What are universities for? The answer one gives to this question will depend on what one sees as the role of education more generally. Education, from the Latin “educare,” has to do with leading a student out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of truth. Learning has fundamentally to do with illumination. My alma mater, the University of Oxford, has as its motto “dominus illuminatio mea” – “the Lord is my light” – which is taken from the Biblical passage of Psalm 27 verse 1. It is a deeply historical part of the Christian tradition to found institutions of learning in view of the fact that the Creator of the wide and wonder-filled world has entrusted humanity to explore, enjoy, and engage this world – and a most necessary way to carry out this task is to educate ourselves about it.
An immediate implication of Ps. 27.1 is that the Lord – who he is, what he has to say – can and ought to illuminate our education. The Lord who is our light illumines our path as we navigate this wild, often wearying, and wonderful world. Being in relationship with our God is critical to our learning well. Education is an extension of our devotion; and education further results in bringing about a world aligned with the purposes of its Creator.
So perhaps this triad amounts to something like a Christian view of education: illumination, integration, impact. This is like the subtitle of Plantinga’s book – A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living – or “faith, learning, and service” as he writes on pages xi and xiv in his preface. By the way, what other triad do you know of which captures this same vision of university education? Biola’s three core values are: Truth, Transformation, Testimony.
Well, if the university, on a Christian view, is for truth, transformation, and testimony – or faith, learning, and service; or illumination, integration, and impact – what, then, specifically is liberal arts education? Well, frankly speaking, not very different: a liberal arts education, as conducted in the medieval university, was education in the seven arts of: grammar, rhetoric, and logic (the trivium) and geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy (the quadrivium). Today, we might divide the arts into the human, natural, and social sciences.
In classical terms (for example for Aristotle), technê, or craft, is something done for the sake of some other end: e.g., the technique used in medicine for the end of making someone healthy; the technique used in shipbuilding for the end of building a ship; etc. Whereas praxis, or action, is done for its own sake: e.g., playing a flute for the sound it makes. This distinction between making and acting helps to clarify another distinction important to Aristotle: that between technê (craft) and aretê, or virtue, where virtue is the having of a certain disposition for acting. To pursue and possess a virtue, i.e., an excellence or mastery of an art, is to have a certain (proper) disposition to act. The distinction carries over to today’s usage of the terms, for example, of a “technical institute,” which trains students in specific trades or crafts or techniques, and a “liberal arts college,” which focuses on training students to master various arts or disciplines, mastered for the sake of becoming fully flourishing human persons. And this training, for us Christians, simply means becoming the kind of being God intended us to be: beings made in the image of God (Gen. 1.27), imitating Christ “who is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1.15).
So a liberal arts education is education wherein students learn about and take on certain dispositions of acting – the virtues, the arts – which are attendant to a life that is liberated to flourish in the human goods: hence, liberal arts education. In other words, liberal arts education is about learning to flourish according to what it means to be human. Again, in view of our last lecture, we see how education and devotion, word (logos) and worship, are intertwined: worshipping is an integral part of what it means to flourish; therefore, a liberal arts education is essential to a life well-lived which in turn is requisite to a worshipful life. What does this mean practically? What does worshipful liberal arts learning look like?
It is learning built on faith; it is learning to think through all of the academic disciplines – psychology, political science, sociology, nursing, and the rest – Christianly, Kingdomly, Biblically. Christian liberal arts education is about asking: how the truth of Christian theology applies to this or that discipline; how the employment of Christian theology transforms (renews) one’s thinking about the discipline in question; and how this truth and transformation results in a service of the world which is our testimony of the God of Christian theology.
We’ve talked about liberal arts which in turn has led to a discussion about learning-and-life. How, then, do these ideas relate to the third topic of today’s lecture, longing for shalom?
