Instruction not Indoctrination: The three major goals of Taylor's liberal arts curriculumPublished: Dec 07, 2012
When the Puritans founded Harvard University, one of the rules of their new college was this: “let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, [that] the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ … and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.”
Compare the Puritans’ ideals for their new college with the life goals of college students today. Last year, over 200,000 first-year students across the United States were asked about their primary motivation for enrolling in college. Eighty-six percent responded that they came to college “to be able to get a better job.”
I myself attended a Christian College – a sister institution of Taylor’s – and had high aspirations to serve God and humankind as a medical doctor. It was not until my senior year that I came to understand God was more interested in the person I was becoming than in what I planned to do for Him, and that knowing becoming like Christ in my inner being had to be the priorities of my life. If that became the foundation of my “knowing” and “being,” He would actively guide my future “doing.”
At Taylor University, we offer an intentionally designed program of study grounded upon the Christian liberal arts philosophy of education. Despite the fact we have one School specifically called the School of the Liberal Arts and we offer other academic disciplines that may be called applied or professional, those disciplines of study and the entirety of Taylor’s academic and co-curricular programs are established upon and thoroughly imbued with Christian liberal arts ideals.
Education not indoctrination
As I see it, there are three major goals of Taylor’s Christian liberal arts program. First, the goal of a Christ-centered liberal arts education is not indoctrination but rather liberation. The philosopher, Arthur F. Holmes wrote, “Christian education … should open [student’s eyes] to truth wherever it may be found, truth that is ultimately unified in and derived from God. It should be a liberating experience that enlarges horizons, deepens insight, sharpens the mind, exposes new areas of inquiry, and sensitizes our ability to appreciate the good and beautiful as well as the true.”
It was in college that I discovered for the first time that there is an intellectual dimension to Christianity. I grew up in a church that was blatantly anti-intellectual and where worship relied heavily on emotional experiences. I cannot tell you how liberating it was to realize that the key to maturing in Christ is through the life of the mind. Healthy emotions and righteous behavior are the end products of the mind renewed or transformed by the Holy Spirit in synergy with our self-directed efforts to learn and apply that learning to our lives. I also found it almost intoxicating to discover and connect with the intellectual life of God not only through a better understanding of His work through Christ but also His work in creation.
Our rigorous academic and co-curricular programs are intentionally designed to nurture the cultivation and refinement of “intellectual virtues.” These include the refinement of one’s abilities to calculate, measure, hypothesize, reason, question, imagine, discern, organize, invent, design, problem solve, create and synthesize among many others. These are invaluable tools that our students draw upon and hone for the rest of their lives.
The cultivation of Christ-like character in each student
Our second goal is the cultivation of Christ-like character in each student. I witnessed firsthand throughout my career the inability of education alone to transform a person’s character. From the time I left college in the mid-70’s until the year 2001, I was supervised in my work at three different institutions by five supervisors. Each of them had doctoral degrees from respected colleges whose names are synonymous with excellence in higher education. Each could be considered quite intelligent and yet every one of them ended up being charged with violating federal laws or regulations and subsequently were punished for their crimes.
I believe it is different at Taylor University, where we are committed to helping students apply the maturing life of the mind to the formation of Christ-like character and behavior through academic and co-curricular educational programs. Space allows me to single out one particular instrument of God’s grace that is available at Taylor for spiritual formation – that is the grace of living in Christian community.
Living in a Christian community does not mean we should expect to live in perfect harmony with one another. Nor does it mean that the grace of community is stymied or absent when human failings inevitably manifest themselves among us. Rather, these are the times when the community of grace is most effective in our spiritual formation.
It is through the grace of community that we begin to learn the truth about ourselves. God knows that we will never commit ourselves to the collaborative work of spiritual transformation until we stop living in denial about sin in each of our lives. God uses people in this Christian community to teach and model for us how to give and receive forgiveness and acceptance, to help heal our wounds, to comfort us in our grief, to befriend us after betrayal, to bring about justice when we are weak, to help carry our burden and to keep us focused on Him when we are discouraged. Thus community and conflict may rightly be seen as opportunities to identify areas in our lives that God wants to work on, to train ourselves by acting in God-pleasing ways, and to learn from those He puts in our path.
Serving one another
The final goal of Taylor’s Christian liberal arts program is the cultivation of a strong sense of servant leadership in our students. From the beginning, one of the highest goals or most valued outcomes of a liberal arts education has been the equipping of people to be good citizens. So too a Christian liberal arts education equips students to effectively serve both a global society and God’s Kingdom in the 21st century.
This is why Taylor stresses in its mission the development of servant leadership. I believe a servant’s heart is evidence of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in a Christ following believer. A servant leader in this context is not one who wields clout but one who brings positive change to any situation as an agent of Christ’s grace. Such leadership is not confined to either a corporate board or to a church board, but it is leadership that can and must be exercised in every role God calls us to fill.
I believe the only worthy goal for higher education is to prepare students for a life-long journey of progressively renewing their minds and transforming their lives so that they may know Christ intimately, exhibit His character genuinely, obey Him joyfully, serve Him effectively, make Him known liberally, represent Him authentically, and glorify him eternally. I came here because I believe the Taylor University community is committed to these higher, Christ-centered educational goals and because I am convinced that the Christian liberal arts philosophy, upon which all Taylor programs are designed, provides the very best foundation for students to realize these lofty goals.
Jeffrey A. Moshier, Ph.D. is Provost at Taylor University