David Lyle Jeffrey | Locating Scripture in the Christian College Curriculum

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I want to express my appreciation to Dr. Jeff Bilbro and his colleagues for organizing this conference, and to Spring Arbor University for hosting it. It is a privilege for me to be here.

My remarks to you this evening will be those of an admiring colleague from afar, sharing your concern for the future of our effort to deliver meaningful Christian education in the context of a culture in which our values increasingly are contested. I propose to deal first with the nature of our marginalization, and to suggest that we have much to learn about how to respond productively to it from orthodox Jews. Secondly, I will suggest that we have a great deal to learn from the intellectual culture of our own Christian tradition, in particular about how to situate the Bible more integratively in our entire curriculum. Finally, I shall attempt a few suggestions about locating the Bible more widely among the contemporary disciplines.

Learning from Jews about the Offense of Revelation

Much good work has been done to show the ways in which understanding the Bible is analogous to understanding other ancient or even modern texts. But in a time of cultural criticism of all forms of orthodox biblical teaching, I want to suggest that integration is a second stage in intellectual placement. Our first task ought to be to come to grips ourselves with why the Bible has become offensive to our contemporaries ­­— not merely counter-cultural, but by its own intrinsic character a contradiction to the presuppositions of college education as our secular counterparts conceive it. Here we need to admit the real offense: the Bible’s claim to represent the word of God. To come to terms with this rock of offense, we must begin with candor regarding the claim to authority made by the texts of the Old Testament: there is a God, and he cares about the way we live. In the Bible this claim is not attested on the grounds of superior philosophical argument, rhetorical persuasion or political power. The Bible presents a comprehensive series of moral claims advanced not on the basis of intellectual deliberation or political process, but rather as a direct self-disclosure of the Divine Will. In Torah, a singular Deity makes what Paul Johnson has called “absolutely clear moral distinctions” (A History of the Jews, 8) governing the pursuit of right action. The specific content of this revelation, typically presented as delivered in oracular fashion to Moses and later, other prophets, characterizes the person of the God who speaks as well as gives his prescriptions for his people. That is, in the Hebrew Bible God is revealed as a person in relation to human persons. Unlike us, he is HOLY — the singular perfection of wholeness. Torah grounds everything in this central aspect of divine identity — God’s relation to the created world, and his specific instructions for life in this world take the legal form of a covenant, with mutual obligations, optimal directions so that human flourishing – which Jews call shalom – may be achieved. The Decalogue, ten categorical imperatives in the second person singular, constitutes a précis of all of written Torah, the revealed word of God. There it is the character of a holy God, before and surpassing his precepts, which warrants his authority over all of life. Holy implies ‘wholly.’

Nothing could be more alien to the postmodern mind than such a claim. The entire history of modernity, as Hannah Arendt has famously argued, has been characterized by challenges to authority of all kinds. The authority of biblical revelation has often been first in the firing line. It was a primary casualty of the French Revolution, not least because of its explicitly totalizing claims upon human behavior. Revelation, in both Jewish and Christian versions, has been likewise a primary target of both Marxism and Nazism, because it was deemed entirely incompatible with another authority then bidding for supremacy, namely the absolute authority of government. After World War II and the end of the Cold War, other place-markers for authority came under challenge, and not just in the religious sphere.

As I was finishing my Ph.D. at Princeton in 1968, the national narrative of the moment was “what happened at Berkeley;” some of the placards carried by the chanting crowds surrounding Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman spelled out a major theme of the ‘Free Speech’ movement: “Question Authority.” It has often seemed to me since that the placards might better have read: “Abolish Consequences,” for that is what many in my generation really meant. Much of left-liberal activism since then bears witness to their actual demand: one need think only of the sexual revolution, the wider health-care crisis, and the looming credit calamity to confirm the absurdity of our bizarre yet persistent demand for a consequence-free social order. The rhetoric of Berkeley in 1968, in which the dominant noun was ‘rights’ and the favorite verb at that time is still unprintable, has become much more sophisticated and self-assured, but it is still a self-serving rhetoric. Unfortunately, consequences have not been abolished, but like the heads of the hydra they have re-appeared in new, uglier, and more toxic fashion. The social and financial cost of dealing with them has dramatically increased.

