- 3.1 Knowledge of God
- 3.1.1 The Christian Faith
- 3.1.2 The Reformed Tradition
- 3.1.3 Other Religious Traditions
- 3.2 Knowledge of the World
- 3.2.1 World Structure
- 3.2.2 Formal and Quantitative Structures
- 3.2.3 The Natural World
- 3.2.4 Human Society
- 3.2.5 The Arts
- 3.2.6 Historical Development
- 3.3 Knowledge of Ourselves
- 3.3.1 Our Identities
- 3.3.2 Our Bodies
- 3.3.3 Our Emotions
- 3.3.4 Our Minds
- 3.3.5 Our Hearts
- 3.3.6 Our Gifts and Callings
The Expanded Statement of Mission organizes its comments on the content to be conveyed in the core curriculum under the broadly Augustinian headings of knowing God, knowing the world, and knowing ourselves. Here we follow that arrangement, and articulate under sub-headings those specific forms of knowledge we wish to extend to all Calvin students. Please note: This is a list of topics to be covered in the core curriculum, not a list of core courses; moreover, it should not be assumed that each topic entry carries equal weight.
“At the heart of our programs lies the pursuit of knowledge of our triune God as revealed in scripture and creation, and as expressed through religious traditions in general and the Reformed Christian tradition in particular.”
--An Expanded Statement of the Mission of Calvin College
Calvin College is a Christian college. Its students should acquire in the core curriculum a mature and reflective knowledge of the triune God as revealed in the Bible and interpreted by the Christian tradition. They should develop a deeper understanding of the works and ways of God as disclosed in the biblical canon and presented in the great themes of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration of all things in Christ; as summarized in the ecumenical creeds; and as systematized in the discipline of theology. They should acquire an awareness of the global dimensions of the Christian religion, its vital and diverse cultural expressions, its movement through time and across the continents. Moreover, their own reading of holy scripture should be well-acquainted with the issues of biblical interpretation, their theological understandings tested in the intellectual climate of our day, so that they may responsibly articulate the central beliefs of the Christian faith to themselves and to others in this secular age, ready to serve as informed members and leaders of the Christian church.
Calvin College is a Reformed Christian college. Its core curriculum should serve as a primary carrier and passionate advocate of the Reformed interpretation of the Christian faith, making that interpretation compelling and engaging, inviting students to take on and grow into its wholistic understanding of the biblical themes of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration; its sense of the radical fallenness and the deep spiritual conflict that plays itself out in all domains of human culture; its insistence that God’s sovereignty be honored in every area of human endeavor. Furthermore, in the core curriculum, Calvin’s students should become thoroughly acquainted with the salient features of the Reformed tradition: its history and its heroes; its central texts; its cultural impulses; its relation to other communions within the Christian tradition; its strengths and its weaknesses; and finally, its expression in the Kuyperian tradition, which has, more than any other, served as a primary source in the formation of Calvin’s present educational ethos. In possession of such knowledge, its graduates should find themselves equipped with a deepened understanding of what it means to follow Christ and his way of redemption in their respective callings. Calvin graduates who enter churches of the Reformed communion should also find themselves well-prepared to serve as informed parishioners in positions of leadership; those who enter other communions should have nonetheless an appreciation of the Reformed contribution to the church universal.
Calvin College prepares its graduates to pursue lives of Christian service in the contemporary world. This world contains other major religious traditions that inform the beliefs, practices, institutions, and cultures of many nations and billions of people. A distinctive feature of the Reformed tradition is the insight that religions are not the simple creation of human wishes, or mere reflections of dominant social relations; rather, they are an expression of the “sensus divinitatis” that God, in his common grace, has implanted in all his image bearers. Calvin students should be familiar with the basic tenets of other world religions as responses to God’s self-disclosure in nature and in conscience, with the ways of life that they encourage, and with the points of contact they bear to Christianity. Students should be enabled and encouraged to evaluate the claims of these traditions in the light of God’s revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, interact with members of these traditions with increased understanding, bear witness to the Christian faith effectively, and acquire deeper insight into the religious movements that have shaped and continue to shape the world in which they are called to live out the hope of the gospel.
Along with the knowledge of God comes “an understanding of God’s world and critical inquiry into its problems and potential. We need to understand the structure and integrity of nature, discern the cultural and social forces that shape our world, and address the needs and issues of contemporary life.”
