mind, body, and spirit that fit us for our best work.
School, like any other aspect of life, can be a place where we as individuals—staff, student, or parent—pursue our idols. Idols around success create unrest in our hearts and lead anywhere from anxiety to avoidance to burnout. Rest acknowledges our human limitations, glories in God’s sovereignty, and helps us recall the limitless blessings of Christ. We want to be a school that reinforces habits of rest so that we are continuously restored to pursue our best work.
We prioritize love for one another by pursuing peace at the source of conflict, remembering that biblical peacemaking starts with self-examination, and that relationships are redeemable through the gospel of Christ.
Since its inception, Rockbridge Academy has put a high premium on the strong fellowship required in the learning environment, whether inside or outside of the classroom. The relationships between staff, students, and parents have opportunity to reflect the fellowship of the Trinity either beautifully or poorly. Sin is the reality that infects us all, yet the gospel is the greater reality that redeems even the most desperate breaches in relationships. Peacemaking can be hard work, but biblical peacemaking is essential to reflecting Christ as a community.
It is important to remember that core values are both instructive and aspirational. Core values unify us toward shared understanding and action, yet we acknowledge that even our best efforts to embody such ideals will fall short. Remember, though, that the author of vision, mission, and values is God himself. His sovereign intentions never lack for His abundant supply; therefore, we pray:
Dear Father, as we fully submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ, equip Rockbridge Academy to flourish as an enthusiastically classical community of learners dedicated to parental partnership, faithfully pursuing a relationally redemptive culture in which we work from a place of rest and serve under Christ’s banner of “my life for yours.”
Since 2005, Mr. Nathan Northup has been faithfully teaching Bible at Rockbridge Academy in the upper school. He shares IN THIS VIDEO the heart of why we teach Bible at Rockbridge Academy. More than Bible knowledge, our desire is that each and every student would see and know and love Jesus, our Savior, and that they would be able to evaluate their whole range of life experiences in light of the Scriptures.