The Liberal Arts
Gene C. Fant Jr. | Review by: Blake Bozarth
Gene C. Fant Jr., The Liberal Arts: A Student’s Guide. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 128 pp. $11.99.
There are precious few things that hold their value across the span of history. Liberal learning is one. In his book The Liberal Arts: A Student’s Guide, Gene C. Fant Jr., professor of literature and vice president for academic administration at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, provides an informative history of liberal learning along with a compelling case for continued application in our modern era. That would be enough for a worthy read in itself, but Fant doesn’t stop there. He also distinguishes between what we associate with a culturally “liberal” approach to liberal arts education versus that of the Christian tradition.
Fant tells the story of being posed with a difficult question from the father of a freshman liberal arts student: if knowledge is power, and power corrupts, why am I subjecting my daughter to corruption? Absent an integrated, Christ-centered approach, this syllogism can indeed hold true, and one can choose from many institutions (many of which are nominally or formerly Christian) for examples. Danger ensues when the underlying purpose of education is learning merely for learning’s sake or solely for self-gain. When the liberal arts are divorced from the Creator of the universe and from a higher, overarching purpose, save for common grace, man corrupts the truth and follows after evil. Such secular teaching cultivates in students a fragmented, disconnected perspective of the world that encourages each individual to import and apply his or her own meaning to life.
Education Is Liberating
And this is where Fant makes the fundamental distinction between the secular and the Christian tradition. He offers a counter syllogism: education is the pursuit of truth, and truth sets a person free. In this sense, education is liberating. This is how we should think of the liberal arts. Knowing that all truth is God’s truth, discovering that truth—wherever it is to be found (in science, art, philosophy, etc)—sets us free from the prejudices of our sinful nature and renders us at liberty to serve and glorify our Lord.
In reading this book, I was reminded that as a Christian, I have a basic calling that goes beyond whatever particular career I may be pursuing. I have been given a commandment to subdue and take dominion over the earth. As creatures made in the image of a glorious Creator, we also have a calling to bring glory to him in everything we do. He created this world and gives us the duty to permeate all of creation with Christian thoughts, words, and deeds. By educating students in an array of disciplines tied together with a distinctly Christian, unifying, and underlying worldview, a Christian liberal arts college cultivates in its students what Fant terms “intellectual empathy”—the ability to understand the way others think about and approach issues.
As a graduate from such an institution, I have a deep appreciation for the work Fant has produced. This book serves as a convincing treatise for the place and purpose of the liberal arts in the Christian tradition. Like the apostle Paul’s days at Mars Hill, we too will be challenged in ways that will require not just knowledge of facts but clarity of critical thought. We must be prepared to think systematically yet creatively, honestly yet wisely. This is the purpose of a Christian liberal arts education—discovering truth wherever it is found and enabling students to take captive every thought for the Lord’s redemptive work.
Blake Bozarth graduated from Covenant College in 2010 with a BA in economics and currently works in finance at Unum, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee.