ACTS-ES: A Liberal Arts Foundation

Welcome to the ACTS-ES (Asian Christian Theological Studies for English Speakers) program! We’re a 4-year international program offering a Bachelor of Arts in Theology at Tokyo Christian University.

The Asian Christian Theological Studies for English Speakers curriculum is comprised chiefly of liberal arts courses from the following disciplines:

  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Language and Culture Studies
  • Biblical Studies
  • Theological Studies
  • Inter-Cultural Studies and Missiology
  • Christian Ministry and Field Education
  • Graduation Thesis

Here, we study the Bible and theology within the context of the Liberal Arts, and we study the Liberal Arts within the context of a Christian world view. Why do we do this? How does such an education enable effective Christian living? And what exactly are the “Liberal Arts?”

People sometimes get confused about the term “liberal arts.” In contemporary English, “liberal” is the opposite of “conservative.” But that’s not what it means in “liberal arts.” Originally “liberal” meant free as opposed to slave. Several centuries before Jesus, the Greek philosophers designed an education for free men, for the leaders of their society, which they called a “liberal education.”

This ideal of a liberal education appropriate for society’s leaders never disappeared. A thousand years ago in the European Middle Ages, thoughtful Christians re-discovered the value of a liberal education, which they described as the study of the “liberal arts.” The medieval liberal arts included seven subjects: grammar, rhetoric, and logic as well as arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. The true leaders in church and society needed to master these subjects as befitting free men. Of course, as Christians, the Medievals also grasped the importance of practical and professional studies. Therefore, after acquiring a foundation in the liberal arts, the university students could proceed to one of the three professions of ministry, medicine, or law.

Although Tokyo Christian University is a Japanese institution, let us consider the situation in the United States. There are many American liberal arts colleges, both Christian and non-Christian, both Evangelical and non-Evangelical. First, the student gets a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts and only then moves on to advanced study in one of the professions such as law, business, medicine, social work, or ministry. This combination of liberal arts and professional studies still produces leaders. A famous study forty years ago showed that the presidents of the biggest corporations in the United States typically studied the liberal arts up to the bachelor’s degree, often in the Midwest , followed by a master’s degree or doctoral degree in business or law. Recently that study has been repeated, with the same results. In the 2004 presidential election, the two primary candidates were George W. Bush and John Kerry. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry studied the liberal arts in college followed by a further degree in business for Mr. Bush and in law for Mr. Kerry. The most famous Christian leader in the Twentieth Century, Billy Graham, studied the liberal arts at a Christian liberal arts college, followed by a theological education, as did Carl Henry, the founding editor of Christianity Today. Phil Foxwell and Don Hoke, the early leaders of two of the three schools that later merged to form the current Tokyo Christian University, followed exactly the same path. Such an education is clearly effective.

In the modern meaning, the term liberal arts still refers to an education for leadership; but in its modern Christian form, it encourages a leadership built on a spirit of service to Christ, to the church, to society, and to the neighbor. It still refers to an education for leadership that is more than just “practical,” although it is strongest when combined with more practical and professional studies. It still includes the original seven subjects from the Middle Ages, but its contemporary scope is far broader as we learn more about the world God created. The modern liberal arts include courses drawn from the humanities, the social sciences, the biological sciences, the physical sciences, and mathematics.

At Tokyo Christian University, we firmly believe that the most powerful education for effective Christian living must include the liberal arts. Let us consider three reasons.

First, because Christians believe that God created all things in heaven and on earth. All truth, as the cliché goes, is God’s truth. God created richly, with enormous variety. For a thousand years, Christians have discovered, time and again, that studying a spectrum of the liberal arts gives the student at least a hint of the majesty and diversity of God’s creation and, thus, of God’s own greatness. A liberal arts education, truly pursued, can be a form of Christian worship and prayer.

