The Liberal Arts?


I remember when I was much younger I attended the college graduation of a family member. As the dean read the names of the graduates and their majors I remember hearing him say numerous times “in Liberal Arts.” I knew what he meant when he said “Mathematics” and I knew what he meant when he said “History” and other disciplines such as those but I did not know what “Liberal Arts” meant. I asked someone, I don’t remember who, what Liberal Arts meant and I recall getting an answer to the effect of “that is what people get when they don’t know what they want to be.”

For a very long time after that I had adopted that as my own view (do you see how formative a simple conversation can be, for good or ill, in a young boy’s life?). Liberal Arts, or sometimes referred to as “the Humanities” to many people is perceived as little more than taking a bunch of different kinds of classes because you don’t really know what you want to do with your life or who you want to be. It’s no small wonder, really, why people have come to think that because on a practical level it is true in one sense.

The sense in which this is true is that because a Humanities program is intentionally interdisciplinary and many people who don’t have a clue what they want to learn about in college end up graduating with a major in “Liberal Arts” or “Humanities”. Their friend who knew he wanted to be a scientist majored in biology, their other friend who knew she wanted to be a sports therapist pursued Anatomy and physiology, but they did not know what they wanted to do and so they took a class with this friend and that friend and that other friend too. Then came their junior year of college and they had a conversation with their academic adviser who told them “You’re well on your way to a degree in Liberal Arts already and you have take too many different classes now that you will not have any other major unless you want to be a fifth year senior.”

So the poor fool who did not know what he wanted to do and bounced around from class to class sampling all kinds of different disciplines gets stuck with a “useless” degree in the Humanities. He went to college not knowing what he wanted to do and suddenly he is graduating with a degree that says to the whole world that he wandered aimlessly through college. Or, at least, that is how it appears to many. I would say, however, that there remains a possibility that that poor fool ended up with a better education than the math, history, or biology major did. Let me tell you why.

I do not think the above scenario I described is ideal. An accidental Humanities education is not as good as an intentional one. But the reason I argue that it might, even accidentally, be a better education than the others is because of what the Humanities by their very nature are and do. Biology majors produce biologists, Math majors produce Mathematicians but Humanities majors produce humans. The purpose of the Liberal Arts is to train the mind, body and soul towards embracing what it really is to be a human being. Specializations certainly have their place (we need people who really know their stuff in a given discipline) but the Humanities ought to underlie or be the foundation upon which any specialization springs from.

Essentially what the Liberal Arts do is recognize that man is a multifaceted being and that no one subject is sufficient to train all that makes him human. Another way to put it would be to say that no one is only a carpenter or a stock trader or a philosopher or a mathematician, we are all so much more than just that. The truly human man or woman has more to them than to be pigeonholed into a single discipline to the extent that they cannot interact meaningfully with other disciplines. The Humanities tell us that we should not be enslaved to only one area of knowledge or practice but that we should be conversant with other areas of life and disciplines of work and thought no matter what area we personally excel in or earn a living by.

It is the lack of a Humanities education and foundation that allows people like Richard Dawkins, who is an otherwise brilliant guy, to make an argument in The God Delusion such as “Who made God?” and to then think he has profoundly defeated theism. Only a smidgen of good philosophy would have held this brilliant scientist back from uttering such nonsense as that but, let’s face it, he did not know better.

But it is not just poor Richard Dawkins who makes these kind of errors. The same can woefully be said of many seminarians and pastors who know the Bible backwards and forwards but no nothing of biology, philosophy or non-biblical history. The same can be said about the medical practitioner who knows nothing of religion. The same can be said about any number of people in one discipline or another who says “Why do we really need math when we have calculators?” The unfortunate reality of any specialist who was not first grounded in the Liberal Arts is that they too often only see the value of their own discipline and marginalize the value of others. Their ignorance leads to a depreciation of other disciplines and the disproportionate exaltation of their own.

But the truth is that man is a rational, spiritual, biological, social, musical, and entrepreneurial being. We are not any one of those things to the exclusion of the others. To close ourselves off into one corner of human experience is to behave explicitly less human than we are. It is inhumane to be so highly disciplined in one field that we cannot meaningfully interact or appreciate the other “subjects” that are out there. In so doing we guarantee that we will misunderstand and falsely accuse other disciplines of things they do not think or practice and we become snobs of one sort or another and falsely elevate our own discipline to the highest place of glory.

