By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – September 1, 2016) — If there’s been one constant in my life — besides my faith, family, and friends — it’s been education. To a certain extent, I’ve pursued a liberal agenda my whole life.
Let me clarify what I mean by the term liberal. I don’t use it in a political sense, nor do I mean it in a theological sense, something akin to being unorthodox. Rather, when I use the term liberal I understand it in the etymological sense. Historically, the word liberal meant “something suitable for a free person; generous, and ample.” Later, the word summarized a wide-ranging approach in education, seeking to understand a broad field of knowledge.
First established in the streets of ancient Greece, liberal education was synonymous with liberty; something a person did to further freedom, whether that was in the political cultural, or educational realms. The end result of liberalism was to produce free citizens who would act morally. According to Lisa Richmond, “To these Greeks, the aim of liberal education was the formation of the moral ‘gentleman.’”
During Roman era, liberalism became closely associated with education, related to the seven liberal arts: the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (math, geometry, music, and astronomy). Cicero, one of Rome’s great thinkers, deemed the liberal arts as “the academic disciplines for freedom.”
In the early Church, men such as the Apostle Paul used his liberal education (gained from his Roman citizenship) and Jewish worldview to logically present the case for Christ (the use of logic), writing his letters (grammar), and speaking openly for the cause of Christ (rhetoric).
But a century later, men such as Tertullian (160-225 AD) began to question the aim of a liberal education (though Tertullian was the product of liberal education), stating, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What between the Academy and the Church?”
History shows, however, that the Church did incorporate the liberal arts within its life, becoming the portal for scholarship throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. Men such as Cassiodorus Senator (485-585 AD) and Alcuin of York (735-804 AD) helped bridge the gap between specific revelation (what is found in the Bible) and general revelation (what is found in nature), as later formalized by Thomas Aquinas (12225-1274 BC). Most Christians throughout the ages deemed that all truth was God’s truth as expressed through the word (Bible) and world (creation); God, in Christ, was the author of both “books.”
In particular, the Englishman, Alcuin, was a strong advocate for liberal studies within the Church. According to the BBC, Alcuin “was made head of the palace school at Aachen, which was attended by members of the royal court and the sons of noble families, and he established a great library there…he was responsible for an intellectual movement within the Carolingian empire in which many schools of learning were attached to monasteries and cathedrals, and Latin was restored to a position as a literary language. In 796, Alcuin became abbot of St Martin’s monastery at Tours, where he established a school and library.”
Since this time Christianity and education have lived semi-peacefully together, working in conjunction towards the same ends—the pursuit of truth. Being a disciple (learner/student) and a follower of Christ are two sides to the same coin: knowing and doing. In short, the liberal arts were designed to pursue the truth in thought and conduct.
Along this line, Wheaton professor, Leland Ryken, defines the liberal arts as “comprehensive education,” part of a students “calling.” Ryken summarizes liberal arts as a pursuit of intellectual inquiry — seeking God as God chooses to reveal himself in nature, reason, and revelation — all leading to worship and wonder. Ryken states, “the Christian liberal arts…continues in the tradition of the faithful learning that emphasizes study as a form of worship, affirming the Creator as the source of all things that are possibly known and recognizing this immanence in all that we examine, all that we know, and all that we do.”
I like that: education should lead to “worship and wonder.”
As part of my quest to “worship” and “wonder,” I recently graduated from Veritas Evangelical Seminary with a Master’s degree in theological studies. Some have asked me why I decided to get another degree. The answer is simple: I yearn to know and grow in God’s truth; or to use Ryken’s verbiage, to expand my worship and wonder. The seminaries name – Veritas — means truth. And the school provided an amazing overview of God’s truth as reveled in Scripture, delivered by luminaries such as Dr. Norman Geisler.
Yet in addition to the pursuit of truth, I am an advocate for life-long learning. Christians should never shut their brains off or subject them to ease. We need to stretch and strengthen our resolve to provide answers to a world full of questions, learning the beauty, intrigue, and wonder of God’s word and world.
How people continue their education takes on many forms. Some read books. Other people go off to college or graduate school. Some take classes at a local community college or school. Those interested in the arts may take classes at an art school. Those pursuing ministry attend seminary. The fact is that there are plenty of ways to be a life-long learner.
The gist of lifelong learning is that one is to never stop learning, using any avenue to broaden knowledge, skills, and understanding.
As Christians, I believe the call for lifelong learning is a given. Not only did Jesus model what a student looks like (Luke 2:40-52: he sat with the teachers, listening and asking questions, with the outcome of his time being that he grew in wisdom, stature, favor with God and man), he also modeled for us a life of teaching (using a variety of techniques, strategies, and methods to impart truth). Jesus was truly the master student and teacher. The impartation and expression of knowledge was inherent in all Jesus did.
And this pursuit of truth and life-long learning — properly pursued — leads us back to freedom. Jesus pairs truth and freedom when he said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Paul, in Galatians 5:1 gives us a summary of Christ’s truth and freedom when he writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
Truth and freedom; they are reflections of God’s person and order, virtues worthy of our undue attention and focus; a confluence of God’s character and his handiwork, all to be discovered and pursued through knowing and doing.
So the Greeks and Romans weren’t too far off: a liberal mindset is one that is “suitable for a free person.” As Christians, we are free in Christ. Let us use our brains — and liberal education — to continue that freedom, discovering what God has fashioned and formed, with the understanding that there is ample room for continued innovation, invention, and inspiration — all for God’s glory. And let us cultivate a culture of lifelong learning, taking a broad, generous, abundant, profuse and, yes, liberal — cumulative, view of God’s word and world.
In the end, Christian education is not just filling the mind with content, but feeding the soul with Christ.
For more information of Veritas Evangelical Seminary, click here: http://www.ves.edu/.
Photo captions: 1) Veritas logo. 2) Alcuin of York and students. 3) Veritas Evangelical Seminary. 4) Dr. Norman Geisler speaking. 5) Education sign. 6) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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