One wonders if a representative narrative for American social history now, in 2016, might not be “what happened to Detroit.” There have been many attempts at retrospective analysis; most have the sterile facticity of a post-mortem. Yet from the perspective of what the Judeo-Christian tradition regards as the light of revelation, the epidemiology of America’s unraveling may not adequately be explained simply in economic, social, or legal terms: more than a few thoughtful observers have looked at the ruins of Mo-town and quietly wondered if, in a holistic analysis, “the wages of sin” isn’t about as good a phrase as any to label a retrospective diagnosis. All kinds of sin.

Not many, I think, expect biblical revelation to return to the public square in America (there is some reason to be concerned about its diminished role in the lives even of evangelicals). Nevertheless, I think this may be a propitious time for Christians to re-consider the Jewish experience, if for no other reason than perspective. Jews have suffered the ire of the irked before us. Anyone who claims that there are obligations of the moral life laid down by the Deity himself is infuriating to those who wish to advance contrary imperatives.

Among Christians, the basic difference between Revelation and Reason in the matter of ethics has been summarized nicely by Soren Kierkegaard. “It is just not the same thing to say to somebody, ‘you should live responsibly,’” he quipped, “as to say to them ‘you should live responsibly because there is a Last Judgment coming.’” If there is a God, it makes a difference. Kierkegaard, one of the most acute modern readers of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, here reminds us that one of the first truths of revealed moral order is, in fact, the inescapable reality of consequences. The insight was once deeply enough ingrained to have been accounted a matter of common sense. Garrison Keillor, in one of his radio monologues, remarks that allusions to this principle were a stock-in-trade of his mother’s philosophy of child-rearing. Reminders of how the Lord smote his adversaries, “hip and thigh,” produced in him, he claims, a thoughtful self-restraint: “It occurred to me,” Keillor says, “that if the Lord smote you, you stayed smitten.” Kierkegaard and Keillor, each in their way, articulate an indispensable axiom of revealed rather than merely socially constructed moral vision. Moral order on the biblical model is not an abstraction; it is an ontological ‘given,’ part of the reality we inhabit.

It is often claimed that negative formulations of biblical ethical order have led most of those who have rejected the Bible to do so. It has also led many who do not admit to having rejected biblical revelation to soft-pedal or eschew the topic of revealed morality, even in sermons. The idea that there might be an actual divine law which God cares about, an idea assumed and even cherished from Constantine to Charlemagne and, in the laws of the English-speaking peoples from Henri de Bracton’s Laws of England to the Institutes of Edward Coke, William Blackstone’s Commentaries, and F.W. Maitland’s History, has by now largely been abandoned. The idea of divine justice subtending our quest for human justice is now not only an anachronism, it has become offensive to our contemporaries in a way which exceeds any offense occasioned by the moral legacy of Greece and Rome. Reminders of Israel’s Revelation, such as tables of the Ten Commandments, bibles, crosses and the like, thus have now to be taken from public view, precisely because they might suggest to somebody somewhere that there is a higher, universal source of authority by which our own authority might be judged. The outrage directed against vestigial witnesses to biblical revelation makes perfect sense, of course, for anyone who rejects the idea that there is a God to whom all are accountable, and believes it is pernicious to social wellbeing when backward people entertain such an idea.

The more acrimonious debates between the authoritarian secularists and those who believe in a transcendent moral order to which Scripture is a guide, have largely begun to die away. This is not necessarily a good omen for people such as us. Slogans with calculated double-entendres, such as, “We can. Yes we can. And we will!” are markers of the triumph of power politics ­­— of populist power over traditional moral authority. I have a wonderful “Non-Sequitur” cartoon on the door of my office which shows Moses standing at the foot of the mountain, tablets in hand, evidently just having read them to the crowd, now adding a caveat: “unless, of course, you happen to live in a state in which all of this stuff is already legal.” One effect of the “wrong side of history” rhetoric of our politicians and judges is that Christians and other social conservatives in the public square find themselves in self-acknowledged disarray. As the debate over how to refocus the public voice illustrates, it is becoming increasingly hard for those who would accord the highest respect to biblical revelation to get airtime. In such a pluralistic time, our critics ask, what possible good can come of reverting to the Judeo-Christian moral foundation?

