The Bethlehem College Education Series
As we approach the ten-year anniversary of Bethlehem College & Seminary, our undergraduate faculty has just completed a comprehensive review of our college-level programs. The result of our review has been a clarified vision for our undergraduate programs and a renewed enthusiasm for the kind and quality of education that we offer. One result of this renewed enthusiasm is the desire to communicate the core elements of our vision of undergraduate Education in Serious Joy. To that end, our faculty have collaborated to produce a series of articles outlining the various components of a Bethlehem education. This first article focuses on the highest aim of our education—Christian discipleship.
At Bethlehem, we believe that, properly understood, education is a form of Christian discipleship, the formation of mature Christian adults through rigorous study of the Great Books, the Greatest Book, for the sake of the Great Commission. That is why we seek to educate students who graduate as mature adults who are ready to witness for Christ with wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives.
In an age of extended adolescence, our goal as Christian educators is not to entertain boys and girls, but to establish stable men and women in the faith. We want our students to become oaks of righteousness—rooted in the Scriptures, enriched by the humanities, and passionate for God’s global purposes in Christ. We believe that such stability is best fostered through challenge. As a result, a chief aim of our programs is to subject the faith of our students to stress-testing in order to build resilience. At many universities, such challenges to a student’s faith would be carried out with the goal of undermining and overthrowing it. At Bethlehem, we expose students to alternative perspectives and challenge them to think through difficult questions in order that they might grow in wisdom, discernment, and steadfastness. Our programs force our students to think about why they believe what they believe and to examine the deeper reasons for their faith. We believe that this process, while often uncomfortable for students, is good for them and for the solidity of their Christian convictions.
While this type of education has value in enabling students to commend the faith to others, the first aim of our education is not apologetic or evangelistic, but formative and personal. We want our students to be real Christians, all the way down. To use Owen Barfield’s description of C. S. Lewis, we want them to be “thoroughly converted.” The contemporary world poses significant intellectual, moral, and affectional challenges for Christians. Standing firm in the evil day demands deep biblical convictions that have been tested and tried through broad exposure to the rigors and weight of a liberal arts education in a global context and led by wise and faithful professors who care about the outcome of our students’ faith.
But maturity is not merely a defensive measure, a rooted stability in the face of life’s storms. Maturity also includes an expanded mind, an enlarged heart, and an enriched soul. Our aim as professors is to help our students to lean into reality, to have eyes wide open in wonder at the world that God has made and that man has cultivated and adorned. A biblically grounded, missions-minded liberal arts education helps students to grow in wisdom, attuning them to reality so that they are ready and equipped to walk wisely and joyfully in the world.
Joe Rigney, PhD
Assistant Professor of Theology and Literature