Fall 2019 On the Hill

University Education with a Soul

OBU’s Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry recently launched its own blog at hobbsblog.okbu.edu. Below is an abridged version of a recent post from Dr. Heath Thomas. Thomas examines how Christian liberal arts universities like OBU help deliver a transformative educational experience to students, changing not only what they know but more importantly impacting who they will become.

The American university lost its soul, and we need to find it again. University education is a beautiful, noble, formative and helpful endeavor. At its best, university education is transformative: it effects change in people. But the question is…what do they become? We may see graduates who can land a job and make money, but all too often, the students who leave university into the “real world” leave without a soul.

An internal drive for an amorphous notion of “excellence” often leads universities to forsake their original mission and morph into places who churn out people who can get a job to make money, professors who can get research grants, and academic units that move up national rankings. But in the process, the university forgets moral formation inherent in its education and so fails in its mission to benefit the world.

The Wisdom of Education

It wasn’t always so. When set against its originating ideals, university education developed to shape the character, minds, hearts and souls of students so that they could acquire wisdom to engage the world well with skills that were relevant to their communities.

Wisdom, as described in the Bible, equates to a love of God in the whole of life so that we live well in God’s world. Wisdom is devotion to the Lord that works itself out in proper and fitting action in the world. We don’t naturally have wisdom, so we need to seek after it.

At its best university education is a pursuit of wisdom. Grounded in a deep and abiding love for God in all of life, university education trains individuals to think and act in the world with acquired skills and dispositions to engage the world well.

The Soul of the Christian Liberal Arts University

Distinctively Christian liberal arts universities, like OBU, are created to provide education with a soul. They are built on a social compact: they will form their students so those students will be beneficial for the world. To be beneficial to the world, students need a soul. And because Christian liberal arts universities are grounded in a desire to build God’s wisdom into the lives of its students, they provide this soulish education.

The path to wisdom is grounded in Scripture and expressed in the liberal arts tradition of the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music). This ancient and venerable education, translated in a modern core curriculum, shapes the whole person in the whole of life for the glory of God and the good of the world. When other skills useful to the world (business, fine arts, education, literature and language, philosophy, theology and ministry, among others) couple with the classical Christian liberal arts core, one finds the ingredients for a university that develops students’ souls.

If it is true that university education has lost its soul, I believe we can find it again in Christian liberal arts education.