View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Thursday, October 24


Comprehensive in scope, this substantial volume was compiled in honor of Leland Ryken and champions the importance of an approach to faith and learning grounded in the Christian liberal arts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433523946
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 04/20/2012
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

JEFFRY C. DAVIS (PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago) is associate professor of English at Wheaton College. He is also the director of Wheaton’s Writing Center and Interdisciplinary Studies program.

Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Leland Ryken (PhD, University of Oregon) served as professor of English at Wheaton College for nearly 50 years. He has authored or edited over fifty books, including The Word of God in English and A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible. He is a frequent speaker at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meetings and served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version Bible.

Duane Litfin (DPhil, University of Oxford; PhD, Purdue University) is president emeritus of Wheaton College where he served for seventeen years. He is the author of numerous articles and books.

Jeffrey P. Greenman(PhD, University of Virginia) is president and professor of theology and ethics at Regent College. He is the author of several books, including The Pedagogy of Praise.

Wayne Martindale (PhD, University of California) is professor of English at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, where he regularly teaches classes on C. S. Lewis.

Read Mercer Schuchardt (PhD, New York University) is associate professor of communication at Wheaton College. He earned his doctorate under the invitation of the late Neil Postman at NYU’s Media Ecology program. He is also a member of the Media Ecology Association and the International Jacques Ellul Society. Schuchardt is a contributor to several books on communication and media theory, is the editor of You Do Not Talk About Fight Club, and the co-founder and editorial chair of the online journal Second Nature. He and his wife, Rachel, have ten children.

Read an Excerpt



Jeffry C. Davis

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.


Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

— PROVERBS 3:5–8

Choosing a college or university represents a momentous fork in the road of life. Every fall, hundreds of thousands of students pack up their belongings and leave home, heading off on a journey to learn something that they hope will enable them to live better. They say goodbye to familiar faces — their parents, their siblings, their friends, and their pets — often amid long hugs and many tears, expressing a mix of sadness and excitement.

This rite of passage — the pursuit of an undergraduate degree — may perhaps best be understood as an archetypal event, a quest for something worthwhile, requiring deliberate choices and actions. Although many go on this quest, no two travelers experience the same journey. Each passage proves to be unique, with powerful influences and effects that will last a lifetime.

Of the myriads who attend a college or a university, some intentionally pursue an unusual undergraduate experience, one in which they learn how to integrate an understanding of the Bible with all other texts, a belief in divine revelation with scholarly investigation, and a knowledge of orthodox theology with other disciplines of study. These students seek the wisdom of liberal arts for the Christian life.


Of all the options available in higher education, the road to a liberal arts institution epitomizes the one "less traveled." Of the more than four thousand colleges and universities in the United States, secular and religious, the vast majority provide a preprofessional or specialized sort of education, reflecting the pervasive values and goals of the dominant culture. Clearly, a liberal arts diploma lacks the popularity of other more specialized degrees deemed by many to be trendy, lucrative, and respectable. Students who want that sort of a sheepskin may be disappointed at a liberal arts school. However, at a Christian liberal arts college or university, the goal remains even more distinctive: gospel-infused instruction, by professors who genuinely profess Christ as central to a proper understanding of their subjects, and the formation of your whole being for the complete journey of life, which signifies their greatest concern.

Students in my courses often find the Christian liberal arts perspective surprising, if not perplexing, when I present it to them. Most American college students, including Christians, choose a college or university, and eventually a major, with the intent of establishing a career — a ticket to the good life. This approach reflects the predominant "commonsense" view of college, namely, that an education gives you earning power. And why shouldn't students think this way? Politicians talk about the benefits of advanced schooling almost strictly in terms of creating job opportunities and making a more skilled workforce. Parents often express the importance of choosing a practical major, one that readily answers the question, "So what are you going to do with that when you graduate?" At times, even secondary teachers pressure students to perform well in order to move up the ladder of success, using the fear of bad grades as an extrinsic motivator. Pragmatic attitudes about learning abound, especially in the land of the American Dream, where many feel that they must attend school in order to become successful.

In effect, for most students, a college education has become an expensive set of instructions on how to move to a higher socioeconomic plane, a form of self-reliance that supposedly guarantees a comfortable, carefree life. Ironically, this "normal" view of college comes at a price, especially for Christians. Pursuing the perfect life can become idolatrous when we try to control the outcome. "Our eyes are not on God. At heart we are practicing Pelagians," warns Brennan Manning. "We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps." Yet, Christ offers a very different orientation for the disciple who genuinely desires college to be a liberating season of life — radical dependence. In Matthew 6, and in other places throughout the Gospels, he bids his followers to faithfully look upward and then step forward: give what you have freely and discreetly to the poor, ask God for daily bread and forgiveness of debts, resist the temptation to lay up treasures on earth, and be anxious for nothing you truly need. Jesus places his disciples right at the crossroads, forcing a deliberate choice between two contrasting destinations, one toward God and the other toward Mammon. These roads cannot be traveled simultaneously. Christ becomes emphatic about this concern: "You cannot serve God and money" (Matt. 6:24).

In Paradise Lost, the great Christian poet John Milton portrays Mammon as the demon god of earthly treasure, who weighs people down by making them want more material things, and who spreads a particularly perverse way of thinking contrary to God's way: "Rather seek Our own good from ourselves." The demon whispers fear into the ears of Christian students: "You have to make your own way in the world, on your own terms, or you will never survive." When it comes to choices regarding college and life, far too many Christians heed Mammon's false eloquence rather than obey Christ's life-giving command: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). Christ wants us to travel by faith. "Get rid of the boots," he urges. "Slip on some sandals, and follow me." Rightly understood, the pursuit of Christ is the supreme liberal art — the fundamental discipline that sets us free.

The ancient Hebrews urge us toward unique wisdom (hokmah) when it comes to traveling by God's directing power. As T. A. Perry notes, "one has to have a derek, meaning both a way with things and also a proper path or road to follow. There is nothing more dear to the wisdom tradition than this notion, heavily weighted in the direction of right and wrong." The Hebrews carried low-tech oil lamps close to their bodies, casting just enough light to illuminate the path ahead for the next few steps — nothing more. They could readily say with the psalmist, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps. 119:105). Obviously, they did not possess the technology of flashlights with alkaline batteries and Kryptonite bulbs, able to produce a powerful bright-white beam a hundred feet ahead. In contrast to the ancient Hebrews, we twenty-first-century Americans like our trip gadgets — Mapquest, GPS, and Google Earth — so that we can scan every square inch before we take a single step, anticipating every bump in the road ahead. We don't want any surprises.

Needless to say, when we hear the phrase "God has a wonderful plan for your life," something gets lost in translation. We think it is our job to figure out "the plan" and then manage things thereafter. But we overlook the best part of the phrase: wonder. Reveling in the wonder of the created universe, we should realize, with wise King David, that we cannot know everything, especially the mind of God: "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?" (Ps. 8:3–4). Creation should strike us with slack-jawed awe and dazzle us to quieting reverence. The pursuit of knowledge should start with wonder and curiosity, not the motive of controlling our destiny. Because a liberal arts education represents a quest for truth rather than an information download, it moves us toward the unknown every bit as much as the known. Truth is big. It emanates from God. And we never possess it; it possesses us. Biblical wisdom corrects our hubris and frees us from the illusion of control. Relying on the light of his revealed Word and guided by the input of fellow travelers, Christian students become empowered to boldly choose the road less traveled, one that can be boot-loose and wonder-full.


With an expanded vision of wonder, how, then, do we explore the academic disciplines — such as philosophy, psychology, biology, and art — in a manner that is integrated with biblical wisdom — its values, and its view of the cosmos? Serious Christians who pursue the liberal arts should have a compelling answer to this question, first for themselves, and then for others. For despite a liberal arts institution's strong affirmation of orthodox Christianity, some may still raise their eyebrows, and their voices, at the idea of integrating the two realms: secular knowledge and biblical belief. They ask, "Why would you want to study at a liberal arts college that is Christian, anyway?"

