Public Square Magazine Primary White, Gold & Black Logo | PublicSquareMag | What is Public Square | Politics, Faith & Family | Home | Public Square Magazine
BYU Campus Spring

The Pressing Need for a Genuinely Christian Liberal Arts Education

Exploring the nature of a Classical Christian Liberal Arts Education, why the world needs it now more than ever, and how BYU can help.
The first of a three part series based on the paper “The Nature and Role of Christian Liberal Arts Education in Light of the Mission and Aims of a BYU Education.”

To introduce the need for a genuinely Christian liberal arts education, and what it can do, I will paraphrase a statement from the biologist, and New Atheist, Richard Dawkins, about Darwin and Darwinian theory.  Dawkins stated that while it was possible to be an atheist before Darwin, after Darwin, and particularly, after the development of what can be referred to as “Darwinian theory,” it is possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist.  What might this mean?  What does Darwinian theory provide that can now make “new” atheism intellectually satisfying in a way that atheism wasn’t before?  The clear answer is that Darwinian theory provides a coherent and comprehensive world view, an overarching philosophical position that provides a reasoned basis for atheist assumptions and explanations across a range of intellectual issues.  It provides a comprehensive, reasoned grounding for secular perspectives across all scholarly disciplines.  

This happens in at least three important ways.  First, Darwinianism provides a metaphysical (or ontological) foundation: material reality is the fundamental reality and non-physical (psychological and spiritual) phenomena, insofar as they might be genuine, arise from the fundamental substance of which all reality is composed. Darwinian-derived materialist approaches and explanations have subsequently become accepted in many fields.   

Does our worldview provide us with energy and power at a level comparable to what has emerged from the secularist worldview?

Second, Darwinianism also highlights a particular epistemology, a trusted consensual method of verifying truth claims about the world and about human nature.  Darwinian truth claims are grounded in systematic observations, and thus secular atheism tries to lay exclusive claim to empirical science—such that only materialist conclusions can be supported by empirical data.  

Finally, Darwinism presumes to provide a foundation even for the moral world, and all supportable moral systems, including religion. Darwinianism provides a mechanism for accounting for moral characteristics, behaviors, social systems, events, and phenomena, within which mechanism is taken to be operative at every level of our world. The ultimate foundation for morality is survival value, manifest chiefly in reproductive advantage.  In short, secular Darwinianism is a complete intellectual worldview that provides a cohesive intellectual structure for making sense of the world and of us.  In other words, it “bathes everything in the light and color” of scientistic, materialist, naturalist constructs and proposes itself as the grounds for understanding all. Daniel Dennett once likened Darwinianism to a universal acid that eats its way through every topic leaving them fundamentally altered.   

In our current cultural climate, this intellectual movement is at the core of most if not all species of secularism.  In some important ways, it provides the intellectual energy for the steady march of secularism in the academic world and in the broader culture, including pop culture.

The question for us, then, is whether we have a comprehensively Christian view of the world that accomplishes the same things for us that the Darwinian worldview has provided for the secular world. Does our worldview provide us with energy and power at a level comparable to what has emerged from the secularist worldview?  If we do not have such a view with all the comprehensive historical, conceptual, intellectual work that supports and gives it life and persuasive coherence, then, if we are to resist secularization, we need to either develop such a view or surrender the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual field.  

It is my experience that we have no such comprehensive viewat least not in the robustly scholarly sense that can efficaciously ground our intellectual and moral understandings and undertakings.  I have encountered many colleagues and students who have an “innate” sense of dis-ease about the increasingly secular academic world, and  a few who have taken some aspect of that problem and worked out a more seriously Christian, and thus more satisfying, approach to certain topics,  But this is extremely hard work not only in terms of time, but intellectual and spiritual energy especially while often working alone, and frequently with the need to educate oneself in various topics beyond what is available in the training received in one’s own discipline.  a comprehensively Christian world view of the sort we need, must bear the marks of the highest level of rigor and sophistication.  Such an intellectual world view would not, indeed cannot, be merely a “dumbing down” of pervasively secular academic work but rather, a raising of our intellectual sights and our intellectual scope and vision above the ordinary and traditional.  The view we need would thereby be much better, fuller, and more defensible than what is currently on offer in the secular world, and eminently able to respond—and help students respond—to the ongoing secular drift.  We need this higher worldview in its most sophisticated form—not merely “Christian-sprinkled” secular world views. Brigham Young University—a school grounded in a Christian, Latter-day Saint perspective—provides an important study for what such an education and intellectual effort must entail. 

Note 1 Regarding the Mission and Aims of a BYU Education

Teaching with the spirit requires not just the presence of the spirit in the learning environment, but equally importantly, an intellectual environment informed and animated by the spirit of truth within an intellectual context of Christian truth.

“ . . . the university must provide an environment enlightened by living prophets and sustained by those moral virtues which characterize the life and teachings of the Son of God . . .”.  (Italics added.)

We should note here the emphasis given in the Mission and Aims document to the importance of BYU’s providing an environment enlightened by prophets and sustained by Christian moral teachings.  The document concludes then that “within that environment” the educational goals of the university should prevail.  I do not want in the least to disagree with the absolute importance of creating and maintaining a Christian moral environment at BYU.  Brigham Young University could not be what it is or do what it should do, without such an environment for a large number of reasons.  

However, while the restored gospel—its teachings, spiritual discipline, and moral standards—are essential to the environment of BYU in order for it to pursue its intellectual/educational mission; a gospel-informed environment is not enough for it to accomplish its mission and aims and make the difference it can and should make in the lives and minds of those who study and work here —and in the Church and society beyond.  And to extend this analysis one step further, concentrating the influence of the restored gospel only on the environmental features of a BYU education will not allow BYU to accomplish what it might accomplish within the larger mission of the Church, including the project of helping to redeem a broader secular culture and those who live their lives within, and take their purpose and meaning from, Though very much adrift intellectually and morally, the secular culture, in one guise or another, is among the chief exports of our nation and its universities.

A Christian moral environment is essential to this project, but so also is a Christian/restored-gospel-informed curriculum.

The mission and aims document seems generally to be read and interpreted in such a way as to not so explicitly emphasize the absolutely essential role of the restored gospel in the intellectual content of a BYU education as much as in the environment in which the education is provided.  However, it is the Christian restored-gospel intellectual content  of a BYU education that may very well be our most important contribution to what can be understood more broadly as a high quality Christian liberal arts education.  

A Christian moral environment is essential to this project, but so also is a Christian/restored-gospel-informed curriculum. Indeed, the Gospel must be appropriately influential in the very content of a BYU education.  Without Christian animated and informed curriculum content, a Christian environment will still provide a wonderful and morally safe environment for students to grow and develop, but, if firm and rigorous Christian/restored-gospel inspired moral and intellectual understandings do not enlighten our students as they finish their time in the spiritual environment, so much will have been wasted.  And, lacking a firm and unflinching Christian inspired, life-anchoring education to sustain it, it is less likely that the moral and spiritual development provided by the spiritual environment will be sustainable in the long run—and given current moral trends, perhaps even in the short run.  And the opportunity costs in the lives of students and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, if Christian-informed intellectual life is not salient among the products of a BYU educational experience, will be substantial.  

Providing an essentially secular education—an education wherein the approach, assumptions, content, and foundations of knowledge presented throughout the curriculum on offer at BYU are largely indistinguishable from the approach, assumptions, content, and practices that are on offer at any secular university—within a gospel-informed environment might actually present the secular ideas in such ways as to give them greater credibility and perceived truth value—especially in the minds of students—than if they were packaged and presented within a purely secular environment.  Students might actually be more discerning and cautious in a purely secular environment.  

This is not to say that BYU should simply avoid or ignore the standard intellectual and scholarly content of the disciplines.  On the contrary, we absolutely must provide a first-class education that will equip our students for success in every way.  However, it is to say that the gospel-informed environment must include a gospel-informed rigorous and comprehensive intellectual environment and gospel-informed intellectual content. We should have a Christian-morally-informed “take on,” or “perspective on” the actual intellectual content of the disciplines and the Western intellectual tradition itself.  