So what, on the Jewish view, was the purpose of revelation in the first place? Here, I am happy to refer to a recent book by Steven Kepnes on The Future of Jewish Theology (2013). Kepnes assumes that the culture wars, having become unproductive and incoherent, are marginal for a useful articulation of religious values in the Public Square. He argues that even the modern Jewish legacy of ethical monotheism, encumbered as it has become with Kantian baggage (Haskalah), has failed to prevent ethical incoherence because it has overlooked the distinctive reason for Jewish moral law. Kepnes goes back to the text, and makes what seems to me to be an entirely warrantable conclusion: “The purpose of Jewish law,” he says, “is precisely to map out a path through which the people [of] Israel can follow the commandment of God to be holy” (4). It is the erosion of the imperative to holiness, he argues, that has diminished with drastic consequences our appreciation of the most basic fact about God — not just that he is a Personal Being, but that he is Holy. God’s prescription for human flourishing, if understood in Torah terms, can be stated succinctly: qadoshim tihiyu “You shall be holy” — for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). The balance of this chapter of Leviticus on which Kepnes’s book is a rich meditation, shows how everything else in the moral order depends on this basic commandment. Social health is made dependent on a more or less conscious acknowledgment that we were made imago dei, in the image of God; embodiment of that understanding in the practices of life is what holiness is about. This principle is reiterated, of course, in Christian calls to reformation of personal and social life through imitatio Christi. Everything about the Judeo-Christian high regard for the meaning and dignity of persons has its source in this most basic aspect of Israel’s Revelation; because human beings are in the image of God, they possess inherent dignity and the right to respect – the seminal form of later notions of rights – though crucially, Jewish moral law itself speaks not of “rights” but rather, more pointedly, of “obligations.”

What a focus on holiness/wholeness does is to bring the value of the human person – and persons in relation – into view. The limits of Kantian and post-Kantian deontological ethics have been a recent subject of analysis in many quarters. In one example, Daniel Philpott’s book, Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Reconciliation (2013) points out the lack of a contemporary consensus on truth (23), truth not only in regard to events but truth as a matter of “right relation.” “It is not enough,” Philpott says, “for an ethic to identify, adopt, or assert rights; it must also justify them. What grounds human rights?” (26) His answer is dikaiosyne, righteousness, which he finds in the letters of St. Paul as a clear equivalent for qedushah, holiness, in Torah, and he regards it properly, I think, as in effect “right relationship” with God — a Jewish principle evident also in Paul’s use of the term in its sense of “justification” (Philpott, 136-7). Deprived of this sacred ontology, ‘rights’ are by contrast often demanded and received as an entitlement, requiring neither gratitude nor real relationship.

On the biblical view, a durable account of “rights” requires something more than is provided by the likes of Thomas Paine or Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Succinctly, pace Rawls, et al, a transcendent authority is necessary, an eternally dependable giver of moral law, because no merely human authority can provide the security of right relationship except in transient terms. The answer that Israel’s Revelation gives to questions about how to achieve a flourishing life, is not merely, “God said it,” but rather, “God has disclosed something profound about his own nature in the Torah, namely that he is Holy, and wills our participation in his health. His call to us to imitate him is detailed as it is because holiness of life – as distinct from knowledge of a right or definition of meaningful agency – must be a matter of sustained and continual practice.” On this Torah view, “that the ethical commandments are included along with the ritual commandments in a code of holiness means that there is a holy dimension to ethics and an ethical dimension to holiness” (Kepnes, 104). Moreover, and for the Judeo-Christian tradition this cannot be stressed too strongly, the commandment to be holy obligates not just individuals, but whole communities. It obligates teaching by parents of their children, generation after generation — the first biblical command where education is a mandate for the people of God. This gives rise to an inescapably political dimension, and this is precisely the point in contention for those who wish to substitute another authority, another source of obligation, namely the state.

Here, needless to say, we are on the brink of an abyss. In a culture in which the kindergarten ethic begins with the commandment, “Thou shalt not criticize thy neighbor” – “indeed, thou shalt affirm thy neighbor even/especially when he or she is doing something that might seem ‘wrong’ to you” and the current grownup version has become, “thou shalt not criticize thy political masters even when they contradict this principle and condemn your view of moral obligation,” it is not hard to see why the moral legacy of the Bible has become controversial among ‘elite’ political and social opinion makers. It is not surprising that even religious philosophers have tried to find a common ground elsewhere than in the Torah obligation to communal holiness and its corollary, the obligation to hand down the moral law within the home and religious community.

