Notes and Questions for Arthur F.
The Idea of a Christian College
Revised Edition, 1987
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.
How would you explain the difference between indoctrination and education
to your students?
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.
What methods do you use to "wean" students from dependence on you for learning
(and even thinking)?
What do or might you do to enable students "to evaluate information, particularly
in the light of the Christian revelation"?
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.
What techniques or educational experiences do you use that encourage students
to be shapers of culture rather than passive participants in it?
Holmes says that what is needed is not "Christians who are also scholars
but Christian scholars, not Christianity alongside education but Christian
education." How would you distinguish between a Christian who is also a
scholar and a "Christian scholar"? What are the implications for such a
fusion in regard to teaching, research, writing, and approaching your discipline?
Can you provide some examples from your own work of the "interpenetration"
of Christianity and learning?
How would you describe the difference between "the development of a Christian
perspective" and "tacked-on moralizing"?
Chapter 2: Theological Foundations
What is the status of your discipline in relation to reason, truth, meaning,
and unity? How can Christian principles help to provide meaning, order,
and sense to your field?
Have you attempted to articulate a Christian educational philosophy in
relation to your field? What is it?
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
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.
How do you encourage students to dig beneath the surface of their studies
to identify "religious" assumptions or aspects of an author's worldview,
in order to help them understand the influence worldview can have on interpretation?
How do you help students discern the difference between a fact, a claim,
and an interpretation in their reading?
What techniques do you use to convince students of the value of writings
that contain much objectionable or unbiblical philosophy, yet which also
contain useful information, truth, or at least provocative issues worthy
Do you encourage students to value truth wherever it is found? How?
Chapter 3: The Liberal Arts: What and Why?
Some students come to the Christian university feeling shy about using
their minds. What strategies do you use to encourage them to reason about
the world in relation to their faith, or to "make friends" with their minds
as great tools for the service of God?
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."
When you design your courses, do you develop learning objectives that foster
"the making of Christian persons"?
What do you answer when a student asks, "How will I use this?"
Do you encourage students to let their reading, thinking, and writing change
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.
Do you make an attempt to connect your discipline to the whole realm of
knowledge, to show its part, relationship, limitations, and connections?
How can a general education requirement show "the unity of truth"?
Do you encourage students to value their general education requirements
and not act as if those should simply be gotten "out of the way"?
Pages 31-32. The development of values is a crucial aspect of Christian
How do you help your students to reflect? Many students, being economizers,
are always in a hurry and seem unwilling to take awhile to think. How do
you overcome this?
Are you careful to pause after an in-class question to allow for sufficient
How would you develop an interdisciplinary approach to an issue from your
What disciplines could you bring together for a successful interdisciplinary
course? Why would the interconnection of those disciplines be effective?
What books outside your area of specialization do you read in order to
enrich or contextualize your course material?
Pages 33-36. Every area of knowledge can contribute insights, understanding,
and historical contexts that are valuable to the non major.
How do you encourage students to examine their current values? Do you encourage
them to ask, "Where did I get this value?"
What steps or sources do you provide to help students form new or better
Can you connect values development to your course materials? Do you provide
readings (such as philosophical classics or Biblical stories relevant to
your subject) that help students examine and develop values?
What kinds of discussion can help lead students to see that values go beyond
How do you teach or model values related to your discipline?
Chapter 4: Liberal Arts as Career Preparation
What contributions can your discipline make to helping non majors "become
more fully human"?
What methods might you use to persuade non majors to value and pursue key
insights from your discipline?
How can you generalize from the specifics of your field to larger awareness,
appreciation, understanding, or values?
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."
Do you help students understand what exactly is "marketable" about them?
Do you encourage your students to develop their universally valuable skills
(thinking, writing, speaking) as well as their subject learning?
Besides jobs based on the subject matter of your field, what different
careers might study in your area prepare students for? That is, how does
knowledge of your area help those in various other jobs?
Chapter 5: Integrating Faith and Learning
How can students be motivated to view their callings this way?