The need for, and the form and substance of a Christian/ restored gospel-informed perspective will be more readily discernable, and more obviously important, in some scholarly fields than others, and different from field to field.  The form and function of such a perspective will be different for different disciplines.  For many scholars at BYU, for example, I have found it difficult to convince them that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, or the moral teachings of the Church have any relevance to their disciplines or to the intellectual issues in play in their disciplines.  Often, it is the scholars in what are called the “professional” programs who, notwithstanding their sound and unquestioned testimonies and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to his Church, often struggle a bit to appreciate just how the Gospel and Christian commitment might play a role in the content or process of education within their disciplines or others’ disciplines.  After all, a “professional” education often consists largely in training in the practice or the craft of the profession, including as examples, in law, education, business, nursing, engineering, information science, and many natural sciences, and even  some social sciences.  

However, certainly the professional disciplines want well-rounded scholars, and, at BYU, we should want our students to leave  their excellent professional programs with intellectual anchors, and with a sense of the wholeness of truth and its moral and intellectual fullness.  I am convinced that the professional disciplines will benefit from students trained and grounded in Christian gospel-informed and infused education in every part of their curriculum.  And for students in disciplines where the Christian/restored gospel implications are not salient, the required “liberal arts” component of their BYU  education should provide for them the deeply Christian intellectual and moral grounding that is central to any BYU experience.

From the perspective of a professional degree program (and even many liberal arts degree programs), it is common to talk of an undergraduate education as consisting of essentially two parts: 1) most importantly, the major requirements where the craft is learned (based on a settled body of knowledge and skilled practice) and one is prepared for employment or postgraduate education in the profession or craft, and 2) less importantly, a prerequisite requirement to largely be “gotten out of the way,” known commonly as “the generals.”  This is more formally referred to as the “general education” requirement.  It is often (as in BYU’s own Mission and Aims document) understood, or designed, to “broaden” students’ educations, and make them better informed, and better thinkers, in general.  But, in my experience of nearly 40 years, it is difficult for students or even faculty to articulate beyond the bounds of terms like “general” and “broad,” any crucially important role for such education.  Perhaps, many consider it to be, at worst, a holdover from an antiquated notion of university education—dating, perhaps, clear back to the Medieval trivium and quadrivium.  

Even in non-professional fields, those traditionally associated with the “arts and sciences,” it has become increasingly difficult to think in terms other than “general” (for introductory courses) and “specific, focused” (for upper division courses) curriculum requirements.  Many of the sciences are much like professional disciplines in that they seek to educate students in the practice (intellectual or more hands-on) of the scientific craft—much of the content of which is agreed upon and settled within the discipline.  

This is certainly true of the natural sciences and life sciences, but increasingly so among many of the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, political science, and economics as well.  Indeed, the aspiration of many disciplines is to pursue just such a professionally-inspired model so that students are prepared with the skills to perpetuate the “scientific craft.”  If one looks at one’s professorial role as inculcating professional skills and state-of-the-art intellectual approaches independent of religiously and morally relevant, and content-relevant, issues, the religious or moral environment in which this type of education takes place will seem relatively unimportant, so that the intellectual and spiritual missions of BYU are conveniently independent of each other, the former a matter of content, and the latter a matter of environment.

Note 2 Regarding the Mission and Aims of a BYU Education

Teaching “with the spirit” is a matter of content and completeness as well as a matter of personal sensitivity and a spiritual environment.  We “feel” the truth spiritually based on the environment in which it is taught but also based on the meaning and truthfulness of the content of what is being taught.  Some things cannot, and some things ought not, be “taught with the spirit,” which implies that we need to be careful about just what it is we are trying to teach and whether it is deserving of the label of “truth,” of which the spirit is tasked to witness.  

