Dordt College News

A.R.T Courses

May 18, 2011

A.R.T. courses are not classes in painting, sculpture, or photography.

In Dordt’s academic catalog—when punctuated with periods, at least—A.R.T. denotes Advanced Reformed Thought courses.

The Core Program requires each student to take one of these courses to explore what a Reformed worldview offers in a particular area of study.

During many of his summers, Dr. John Visser has taught business courses to students in different countries around the world. Hes taken the insights hes gained to write about the importance of religious belief for businesses and economic systems.The courses featured below, along with seven other A.R.T. courses currently on the books, examine how Reformed thinking, in dialogue with other ways of thinking, has an effect on a particular area of study. Students learn how Reformed writers have contributed to our understanding of the topic and develop their own mature, critical understanding. The goal is to help students become more deeply engaged as Reformed Christians in every part of their lives.

Economics and Religious Beliefs

Business Professor Dr. John Visser has a map of the world on a wall in his office. Colored pins indicate the countries in which his former students live. The pins stick into 43 countries, including Russia, China, several African countries. The relationships he’s developed with people in these countries have helped him understand the impact that religious belief has on economics.

Visser has written a manuscript that grew out of his teaching and study over the past decades. He is using it this spring as the primary text in his A.R.T. course, Economics and Religious Beliefs, to help students better understand that belief shouldn’t be marginalized when people think about business and economics. Visser looks at the impact beliefs have on economic activity, personal habits, risk taking, views of government, and more—Christian as well as Buddhist, secular materialist as well as Marxist.

He uses articles about current events in today’s world, like the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, to demonstrate the misconception that religious belief is a private affair.

“What we believe shapes how we see government, what values we hold, and how we think about achievement and productivity,” he says. Thinking that belief is simply a private affair contributes to persistent difficulties and unrest in our world, he believes.

“If you know something about Confucianism you get a better sense of how China has been able to achieve such dramatic economic change in the last decade,” he says.
“In the Middle East today, you have a highly educated and youthful population living in an economic system that doesn’t have a place for them to use their skills,” he says. The results are becoming obvious.

In the West, massive technology changes have had a profound effect on employment. Visser believes that asking how beliefs drive the decisions that bring these changes will help us know how to address problems and find solutions to them.

“Whether a business person’s motivation is personal profit or providing a service makes a big difference,” he says. That motivation is strongly influenced by religious belief.

Visser believes that capitalism and democracy offer the best opportunities for people to live lives of fulfillment and potential, but he also wants his students to see how these systems can be distorted by unbiblical worldviews.

“I want students to understand the central role of religious belief in economics,” says Visser. “The culture you live in pulls you in a certain direction, sometimes unthinkingly.” He hopes the course will be a tool his students take with them to help them make deliberate biblical choices in their careers and the other economic areas of their lives.

“This course has made me so much more aware of how religion and economics intertwine. It also challenged me to realize how secular my mindset is.”
Anonymous student on a mid-term evaluation

Why postmodernism isn’t necessarily a bad word (for Calvinists)

Philosophy Professor Dr. Neal DeRoo wants to show his students that Reformed philosophy is relevant to our contemporary postmodern culture. He also wants them to understand how Calvinists can have an impact on the world and that postmodernism, in many areas of life, makes a Reformed voice more able to be heard.

In fact, reformational philosophy shares something with postmodernism.

“Key to both reformational philosophers and postmodernists is the idea that knowledge is contextual. Our set of beliefs is rooted in our backgrounds and that helps us read our world,” says De Roo. In other words, everyone has a worldview that shapes the way they think and act. Rather than dismissing postmodernism as “bland relativism” in which anything goes, as many do, De Roo says that postmodernism opens a door to conversations between people with different belief systems by respecting that they come from differing starting points that contribute to their view of the world. Post modernism can lead to ethical relativism, but it need not.

DeRoo takes his students though the main themes of postmodernism, putting them alongside main themes of Reformed Calvinism to find similarities and differences.

A postmodernist approach, by trying to understand Students in Dr. Ethan Brues History of Science and Technology class learn that there is no theoretical knowing that is not guided or directed by a religious belief of one sort or another.other’s traditions, doesn’t ask us to ignore differences or even to get rid of all differences, but to examine how a particular tradition acts out of its core beliefs, De Roo notes.

“What does that mean for Reformed Christians?” De Roo asks his students.

“It means we may have more opportunity to enter academic and cultural discourse to talk about what makes us unique and say that the authority for us is the Bible, which shapes how we see the world and live in it,” says De Roo. It also challenges students to ask what insights they have gained from their Reformed tradition and figure out how to communicate them to those from other traditions.

“If you know where others are coming from you can communicate with them more effectively because you understand each other’s assumptions,” says De Roo.

In the last month of the course De Roo and his students focus on the church as a body of believers and on its role in our world. They use a postmodern approach to look to their core beliefs  and ask whether we reflect a biblical understanding of the church today.

Using James K. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture), De Roo’s students find that today’s church has been heavily influenced by modernism’s emphasis on individuals and individual rights and freedoms rather than the biblical narrative in which the church is a covenant community elected to serve as a body of believers.

“Election is not a get-out-of-jail free card but a responsibility to serve,” says De Roo. He hopes his students take up that challenge as they move into the next stage of their lives and active involvement in their careers and in their church communities.

“These A.R.T. classes are long overdue. It’s too easy to give students the barebone basics of Reformed thought without ever legitimately engaging in its application to specific disciplines. Teaching a freshman the Creation-Fall-Redemption outline is a piece of cake. It’s more difficult—but all the more necessary and rewarding—to get students asking how this paradigm can be applied practically to areas like agriculture or English, to name a couple.”
Senior Kenny Gradert

History of Science and Technology

Did you ever think about the fact that kitchen designs often still reflect female roles of the 1950s? That’s a question Dr. Ethan Brue likes to ask students in his History of Science and Technology A.R.T. course. Sinks were put beneath a window facing the backyard so the stay-at-home mom could keep an eye on her children playing in the back yard while she was doing dishes.