Well, to practice what I preach, let’s put on our thinking cap – i.e., let’s look through our theological lenses. As we shall be reading soon, the grand narrative of Christian theology consists in four main chapters: Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Glorification (which Plantinga calls “Vocation in the Kingdom”). Theologically, then, we know that: “All has been created good . . . [b]ut all has been corrupted by evil” (Plantinga, xv). So, as Plantinga would put it: “The point of all this learning is to prepare to add one’s own contribution to the supreme reformation project, which is God’s restoration of all things that have been corrupted by evil” (xii).
So: Why all this talk about learning leading to impact or testimony or service? The reason is two-fold. First, as we’ve been discussing theology, worship, and gospel – the three main ideas of the past lectures – is inherently impactful. The God we worship gave to humanity as his very first commandment – even before the greatest commandment to love him with all our hearts, minds, and souls – the cultural mandate: that is, the invitation to relationship with God (theology) was based on the idea that we are tasked with subduing and caring for creation (society-making). Indeed, the doctrine of humanity’s being made in the image of God (imago Dei) – albeit controversial exegetical terrain – is arguably fundamentally about “imaging forth God” as we rule with him, caring for and beautifying the world – i.e., creating and impacting culture – a world which is fallen but being redeemed. The first reason that I have been emphasizing the importance of impact is because that it is fundamental to the divine imperative of our existence.
Secondly, the reason we talk so much about truth and transformation ultimately as resulting in testimony is that the aim of God’s cosmic redemption project is shalom – that for which all of creation longs. As followers of Jesus, we are to join in the cosmic reconciliation project. As we read in 2 Co. 5:
“17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. … 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And in Romans 8:
“19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility … in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves … groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
In the divine cosmic order of things, truth (2 Co. 5) and transformation (Ro. 8) must lead to testimony – that is, our joining with God in his reconciliation project.
I would like to note that that which God is in the business of doing befits, indeed best fits, our humanity. To help clarify what I mean, let us consider the first question in the seventeenth-century document the Westminster Catechism (Longer and Shorter):
Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
I appreciate John Piper’s thesis in his book Desiring God wherein he argues that: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” (Piper: 2003, 18). Our worship of God is most complete and most correct when done so on the basis that it is joy unimaginable to so worship God. Another way Piper says it is: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him”. I would go on to say that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, and we are most satisfied in him when we are flourishing according to and within his cosmic reconciliation program. And the aim of this program is shalom. Thus, the worship of God – God’s glory – is connected to our testimony, our joining in his cosmic plan: our contributing to and exercising of our own human flourishing amounts to the expansion and enhancement of universal shalom and thereby the glory of God. In this way, shalom is society-shaping; and society-shaping contributes to shalom.
And what exactly is shalom? According to Plantinga (15), shalom is not only peace of mind (personal) and cessation of violence (social), but the state of universal flourishing, wholeness, delight – in short, the way things are supposed to be. Ultimately, it is fallen creation finally fully redeemed; temporarily, it is human flourishing and the worship of God.
And there is real longing in this world: indeed longing colors the whole of creation, both the natural and the social worlds. We see it in our films, our music, our art, and we feel it in ourselves. We want, as Lewis writes (and Plantinga echoes), to go “higher up and further back” (cf. Plantinga, 6). We want to fill the God-shaped whole in our soul. Augustine famously put it: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You” (Confessions, Bk. 1). Or, as we read in Scripture: “11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. 12 Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes, 3). There is real longing in the world, and our joining in God’s ministry of reconciliation (human flourishing and God’s glory) is aimed at providing the resources to meet that longing.
There is one final thing I need to say: inner change precedes and extends into world change. The emerging generation is all about causes, social justice – sociologically, our historical moment has been said to consist in a “movement of movements.” But we must remember that our deeds must originate in our devotion. [We’ll be talking about both ideas in lecture – inner change and world change; but … this is why I want us to do the Media Fast Reflection first which is due before the next class session.]
 For a thorough treatment of the exegetical issues involved here, see Gordon Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Word Books, 1987).