All Christian parents hope their children will grow up to be strong in the Lord, not only trusting Christ for their salvation, but also becoming mature Christian leaders. This requires that they learn how to think biblically, reasoning accurately from Scripture, and that they learn how to inspire others to follow the instruction in the Word. A great exercise in developing this ability to reason from the Word is learning how to “4-R.”

The four R’s are a tool commonly associated with the Principle Approach to Christian education. However, any student can benefit from learning this basic technique. The 4-R method of researching and writing teaches the student how to fully understand a subject, both from a historical and a biblical view. It also teaches the student how to apply what he has learned to any current situation or issue. Students who learn the basic 4-R technique have a useful study method which will carry them through a lifetime of discerning, decision-making, and steadfast faith.

The first “R” stands for “Research.” The student begins with dictionary research (see the sample 4-R project in the side bar), then uses the concordance to find Scripture references. For historical topics, current issues, and similar subjects, the student also researches in the encyclopedia and other reference books. The student makes notes of the who, what, where, when, and why of his topic. He looks at historical documents to see what others have written, and he may arrange interviews to survey others’ views. For most students, the research step takes the longest to complete, but is also the easiest.

The second “R” is for “Reason.” Having completed his primary research, the student must begin to reason out the meaning of what he has found. He begins by considering his Bible research to discern God’s instructions, whether openly stated or implied. He looks at related incidents or instructions in the Scripture, and he considers the verses he studied during the research phase to understand the biblical view.

The third “R” means “Relate.” Information which does not relate in some way to the student and today’s world is meaningless. The student must seek the relevance of his topic and its useful application in his life. He must relate the new information he has uncovered to his current body of knowledge, using his new facts and understanding to “build precept upon precept.”

The fourth “R” stands for “Record.” The student records his findings in writing. This helps him to internalize what he has learned because in order draft a well-written paper, he must organize his thoughts. This leads to further meditation as he ponders the best way to communicate his thesis. Writing also prepares him for verbal presentation of his views so that his new information may be shared with others. Discussing his findings gives him practice in explaining and defending his view from Scripture.

Students who have never used the 4-R process will find it easiest to choose a simple topic, like a character trait. Below is a sample assignment sheet showing how a 4-R project on “Diligence” was broken into steps for the beginner.

Another idea that the beginning 4-R student might try is choosing a short section of Scripture to research. Begin the dictionary work by looking up each key word within the passage. Use cross-references and the concordance to locate related passages for the research process. Beginning projects should focus on the dictionary and the Bible for most, if not all, of the research.

Once a student has tried one of the beginning level projects, he may choose to 4-R any topic of interest, for example, “flight,” or “art,” or even “bread-making.” With each of these topics, and added portion of the research will use reference materials. The student should still begin with the dictionary work to define his terms, then the Bible to understand the Lord’s counsel, then outside reference materials, like encyclopedia, magazine articles, etc.

The more advanced student will enjoy tackling current issues. Learning how to present his thoughts on issues considered more controversial will help prepare him for an active, influential role in his community. Ideas for in-depth 4-R projects are infinite. How about an issue like abortion, “assisted” suicide, freedom of speech, democracy vs. communism, dating vs. courtship, youth groups, the value of missions work, or home schooling vs. government schools?

A great resource to help your student learn to reason from Scripture through the 4-R process is A Guide to American Christian Education for the Home and School by James Rose (published by the American Christian History Institute, 1987.) It includes a chapter on how to 4-R, which has a sample project showing how it is done. Encyclopedia of Bible Truths for School Subjects, by Ruth Haycock (published by the Association of Christian Schools International, 1993) explains the biblical principles of each school subject, providing the student with a useful beginning in his search for Scriptural instruction.

Finally, a word about dictionaries. For this type of research project, an invaluable tool will be The American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828 Edition by Noah Webster (1985 reprinted edition by the Foundation for American Christian Education.) The difference between Webster’s 1828 dictionary and the 20th century “Webster’s” dictionary or similar one which most of us own is that Webster wrote as a Christian, appreciating language as a gift of God. Consider the following definitions of the word “god:”

Webster’s 1828 American Christian Dictionary:

GOD, n.



The Supreme Being; Jehovah; the eternal and infinite spirit, the creator, and the sovereign of the universe.



‘God is a spirit; and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ John 4.



A false god; a heathen deity; an idol.



‘Fear not the gods of the Amorites.’ Judges 6.

Webster’s 20th Century Dictionary:

GOD, n.



Any of various beings conceived of as supernatural, immortal, and having special powers over the lives and affairs of people and the course of nature; deity, especially a male deity.



In monotheistic religions, the creator & ruler of the universe, regarded as eternal, infinite, all-powerful, & all-knowing; Supreme Being; Almighty: often used in exclamations, as, ‘Good God!’ & ‘God Almighty!’

You can easily see that the decision of which dictionary to use in training children will certainly have an impact on their understanding of a subject.

Learning to 4-R is a project worthy of patience and diligence. It is not difficult to learn, however it is time-consuming. A worthy goal, yet one that will bear much fruit, is one or two 4-R projects per year, progressing in depth and complexity each year.

Sample 4-R Project

Note: Each assignment must be handed in for approval before going on to the next step.

Assigned Topic: Diligence

Research, Reason, Relate, Record

Research your topic: Look up diligence in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. Copy the entire definition neatly on your research page. Underline each main word in the definition. (steady, application, constant, effort, accomplish, exertion, unnecessary, sloth, attention, industry, assiduity, heedfulness)


Research: Look up each of the 12 main words in the definition of “diligence.” Write the definition for each.

  • steady, application, constant
  • effort, accomplish, exertion
  • unnecessary, sloth, attention
  • industry, assiduity, heedfulness


Reason: In your own words, write what it means to be diligent, using the information you have found.


Research: In the concordance, look up “diligence” and similar words. Write out five verses which address diligence. Next to each verse, jot down what you think the Lord is saying about diligence.


In the concordance, look up words which mean the opposite of diligence. Write out five verses which address this. Next to each verse, jot down what you think the Lord is saying about the lack of diligence.


Reason from Scripture: In a paragraph or two, write what you have discovered about diligence from God’s perspective. Be sure to use good composition skills. Ask for help if you need it.


Relate to your own life and experience: Think of examples from your own life or observations which illustrate diligence. Brainstorm. Then write a paragraph or two which explain your thoughts, using examples to illustrate.


Relate: Think of examples from your own life or observations which illustrate the lack of diligence. Brainstorm and then write a paragraph or two which use your examples.


Using all your paragraphs, develop a first draft of an essay on diligence. Write a concluding paragraph.


Revise and write a final draft of your paper.

Hal and Melanie Young are the parents of six boys and two girls who were homeschooled from the beginning. Their book, Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys, was Christian Small Publishers 2011 Book of the Year. You can visit their website at join them on Facebook at or follow them on Twitter at Hal & Melanie were the keynote speakers at the 2013 CHEA Bay Area Conference. This article was first published in HSLDA’s Court Report.