Examples such as this help Brue demonstrate to his students both how we shape technology and how it shapes us. In the 1950s a woman’s role was to be at home with her children while her husband worked at a job that would earn the money they needed to live. The kitchen was her domain.

Throughout his teaching Brue helps students see that technology doesn’t just happen. It is shaped by what we believe, and those beliefs have concrete implications. Together the class asks questions and explores answers. They come to see, for example, that the automobile did not simply change the way Americans travel; it changed how we define community, education, work, play, and worship. Its effect is greater than providing a better way to get people to events.

Brue’s course focuses on the history of science generally and discusses how the western notion of science vs. religion is a misnomer.

“There is no theoretical knowing that is not guided or directed by a religious belief of one sort or another,” Brue reiterates. His students often are surprised to find that the Copernican controversy over heliocentrism was far less about biblical faith vs. science and far more about new ideas doing battle with traditional pagan Greek understandings of the universe and society.

Brue gives his students the historical context to help them think about the tools and toys that surround them today.

“No one can exist without being affected by technology today,” he says. Whether we’re brushing our teeth or planting a garden, technological developments shape how we do it, both for good and for bad.

“I believe that reformational thinking has the most distinctive approach for helping Christians think about the sciences,” says Brue. “Asking what kind of thinking has shaped our technology also helps us figure out how the technology we use is shaping us. It’s not enough to understand our own religious perspective—to abstractly
believe. We’re constantly being shaped—including what we believe in—by the technical world we live in.”

Brue points out to his students—both engineering and arts students—that today’s technology-saturated, scientifically oriented culture assumes that what we know must be rationally defensible and scientifically verifiable. Such a view throws out other kinds of knowing that are more artistic and intuitive as well as how we come to know our most foundational beliefs in a God who covenants with his creation.  By unconsciously accepting the scientific assumptions embedded in the way we live and what we surround ourselves with we become influenced by them in other parts of our lives as well, affecting how we think about things as diverse as origins, bioethics, space, computers in schools, gender roles, and more.

Brue hopes his students will ask themselves how they are shaped by the technology they use.

“We need to see ourselves as technology creators.” By buying into trends as consumers, we’re helping set trends and affirming the value of a particular way of looking at the world. For engineers to design something simply because it is what the market wants means they are being shaped by a worldview, rather than leading out of a worldview.

“My education has benefitted from comparing and contrasting various perspectives on technology and its role in society to a biblical perspective that we are discovering in the course.”
Senior Lucas Teeuwsen

Readers as Believers and Writers

English Department faculty took on an extra course this semester to participate in the Readers as Believers and Writers A.R.T course. Although Dr. Mary Dengler is listed as the instructor and does the coordinating and grading for the course, other English faculty members attend and some help present. They’ve created a lively dialogue between professors, students, and the Christian writers they are reading. Together they look at how faith—Reformed faith in particular—informs reading and writing, both theirs and others.

Professors and students read Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures in Calvinism—particularly “Calvinism as a Life-system,” Calvin Seerveld’s A Christian Critique of Art and Literature, and Susan Gallagher and Roger Lundin’s Literature Through the Eyes of Faith. They read essays by Christian writers about those who shaped them and how literature can reveal truth about the human condition while it reflects, critiques, and galvanizes culture. The essays are from More Than Words, a book edited by department member James C. Schaap.

“I love being able to read and talk about Kuyper, Seerveld, Gallagher, Lundin, Tolkien, Robinson, and Dostoyevsky in the same class (not to mention Solzhenitsyn, Sherwood Anderson, Jim Schaap, and John Milton). I love seeing the connections among them,” says Dengler.

She and her colleagues want students to better understand and articulate what a Reformed Christian approach to literary studies and writing is and why it is important for Christians both to engage literature and to write. Students respond to what they read and discuss with cogent, well-supported arguments as they reflect on the writings they study.

“It’s exciting to sit in the back row with students I know and others I don’t yet know. It’s fun to be learning with them. It’s also enriching to dialogue with my colleagues about literature and the Christian faith. I’m learning and I’m teaching at the same time,” says Dr. Bob De Smith

“As a student, I don’t think I saw much of professors experiencing literature,” says Professor Howard Schaap.  “They were the experts ‘dishing’ it out for the rest of us.  In the English pod from time to time, someone will take a poem or story and say to the rest of us, ‘What do you see here?’ The ensuing discussion and/or wrestling match is often the finest part of teaching at college.  In this class, teachers and students get to do that together.”

Students are also enjoying the course.

“I like having the entire English Department present during the class period because each instructor brings his or her own perspective on the novel or short story being discussed. A major issue for any Christian reader is determining whether or not one can find God’s redemptive truth in ‘secular’ books, and I think that this course effectively challenges me as both a reader and a writer to discover God in unlikely places,” says senior Grace Schmidt from Vadnais Heights, Minnesota.

“English 342 is a unique class. Together students and faculty look at the broader themes of literature, especially how we shape literature and how it shapes us,” says senior Sarah Roth from Escondido, California.

“It’s a joy to see students from different majors and emphases all interested in digging into literature—and all well-prepared to join a conversation in a mixed group like this,” says Dr. Leah Zuidema.  “It’s also wonderful to have the chance to read with colleagues—to engage in the kind of work that is at the heart of our discipline.”

“Here at Dordt, we claim that being Christian impacts our interaction with the world. This class sets out to prove that claim within the realm of literature and writing.”
Senior Sarah Roth


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