Christian Liberal Arts Education
The education system in America has slowly become narrow and less based upon the liberal arts. Rarely does a person enrolled in a school that will challenge them academically and spiritually. Universities are often only concerned in the employment percentage of their graduating class, and not their students’ mental well-being or whether or not they were personally changed during their time on campus. Liberal arts colleges are much more invested in their students and the teachers make an impact on the students.
The universities of higher learning that tend to the mental, physical, and spiritual states of their students in the most holistic manner are Christian liberal arts colleges. Built on the ideas of Socrates and Plato, all liberal arts colleges endorse the ideal that the greatest growth comes from the study of many different subjects. However, it is clearly written throughout Ecclesiastes that everything is meaningless without God (ESV). In order to fully understand the objectives of a Christian liberal arts education, it is first necessary to define the origins of the system of learning. When looking at the definition of the word liberal, the word has a certain meaning of freedom as it is intended to free the mind of the individual who partakes in it. The ancient system is described in the Liberal Arts for the Christian Life as one that “shaped students with powerful results, developing them into the kinds of human beings who could become effective leaders in all areas of society” (Davis 37). Philosophers, such as Isocrates and Aristotle, began to encourage their students to engage in a broad, interdisciplinary approach to learning (Davis 37).Order now
They felt that for their students to best serve society, they should be educated in a variety of different subjects as opposed to focusing solely on one. As education systems matured, a more structured curriculum for liberal arts education began to from. The first century saw liberal arts students studying seven core subjects, to include the disciplines of science, mathematics, language arts, and philosophy. Author Jeffry David notes in The Countercultural Quest of Christian Liberal Arts that “ancient liberal arts learning, then, depended upon reading a diverse selection of core texts with the aim of critical engagement and evaluative judgment” (Davis 38).Around this time was introduced a key to success, Jesus came to earth as a baby born of a virgin mother being wholly God and wholly man. After His death and resurrection, the apostles, newly filled with the Holy Spirit, began to spread the good news—God had visited earth and set a new, grace-filled and humanly incomprehensible, course. In the ensuing centuries, Christianity became a prominent religion. Early Christian teachers and philosophers understood that a liberal arts education was effective as it prepared students for many different aspects of their upcoming lives, but a flaw in this education system was the lack of growing the student’s spirituality.
Augustine speaks of those who study without Christ at the center in Confessions when he wrote, “of this way they know nothing; they think of themselves exalted to the stars and brilliant.” And then later, “They do not find the Truth who is artificer of creation because they do not seek him with reverence…their reasoning grows unsound as they claim to be wise and arrogate to themselves what is yours” (Augustine 78). These claims about the liberal arts education of that time made by Saint Augustine and many others began the implantation of Christian thought and teaching into a liberal arts education.
Thus, a Christian liberal arts education can be defined as an education that actively tries to produce students who are well rounded in all aspects of their life while maintaining God at the center of their lives. The main goal of a Christian liberal arts education is to prepare students for life after university by making sure they are well-rounded in all areas and ensuring God is the center of their life. An additional goal of a Christian liberal arts education is to shape a student’s Christian Worldview. Dr. Philip Ryken explains worldview as “a well-reasoned framework of beliefs and convictions that helps us to see the big picture, giving true and unified perspective on the meaning of human existence” (Ryken 20).
The goal of a Christian liberal arts education is to challenge somebody into considering if their beliefs come from the world or from God. By integrating faith into the curriculum, students view their academic studies through God’s perspective rather than separating their faith from their academics. A proper Christian worldview prepares students to think critically from a Christian perspective in all areas of their lives, becoming effective leaders in many disciplines. A Christian liberal arts education also strives to teach students to seek truth in an intentional way. Christian doctrine proclaims that all truth is God’s truth, and therefore an education should promote curiosity in students who desire to discover God’s truth through all avenues of study and learning. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates exemplifies this idea by seeking truth above all else. When he was on trial, Socrates was willing to die in order to preserve the truth above all else (Plato 25).
