The Bethlehem College Education Series
Christian discipleship is the highest aim of Bethlehem’s education, as the first article in this series explains. Stated another way, Christian discipleship is the formation of mature adults who are ready to witness with wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives. How exactly, though, should a student coming to Bethlehem College & Seminary expect to become such a mature person?
Before asking questions about core education requirements or extra-curricular opportunities, or explaining the way we teach different disciplines like history or literature, we’ve thought carefully about the approach that every professor and the entire curriculum take in forming maturity in our students. At Bethlehem, we believe the education of maturing adults happens by forming key habits of mind and heart in the context of an intentionally small community and through the rigors of a demanding curriculum.
Since Bethlehem’s founding, we have focused on cultivating six habits of mind and heart that guide students in approaching every subject in life. Whether students are asking questions about Scripture, the world, or the human person we instill these six habits: observe accurately, understand clearly, evaluate fairly, feel appropriately, apply wisely, and express winsomely.
Consider, for example, these habits applied to the question of the human self. We want students to observe accurately who they are in relationship to God and others; to understand clearly what they observe about themselves; to evaluate fairly their talents, experiences, and relationships; to feel appropriately about what they have observed, understood, and evaluated about themselves; to apply this self-knowledge wisely to how they live; and then to express winsomely to others in word and deed everything they now know and feel about themselves for God’s glory and their own joy.
Such habit formation refuses to privilege mind or heart but approaches the student as a whole person. We care just as much about what a student loves as we do about what they think. Teaching students to develop a life of the mind—to read well and widely—serves rather than short-circuits properly ordered love for God and neighbor. Right thinking serves true loving. Yet, training a student’s mind and shaping a student’s heart takes time and people and a place.
Students learn, therefore, in the context of a tight-knit community. We believe successfully cultivating habits of mind and heart happens best in an intentionally small environment where professors, staff, church members, and peers develop abiding relationships with students. Students not only take courses with small class sizes but advance through the curriculum with a consistent cohort of 15–18 other students. Christian discipleship happens in a place where people care about the outcome of a student’s faith.
Since we care about the outcome of each student’s faith, we have designed our curriculum to push students beyond their sense of their own abilities. Students are capable of achieving much more than they might expect. And when students encounter high expectations in courses where professors love both the content and the students whom they are teaching, students often surprise themselves with their growth in knowledge and godliness, discovering deep personal satisfaction in mastering a difficult concept or task.
The rigors of this demanding curriculum emerge from our commitment to delivering a distinctly Christian and classical education. Recognizing 2000 years of Christian intellectual inheritance, Bethlehem engages the liberal arts much in the way that faithful Christians such as Augustine or Anselm or Calvin reconciled Christian and classical education before us. Augustine, for example, considers God’s command for the Exodus Israelites plunder Egyptian gold to adorn His tabernacle to be an analogy for how Christians should plunder the wisdom of pagan philosophers and poets and the truths contained in the liberal arts to serve Christian learning. In On Christian Teaching, Augustine points to “God’s most faithful servant Moses” as the preeminent example because “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). For the Christian educators of the past, the classical trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric taught ways of reading and patterns of thought that serves the students’ ability to interpret both God’s world and his Word.
Therefore, Bethlehem approaches the liberal arts as servants for guiding students to know and love God. And we believe such an education inherently builds coherence because we believe all things cohere in Christ (Col 1:15). The truth students find in Plato and the patterns of thought in Cicero all ultimately point back to Christ because in him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). We see theology, therefore, as the unifying discipline that guides how we integrate the disciplines of history, literature, philosophy, math, and science as students move through the curriculum’s carefully sequenced courses. Believing that in Christ all things hold together, we have designed the curriculum to cultivate in students a maturing biblical worldview capable of recognizing and embracing truth, beauty, and goodness anywhere they find it.
The reading of Great Books, therefore, serves the reading of Scripture. And faithful reading of Scripture equips students to both see more vividly the truth of those Great Books and recognize more quickly where they have gone astray. And both the wisdom from Scripture and the wonder from encountering the people and cultures in Great Books combine to prepare and motivate students to carry forward the Great Commission in the home, the church, and the world.
Zach Howard, MA
Instructor of Theology and Humanities