It is not clear to me that any theory of ethics can remain coherent without a foundational ontology. Other alternatives, each in their own fashion trying to ground ethics in something higher than crass subjectivity and self-interest, have included of course Kant’s notion of willed rational assent to intuited or culturally normative ethical obligations. Kant’s deontological stance led him to regard divine command theory – essentially the Jewish as well as Christian biblical view – as not really ethics at all. Consequentialism, of which utilitarianism is a version, has in like fashion been an influence on the fissiparous field called ‘virtue ethics,’ which “attempts to derive all the moral concepts from the concept of a virtue, just as Kant tried to derive all morality from the notion of an unconditional imperative or a universal law of practical reason. Consequentialists try to derive all morality from some idea of maximized welfare that can be distributed in a population — a version of Bentham’s ‘greatest good for the greatest number’. My colleague Robert C. Roberts, from whose account I have just quoted, describes ethical theory on these models as “a hopeless conceptual mess,” adding, rather soberly, that “such theories tend to be morally detrimental to those who take them seriously.” That is precisely because they cannot admit that sin has consequences —ironically.

Construing the goal of social ethics as nothing more than an adequation of normative behavior as governing criteria, a kind of hyper-Baconianism, has become the de facto reflex of our current legal and political culture. If that’s what most people appear to want, that’s what all people will get, like it or not. Ironically, we have thus created a new absolute authority, effective not least because it’s daily proclaimed by its own prophets, the media and entertainment industry. This oracular voice from the sky includes of course the “news,” which we consult each morning in order to learn what we are supposed to think. And do. And then urge others to do. Nor is that enough; we are prompted almost daily to join in an obligatory chorus, celebrating as courageous, even “heroic,” those who assert a new, perhaps previously unthinkable “norm.” In short, we are daily being pressured by pseudo-moral imperatives to imitate beings and behaviors which may well be lower than ourselves, seduced by behavior re-enforcement into a kind of infernal imitatio. None of this has been hospitable to biblically grounded education, for the ethos of the general culture has become the default ethos for our students. It would be folly not to acknowledge this ambient ethos — but still worse folly to think that we can do anything at all with the Bible in a Christian curriculum without recognizing and reasoning from the fact that the ambient culture has rightly seen in it a real danger to their collective conscience. As T.S. Eliot has said, the Bible has had a formative influence upon literature NOT because it has been received as just another literature, but rather because it has been received as a reliable report of the Word of God. We – like orthodox Jews – need to get that much clear in our minds if the place of Scripture in our curriculum is not simply to be tokenism, effectively undermining the Bible in its legitimate authority over us.

So there is much we can learn from orthodox Jews about how to honor the Bible among ourselves, above all in its call to holiness a necessarily non-negotiable authority if we are to retain a coherent faith identity in a culture increasingly hostile to moral order. We, of all people, must unflinchingly accept and learn how to discuss the Scriptures as revelation, resisting attempts from within and without to allow it to be reduced to mere anthropology, relativized past social constructions. Jews continue to experience these pressures — and among more liberal and Reform congregations it has led to secularization, assimilation, and rapidly diminishing attendance and populations. This, of course, is precisely what has happened among liberal ‘mainline’ Protestants.

 

Reasoning from Revelation in Christian Tradition

It is well known that many European cities have histories of cultural and civic development that begin either with a Roman garrison or a Benedictine monastery — symbols of power and holiness. The Roman garrisons have all disappeared; most were gone by the mid-fifth century. But the Benedictine monasteries are still there. Even after Viking marauders annihilated some of the monks, others would return to take their place, briskly resuming their work of horticulture, medicine, translation, and the building of libraries. This is because, in addition to poverty, chastity and obedience, the Benedictines took a vow to practice stabilitas, sticking with it. It is to their assiduous efforts at translation and paraphrase of the Bible that numerous European languages owe their first exhibition in written form; subsequent to biblical paraphrase and specifically Christian poetry, a literacy was created which allowed for the textual preservation of native oral poetry and chronicle. The first poetry preserved in writing in Anglo-Saxon England is essentially biblical paraphrase; the biographical vignettes of Caedmon, Abbess Hilda and King Alfred the Great make evident how efforts at missionary translation in monastic centers led directly to the growth of native as well as classical learning. Not only were the monasteries centers for the study of Scripture and theological commentary, or for the growth of experimental science and medicine, but because monastic libraries were the repository of Greek and Latin texts – preserved at the cost of life and limb – they were durable centers for the continuation of classical learning as well.