So that poor fool who fumbled around from class to class in college, trying a little of this and that, may just have ended up with a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of the various disciplines than did the person who knew who they wanted to be. That fool might just see right through other people later in life when they make unbalanced statements about the superiority of this or that, or how unnecessary or unimportant other fields of study are. That person might understand why math is more than calculators and men are more than atoms, and why God does not need a maker.

It’s definitely best to approach the humanities intentionally. It’s good to go in knowing that you are learning to be more human and are intentionally seeing how all of human knowledge, practice and experience works together. But even the fool who fumbled into it might end up better off than those who declare a major their freshmen year and never took a class outside of it. So the Liberal Arts are what people get when they don’t know what they want to do? Perhaps so. But the Liberal Arts are for people who want to know who they are.

*The meme I included in this article is funny for more than one reason. One of them might be missed by people in the STEM fields which makes it all the more comical.

As a Christian apologist I am committed to making a case for why people ought to believe Christianity it true. As such I have learned (and continue to learn) to give answer to many objections to the Christians faith and I have learned how to make a very strong positive case for Christianity. I think we can rationally demonstrate that believing in God makes more sense than not, that the Bible has been reliably transmitted throughout the centuries and that the facts it contains have proven themselves reliable and we can make a fantastic evidential case for the resurrection of Jesus. When it comes to demonstrating the truth of the Christian worldview I am convinced we have the goods.

But I have noticed recently an area where I think we as Christians need to do better. A lot better actually. We need to do much better at not only presenting people with what we believe as Christians and why they should believe it too, but also why they should want to believe! Now obviously we can say “You want to believe whatever is true don’t you?” And of course most people will say “Sure I do.” But I think often times part of the reluctance towards accepting Christianity, even after people have been provided with sufficient evidence to believe, is that they see Christianity as boring, restrictive and the end of all fun and joy in life.

To this we need to give as robust of an answer as we do when we present the cosmological argument to an atheist. I am convinced that Christianity is not only true but that it is the worldview that people should adopt if they want the most satisfying and joy filled life this world can offer them (not that it is really a worldly offer, of course). Sometimes people will say things like “Even if Christianity were not true it is still the best way to live.” I think that is essentially true, although I would not advocate following Christianity just because it is pragmatically advantageous. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ has not been raised we are still dead in our sins and if in him only in this life we have hoped then we are above all men to be pitied. We should not live out a worldview merely for pragmatic reasons. But all of that said, I do believe the approach to life that is laid out in the Bible is the best route to human flourishing. In that sense I would agree that even if it were not true the Christian lifestyle would be the most advantageous.

But the good news is that we do not have to create some sort of dichotomy between what is true and what is the best way to live. But many non-Christians think that they do. Many of them feel like accepting Christianity as true means the death of fun, the death of laughter, the death of sex, the death of every other thing that they enjoy. To them its like offering a million dollars but telling them they can’t spend it on anything they like. The fact is we as Christian case-makers need to do better about painting a picture of what we are offering. We are not only offering them the truth, but we are also offering them an abundant life in Christ filled with joy.

The truth of the matter is that so many of the things that non-Christians enjoy are things that they could enjoy even more as Christians. Work, food, friendships, sex, all of these things and more were created by God and he likes them too. God made those things and more for our pleasure because he loves us. Indeed we do tell non-believers that they must repent of their sin and trust in Jesus, which means stopping the way they are currently living life and starting to live the way the Lord has said to live but that does not mean the death of joy but the enhancement of it.*

Has it ever occurred to you what the world would be like if everyone followed Christ and his teachings? There would be no war, no one would be going hungry, there would be no abusive relationships, broken marriages or kids without moms and dads who love them, people would tell the truth and make honest business deals, etc., etc. The world would be a more enjoyable place to live if we did things God’s way. Let’s take one example to really drive home the point the Christianity provides a better way of living life.