Brother Maeser, I want you to
remember that you ought not to teach even
the alphabet or the multiplication tables
without the Spirit of God.
— Brigham Young

This quote from Brigham Young is probably the most widely cited and oft quoted part of BYU’s Mission and Aims document.  Its particular meaning and interpretation are not, however, altogether clear, which means that, in my experience, it sometimes tends to produce lip service and surface-level, though sincere, attempts to be true to it.  The prevailing understanding seems to be that, since there could be nothing—no educational content—more simple and straightforward than the alphabet or the multiplication tables (simple memorization tasks mostly), this admonition to teach with the spirit can only be aimed at the “spiritual atmosphere where the teaching takes place,” or the “spiritual qualities” of the teacher.  

This interpretation is reasonable, and perhaps was, in part, intended in the admonition cited.  However, I think that President Young also must have had a larger meaning in mind.  First, we should note that he knew that things much more complex and much grander than these simple things would be taught.  That was his vision and purpose for the institution.  He also had an expansive mind.  It was a major intellectual theme of his day for religious thinkers to look at the world holistically and reconcile—or presume that one could reconcile—the best of expansive Enlightenment thinking (for example, natural science in the Newtonian tradition), with religion, social thought, and virtually all human endeavors.  

Teaching everything, including the alphabet and multiplication tables only with the Spirit of God is an important endeavor, and a larger challenge than most Latter-day Saint scholars might have understood.

I am sure the prophet saw both the possibilities and the potential dangers in this.  It is a fundamental tenet of the Restored Gospel that “all things . . . are spiritual” (D&C 29:34).  In the end, when properly understood, all truth comes together, and constitutes the truth as it is known, we must presume, by, and to, God.  Seen from this perspective, then, the common understanding of the admonition to not teach even such simple things as the alphabet and multiplication tables without the spirit of God—or, I suggest, without the broader enlightened spiritual perspective provided by the truths of the Restored Gospel—will likely miss an important point, and lack the broader spiritual and intellectual context that gives any and all academic content its fuller meaning, purpose, and place within the whole.  

Interpreted in this alternative light then, Brigham Young’s admonition reaches far beyond the spiritual sensitivity and personal spiritual commitment of the teacher or the spiritual atmosphere of the classroom or the university.  It reaches into the very content and spiritual/intellectual context within which the whole of the curriculum is taught and understood under the influence of the Spirit, and in light of the whole of restored truth.  It asks all of us to teach all that we teach from our intellectual traditions in the context of, and enlightened by, the whole of restored truth.  It is interesting, and I think, important, that the word “truth” (at least in English scriptures) is not used in the plural—except to refer to some specific thing that God taught in the past and is now teaching again.  It is never used in the plural as in “sacred truths” vs “secular truths.”  

Our contemporary disciplines use the concept of truth fairly freely and loosely, to include empirical observations, data, the models that explain them, theories of all kinds, and even stacks of published materials.  However, He who identifies himself as “the truth” (John 14:6) recommends (D&C 63:61) “ . . . [that] all men beware how they take [His] name in their lips—.”  In this way of looking at it then, I take President Young to be admonishing us to be intellectually and spiritually informed and educated enough to locate and appreciate even the alphabet and the multiplication tables in the context of the whole of revealed truth—i.e., “knowledge of things as they [really] are . . .” (D&C 93: 24).

Teaching everything, including the alphabet and multiplication tables only with the Spirit of God is an important endeavor, and a larger challenge than most Latter-day Saint scholars might have understood, and sometimes larger than what we are able even to see. We all must be taught, and sometimes self-taught, to see anew our own disciplines and their learning, as well as  our own understandings of the Gospel.  Then when we search in the light of the restored gospel of Christ, for the whole, it will most surely be something different, larger, and richer than any “whole” one might construct within a purely secular intellectual regime, and different, larger, and richer than what we might have been able to construct without our renewed seriousness about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and its intellectual, cultural, and moral reach.  

However, sadly, some attempts at this kind of integration have been premature, immature, superficial and sometimes damaging either to the academic subject or to the gospel, to to both. Examples of such ‘too-easy” integrations abound.  A short example will suffice here.  First, I have noticed that God’s acknowledged love for all of us such that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39) is too easily equated with the “unconditional positive regard” at the heart of the psychological theory of Carl Rogers and others in the humanistic movement.  But at a (even slightly) deeper and more intellectually careful level it becomes clear that these two concepts are not reconcilable in substance, origin, or purpose.  An easy conflating of the two is not only intellectually problematic, but religiously, and, perhaps, morally dangerous. It can certainly distort a person’s understanding of the nature and purpose of God’s love, and one’s understanding of what sorts of possibilities God’s love opens up for us.  Such conflating also bestows on Rogers’ concept, and thus his larger work, an exalted character that it does not deserve.  For students, it might influence them to aim much too low on their relationship with God. A long list of similar examples could be given.

What is being recommended here as a mature and more substantive intellectual project is not easy; it will require the very best of us, and certainly more than we have been asked to do so farIn some cases, our intellectual and professional commitments will need to change, some surrendered, and some substantially altered—and this will be different in every academic discipline and more obvious in some disciplines than others.  And perhaps equally often, our understandings of the Gospel will need to mature and extend past the easy interpretations that have allowed us to live out of “two pockets” in the past (easy secular non-religiously-demanding orthodoxy during the week, and easy non-intellectually-demanding, gospel orthodoxy on Sunday).  Some very bright and spiritual people have erred on both sides—some adhering resolutely to the learning of their disciplines and waiting for the Church and revealed doctrine to “catch up,” and some trying to infuse some facile version of restored truth into their discipline without having to modify either one very much, or without having to go to the roots of either.  And some are content to continually compartmentalize their lives.

The kind of deep examination I am suggesting here—exposing our deepest and broadest intellectual and scholarly commitments to intense, sophisticated, and rigorous critical scrutiny in the light of the foundational, divinely given, and faith-defining truth and doctrines of the restored gospel, and concomitantly, doing the hard spiritual work of nurturing and maturing our spiritual understanding of the Restored Gospel so that we are not weaker but stronger and more fully engaged in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to prophets in our day.  This we must do, whatever the implications may be for our academic training and pride, some of which might not come easily and some may certainly not feel easy.  The first and most likely costs will be comfortable academic and intellectual orthodoxy.

Such a piercing examination may seem risky because it requires examination at the deepest levels of both intellect and spirit, and a willingness to change.  I have confidence that the truths of the restored gospel will emerge unscathed (though within each of us, perhaps, not unaltered, because enlivened and enhanced) from this struggle.  It is of vital importance that such an intellectual struggle be waged at the proper levels—at the level of ontology itself, the level of our fundamental understandings and the starting points of our faith and intellect—rather than at the more superficial levels that tend to foster incomplete and superficial integrations, facile conclusions, or apathy and cynicism, as some Latter-day Saint scholars, those not convinced that the restored gospel can and should revolutionalize our intellectual lives, “wait for the Church to change” and  align itself with the “wisdom of the wise.”  

If we do it right, at least the conversation will have been driven down to, and engaged at the level where it should be engaged, and disagreements will be clearer at that level – as it will be clearer exactly what is at stake and what the real options and alternatives are, and which inconsistencies and conflicts matter and which do not.  This deeper level is the proper level on which a Christian scholar should function all the time.  It is the proper level at which a Latter-day Saint liberal arts education should be delivered to every BYU student.

Note 3 Regarding the Mission and Aims of a BYU Education

Bathing a subject matter in the “light and color of the restored gospel” requires a rigorous, historically informed, and gospel animated knowledge of our intellectual heritage and tradition.

“. . . every . . . teacher in this institution would keep his [or her] subject matter bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel.”

It is fitting and instructive that Brigham Young’s quote about not teaching anything without the spirit of God is followed by President Kimball’s charge that subjects taught should be “kept bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel.” This juxtaposition adds some credence to the idea that the intent of President Young’s admonition involves much more than just the individual testimony of the professor or the broad spiritual environment at the university or in the classroom while instruction is going on.  

The admonition seems to be that the “subject matter,” i.e., the entire discipline, the content, and the knowledge claims it makes should be “bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel.”  I do not mean to be glib, but my years at BYU have shown me that while faithful Latter-day Saint faculty and students might not ever confuse immersion with sprinkling as a form of baptism, they will often settle for sprinkling a little of the restored gospel on their disciplines rather than bathing the subject matter of the discipline in the light of the restored gospel. The metaphor of a spiritual light revealing truth has a long history in the Western intellectual tradition going back at least as far as the first great Christian apologist, Saint Augustine.  The light of inspiration, or revelation, allows things to be “seen” as they are, just as physical light allows physical objects to be seen where they are. 

“Bathing” a subject matter or a discipline in the light and color of the gospel, is a serious and a comprehensive matter.  It will require BYU faculty themselves to have walked that path, that is, to have cast the light upon, and applied the color of the restored gospel to, their disciplines (and the content of their disciplines) and upon the wider intellectual tradition in which their individual disciplines are embedded.  This requires a broad and deep and discerningly critical education.  It requires faculty to have developed breadth, depth, and historical sophistication, in their disciplines and in the academic currents of the contemporary world—and to have done so in ways that enfold and affirm the eternal truth at the core of the restored gospel.  

We as convicted members of the Church are uniquely positioned to do this fundamental and radical intellectual work because our restored Christianity is not, and never has been as tightly linked to and interwoven with the Western intellectual tradition

The professor must also have situated, or “painted”  this eternal truth confidently, comfortably, and faithfully (that is, not diluted) into the landscape of his or her own intellectual tradition and into his or her own personal intellectual landscape (though he or she may need a new, fresh, canvas to do this painting because the old ones of the discipline may not be able to take any new paint).  This will require much, and first of all, a seriousness about one’s intellectual life and about the gospel.  It will require the best of all of us.  Finally it is important to note that it is the subject matter that is to be bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel, not the gospel that is to be bathed in the light (such as there may be) and color of the academic/intellectual disciplines.  President Kimball’s phrase is that the teacher should keep his/her subject matter bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel.  Significantly, President Kimball refers to both the light—a bolder metaphor that reveals things—and the “color” of the Restored gospel—a lighter, more nuanced metaphor that embellishes things.  This seems to indicate that sometimes the effect of seeing a subject matter as revealed within the light of the restored gospel is going to be subtle like a shade of color, but nonetheless discernable and important; at other times it may be bold and revelatory.  

This admonition is a significant call to all LDS scholars at BYU to be thorough, sophisticated, critical, and discerning about their subject matter.  The gospel, and not the discipline, is the standard of light and color through which and within which we understand what higher education offers, or should offer, us.  While at the same time we must understand at the highest and most sophisticated levels whatever truth the disciplines do offer us.  Lacking this higher, sophisticated understanding, nothing particularly compelling or important will come from bathing it in the light and color of the restored gospel.

This concern—a global concern about how the gospel of Jesus Christ bathes all the disciplines in light and color, and how we need to continually see the disciplines as revealed within that light and color and teach students to see them in that same light and color—makes contact with the issue I have seen expressed by many who are concerned with, and who are trying to carry out, a genuinely Christian higher education.  To even mention this term— “Christian Higher Education”—requires that we immediately dispose of the first critical comment that is likely to arise,and, sadly, has arisen so often, at BYU.  

The comment is that a genuinely and self-consciously Christian higher education will amount to BYU’s becoming just a “seminary” and will destroy rigor and scholarship while irreparably damaging BYU’s scholarly and academic reputation.  This concern reflects a rather superficial understanding of the history of ideas (including science) and of universities, and of the role and effect of Christianity in the Western intellectual tradition and the development of higher education generally.  I contend, based on my own limited and imperfect education and experience, and what I have observed in others from a variety of disciplines, and within a variety of Christian institutions of higher education, that just the opposite will be true.  We will be intellectually better, deeper, and more sophisticated than we are now, if we take the idea of a Christian/LDS Higher Education seriously and pursue it as I believe we have been counseled to do.

