“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
If I were to ask this question to my freshman class, I am sure I would get many blank stares. However, this topic needs to be addressed in our college classrooms – even if it is not asked in exactly the same way. I was reminded of this recently from a brief exchange with a student in one of my freshman level courses. I teach an upper division philosophy course each day just prior to a lower division general humanities course. In the philosophy class we had been discussing the Ring of Gyges from Plato’s Republic and the nature of justice, and I had left expansive notes all over the board. As I began my next general humanities class, I tried to sell my freshman class on the idea of taking philosophy with me if they had the chance. They looked up at the maze of words on the board, and I could see their polite smiles which seemed to say thanks but no thanks! I erased the board and moved on with starting class.
It was after class that an inquisitive student came up and asked me – “Isn’t philosophy anti-Christian?” This was a stark reminder to me of how little the average student is aware of what philosophy actualyl tries to pursue. I briefly talked about the meaning of philosophy and that while there are many secular thinkers who pursue philosophy, there are in fact many Christian philosophers. I made a joke referencing Colossians 2:8 while pointing out that in the proper context a study of philosophy honors God – in fact, it can be an expression of our being made in God’s image.
In my classes I try to find opportunities in which I can point out the differences between secular and spiritual approaches to knowledge, learning, and ideas. All too often we compartmentalize the secular and the sacred in our own lives. I’m not sure why we do this – Is it easier? Are we lazy? One reason I think we compartmentalize our learning is that we can focus on the topic at hand so as to be more successful in the mastery of the subject. Too often we can be like the student who is only concerned for the practical impact of knowledge, or even worse, only concerned about whether it will be on the test or not. It is hard work to take every thought captive for Christ. But if we can instill in our students the desire to see how faith and learning go together in their own studies, perhaps we can promote further integration in a broader context. Instead of compartmentalizing our lives into work, play, and worship on Sunday, perhaps we would be more thoughtful of how our whole lives can bring glory to God. I would argue that with the consumer mindset of students in higher education it is challenging for them to truly appreciate and value a liberal arts education. It may even be more challenging for the average student to see the value of pursuing a liberal arts education Christianly. But that is why we as professors must continue to encourage this broader vision of education. If we are not practicing it in our own disciplines and teaching methods, then we are not practicing what we preach.