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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Echo

Lindsay shares importance of Christian liberal arts

The values of this model in higher education

At Taylor, we believe deeply in the Christian liberal arts for higher education.  For over a millennium, this model has proven to be the most effective way to prepare young people for their future callings.  It also aligns deeply with Taylor’s distinctive mission and its vision to be a leading Christ-centered, student-focused university, committed to carrying the light and faith of Christ to a world in need.  

Relational.  Within American higher education, Taylor stands apart as being one of the most student-focused institutions, as a campus where relationships really matter.  A Christian liberal-arts education places relationships at the heart of the educational enterprise because the relationship between Jesus Christ and humanity grounds every dimension of our existence (John 13:34-35). These relationships are critical to both spiritual and intellectual development because they facilitate the expression of God-honoring love, and through that love, we gain understanding and wisdom (I Cor. 13:8; Prov. 4:6-8).  The relationships fostered in Christian community serve to further enhance the interdisciplinary connections that are so essential to the liberal arts approach.  A Christian liberal-arts university exists to advance the work of God in the world, and everything at Taylor emanates from that commitment. 

At each successive stage—from Augustine to Alcuin to Melanchthon—our tradition has relied upon a pedagogical model of deep relationships in which a student-disciple learns from an accomplished teacher. It is, therefore, not surprising that faith-based higher education provides a particularly amenable context in which the liberal-arts model of collegiate learning can flourish. In fact, in a world that is focused so deeply on career, success, and income, the Christian liberal arts invites us to appreciate the importance of work laid out in Scripture while reminding us that life is comprised of far more than merely material wants and needs (Luke 9:25; Luke 12:15). In many ways, the Christian university of today continues the model of discipleship set forth by Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20).  

Formational.  Taylor’s Christian identity governs which scholars are invited to join the faculty and what students are drawn to study here. We attend carefully to how student learning happens both in and outside the classroom—whether that be over a lunch table or at an informal gathering at a faculty member’s home. The faith-learning integration so central to Taylor’s mission helps to tether spiritual and intellectual practices that nurture a spirit of life-long learning. Our mission is to develop servant-leaders, and we believe the Christian liberal arts prepare students for leadership roles in their careers and their communities, including fields and roles that have not yet been discovered.  The Christian liberal arts facilitate the development of a mind that can learn and grow over a lifetime (Rom. 12:2).

At Taylor, these endeavors are grounded in a deeper commitment to moral and spiritual formation; this is what distinguishes the Christian liberal arts (II Cor. 10:5).  This stands apart from what Bruce Kimball has called the “liberal-free ideal,” an approach that has fostered an ethos of intense specialization and increasing secularization within the academy.  At many institutions in this trajectory, faculty interaction with undergraduates has been sacrificed on the altar of scholarly research; the chief aim of higher education became the production of knowledge, not wisdom (I Cor. 13:12).  A significant loss that has accompanied the rise of the liberal-free ideal involves the declining salience of a unified curriculum whereby no framework or course can serve as the capstone of a given academic pathway. That is why Taylor values its Foundational Core.  Through this, we bring together disciplinary contributions in pursuit of a larger, more central purpose of higher education—the formation of souls who become servant-leaders.  As college curricula have become increasingly specialized, students at other institutions spend little time relating ideas from their classes to larger moral concerns. Not so at Taylor.  We cultivate among our students an ability to think creatively, critically, and Christianly as they move into the world beyond college. We point them to God, who is the transcendent source of truth, goodness, and beauty, against which all understanding and meaning is judged (John 14:6).  We embrace this philosophy of education because it facilitates the development of many capacities we associate with bearing the image of God before others, like creativity and moral agency.

Expansive.  Because the liberal arts approach to higher education prioritizes breadth over depth, our graduates are conversant on a range of disciplines and issues.  This allows them to prepare for uncertain futures and emerging opportunities, drawing connections across fields and allowing them to integrate ideas and forge novel solutions that oftentimes elude specialists who focus on a narrower range of ideas.  The Christian liberal arts—first established by the early universities in the Middle Ages and stewarded by the church for nearly 1000 years—began as a set of seven disciplines (known as the trivium and the quadrivium). Today, a Christian liberal-arts education includes a range of disciplinary fields—from aesthetics to zoology.  What unites them is a commitment to placing Jesus Christ at the center of our intellectual pursuits and to bringing insights from different fields to bear on key questions (Prov. 2:1-6; Eph. 1:9-10).  

At Taylor University, we embrace the Christian liberal arts because it is the most time-tested, proven method for developing graduates who love God and neighbor most consistently in the widest array of contexts and with the deepest embodiment of virtue.  Our commitment to the liberal arts is not about preferring certain disciplines or endorsing a specific kind of instruction. Instead, it is about a way of learning that produces a way of living.  In the process, Taylor aspires to develop the kind of graduates who are equipped and ready to minister to a world in need, graduates who are not just repositories of knowledge but incarnations of wisdom through the godly pursuit of knowledge.

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58).

D. Michael Lindsay is president of Taylor University.