Provost Reflects on Christianity and Education
One of the nation’s preeminent experts on classical learning, Patrick Henry College Provost Gene Edward Veith, recently delivered the college’s second annual fall Faith and Reason Lecture.
The lecture preempted an entire day of classes at Patrick Henry College, so that students and faculty might wrestle with and reflect on pressing themes affecting Christian higher education today—namely, the relationships between faith and reason, biblical revelation and the liberal arts, and the church and civilization.
According to Dr. Veith, a curious development occurred when higher education entered the 21st century. “The secularists who once attacked faith are now also attacking reason,” he said. “Some of the same people who rejected the Bible are now rejecting science.”
As increasing numbers of academics reject their own intellectual heritage, said Dr. Veith, “Christians have been put in the position of defending reason and objective truth . . . It is increasingly up to Christians to champion the liberal arts, Western civilization, and higher education itself.”
Debunking the clichéd arguments of secularists who claim that Christianity breeds intellectually myopic individuals who are averse to whatever knowledge is not found in the Bible, Dr. Veith countered, “It is the secularists who have narrow-minded ideologies that inhibit education in its fullness. [I would argue that] Christianity is so comprehensive, so complex and nuanced, and so much bigger than humanly-devised ideologies that it can serve as an educational framework for the whole range of learning.”
Dr. Veith borrowed his theme, “ “Ten Times Better Than the Magicians and the Enchanters’: Christianity as a Framework for Higher Education,” from the Book of Daniel’s chronicle of Nebuchadnezzar’s court-ordered, pagan education of Israel’s brightest youths (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). That “full-ride scholarship to the University of Babylon,” Dr. Veith suggested, offers a striking framework for the thesis that Christians, far from suffering scholastic anemia, have a distinct advantage in education over secular ideologies “because the Bible encourages learning in a way that contemporary relativism does not.”
“These children of Israel understood the freedom they had through their faith in the true God,” Dr. Veith argued. “They did not even have any scruples about accepting Babylonian names with references to pagan deities, but they refused to compromise on the commands of God’s Word, in this case the Hebrew dietary laws, which they had a covenant obligation to keep.”
Moreover, the excellence of the young Israelites displayed itself in their academic prowess, which was “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters”—and which speaks eloquently to the lofty potential of Christian higher education.
“The Scripture could not be clearer in stating that education in its full range is a gift of God,” Dr. Veith affirmed. “ ‘God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom’ [Daniel 1:17; English Standard Version] . . . I would argue that these four believers in God’s Word had a better foundation and a better perspective for education than the magicians and the enchanters. Furthermore, I believe that this holds true for Christians today, that Scripture gives us Christian students and scholars a tenfold advantage over the magicians and enchanters of our day.”
Dr. Veith is well known in Christian, conservative, and homeschooling circles through his writing and speaking on various aspects of Christianity and the culture. Formerly a cultural editor of WORLD Magazine, he continues to serve as a columnist for the magazine, and has spent over 20 years in Christian academia as a professor of English, including eight years as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Concordia-Wisconsin. In addition to his frequent contributions to WORLD, Dr. Veith has published 17 books, some scholarly and some popular, several of which been translated into foreign languages.
Dr. Veith continued, “The Christian worldview embraces the whole range of reality: the intellect and the emotions; objectivity and subjectivity; science and the humanities; facts and ideas; the natural and the supernatural.
“. . . Christianity can account for the depravity of human beings, the limits of the mind, the sorry record of failures and atrocities and evil that makes up much of human history . . . But Christianity can also account for the greatness of human beings, the achievements of the intellect and creative powers, the heroism and moral examples that also constitute our history. This is because human beings were created in the Image of God, and thus are endowed with extraordinary value and potential. We can account for human sin and human greatness, as well as everything in between.”
To read the full text of Dr. Veith’s Faith and Reason Lecture.
|About the author
David Halbrook is Patrick Henry College’s director of communications.