This question actually has legitimacy and importance. It represents an old debate among early believers. During the late second century, Tertullian, a prominent leader of the church, put forth a challenging series of similar questions:

What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from "the porch of Solomon," who had himself taught that "the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart." Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition!

In essence, Tertullian asked, "How can a student of the liberal arts, one who examines the world and its ways (symbolically represented by pagan Athens), be a disciple of Jesus Christ, one who pursues spiritual reality and its practices (signified by the holy city of Jerusalem)?" For Tertullian, the contrast between the two activities could not be denied or dismissed. He saw an inherent contradiction between the wisdom of pagan philosophers, as demonstrated in the writings of Plato or Zeno, versus the wisdom of God, as exhibited in the sacred books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Therefore, since Athens and Jerusalem did not seem compatible, Tertullian cautioned Christians about roaming the streets of both cities.

For Tertullian, the power of the liberal arts, the curriculum that formed the minds of pagan thinkers, ought to be taken seriously, because it has the potential to corrupt a Christian's faith in the gospel, which he argued must remain pure, without the blemish of harmful influences. Christians who experience God's grace in the breaking of their bondage to sin participate in the redemption of Christ through his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his indwelling Spirit. But the enlargement of their capacities toward greater personal and social liberties has serious risks; namely, it can lead Christians to possess a greater confidence in themselves and their own abilities rather than in their Creator and his sovereignty. Thus Tertullian wanted them to carefully examine the inherent tension of pursuing both freedoms together.

This tension between the ways of Athens and those of Jerusalem remains as a vital consideration for any serious Christian who has decided to pursue a liberal arts education. In fact, a regular acknowledgment of the allure of Athens (secular knowledge) can prove to be peculiarly beneficial, prompting the student to deliberately exercise faith back toward Jerusalem (biblical wisdom). This dialectic serves to strengthen the Christian mind, not weaken it, allowing for what Milton described as the antidote to a "cloistered virtue" or a sheltered faith: the regular testing of one's beliefs by what is contrary, strengthening them through the rigorous challenge that comes from oppositional worldviews and even the contemplation of evil.


A thoughtful understanding and defense of Christian liberal arts learning requires a basic knowledge of its pagan precursor. The enkyklios paideia of ancient Athens (a "complete cycle of education" — the same basis for the English word encyclopedia, with its comprehensive survey of knowledge) shaped students with powerful results, developing them into the kinds of human beings who could become effective leaders in all areas of society. During the fifth century BCE, the great Athenian teacher Isocrates, in his Panegyricus, one of the earliest works to describe the benefits of liberal learning, asserted that students who received this kind of education would possess not only "power in their own cities but ... honor in other states." Similarly, during the fourth century BCE, Aristotle proposed that this noble form of learning — expressly for the free citizens (eleutheroi) of a democracy — was the perfect preparation for the exercise of virtue (areté: excellence) in realms of intellectual thought and moral action.

Within this distinctly pre-Christian program of education, students labored to learn specific classical disciplines known as "arts." First they acquired skill in the "three core studies," called the trivium: grammar (the way language works), dialectic (the logical development of sound thinking), and rhetoric (the means to persuade others). Then students explored "the four ways," called the quadrivium: arithmetic (the knowledge of quantity), geometry (the measurements of the earth), music (the art of the Muses), and astronomy (the examination of the stars). Together, these seven studies became what the Roman orator and statesman Cicero first described as the artes liberales, a term relatively understood in the first century BCE as "the academic disciplines for freedom."

The arts proved to be freeing or liberal (a word that comes from the Latin liber, meaning "free person") because they quite literally disciplined students toward new habits of thinking and behaving that were enriching. (Coincidentally, liber is also the word for "book.") The liberal arts ideal encouraged an important connection between a student's freedom to study (few people enjoyed that luxury) and the means to sustain and inform that freedom, explicitly through a disciplined regimen using worthwhile books from many disciplines. For this reason Quintilian, the influential advocate for liberal learning during the first century CE, argued that "we should read none but the best authors, who are least likely to betray our trust."