But here is the point too often missed: classical learning, indeed all types of learning in the monasteries, was organized around a studium whose central preoccupation was the Bible as a foundation for all learning. It was the study of the Bible far more than the study of Cicero and the classical authors generally that spread Latin literacy and produced also a textual tradition in several European vernaculars. Moreover, we can say confidently that not only was the Bible in such a fashion made foundational for general humane learning in European culture, but that without it, much of Roman secular learning and the ancient texts themselves would not have survived to be a part of our culture today. Does our curriculum give credit where credit is due?

The liberal arts as we know them did not begin to emerge in their familiar form in Christian Europe until the work of the polymath Boethius (480-525 AD), the Roman Christian whose treatises on arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music are foundational for what he himself was first to call the quadrivium. Grammar, rhetoric and logic – the trivium – had been standard for some time. But Boethius, though a layman, was himself also a biblical theologian, author of five major opuscula sacra, and these, with his Consolation of Philosophy make him one of the last Roman thinkers to stand firmly astride two worlds, Roman and Christian. Culturally speaking, his Lady Philosophy is both a reincarnation of Athena and of Lady Wisdom in the biblical wisdom books. Though in his Consolation his immediate subject is a recollection of human dignity and freedom, the transcendent wisdom his Lady Philosophy personifies is an ontological presence of that transcendent Being from whom dignity and freedom are derived.

From thence, onward to the nineteenth century, it is difficult to find a major European humanist whose intellectual formation was not in some way grounded in study of the Bible. Hugh of St. Victor considered this legacy from his vantage point as a master in the cathedral schools that were growing up in France, and which would be the chief institutional means by which monastic scholia were within a century to be supplanted in intellectual importance by the rise of universities. For Hugh, in his magnum opus on liberal education, the Didascalicon, the “seven [arts] to be studied by beginners” were assigned thus by the ancients not merely because they found them of “higher value,” but principally as “the best tools, the fittest entrance through which the way to philosophic truth is opened to our intellect.”   This instrumentalist approach presupposes a higher intrinsic good; Richard of St. Victor, one of his students, comments that “All arts serve the Divine Wisdom, and each lower art, if rightly ordered, leads to a higher one.” For Aquinas, his Summa was for beginners; once they had mastered it they would be more ready, he claimed, for the more important work of reading Holy Scripture. As with Augustine, for all these pioneers of Christian university education, the liberal arts function like signs in a meta-language which is necessary to learn if we want a full bodied engagement with wisdom as it comes down to us, both in history and ultimately in Sacred history, of which, on the Christian view, all other story is either anticipation or refraction. Bonaventure takes the whole instrumental hierarchy of learning here implied and turns it round so that all of the arts – liberal and mechanical – are both a means of common grace and, in each case, a trace (vestigium) of that Divine Wisdom of which human flourishing is an axiom. In his De Reductione Artium ad Theologiam, Bonaventure accordingly traces all of the arts, and particularly the liberal arts, to what for him is the ultimate source of our knowledge, human and divine, namely Scripture as articulated divine word. By artes Bonaventure means secular or empirical knowledge as distinct from the revealed knowledge of God (theology); in his view all knowledge is a light, or means of our understanding, but the highest of all lights – superior to each of philosophical knowledge, the knowledge arrived at by sense perception and the mastery of the mechanical arts – is the “light of Sacred Scripture.” Yet, he writes, the “Wisdom of God which lies hidden in Sacred Scripture is hidden in all of knowledge and in all nature.” In this light, “all divisions of knowledge are handmaids of theology” (26). Here, in short, is yet another medieval affirmation of the providential unity of reason and revelation, faith and reason — making explicit to the reader that Sacred Scripture is the key to any possible unity of prospect.