An Expanded Statement of the Mission of Calvin College
At the core of the religions, philosophies, and ideologies of our age lie intuitions about the basic structure of the world and the purpose of human life within it. Whether reality is exhausted in the material world; whether the material world is but an appearance of a deeper and more lasting reality; whether reality is only a show of appearances in the mind, or, as Calvin put it, the “theater of God’s glory”; whether human beings are just complicated animals governed by the principles of pleasure and pain; whether they possess a special faculty that connects them to a rational order that should guide their action; whether they are created in the image of a personal God they are called to know, love, and serve; whether human life ends with physical death or finds its ultimate destiny beyond; whether our sense of right and wrong has any grounds beyond our desires and social conventions; whether history is the sad tale of decline from a golden age, or the heartening story of steady progress; whether evil is a natural part of human life, a passing inconvenience that can be eliminated with the right social program, or the intrusion of an abnormal state of affairs that only God can rectify; whether human reason has the innate power to decide all matters of truth, or stands in need of guidance and correction---such questions get sorted out in a basic view of the world and the purpose of our life within it, in a “world-and-life-view.” While Calvin students should be encouraged in the life of Christian piety and instructed in the doctrines of the Christian church as interpreted by the Reformed tradition, they should also come to see and appreciate how Christianity opens out to a comprehensive view of the world and human life--how Christian belief translates into a world-and-life-view. They should, moreover, gain a sense for how this view stacks up against its main competitors and alternatives in the marketplace of ideas. In their examination of the issues in the basic domains of practical life, they should learn to trace out the implications of a Christian world-and-life-view--how it bears on an understanding of such issues as work and leisure, friendship and sexuality, technology, cultural diversity, education, and politics.
We inhabit a world rich in elegant and intricate formal structures. We move, moreover, in a civilization where the sciences of these structures have become a major cultural force. Much more than a narrow set of computational procedures and techniques, the mathematical disciplines have both opened up a significant aspect of our world and indelibly shaped it. Students at Calvin College should acquire an understanding of the range and basic types of formal and quantitative structures used in the representation of reality, and a generous perspective on their allied disciplines--their history, influence, the nature of their objects, their many fields of endeavor, and their manifold contemporary applications in such diverse areas as empirical research methods and public policy.
The natural world in its many dimensions forms the context and condition of existence we share with all fellow creatures--be they rocks, trees, animals, or fellow human beings. The sciences of the natural world have played a role in western culture the magnitude of which is difficult to overestimate: they have irrevocably shaped our understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit; they have brought us deeper knowledge and greater control; and they have unleashed forces in the natural environment we neither fully comprehend nor direct. Students at Calvin should have a knowledge of the fundamental orders, processes, and histories of the natural world; they should grow in their awareness of the complex inter-relationships of the delicate eco-system. They should gain insight into the way the natural world has been organized and transformed by human culture and its manifold technologies. In addition, they should gain a sense for the history, development, and contingency of the natural sciences, the philosophical assumptions of the naturalistic worldview, the nature and limits of scientific knowledge, the kinds of ethical questions that beset scientific research, the formative role science and technology play in our society, and the issues involved at the intersection of science, technology, and Christian faith.
Unique to human beings is the formation of domestic, social, economic, and political institutions by which human life is nurtured, human contact normed, the exchange of goods and services regulated, and the demands of justice sorted out. These institutions are both large scale and intimate, ranging from familial groupings to international organizations. Rightly constituted, they both condition and promote human flourishing. Ill-conceived, ill-formed, or ill-managed, they stifle the human spirit, perpetuate gross injustice and occasion terrible conflict. Students at Calvin College, who are being trained for a life of Christian service in contemporary society, should gain a basic understanding of the institutions and social practices that shape North American culture--their principal aims, their origins and development, their mutual interaction, their global contexts, and their differentiation along such lines as religion, race, class, and gender. In addition, Calvin graduates should understand the basic concepts, theories, and methods of the sciences which study these practices and institutions, so that they may serve as wise agents of transformation and reconciliation in a society sorely in need of God’s peace.
Humans are interpretive beings, and they embody their sense of life in a variety of cultural forms: books and buildings, dance and drama, triptychs and TV, poems and paintings, films and friezes, music and mosaics. These products and activities embody the convictions and practices which members of a culture share, providing them, both individually and corporately, with a sense of identity and purpose before God. By the imagination we engage these convictions and practices through the mediation of line and color, movement and image, shape and sound. Exposure to such works can be enlightening and ennobling, or misleading and degrading. Whether we turn to the arts as an antidote to boredom, or in the passionate quest for meaning, we are in either case shaped by them through the powerful agent of the imagination. Students at Calvin College should be led to a serious and sensitive engagement with works of art in a full range of media and cultural forms, in their own tradition as well as other traditions, in both their native tongue and their second language. They should learn how to be astute interpreters of such works of interpretation, enabled to gain insight from them, developing a sense for what is worthy and what is base, so that they may grow in their understanding of life as God has given it to be lived. As a result of such broad engagements with the arts, they should also come to a deeper understanding of members of other cultures with whom they share creation.
The varied movements within the world of culture, the forces of social change, the interaction between different societal domains, the effects--often unintended--of human actions, the power of past events over the present, the origins and development of ideas and institutions, the layers of continuity and discontinuity within a tradition--all belong to the domain of history and historical understanding. Students at Calvin should be well acquainted with the basic contours of western civilization in a global context and so come to possess a broad historical framework in which to situate and relate what they learn in other subjects. They should acquire an understanding of the particular forces that have shaped their world, the better to pursue their callings within it; and they should have some acquaintance with distant worlds, removed in time, in order to gain a critical perspective on their own. In addition, they should acquire some sophistication with regard to the rhetoric and particularity of historical narrative and become aware of the common uses and abuses of historical knowledge in the justification of claims in contemporary political disputes.
