I’m bet you haven’t heard of this book. It has flown under the radar, but since I’m prone to stalking Crossway’s upcoming releases page, I noticed it about a month or so back. Without really knowing much about it other than the title, I thought it might make for some good summer reading.
While you may not have heard of this book, you’ve probably heard of Leland Ryken, and this is a collection of essays in his honor. Unlike typical scholarly essay collections, this one is written for young undergraduate students. Since the liberal arts are near and dear to Leland Ryken’s heart, what better way to honor him than to offer a collection of short essays extolling the importance of that very subject for the Christian life?
Because these essays are written with youngish college students in mind (or even graduating high school seniors) they are all fairly short (as in 10 or less pages usually). Each of the contributors is on the faculty of Wheaton College and have been influenced by Leland Ryken to varying degrees. The essays are sorted into 5 sections:
- Terminology and backgrounds for the liberal arts education
- Theological convictions supporting the liberal arts education
- Habits and virtues developed by a liberal arts education
- Divisional areas of study within the liberal arts
- The purpose of a Christian liberal arts education
Like most collections of essays, the quality varies from contributor to contributor. However, I found all of the essays explaining the habits and virtues that come with a liberal arts education to be the most stimulating. Likewise, the essays in the second section do a superb collective job of explaining why Christians should bother with the liberal arts. If you’ve ever wondered what conservative evangelical Christians could ever have to do with a field of study that uses the word “liberal,” then look no farther. Some interesting additions are a couple of essays in the last section, one titled “Social Media and the Loss of Embodied Communication,” and the second, “Learning to Live Redemptively in Your Own Body.” The former is written by a media ecologist, and while good food for thought, didn’t really seem to fit the overall section. The same could be said in even stronger form for the latter. Both were interesting and well written, but I had a hard time seeing how they fit the bigger picture.
Though I doubt the book is chiastically structured, I did think the middle section was the strongest and most helpful. With essays on the habits of the scholarly mind, how to read a book, how to write well, how to listen, how to develop intellectual character, and moving beyond resume building, this section articulates the brass tacks that you take away from a strong liberal arts education. Perhaps it was because this section was filled with the most practical advice, or because it had an essay by Alan Jacobs, but either way, if you’re looking for a selling point to high school seniors/college freshman for majoring in a liberal arts field, this is it. No matter what you end up doing later in life, you need to know how to read, how to think, and how to speak and listen well. It is unfortunate that most everyone suffers through freshman English to get on to bigger and better things. Several of the essays in this book could help change that perspective.
If we were to highlight a weakness though, it might be that the target audience would only be interested in reading this book if they were already sold on reading and thereby at least predisposed to appreciating a liberal arts education. While I value my bachelor’s in psychology, I wish I wouldn’t have taken the shortest route possible through the liberal arts gen ed classes (I tested out of freshman English, two semesters of US History, and did the rest in 8 week chunks my senior year as I was trying to get done and move to Dallas). However, I was exposed to a good liberal arts education in high school. I just didn’t care, and a book to read probably wasn’t going to change that. When you fast forward to now, I am very interested (I mean I’m book reviewer for goodness sake, and I requested this book). But because I’m interested, I’m reading books like this. People who aren’t might hesitate to pick this book up.
That’s really my only concern, because on the whole, this is a great book. The essays are well written, and even the two I highlighted that don’t seem to fit as well as the others still provide thought provoking material. The middle section was practical for well, practically everybody and contributes to the overall apologetic for the liberal arts being a vital part of the Christian life. School or not, I think we could all benefit from a liberal arts education, and if like me, you missed out on that in college, this might be the place to start for you.
- Editors: Jeffry C. David & Philip G. Ryken
- Title: Liberal Arts For The Christian Life
- Publisher: Crossway (April 20, 2012)
- Paperback: 320pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Rating: 4 out 5 stars (quality, enjoyable, but not particularly life altering in my case)