The confidence medieval intellectuals expressed in this view of the interconnectedness of liberal learning or the products of reasoned investigation with biblical revelation and its progressive understanding in the church endured into the Reformation, and, we might add, it was still regarded by the great reformed thinkers as liberating. John Calvin, whose first published work was a commentary on Seneca, has said that once we have acknowledged the Spirit of God to be “the only fountain of truth” our confidence will in fact oblige us “not to reject or condemn truth whenever it appears,” but rather for anything (natural or human) which is “noble and praiseworthy” to trace it rather to the hand of God, whether the work be done by fellow believers or by the “ungodly” (Institutes 2.2.15-16). Renaissance humanists were chief among those who sought recovery of the Scriptures in better critical editions and historical commentary alike; the rallying cry of Erasmus was “Ad fontes!” – back to the sources – and to the humanist movement he exemplified, in which figures such as John Colet, Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, Johannes Ruechlin and Martin Luther played a part, we owe the dramatic recovery of Scripture to a wider intellectual discourse which became vernacular in the sixteenth century.

What we inherit in such a vigorous renewal of commitment to Holy Scripture is not, as some have too lightly thought, simply a kind of narrowing bibliocentrism. It is evidence rather of renewed primary engagement with the actual foundation of western intellectual culture, evidence that Scripture continued to occupy a unique ontological, as well as hermeneutic, status in humanistic, university discourse well beyond the high Middle Ages well into the time of the Reformation. I do not mean that the ipse verbum of Scripture is everywhere present as we might find it in the early monastic writings, say, or over the centuries in the Scripture-saturated writings of such figures as Bernard of Clairvaux, Jeremy Taylor, John Bunyan and John Milton. I refer rather to the presuppositional and teleological framework even in scientists like Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and Henri Poincarré, or in philosophers such as John Locke, Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegaard and Jacques Maritain, in poets such as William Cowper, Goethe, Charlotte Bronte, the Brownings, T.S. Eliot and Richard Wilbur, not to mention the presuppositions of foundational legal thinkers already mentioned. Yet here again, even a thumbnail list can be revelatory, for those who know these works, of the character of biblical formation in the humanities disciplines as we know them.

In all of these disciplines, biblical allusion and plenitude of biblical idiom is a reflex of something deeper. In areas of study as diverse as theology, science, mathematics, poetry and law, in Western tradition the Bible became what a Platonist might call the ‘intelligible object,’ but I would prefer to call rather an ontological object of intellectual reflection — invisible but present, providing first principles even when the immediate epistemological object or topic is apparently something else. In fact, the presence of Scripture as ontological object often can be felt even when the Bible or biblical tradition is being explicitly challenged, as it is, for example, in the opening scenes of Goethe’s Faust I. Though Goethe’s theological challenge to the authority of both Scripture and tradition is explicit, in fact the text of Scripture remains critically “present” throughout his great Romantic drama in one allusion after another. As with all similar attempts, literary and pseudo-theological, it is of the highest order of tribute to Scripture’s living presence as an ontological object that all Goethe’s ambitions boil down to a wish not merely to translate but rather to rewrite the Bible.  

In retrospect, it now seems clear on any number of accounts that attempts to pursue the liberal arts as though they were in themselves intrinsic goods have not been sustainably fruitful. What we should preserve in curriculum and cultural memory is the knowledge that diligent conservation of truth from all sources and a “turning of the many toward the One” in regard to the arts has allowed the intellectual riches of the biblical studium to develop and then become a constantly flowing fountain, irrigating all of the other arts. Our students should be taught to recognize that and be nourished both by the source and by its many channels of transmission. In short, we should become the Benedictines of the 21st century.

 

Locating Scripture in the Curriculum

 

As Christian educators, I suggest, we need to do a more systematic job of including the Bible throughout our humanities curriculum, with thoughtful attention to the relation between holiness and moral authority there articulated. If, as George Weigel says, we are in a widespread civil war over the very meaning of the human person (and I think he has a case), then perhaps any hope for a restorative resolution of our crisis of cultural authority can, as he says, only come “from a reformed culture in which Jerusalem is once again linked to Athens and Rome in the foundation of the West” (First Things, August-September, 2013, 37). That is unlikely to happen unless we Christians play a more vigorous role in handing down that which has been handed down to us. Reason without Revelation hasn’t been working all that well for any of us.

 

Concerning the many channels, every Christian college will have its own particular strengths and weaknesses. My suggestions accordingly must be brief, though I hope helpfully indicative.