“We also need to know ourselves--our nature, gifts, and callings--as we engage this world.”
An Expanded Statement of the Mission of Calvin College
In coming to know God and the world which we inhabit, we come, at the same time, to know ourselves. For our identities, although based on individual differences, are largely shaped by our relationships. We are creatures made in the image of God; and as the divine life is transacted among three persons, so too our life is molded, lived out, and fulfilled in communities of persons. These communities are founded in and by God; they embrace the relationships we bear to our parents and siblings, to our neighbors, to our colleagues, to our fellow citizens, to all with whom we share God’s world. These relationships, in turn, are structured in history by such institutions as the family, the church, the state, and the market--institutions which mutually condition each other and jointly express deep intuitions about the purpose of human life and its good. In addition, these relationships, so structured, constitute the social meaning of our contingent differences--our gender, race, ethnicity, class, and the like. As a result of their work in the core curriculum, students should come to a deeper understanding of themselves as image bearers of God, fallen in Adam and redeemed in Christ; as members of the Christian church universal; as products of a particular kind of tradition, home, and family life; as participants in the great democratic experiment of North American politics; as players in a mercurial market economy; as persons whose experience and action in the world has been deeply shaped by science and technology and whose imaginations and ideals have been affected by the media to which they have been exposed. In coming to know themselves and the specific characteristics of their identity and situation, students will acquire a deeper understanding of the particular shape of God’s call to them and the proper contours of their response to it.
Human existence is an embodied existence. With the body we engage the world--we move, speak, love, play, write, and build. Calvin graduates should know about the several systems of the human body, the guidelines for wellness and proper nutrition, the principles of training for strength, flexibility, and endurance, the role of body-image in the formation of self-concept, the sources and management of stress, the symptoms of our common maladies, and the effects of alcohol and other drugs, so that they may be responsible stewards of the bodies God has given them and make sensible choices in matters of diet, physical activity, and medical care.
We are not only biological beings, but also affective ones, subject to widely varying, and sometimes deeply troubling, emotional states. Joy, sorrow, grief, love, desire, anger, fear, hate, contentment, and their cousins powerfully mold our lives and the lives of those around us. They inform our character and motivate our actions. They shape and are shaped by our relationships to others. They tell us--and sometimes surprise us--about what we believe and the things we value. At Calvin, students should gain some academically based insight into the emotions, their role in ethical formation and the spiritual life, their common disorders and their social and physiological bases, the guidelines for emotional health, and the assumptions of the major theories of human personality, so that they may come to understand their own feelings and behavior, and those of others, know how to deal with destructive emotions, and rightly sort out the issues of life in an age which tends to see all human problems as occasions for therapy.
Humans possess the wonderful capacity to know. Each waking moment they experience what Edmund Husserl called “the miracle of consciousness.” Sensation, perception, memory, concept and language acquisition, and the manifold higher-order operations of the intellect are all components of human cognitive ability. Students at Calvin, learners all, should come to understand the nature and roles of these varied processes, their biological bases, the social conditions of their development, their variations, and their dysfunctions. Moreover, they should gain insight into how sin clouds the mind, expressing itself in systematic biases of human cognition, so that they might be more wary in their ways of knowing, more cautious in their claims to knowledge, and less credulous in their comportment with others.
Human existence is not wholly contained within creation, but is gathered, directed, and ultimately related to the Creator, the governor and redeemer of all things. That gathering point of human existence is the heart, which we, as followers of Christ, offer to God as the summary of our life before him; that relationship is the domain of the spirit, which depends on God for its life. Because Calvin College is a Christian college, it has a deep and enduring investment in the spiritual well-being of its students and the community it serves through them. During their stay at Calvin, students should grow in their awareness of their deepest identities as members of a community called and covenanted by God; they should gain, as well, a deeper insight into the dynamics of the spiritual life--how the human spirit opens to the presence of God and why it so often closes down. They should also mature in a working knowledge of the spiritual disciplines, so that they may benefit in their relationship to God from the cumulative wisdom of the Christian tradition in matters of spiritual growth.
All human beings have received gifts from God in the form of talents, abilities, interests, passions, and opportunities. With these gifts comes the responsibility to use them in the service of the human community in ways that convey God’s grace, truth, mercy, justice, and healing presence in Christ. For God did not give us these things that we might heap up fame and fortune for ourselves, but rather that we might play our unique part in a community of persons who depend on each other for what they need. In this way we participate in God’s care for the world. Students at Calvin College should be given, in the course of the core curriculum, ample opportunity for discovering the gifts that God has bestowed upon them; they should become aware of how the sins of pride, envy, greed, and fear often twist and distort their self-perception, making it difficult to see clearly what God has fitted them for; they should also be provided with some guidance in the ways they might connect their gifts to human need in response to God’s call to love their neighbors--for our calling is found, as Frederick Buechner once said, where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.