Second, the liberal arts develop certain central skills. The student must analyze the subject matter, dig behind the surface to get at the “real meaning” of a text, separate fact from opinion, interpret the facts, synthesize the data in creative new patterns, create theories to account for that data, and write precisely and analytically. In short, the student must develop a critical, synthetic, and creative intelligence.

This educated intelligence explains why the liberal arts produces leaders. As we grow older, we face radically new situations, which neither we nor anyone else could have anticipated. To act effectively in those unforeseen situations, we need precisely the critical intelligence and breadth of knowledge that the liberal arts foster. That’s why people with a liberal education tend to rise to leadership in the ministry, in law, in politics, in government, in business, in medicine, and in all the professions. The liberal arts give people the tools and skills to lead effectively.

Of course there are exceptions. There are certainly people who never went to college but who are still effective and highly intelligent leaders. However, they nearly always acquired the equivalent of a liberal education through their reading, through conversation with other intelligent people, and through the habit of critical reflection on their lives. And there are still other people who received a fine liberal arts education but who never produced its fruits. In their cases, they got the education, but they didn’t internalize it in their own minds, souls, and life-styles. Nonetheless, over many centuries, an education in the liberal arts has proven the most likely way to develop a reflective and critical intelligence so central to effective leadership.

There is a third reason why both lay people as well as full-time missionaries and pastors can benefit from an education in the liberal arts. The liberal arts directly enhance the study of the Bible and theology. The more one knows about ancient history, for example, the more accurately one can understand the original meaning of the Bible. And it is impossible to get a deep understanding of Christian theology without some knowledge of philosophy. And though less traditional, many people find the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and economics, genuinely helpful in applying Christian truth to new situations. To the extent that a pastor, missionary, or Christian layman needs to know the Bible, to understand Christian doctrine, and to apply both to new situations, to that same extent, the liberal arts will prove helpful indeed.

The Bible says every Christian is a priest, or in contemporary language, that every Christian is a minister. Even those Christians we normally call “laity” are in fact ministers; they minister as lawyers, businessmen, and school teachers, and they minister as family-members, neighbors, and citizens. I firmly believe that the combination of theological studies and the liberal arts — the integration of faith and learning — can empower each Christian’s ministry, whether that ministry is in business or politics or in full-time pastoring and missionary work.

God has blessed the church in Japan, but there is one area where it is weak. And the same is true in the rest of Asia and other parts of the world. Here is the weakness: Christians often tend to separate their faith from their work, to isolate their faith from their family life, to separate their faith from their neighborhood responsibilities, and to divorce their faith from their citizenship.

We do not intend to belittle the faithful witness to Christ that many lay people in Japan and Asia already bring to their business, family, and civic circles. We may thank God for those Christians in secular professions who daily display the love of Christ towards their co-workers. But very few lay Christians have really thought through the deeper relation of their professions to their Christian faith. To take just one example: how should Christian engineers link engineering to the Doctrine of Providence, or to the Christian claim that God created the world as something good? Most Christian lay people must live in two disconnected worlds: in professional worlds that have not been shaped by Christ and in Christian worlds that have not been touched by the insights of their professions. And sometimes they must live in families, neighborhoods, and nations that seem unconnected to the concerns of Christ.

It is precisely to avoid this split that TCU not only offers an education in the liberal arts in dialogue with the Christian faith but also studies the Christian faith in light of the insights of the liberal arts. With a TCU education, we hope that our graduates will be able to think theologically about their professions and their nations and at the same time probe the deeper meanings of the Bible using the best insights from their profession.

TCU is the only evangelical university fully accredited by the Japanese government, and it is the only university in this country that integrates systematically the liberal arts with the study of Bible and theology.

We believe that TCU offers a useful, powerful, and distinctive preparation for an effective Christian life, whether ordained or lay. We believe that God has called TCU into existence precisely for this purpose. We believe TCU is one of God’s treasures in Japan. And we hope that the Evangelical church in Japan and Asia will take full advantage of this treasure in its midst.