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“Right Reason” and Christian education

August 19, 2012

I’ve been explaining the problematic parts of Christian liberal arts. Perhaps its time for some optimism, lest I cast a poor view of the whole project. And one reason I believe Christian colleges are an excellent idea, is because of a man named Paul Kjoss Helseth.

During my freshman year of college I had the privilege of hearing a lecture about “right reason” and Christian education from the aforementioned philosopher. In a very philosophical lecture (which is, dare I say, very boring unless you listen closely) he laid out an argument that sounded something like this: all the riches of wisdom and knowledge are in found in Christ (Col. 2:3), whom we know when we love him (1 Cor. 8:3).

He argued this in the language of the Old Princetonian theologians who were addressing the idea of “Right Reason,” coined by English humanists.

The new issue of Credo magazine has an interview with Paul Kjoss Helseth on his book “Right Reason” and the Old Princeton Mind.

So what is “right reason”? Helseth says it’s not about the ability to use logic correctly as much as it is about the ability to “see spiritually.”

In short, for the Princetonians the capacity to reason “rightly” is an ability of the “whole soul” that is possessed by the regenerate alone, and it enables the regenerate to see that the substance of what God has revealed is freighted with a kind of God-centered, sacramental significance, and as such is not just propositionally true but altogether glorious. A compelling example of the kind of knowledge that is associated with the capacity to reason “rightly”— the kind of knowledge that is “objective” in the fullest sense of the term—is found in a sermon by Charles Hodge on the knowledge of Christ: “The knowledge of Christ . . . is not the apprehension of what he is, simply by the intellect, but also a due apprehension of his glory as a divine person arrayed in our nature, and involves not as its consequence merely, but as one of its elements, the corresponding feeling of adoration, delight, desire and complacency.” For Hodge, then, to know Christ rightly just is to love him, for he just is morally and spiritually excellent.

You can read the interview here.

In the context of what I’ve been saying about Christian education and spiritual formation, it’s important to note that “Right Reason” is a fundamental part of God’s gift of faith.

It’s not the job of the Christian college to give Right Reason, it’s God’s. The job of the Christian college is to take those who have the capacity to reason rightly (ie who have the knowledge of Christ) and help them to express their “adoration, delight, desire and complacency” through their particular gifts.

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