It seems to me that in popular opinion education is about facts, useful processes or knowledge (how things work and how to make things work), and critical thinking. This can be so in relatively simple ways and in very complex ways. For instance if we know the genetics code, the Genome, then we can potentially reprogram our genetic patterns, correcting defects, guarding against disease, and generally making things work better. This is amazingly complex, and requires great depth of critical thought to sort through, test hypotheses, and processes. But it is not different in kind from examining how an engine works, how to manage finances, or sorting through the efficencies of an organizational structure.
There is another kind of knowledge that is also involved in the thought hinted at above which is harder to grasp which is that mysterious creativity that we as humans posess and exercise. It might be the creativity that produces music, art, fiction, poetry. This is the knowledge or insight, or even vision (a metaphor that doesn’t quite work for music) that cannot be contained by facts, processes and critical thinking.
But these do not seem to me to be the end of it. There is a further form of human insight and experience that might be even more, or at least as intense and deep as the two I have now hinted at. That is the experienc of wonder, and of faith that we experience as contingent (not existing of ourselves), limited beings who desire something, someone, or the good, the beautiful, the true, and that which is truly and permanently existent–the absolute, what “is”–or God. For this kind of education we must exercise a particular kind of openeess to human and divine experience, and openness to the possibility of a divine encounter, of something beyond us. It also might require a willingness to probe with our critical and imanginative faculty the record of the human religious experience, of revelation, and of its tangible effects in our history–religious faiths, theological ideas, churches and communities of faith, the great saints.
I often hear that the first kind of knowledge is the real knowledge, the second a nice kind of addition, and the third, well, a hold over from past, prescientific ages, or just something personal. But it might be that we have the order reversed. Perhaps the third form of knowledge I have hinted at is the deepest, the second a reflection of this, and the first just the outer layer. A full knowledge, and an more profound university education, will build from on to the other and back, and engage us with knowledge not only about how things work–of course we need this–but also about those transcendtal goods that pull us toward the goodness and fullness of ultimate reality, and God.
This all seems terribly abstract, but it seems to me to be the general outline for why a Christian education, and a university that allows for it, and pursues it offers an education in depth and breadth that might not be possible elsewhere. Could it be that our conventional notions of education (the first form above) are so limited we ought not to consider them a full and complete education? Could it be that only when we encourage the exercise of the faith dimension that we truly pursue education? I have often thought that students studying in universities with religious aspirations and commitments have a more difficulty task than others. They must not only master the knowledge of the first two forms, but go beyond to something more ultimately difficult and profoundly compelling.