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Notes and Questions for Arthur F. Holmes
The Idea of a Christian College
Revised Edition, 1987

Robert Harris
Version Date: July 26, 2000


These notes were developed as a faculty resource for use when reading and discussing the Holmes book.

Chapter 1: Why a Christian College

Pages 3-4. The "predicament of the modern mind" is that it is "at a loss to know what life is all about" because it (1) rejects the revelation of God and (2) insists that all meaning is created, none discovered. A first benefit of a Christian college or university, then, is that we are free to engage a richer view of life. We recognize that people are not only creators of some meanings, but seekers and discoverers of the "rich meaning and purpose" God has put into life. The idea of pre-existent, external meaning implies an objective, rational world.

Pages 4-5. Students need to be educated with eternal values in order to face tomorrow's "novel situations." Since the world changes, and since our students cannot have us always with them, we must train them to use creatively the "disciplined understanding" of their heritage. Pages 6-8. Christian colleges are distinct in that they cultivate "the creative and active integration of faith and learning, of faith and culture" rather than allowing these arenas to fall into disjunction. This integration must take place in both students and in ourselves as Christian scholars. Pages 9-11. A major benefit of the Christian college or university in a postmodern world is that it "retains a unifying Christian worldview." The main worldviews students face today are either (1) a restricted one claiming that the natural world is all of reality (philosophical materialism), thus rendering ideas like beauty, goodness and virtue "unintelligible") or (2) a postmodern fragmentation that denies the function and value of reason, authority, and truth. Christianity, says Holmes, "can generate a worldview large enough to give meaning to all the disciplines and delights of life and to the whole of a liberal education." The Christian university can decompartmentalize religion and the rest of life and thought and can provide the secure values in which to root a solid education. Chapter 2: Theological Foundations

Pages 16-17. All people use what may be described as a "religious worldview" to give their lives direction, motivation, coherence, and perhaps purpose, even if that "religion" is materialism, a political ideology, or even "the self on the throne." Thus, learning involves the examination of competing religious worldviews, not the decision between a Christian worldview and no religious worldview. Holmes notes that "not everything writers and scientists and others declare can be true" because writing is a combination of factual presentation, interpretation, belief, inductive leaps, conclusions based on sometimes overt and sometimes hidden assumptions, and even sometimes baseless claims.

Pages 18-19. The Bible provides "an interpretive framework," an objective measure against which to test knowledge and culture. Reason is one of the tools we can use to understand and organize God's truth (wherever it is found). There should be no tension between faith and reason. Chapter 3: The Liberal Arts: What and Why?

Pages 24-25. Holmes views education not as the transfer of a compendium of useful knowledge but as the shaping of persons: "For the question a teacher must ask about his teaching is not 'What can they do with it?' but rather 'What will it do to them?'"

Pages 26-29. Holmes argues that "what we label today as general education requirements" often result in "a connoisseur of the fragments of life" because they disregard "the unity of truth." Liberal education, he says, is needed by every student to shape the "understanding and values." Pages 29-31. Some say life has gotten so busy that we no longer have time to think. Holmes reminds us that thinking--reflecting--is needed to find meaning and understanding. It also allows us to see the connections between ideas and facts. Interdisciplinary approaches are valuable here. Pages 31-32. The development of values is a crucial aspect of Christian higher education. Pages 33-36. Every area of knowledge can contribute insights, understanding, and historical contexts that are valuable to the non major. Chapter 4: Liberal Arts as Career Preparation

Pages 37-38. The liberal arts education prepares students for the greater vocation of life, as well as providing the employer-demanded qualities of work ethic, ability to think, and ability to communicate. In a world where graduates will be changing careers several times, these qualities are the most important. Christian education provides a sense of wholeness, a centered and focused life in the midst of career and social change.

Page 41. Holmes says that "the educated Christian should approach life as a reformer." Chapter 5: Integrating Faith and Learning

Pages 45-49. Integration differs from interaction, where faith and learning "sit side by side" and talk. Integration includes (1) what human learning can contribute to the faith and Christian worldview, (2) what Christian faith can contribute to the arts and sciences, (3) an attitude of the love of truth and honesty and a motivation to do well.

Pages 50-51. Facts are inextricably tied to values. Value judgments are often implicit in the way facts are expressed. In our disciplines and teaching, we should ask, "What are the purposes God intended for this area of human activity?" Page 54. There is a pluralism in the Christian worldview. Page 55. Holmes mentions "the Marxist, the Freudian, and the Christian" philosophies of history and theories of personality underlying them. Pages 56-57. Faculty should learn about each others' disciplines; students should take courses in the philosophy of a discipline. Pages 57-60. Integration must ultimately take place at the worldview level. A worldview must be "a systematic understanding." Chapter 6: Academic Freedom

Pages 61-63. Students must be free to learn for themselves and not be "pontificated" to.

Pages 64-76. "The Christian college must provide an opportunity and the atmosphere for an open discussion of new ideas and significant issues." Chapter 7: College as Community

In Student Learning Outside the Classroom: Transcending Artificial Boundaries, the authors note that "out-of-classroom experiences have a more lasting and defining impact on students than do the classroom experiences" (Kuh, et al. xi). For this reason (and many others) building community is important at the Christian university. As Holmes says, the university must work at a "climate of faith and learning."

Chapter 8: Experience is Not Enough

Experience must be connected to theory and interpretation. "Experience is not self-interpreting."

Chapter 9: The Marks of an Educated Person

There is a difference between being educated and being merely trained.


Holmes, Arthur F. The Idea of a Christian College. Rev. Ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987. ISBN 0-8028-0258-3.

Work Cited

Kuh, George D., et al. Student Learning Outside the Classroom: Transcending Artificial Boundaries. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 8. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, 1994.


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Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com