How does the value of the humanities find application in the classroom? How can outcomes be assessed? In the emoji and meme era, our student’s abilities to communicate serious content have weakened. Critical thinking today? Anemic. Deep understanding of history and culture rarely appear among students. We could lament and complain of these faults until midnight, but how can we help students? In my three-semester sequence of History of Ideas courses, students learn the great ideas that built our civilization from fifty influential authors in history, from Gilgamesh to Camus. This vigorous reading program instills cultural depth. Equally important, students learn to communicate in these writing intensive classes. Students orally present each research paper while the others critique the papers with five separate sets of criteria. When students finish the courses, they communicate better, combining classical learning with contemporary challenges. The reading content and the writing exercise many humanities disciplines. Students discuss the weighty ideas they discover and assist each other to learn new perspectives. Lectures are rare in these discussion classes where articulation matters. Students should emerge able to clearly communicate complex ideas with sound arguments and application. We assess outcomes yearly.
What great commission impact do the humanities provide? The gospel can only be conveyed through language, either written or spoken. In addition to acts of love, service, and concern, the gospel proclaims a set of propositional truths. There’s a reason John called Jesus the Logos, the Word. Observed acts of service convey the gospel, but language translates the exact meaning of these acts. The humanities disciplines prove essential in the propagation of the gospel cross-culturally or at home, enabling us to communicate clearly in any culture. Cross-cultural missionaries undergo extensive new language and cultural acquisition and must hone these skills daily. They must study the history, music, culture, stories, and literature of their target group to understand them. The study of missiology heavily draws on the humanities as much as the soft sciences of sociology and anthropology.
We often hear about “cultural engagement” in Christian circles. Cultural engagement without cultural understanding is like marital engagement to an unknown fiancé. No disciplines embody and embrace culture like the humanities. They incubate and nurture culture. Yet, in cultural retreat for over a century, Christians have largely ignored them. Rudely awakened to the haunting reality that Christians no longer drive any key part of our culture, they scramble to catch up. How? To engage anything, you fully commit to move it along, such as a relationship headed toward marriage or a clutch grabbing the engine to move a vehicle. Contact must occur; a grab, a capture happens. To engage culture, Christians must tango with it. So, you really want to engage culture huh? Which part of it you fully commit to move?
Cultural engagement without cultural understanding is like marital engagement to an unknown fiancé.Click to tweet
The humanities offer contact points for engagement. The door stands wide-open because the secular universities have zombified the humanities unto apocalypse. Christians must actively reclaim the humanities and express the Christian worldview through doing them with excellence. Reclaiming our lost humanities is mission, a massive global platform to reach the lost. In the past thirty years, Christian philosophers have started this, going to great lengths to interact with our culture through philosophy, setting forth profound works that proclaim Christianity. Other humanities disciplines equally need a fresh infusion of Christian scholars. Secularists fumble the ball too. Will Christians recover it and score? Young students need to know that scholarship in the humanities serves God and promotes the gospel. The university is a lost mission field with few Christian scholars in the classroom, few validating the Christian worldview. If more would return to humanities scholarship as a service to God, they could prevent many students from falling away in the precarious years where their faith falls prey to ambush on university campuses. An intellectual trap ensnares millions of unwary victims every fall. Erosion and barrenness sets in where Christians relinquish influence. A secular kudzu chokes our children, our schools—our souls. There’s an eternal price (hell) to pay. Christians must realize that the university, once an asset to Christianity, is now extremely hostile, actively seeking to assassinate our youth’s faith and civilization as we know it. We surrendered the university, so we have only ourselves to blame for the secular annexation.
Looking at other world challenges that will soon come, we must brace ourselves for the automation revolution. By most assessments our society and economy will soon undergo a rapid technological revolution of automation, driven by socio-economic forces of great momentum. This robotic and automation revolution will transform the global economy quickly, much like the internet and smartphone, which is barely ten years old. Robust benefits, profits, and rapid adoption will fuel automation. While we can see it coming, we can’t quite predict its full consequences. Some (Zuckerberg) call for guaranteed basic incomes to give people money to replace income lost to automation. What is my economic value if I can provide no value to others due to machines? Others (Gates) call for robots to pay taxes.
The consequences of automation will affect the humanities exactly where it overlaps faith, work, and economics. My assessment may prove wrong, but those who possess the finer skills of the humanities need not fear this technological revolution initially. The soft skills people learn in the humanities remain impossible for us to reproduce or recreate in computer simulations. Just think of how easily Siri gets confused with language. We are a long way off from the average computer passing the famous Turin test. Perhaps AI will rival humans in the future and raise unimaginable existential questions. Until then, humans will excel in creativity and imagination. Our global thinking and ability to ask cosmic questions will push us to understand. Human compassion, empathy, and judgment will outstrip automation. The highest traits we value, including mercy and grace, will give us social skills that AI will not be able to possess.
Editor’s Note: This article is an installment in the FWE Curriculum Project.