Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life edited by Jeffry C. Davis and Philip G. Ryken. Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2012. 318 pages. ISBN 978-1-4335-2394-6

Publishers information:

"For over fifty years, Leland Ryken has championed and modeled a Christian liberal arts education. His scholarship and commitment to integrating faith with learning in the classroom have influenced thousands of students who have sat under his winsome teaching. Published in honor of Professor Ryken and presented on the occasion of his retirement from Wheaton College, this compilation carries on his legacy of applying Christian liberal arts education to all areas of life."

I have read many of Ryken's books over the years. I have enjoyed all of them I have read. He combines a commitment to Christian orthodoxy,the life of the mind, and the creative imagination. Liberal Arts showcases some of the leading evangelical thinkers of our time including Jeffry C. Davis, Roger Lundin, Wayne Martindale, Duane Litfin, Alan Jacobs, and others. The book is divided into five parts: Introduction to liberal arts, theological foundations, "habits and virtues," different disciplines of the liberal arts college, and the purpose of the Christian libertal arts. The five parts are book-ended by a lecture by Leland Ryken called "The Student's Calling" at the beginning, and the last chapter of the book is by Ryken's son, Philip, the current president of Wheaton College.

I enjoyed reading Ryken's lecture on the vocation of the student. One of the questions the student must ask is "what is education fro?". A second point is that "all of life is God's. There is no division of life into sacred and secular" (17). In other words, education is a holy pursuit. We can glorify God through our education. Ryken argues in this lecture that "learning, in whatever form, is the student's calling" (21). He also notes, "your liberal arts education is a foundation that is worthy of your best effort" (20). One could say that a Liberal Arts education lays the foundation for the Christian life. It provides the tools and forms the character to be equipped to fulfill all of God's callings in one's life.

Chapter one of the book defines Christian Liberal Arts education. The author notes that at a Christian liberal arts college or university, the mission of the school is "gospel-infused instruction, by professors who genuinely profess Christ as central to a proper understanding of their subjects, and the formation of your whole being for the complete journey of life" (32).  Chapter two connects book learning with the liberal arts. A brief history of Christian colleges is narrated in chapter three. Roger Lundin analyses the relationship of "liberal arts education and the doctrine of humanity in the next chapter. He asserts two truths: Everything created by God is good and humans are fallen. A Christian education will emphasize both these parts. It will also help us to find a meaning and purpose to life. Lundin thinks that "a Christian liberal arts education grounds us in the truths of the Christian faith even as it orients to the world that lies all before us"(79).

Greenman in chapter five describes what "faithful learning looks like." He cites Blamires, The Christian Mind: "a mind trained, informed, and equipped to handle data of secular controversy within a frame of reference that is constructed of Christian presuppositions' (83). In other words, we will look at the world through the lenses of faith.

Section three describes the "habits and virtues" that are to be cultivated in the student. Chapter eight describes Dorothy Sayer's "Tools of Learning." These lost tools are grammar, rhetoric, and logic. It is the tools every person needs to study any discipline in depth. A big part of a liberal arts education is learning how to learn. It is not necessarily what education can do for me, but what it can do to me. Arthur Holmes writes of the goals of a liberal arts education:

"Liberal learning concerns itself with truth and beauty and goodness, which have intrinsic worth to people considered as persons rather than as workers or in whatever function alone. . . . Liberal learning therefore takes the long-range view and concentrates on what shapes a person's understanding and values  rather than what they can use" (121).

There are many more excellent essays in this book. Some of my favorites are: "The Humanities as indulgence or necessity?";  "social media and the loss of embodied communication;" and "learning for a lifetime." There is also a good essay on "personal formation and the understanding heart." This essay draws insight from St. Augustine about the importance of "ordering our loves." Augustine teaches that "the things we love make us into the people we become" (270). This implies that education should help us to develop the right kind of desires and love.

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life shows us many applications of the liberal arts through the thinking of several professors from various disciplines. It shows how a Christian Liberal Arts education can prepare us to fulfill God's calling in our life. It is highly recommended.

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