An education centered on Christ worshiping and pursuing God’s truth. A Christian liberal arts education integrates Jesus Christ into all areas of learning, teaching students that all truth flows from the Father, therefore students will glorify God with every aspect of their own lives. Another goal of a Christian liberal arts education is to help students form a strong moral foundation that they can begin to build on for their rest of their lives. The integration of faith into academics encouraged students to begin to make decisions based off of moral virtue and ethical reasoning rather than simply reason and intellectual decision making. In addition, because a Christian liberal arts education strives to pursue Jesus in everything that they do, it fosters integrity and stewardship both in and outside of the classroom.
A Christian liberal arts education pushes students to think differently than the typical university student, promoting the pursuit of Christ in all aspects of a student’s life. Ultimately, a Christian liberal arts education strives to teach students to think critically from a Christian perspective, preparing them as leaders for all challenges of life. Augustine’s flaw still remains. As stated in Confessions, “Of this way they know nothing; they think of themselves exalted to the stars and brilliant” (Augustine 104). Therefore, the well-educated Christian liberal arts student and developing leader must never believe that their gained knowledge is sufficient or the singular platform upon which to live life. It is far too often observed that the well-educated and experienced student and then confident leader stops the pursuit of learning and determines that the information gleaned is the pinnacle of understanding. This arrogant state of learning displaces the need for the constant dependency upon God.
The practices implemented by the students of a Christian liberal arts education are an important part of how these colleges achieve their goals. One important practice of Christian liberal arts students is to be active intentional members of their community. God calls Christians to live in community as stated in 1 Corinthians 1:10 when it says “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (ESV) Through building community within Christian liberal arts education, students are able to challenge one another academically and support each other through struggles and successes. In addition, the support received from a Christian community is a key when growing as a Christian.
In Augustine’s Confessions, Augustine shares how his mother prayed for him for years before his conversion (Augustine 101). Christian support like Augustine received from his mother is an example of the community Christian liberal arts colleges build for their students. This type of Christian community supports students throughout their Christian liberal arts education as well as growing in the their own faith. The second practice that Christian liberal arts students should foster is making God at the center of all that they do. Augustine embodies this idea throughout Confessions. His life was a constant prayer to God. He describes his hunger for God when he says, “You have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you” (Augustine 3).
The lives of Christian liberal arts students should be centered on God. Students have a tendency to compartmentalize their spiritual lives separately from their academic lives. When pursuing a Christian liberal arts education, it is important to recognize that spirituality and intellectuality are intrinsically linked. Mark Noll convicts evangelical Christians in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind saying that a long-term problem has been created from generations failing to nurture the life of the mind in the evangelical community (Noll 23). Students should intentionally be chasing after Jesus and faith together throughout their liberal arts experience.
This includes academics, friendships, and extracurriculars. Lastly, Christian liberal arts students should be gaining knowledge from the material they are learning. For example, when reading or completing an assignment, it is important to not just do the bare minimum to get an A, but rather, fully engage in the material to grow intellectually and spiritually. God can speak through academic materials as well as Christian writings. By being engaged, students are pushed to think critically, which greatly benefits them throughout college and in the professional world. Putting these three specific ideas to practice transforms Christian liberal arts students’ minds, building effective Christian leaders who are equipped for all challenges of life.
The world is changing drastically all around us, we are surrounded by sin and closed mindedness. The importance of a Christian Liberal Arts Education is extraordinarily important if we went to change not only our own lives but, people who are all around us. I hope that my Christian Liberal Arts Education can change the way I think and help me make an impact on lives all around me as well as to glorify the Lord.
Augustine. The Confessions. Trans. Maria Boulding. New York City: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 1998. Print. Davis, Jeffery C., and Philip G. Ryken, eds. Liberal Arts for the Christian Life.
Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. Print. ESV: Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007. Print.
Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: Keromans, 1994. Plato. Five Dialogues. Trans. G.M. A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hacket, 2002. Print.
Ryken, Philip Graham. Christian Worldview: A Student Guide. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. Print.