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
Do you use faith commitment to encourage students to do well? Have you
discussed Col. 3:23-24 with your classes? ("Whatever you do, work at it
with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know
that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the
Lord Christ you are serving.")
Do you tell your majors that (paraphrasing Holmes), what is needed is not
Christians who are also [your major here] but Christian [your major here]?
How do you respond to those students who seem to harbor anti-intellectual
Page 54. There is a pluralism in the Christian worldview.
Do you discuss with your students the problems with a "just the facts"
When you define terms or concepts, do you discuss the various alternative
definitions sometimes given to the same terms?
Do you encourage students to trace the multiple level ethical implications
of seemingly simple decisions or events?
Page 55. Holmes mentions "the Marxist, the Freudian, and the Christian"
philosophies of history and theories of personality underlying them.
What techniques do you use to articulate the commonality and the differences
in worldview among fellow Christians?
What do you think is at the core of a Christian worldview, that all or
nearly all evangelical Christians would adhere to?
What is the source of difference among believers in their Christian worldview?
How important are these differences?
Is a persons' Christian worldview fixed and unchanging or does it develop
over time? How? Why?
Pages 56-57. Faculty should learn about each others' disciplines; students
should take courses in the philosophy of a discipline.
How would you define, explain, and apply a Christian philosophy of history
to your discipline? How does it differ from other philosophies? Does it
have commonalities with some others?
Pages 57-60. Integration must ultimately take place at the worldview level.
A worldview must be "a systematic understanding."
How can the faculty create a cross-disciplinary dialog to enrich understanding?
How many and what kinds of philosophy courses should be required in the
Core curriculum? Is Holmes' recommendation of two (one general and one
bridging disciplines) appropriate?
Chapter 6: Academic Freedom
Considering Holmes' meanings of "multiversity" and "university," how best
can we reemphasize our intention to be a university? How best might "intellectual
polytheism" be addressed?
What can faculty do to encourage students to develop "a systematic understanding
and appraisal of life" as they move through more than forty courses?
Some studies claim that many students come to college "foreclosed" in their
worldviews. What can be done to encourage in students a thoughtful exploration
and construction of a vibrant, lasting, and faithful worldview?
Pages 61-63. Students must be free to learn for themselves and not be
Pages 64-76. "The Christian college must provide an opportunity and the
atmosphere for an open discussion of new ideas and significant issues."
What strategies do you use to help students find their own way to truth,
thinking things out for themselves, rather than giving in to the temptation
simply to tell them the path to take?
How do you respond to a student who seems headed off in the wrong direction?
Chapter 7: College as Community
How do you handle the presentation of sensitive or potentially offensive
material in your classroom?
It is now being said that many American universities are less free to discuss
some issues than are other areas of society, because such discussion is
now being labeled "intolerance," "hate speech," and the like. What formerly
was considered philosophical disagreement is now often considered a moral
crime. What can the university do to keep from falling into this sort of
What approach do you take when a theological controversy or disagreement
breaks out in your classroom or in the course material?
Holmes says that students should have the freedom to disagree "on reasonable
grounds" with their teachers. Do you encourage such a freedom? Have you
found improved insights through such disagreements?
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
What ideas do you have for encouraging students to continue to interact
over course material outside the classroom?
How can faculty help foster a community that "helps create [positive] attitudes
and impart values"?
What can faculty do outside the classroom to help build a thoughtful, faith-centered
What kinds of educational community service requirements do you have for
your courses? What kinds of "real world" applications do you require students
to perform as part of a course?
Experience must be connected to theory and interpretation. "Experience
is not self-interpreting."
Chapter 9: The Marks of an Educated Person
What assignments do you give that cause students to evaluate and interpret
What do you think is the value of experience-based learning components
in your courses?
There is a difference between being educated and being merely trained.
How would you define an educated Christian? What characteristics should
a graduate of this university have?
How do Holmes' "marks of an educated Christian" on pages 102-103 compare
with your ideal list? With the university's targets and goals?
Holmes, Arthur F. The Idea of a
Christian College. Rev. Ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987. ISBN 0-8028-0258-3.
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
2000 by Robert Harris | How to cite this page
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About the author:
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