Ancient liberal arts learning, then, depended upon reading a diverse selection of core texts with the aim of critical engagement and evaluative judgment. Properly conceived, reading provided students with the means to dialog with dead authors — the great thinkers of the past. With every book read, liberal arts students took the opportunity to interact with one another in spirited conversation, making sense of the contents, offering possible interpretations, and debating their significance. In this context, the skills of precise speech and careful listening naturally came into play. And on regular occasion, students crafted their own written ideas to present to peers in class. Historically, a liberal arts education offered students a complete orientation to the known world and the cultivation of the skills needed to flourish in it, including the critical literacy skills that made human beings distinct from the animals — reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The end, or ideal objective, was to shape good people who would regularly exercise freedom in society and responsibly serve the common good.


Ironically, Tertullian himself was the recipient of a liberal arts education, and some recent scholars suggest that he would not have been the great theologian of the Trinity that he became were it not for his classical studies. Fluent in Greek and Latin, he read widely in a variety of subjects, such as history, literature, law, medicine, philosophy, and rhetoric, engaging ideas with the fierce conviction that every thought must be surrendered to Christ. As Robert D. Sider observes, "His conversion to Christianity brought to him a radically new vision of the world, while his pagan education provided him with the tools to express that vision with almost unparalleled power." Contrary to popular opinion, Tertullian was not an anti-intellectual Christian but a rational thinker who gained clarity of thought by facing ideas contrary to his faith. In other words, Tertullian demonstrated his vast knowledge of Athens and its emphasis on human reason to show the comparative superiority of Jerusalem and its insistence upon supernatural faith.


Excerpted from "Liberal Arts for the Christian Life"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Jeffry C. Davis and Philip G. Ryken.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface 11

The Student's Calling, Leland Ryken 15

Introduction 23

Section 1 Terminology and Background

1 The Countercultural Quest of Christian Liberal Arts Jeffiy C. Davis 31

2 Liberal Education and Book Learning Lisa Richmond 45

3 Evangelicals, Colleges, and American Nation Building Edith Blumhofer 53

Section 2 Theological Convictions

4 Liberal Arts Education and the Doctrine of Humanity Roger Lundin 71

5 Faithful Christian Learning Jeffrey P. Greenman 81

6 Liberal Arts as a Redemptive Enterprise Wayne Martindale 91

7 Loving God as the Key to a Christian Liberal Arts Education Duane Litfin 101

Section 3 Habits and Virtues

8 The Lost Tools of Learning and the Habits of a Scholarly Mind Marjorie Lamp Mead 113

9 How to Read a Book Alan Jacobs 123

10 Writing for Life Shawn Coolidge 133

11 Listening, Speaking, and the Art of Living Kenneth R. Chase 143

12 Educating for Intellectual Character Jay Wood 155

13 Beyond Building a Resume Stephen B. Ivester 167

Section 4 Divisional Areas of Study

14 A World of Discovery through the Natural Sciences Dorothy F. Chappell 179

15 Exploring a Universe of Relationships through the Social Sciences Henry Allen 191

16 The Humanities as Indulgence or Necessity? Jill Peláez Baumgaertner 199

17 Singing God's Praise Michael Wilder 209

18 Learning to Perceive through Visual Art E. John Walford 221

19 Theater as an Imperfect Mirror Mark Lewis 231

Section 5 The End of Christian Liberal Arts

20 Social Media and the Loss of Embodied Communication Read Mercer Schuchardt 241

21 Learning to Live Redemptively in Your Own Body Peter Walters 253

22 Personal Formation and the Understanding Heart James Wilhoit 265

23 Learning for a Lifetime John H. Augustine 275

24 The Gospel, Liberal Arts, and Global Engagement Tamara Townsend 285

25 Liberal Arts in the New Jerusalem Philip G. Ryken 293

Contributors 303

Cover Art Credits 307

General Index 309

Scripture Index 315

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A fitting tribute both to Leland Ryken as a superb teacher, and to the importance of the liberal arts in the life of the Christian mind and soul. Few will fail to benefit from its expanded and enriched vision of the life of faith.”
Alister McGrath, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion, University of Oxford

