Published May 2, 2013
Index Editor J. Gerald Harris recently interviewed Earl Kellett, assistant professor of Christian studies at Shorter University, regarding its Christian critical thinking approach to higher education. Kellett earned a doctoral degree in philosophy, a Master of Divinity in Biblical Languages, and a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from New Orleans Seminary. His experience includes work as a project coordinator and research assistant in the Center for New Testament Textual Studies and adjunct instructor at the seminary.
Index: What is the basis for the emphasis on critical thinking and what is the expected outcome of this approach?
Kellett: Our emphasis is based on over two years of intense planning, which took into consideration the university’s philosophy of education and educational goals, student needs, and the needs of the marketplace.
The educational goals of Shorter are designed to empower students to integrate knowledge and skills to become life-long intentional learners persuaded of the need to integrate faith and learning; to become responsible members of society; to enrich their lives through the arts and through religion; and to develop and maintain habits that promote physical, spiritual, and emotional health and well-being.
To accomplish these goals, Shorter University provides a curriculum and educational environment that effectively immerses students in the historical, scientific, and cultural bases for contemporary society by combining intellectual discovery with critical thinking. A quick survey of qualities most sought after in the marketplace reveals that interpersonal skills, communication skills, and analytical skills consistently appear in their top ten lists. Our teaching philosophy and educational goals seek to prepare students to meet the expectations of the marketplace.
Index: How will this approach make Shorter distinctive from other institutions like Berry, Mercer, or Brenau?
Kellett: First, the objectives of secular education are to inform students, to make better students, and to make more productive students who are successful, intelligent members of society. Christian education adds an additional goal – the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual transformation of the student into the image of Christ.
Second, secular higher education tends to teach students to view knowledge through the lens of contemporary culture with its various ideals. Christian education views knowledge through the lens of Scripture with the intent of engaging contemporary culture in a positive manner.
Third, secular colleges and universities focus on raising awareness of cultural issues and moralizing about them; Christian higher education focuses on bringing the teachings of Scripture to bear on an issue with the intent of solving the problem.
Index: Since Shorter’s motto is “Transforming Lives Through Christ” I would expect that Christian critical thinking would be the approach the school would take. If that is correct, what do you see as the most important differences between a secular worldview and a Christian worldview?
Kellett: Culture, education faith/religion, environment, experience, family, friends, etc. shape our understanding of the world. Our understanding of the world, in turn, provides us with answers to questions such as, “Who are we?” “Where did we come from?” “Why are people the way they are?” “Are there solutions to the challenges we face?” and “Is this life all there is?”
The answers to those basic questions are what distinguish a secular worldview from a Christian worldview. The Christian worldview sees humans as created in the image of God. Rather than attributing the human condition to the lack of education, money, opportunity, or social status that ends in disappointment, frustration, and defeat, the Christian worldview understands that humanity has rebelled against it creator, God has made provision in Christ to humanity’s broken relationship with him, and the hope of eternity.
Therefore, the most important differences between secular and Christian worldview are the answers to the basic questions. Critical thinking skills will help students to evaluate their worldview assumptions in a safe, caring environment.
Index: Will all professors be asked to employ this approach?
Index: How will it be implemented?
Kellett: The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Team is offering guidance through professional development programs, workshops, and forum discussions. In addition, the Liberal Arts Department will be offering a new course – LAR 2514 Christ-Centered Critical Thinking – that will be required in the general education curriculum, which may be taught by faculty from the fields of science, philosophy, or mathematics.
This course is housed in the Department of Liberal Arts. The course number is 2514 because the course is designed for sophomores (hence the initial “2”) or for those with at least 15 credit hours in honor of Matthew 5:14 (NIV), which states: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
We are a Christ-centered university committed to academic excellence, and because the main campus is situated on a hill, Shorter is nicknamed “The Hill.” The program goal and learner outcomes aligned with this course made it fitting to assign the number 2514 to the course as a reminder of Matthew 5:14’s direction
Index: Will the importance of Christian apologetics really begin to become predominate through this critical thinking approach to education? And is this not all the more important in view of the proliferation of the doctrine of tolerance in our society?
Kellett: Christian apologetics grounded in Christ-centered critical thinking will play a prominent role in our postmodern world. Alister McGrath wrote concerning the role of apologetics in engaging society, “It [apologetics] commends a mindset of engagement, encouraging Christians to interact with the ideas of our culture rather than running away from them or pretending they can be ignored. Apologetics aims to convert believers into thinkers, and thinkers into believers” (A. McGrath, “Mere Apologetics”, 11). Critical thinking will enable students to recognize various beliefs and opinions, and evaluate them in light of Scriptural teachings.
Index: U.S. News and World Report stated, “America is a nation of individualized moral menus.” That seems to be a humanistic point of view that deifies man and humanizes God, so that man becomes the final authority for all things. How will your critical thinking impact a statement like that?
Kellett: Today’s student generally follows the trends of society such as over-valuing the subjective tendencies of individualism, responding to serious and complex problems based on feelings, and being more spontaneous. Such tendencies place the individual at the center rather than placing God at the center of one’s life.
Our emphasis offers a systematic guided approach to gathering and evaluating facts, thoughtful considerations of various viewpoints or actions, recognizing faulty thinking, and sensible selection of the best possible course of action.
Index: Jim Demint, in his book “Saving Freedom” says, “On the cultural front the socialization of values has turned right and wrong upside down.” Will your approach help reverse that trend or will students who embrace a Christian worldview face possible persecution for having convictions?
Kellett: Students with a Christian worldview can expect two outcomes: 1) they will transform culture – become agents of change reversing the trend, and 2) they will face varying degrees of adversity. McDowell and Hostetler in their book “Beyond Belief to Conviction” offer a glimpse of what students can expect “Our young people today must endure a 21st century Coliseum. They may not face literal lions, but they ... encounter more ethical and moral temptations, greater spiritual battles, and more intense emotional and relational struggles that any other generation in history.”
Index: Why should this thinking resonate with prospective Baptist/Christian students and their parents? What about students who have not yet come to faith in Christ? Will this approach attract them to Shorter?
Kellett: Prospective Baptist/Christian students and their parents can be assured that Shorter offers a solid education that seeks to produce reflective, responsible individuals with conviction, character, and conduct. Our educational approach desires to equip students to be agents of transformation.
All students, whether they have come to faith or not, have an opportunity to experience the safe, caring environment of a Christian school with a dedicated faculty and staff.
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