Since sex is always a big issue, and because Christians are often labeled as prudish about sex which communicates the idea that to become a Christian is to stop having sex, let’s address this issue to illustrate the superiority of the Christian worldview. Far from telling people that they can’t have sex anymore if they become a Christian we are telling them that they can have sex better than ever. Here are some of the advantages to Christian sexuality:

1. You have the safety and security of never contracting an STD.
2. You do not have to worry about whether you are “performing” as well as their other partners.
3. You can learn over time how to better please your spouse in sex because you get to practice with the same person all the time.
4. The Bible commands both husbands and wives to meet each others needs and partake in sex regularly (neither husband or wife is to be selfish 1 Cor. 7:1-5).
5. You have the security of pregnancy occurring within a context that is prepared to nurture children. (The line “don’t worry baby, if you get pregnant...I’ll take care of you” is actually true.)
6. The Bible has a whole book (Song of Solomon) dedicated to the joy of sex in marriage and encourages married couples not to be prudish or timid about enjoying each others bodies to the fullest.
7. All of this sexuality is expressed within the confines of a covenant relationship, blessed by God, which promises to last until death. Christians sex never leaves you alone the next morning.

Now I do not know about you, but it sounds to me like the Bible is a big fan of sex and that it offers a plan that makes sense about how to really get the most out of it. Far from offering people truth over and against a satisfying sex life we are offering them truth and an ultimately more satisfying sex life. It’s true that Christianity restricts sex to the marriage relationship but it is this very restriction that turns around and provides the safety and security that all people need to have the best sex possible.

But it’s not just sex that Christianity gets right (that just serves as an obvious example). Christianity provides a plan for enjoying all of life at its best. When we realize that all things that are true sources of delight in this world were made by God and made for our enjoyment then we should realize that God, as the Creator of all good things, knows how we might best enjoy them. Christianity celebrates food and drink too, but it also knows we will be happier and healthier if we enjoy them in moderation (Proverbs 23:20-21). Christianity celebrates friendship but it knows that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33) and so we need to be wise about who we spend time with. Christianity sets forward an admirable work ethic by telling us to work as if unto the Lord himself (Colossians 3:23). Pretty much any issue you can think of the Bible provides a framework for making life decisions that result in our thriving.

The fact of the matter is that people pursue so many things in an attempt to make themselves happy and fulfilled but they often end up destroying their lives in the process because they don’t know how to enjoy those pleasures the way they were designed to be enjoyed. Rather than continuing on that path why not realize that God’s way is actually the best way? If you are not a Christian and you are reading this I want to tell you two things. First, Christianity is really and demonstrably true and we can provide answers to your questions if you need help in coming to rationally affirming the Christian worldview. Second, Christianity provides you with a life of thriving rather than striving. Many of the things which God made for your enjoyment will also destroy you if you do them your way but if you submit to the Creator’s design and do them his way it will lead to incredible satisfaction in this life that you will find nowhere else.

* Make no mistake, I am not saying that Christianity does not demand your very life when you come to Christ. The Bible has lots to say in the fashion of “deny yourself” and “carry your cross.” In some parts of the world becoming a Christian means losing your family, home, job and life. I would not dare make light of that. Certainly the gospel is worth your very life, to be connected in a relationship with the God of the universe is worth any price we could pay and the weight of glory of spending eternity in a perfect world of bliss, free of suffering with our creator outweighs any affliction here. We absolutely ought to believe whatever is true even if that truth is costly. But if you are given the chance to know Christ and actually live out a Christian life I promise you will find it to be the superior way to live.

I accepted two different challenges to do the "Ice Bucket Challenge." I, in turn, nominate six people (3 for each bucket).

1. My son Titus Allee
2. Jim Wallace of
Cold Case Christianity
3. Rick Walston of Columbia Evangelical Seminary
4. Jeff Piepho of Revolution Church
5. Tim McGrew
6. MIchael Licona of Risen Jesus
For more information about ALS and the places you can give to support ethical research towards treatment and a cure that respects human life from conception through natural death:

If you want to get involved in giving to help support persecuted Christians around the world check out
How do we share the gospel with people who say they accept the authority of Scripture?
I see a lot of people ready and willing to go to war over differences of opinion on various doctrinal issues. Some of the classic examples are, of course, Calvinism versus Arminianism, Young Earth Creationism versus Old Earth Creationism, and of course things like whether you can have a beer once in a while or not. There are plenty of issues that divide churches today and some issues are significantly more important than others to be sure. There are truly some issue which ought to cause division to some degree or another but there are other issues which no one ought to divide over. The question is “How do we decide what makes an issue essential versus non-essential?”