Those outside BYU with whom I talk about the topic of a genuinely Christian higher education have used a number of phrases that I find very helpful and meaningful to describe what a Christian higher education is, what it does, and what animates it (to which I will refer in a subsequent essay).  In some ways these scholars are far ahead of many of us in thinking about the project of Christian higher education; however, all readily admit that it is a difficult thing, and still very much a work in progress.  My clear sense is that we could provide much useful support, and even, perhaps, some leadership, in this area of deeply shared concern, while we can also most certainly benefit materially and substantially from the leadership others can provide based on their experience, their learning, and their Christian commitment. But, both of these possible roles for us will require that we ourselves do much better than we have done.

This raises one final issue.  Why is it important that “ . . . every . . .teacher . . .  keep his subject matter bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel?”  Surely the intent and the final aspiration is that every student be able to receive the knowledge, the subject matter, as bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel.  And, ideally, each student should be intellectually and morally equipped to bathe in the light and color of the restored gospel, the knowledge, of all sorts, that he or she attains or is exposed to in the course of his or her “life-long learning and service.”  

Ideally, our students should leave BYU equipped to bathe in our culture itself, in all of its manifestations, in the light and color of the restored gospel.  In other words, it is not enough for this bathing in the light and color of the restored gospel to just be evident in the individual life of the professor, or only in some “integrative” lecture or exercise.  The subject matter must be presented to, made available to, and ultimately captured and incorporated into the life of students in its gospel-bathed form, fully and coherently immersed and infused, to the fullest extent that our best minds are capable of doing it.  And students must be able to maintain the subject matter bathed in the same light and knowledge.  

This is, admittedly, a very comprehensive form of education, much richer and deeper than what is commonly on offer, even at BYU.  Furthermore, this form of education—centered on an intellectual worldview that bathes subject matter in the light of restored truth—cannot be presented to students if it has not been mastered by the teachers themselves.  And this, in turn, will only happen if we, as an institution, value it, insist on it, and reward it.  It may take some time to produce it (perhaps even an academic generation or so), because it is not readily available in the graduate programs that produce our new faculty members;  but I believe, and am completely confident, that it is possible.  But it must start early in the lives of our students, especially those who are likely to return and become our future faculty members and scholars.  And it must be an institutional imperative—from the top down.

I firmly believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and we as convicted members of the Church, are uniquely positioned to do this fundamental and radical intellectual work because our restored Christianity is not, and never has been as tightly linked to and interwoven with the Western intellectual tradition that has come forward through the centuries to produce and perpetuate our most compelling questions and our scholarly disciplines. We of all people are not so beholden to the tenets of our intellectual tradition as essential to understand and maintain our faith.  In fact, I believe, the Western intellectual tradition has been given to us, placed in our hands, to redeem it, much as it has been given us to redeem Christ’s church from its long exile, and all of our Father in Heaven’s children on both sides of the veil.  This is a mission we share with all Christians and Christian scholars.  This redeeming, however, as both a religious and an intellectual activity may, in many ways, seem to “turn upside down” both the religious and academic/intellectual orthodoxy of our day.  This is our calling and our opportunity (Isaiah 29:16; 2 Nephi 27:26-27; Acts 17:6).

About the author

Richard Williams

Richard N. Williams is a Professor in Counseling Psychology and Special Education at Brigham Young University, and former director of the Wheatley Institution. He has edited or co-authored several books, including most recently On Hijacking Science. He has a Ph.D. from Purdue University.
On Key

You Might Also Like

Misusing Eunuchs

Even the best of motives do not allow us to change the commandments or remove the crosses of others.

Washington D.C. Temple Video Open House

The Church released this morning a video open house of the Washington D.C. Temple. The open house has attracted many prominent politicians, journalists, and celebrities.

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Stay up to date on the intersection of faith in the public square.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This