  1. My assumption in each of these suggestions is that students will have in their freshman year foundational courses which are much more than mere surveys of the Old and New testaments, but a frank engagement of the distinct epistemological category of Revelation and its philosophical consequences for all of what counts as thinking in a biblically informed way about other bodies of knowledge.
  2. I would like also to suggest a course on the development of exegesis down through the centuries, represented by select historical commentaries from Augustine to the present, both formal and in sermons, but also the responses of poets and artists to the biblical narrative and message. I know that this is not a common feature of CCCU curricula, but I warmly encourage you here at Spring Arbor to develop such a course and make it a core requirement along with your basic Bible courses.
  3. History: here I would suggest ensuring that courses in ancient, medieval and modern history take up specific instances of allusion to or recognition of the moral authority of the Bible, even (or perhaps especially) when evoking that authority has been controversial. In that context one should teach the conflicts as well as the prevalent narrative.
  4. Art and Music History: For more than a millennium (400-1700 AD), the dominant source for painting and sculpture was the Bible. In music the same, from the early hymns of Prudentius and Theodulf of Orleans through to the hymns of Bernard of Clairvaux and Martin Luther, Scripture was the inspiration for musical settings and provided the lyrical content, and this continues through Bach and Handel to Andrew Loyd Weber and more. We could do a better job of teaching the relationship of historic Christian music to its sources in the text and theological commentary.
  5. Political Science and Pre-Law: As the great names in the history of political and constitutional theory amply indicate, there are few arenas in which better to engage the role of a biblical world view and the prevalent view of our own times, that all morality is a social construct and political and legal judgment a matter of pragmatic expediency. From Plato and Moses to F.W. Maitland to Lord Acton, and in current debates on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, the opportunity for engagement is abundant.
  6. Literature: The Bible as Literature and the Bible in Literature are enormously rich fields.
  7. Linguistics: Biblically literate, evangelically minded Christians have played a formative role in the development of this field and in the preservation of languages around the world. We should think here not only of Wycliffe/SIL and scholars like Kenneth Pike, but of their predecessors since the first centuries such as the Benedictine monks who came to England through to 19th century missionary linguists such as Samuel Marchman, James Legge and others, and give their grammars and translations of languages great and small due prominence in our teaching of the history of linguistics.
  8. Philosophy: From the apostolic era through the early centuries to the Middle Ages, Christianity (“the Way”) was regarded as a philosophy by its enemies as well as its proponents. Today there is a professional association called Philo-Biblos, dedicated to doing philosophy from the Bible as source text. Are we sufficiently aware of these resources, and have we considered experimenting with them among our students?
  9. Classics: Some of the greatest biblical commentators were first trained as classicists; one thinks of F.F. Bruce, J.B. Lightfoot, and N.T. Wright.   Courses in classical texts from the Age of Constantine and after (Eusebius, Lactantius, Augustine, Prudentius, Clement) offer possibilities for advanced Latin courses. In this connection Archaeology and Computer Science are fields of great promise (cf. Brent Seales).
  1. History and Philosophy of Science: from the work of Boethius and Macrobius through the astonishing experiments and reasoning of Grosseteste and Bacon in 15th century Oxford and Albert the Great in Paris on down to Poincarré, Nicholas Faraday and Francis Collins, there have been reflections on the relation of the Bible and its world-view to science that far transcend debates about the six days of creation and intelligent design. Our students should know this history.

So should we all, gentle friends. It is time for Christian academics – in whatever specialized field we may occupy in our hypertophic time – to break the mold a little, strive to become in some larger measure possessed of the broader riches of our magnificent Christian intellectual tradition. I know no better way to begin than by becoming a student of the Bible’s influence on your own discipline. It is a first step, but once you take it I am confident that you will be inspired to take more steps.

 

 

 

David Lyle Jeffrey | Locating Scripture in the Christian College Curriculum was last modified: March 4th, 2016 by sausites

18 thoughts on “David Lyle Jeffrey | Locating Scripture in the Christian College Curriculum

  1. Howard A. Snyder

    Yes. And also teach and emphasize what the Bible reveals about the created order, God’s plan to restore “all things,” and our creation-care responsibility as an essential part of Christian stewardship and education.

  2. Betty Overton

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