I will not be so bold as to claim I have this all figured out and that you who read this should look at this the same way I do but, that said, I thought I would share with you how I see it.

I divide doctrinal issues into three categories. First rank importance would relate to the nature of God and the question of “What is the gospel?” Second rank would relate to issues that would make it difficult ecclesiastically for believers on opposite sides to worship in the same congregation. Third rank doctrinal  issues are things which should not divide fellowship in any significant way.

When it comes to the first rank issues I think the nature of God and the nature of the gospel are the two most primary issues in Christian theology. I think that because in my understanding they both relate to the most important being in the universe and who He has revealed Himself to be and how we can have a right relationship with him (salvation). I believe errant doctrines on the nature of God and the nature of the gospel are often damning and therefore, by definition, separate genuine Christians from false Christians. It is for that reason that these are first rank matters and if we are to spend our time dogmatically defending any doctrinal position then the issues of who is God and what is the gospel should rank as all Christians primary concern.*

Secondary issues, then, are much less important than the first rank. It’s not to say that they are not important (they are) or that they don’t bear the worth of contending for one position over another (they do). But they don’t divide the body of Christ salvifically and so they are of dramatically less importance than the first rank issues. Examples of second rank matters might be believers baptism versus infant baptism (Credo vs. Paedo). The fact that I don’t believe we should baptize infants to usher them into the covenant community of God is enough to keep me from worshipping as a member in a Presbyterian church. It would be difficult for me to worship regularly as a member in such a church because I would feel by conviction that I would have to teach my children that what the pastor taught on the matter of Baptism was errant. So any issue that similarly and significantly would affect my ability to worship in a certain denomination or congregation is a secondary issue.

Tertiary issues, then, are even lower in significance. These are matters which one could have some disagreements about with other believers but not feel the need to worship in a separate congregation. Perhaps this would be something like the frequency of partaking in the Lord’s Supper as a church or even one orthodox view of eschatology versus another. Any given congregation will have some minor disagreements among themselves about this or that and Romans 14 speaks to such a matter. We ought to have a firm conviction based upon the Scriptures but be willing to respect and agree to disagree with others whose convictions vary from our own.

Now, admittedly, this is just kind of a rough framework for thinking about how to rank the importance of doctrinal issues but I find it a useful one. Clearly some would disagree about what properly belongs in the third rank versus the second and some of that is understandable. Unfortunately some people don’t even think a third rank exists and they are constantly causing church splits or hopping from church to church to church whenever they disagree with someone. That is sad and certainly not in keeping with what Scripture has to say about this.

Even more sad is that some people don’t even recognize a distinction between first and second rank doctrines. Those who would make mode of baptism, or a particular view of the age of the earth or even the doctrine of inerrancy a first rank issue do damage to the body of Christ and they confuse their own theology (whether they be correct or not) with soteriology (salvation). I thank God that he does not require perfect doctrine for salvation but only trust in a perfect Savior!

Romans 14:5-12  "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then,whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God."

*A right view of God is necessarily tied in with a right view of the gospel. These cannot be separated. Even so, I don't believe a perfect Trinitarian theology is held by most new believers and that God's grace covers error in our theology. What I do think it the case is that born-again believers will always accept the authority of Scripture as they learn more about God and will grow into a fuller understanding of the nature of God. Those who are presented with truth about God's nature from Scripture and who in turn intentionally reject it reveal themselves not to be regenerate because they are not trusting in God as he reveals himself in Scripture and therefore are worshipping a false God.

How does the Bible define faith? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Can a person believe that the gospel is true but still not be a "believer" in the biblical sense? What kind of faith does God want us to have? All of this and more are addressed in this presentation. 

*There is about a 20 second period where the video and audio freeze but it pick backs up and nothing crucial is missed.
I was on the internet radio program "Theology Matters" with the Pellews today and here is the recording of the show. I join the show at about 34 minutes in and then get to talk about the life and works of C. S. Lewis, as well as my research on the same, for the following 90 or so minutes of the show. I hope you enjoy it!
Check Out Christianity Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with TRUradio on BlogTalkRadio with TRUradio Presents on BlogTalkRadio

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