“This fine volume honors a marvelously gifted evangelical scholar-teacher. But it is itself a significant contribution to the cause that Leland Ryken has served so well, offering much wisdom on what it takes to sustain and nurture a life of the mind that will promote the goals of Christ’s kingdom.”
Richard J. Mouw, President, Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life, written as a collection of reflections on the liberal arts by colleagues of Leland Ryken, certainly captures clearly the range, the richness, and the complexity of the connections between a liberal arts education and the Christian life. Even more compelling is the way the book represents the incarnational nature of a liberal arts education—a single professor embodying a vision of learning that entices thousands of students over several generations to follow in his footsteps, not by becoming more like him but by becoming more fully the unique individuals that God created them to be. This book is a ‘must read’ for Christian liberal arts educators and their students!”
Shirley A. Mullen, President, Houghton College

“Clement of Alexandria, one of the earliest proponents of Christian liberal arts education, observed that excellence in such educational attainment was widely regarded in the second century as evidence that a person was a Christian. The authors of this volume likewise affirm that liberal learning centered in Christ ought to be the trademark of Christians in any walk of life today. In a fitting tribute to the life work of Leland Ryken, they have created a lively and accessible introduction to the advantages of such an education for a young Christian who wishes to grow in maturity and wisdom.”
David Lyle Jeffrey, Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities, Baylor University

“All who love the life of the mind, who care about the education of our youth, or who are devoted to the intellectual and spiritual vibrancy of our churches will relish this diverse collection of essays by premier Christian scholars and academic leaders. Liberal Arts for the Christian Life is both a fitting tribute to an extraordinary Christian college professor and a most welcome collection of thoughtful excursions into the enduring purposes of the liberal arts in the Christian college curriculum.”
Darryl Tippens, Provost, Pepperdine University

“This volume provides a rich collection of wisdom concerning Christian liberal arts education. Students will find in it valuable guidelines for reflecting on how to get the most out of their education. It is an apt tribute to a scholar who has dedicated his career to imparting such wisdom, and this book should be provided to help carry on such work into the future.”
George M. Marsden, author, C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”: A Biography

“The beneficial impact of Leland Ryken’s contributions to God’s kingdom extends far beyond the campus of Wheaton College. The scholarly work of faculty from across Christian higher education has been influenced in professional development workshops led by Dr. Ryken including ‘The Bible as Literature,’ ‘The Bible in Literature,’ and other topics related to his own research and writing. With dignity, warmth, and great dedication, Dr. Ryken has invested himself in the intellectual and spiritual development of others. This festschrift represents a collective and heartfelt ‘thank you’ from the authors and on behalf of so many others!“
Karen A. Longman, Professor and Program Director, Department of Doctoral Higher Education, Azuza Pacific University

“This celebration of the liberal arts through the eyes of Christian faith pays a fitting tribute to Dr. Leland Ryken’s many contributions to this great conversation. May students and future colleagues reap the blessings of the seeds sown in this text for many more generations.”
Michael Le Roy, President-elect, Calvin College

“Higher education is undergoing an awakening, and in Liberal Arts for the Christian Life we have a clarion call to the liberal arts through dedicated Christian learning. Leland Ryken—a teacher of English and a scholar of Milton—has spent his life asking students to think about the purpose of education, careers, and lives; in this volume he is celebrated by his colleagues who, in turn, are asking these questions of their own students. Whether Christian or not, educators will want to read this book, asking students to read in it, too—that is, if they want them to consider what the liberal arts are for.”
J. Scott Lee, Executive Director, Association for Core Texts and Courses, Liberal Arts Institute at Saint Mary's College of California

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews