College frustrated my brother Daniel and me. It seemed that a great deal of our time was spent doing "busy work." We invested much time learning to take written tests well, knowing that no one would make us take a test outside of school. We went to classes that were too easy or repeated things we could have learned in high school. Classes sometimes consisted of dozens doing little more than sitting and staring at the one droning away at the front of the room. We began to have what we thought was a radical idea, "Is this really the best way to learn?"
We discovered that many of our friends and even professors shared our frustration. Some subjects, especially technical ones, seemed well suited to the "lecture" format. Others, like the humanities, did not. The intimate seminars of our majors were wonderful. Why couldn't this experience be duplicated in all college classrooms?
Of course, every so often, Daniel and I would have a magical teacher in one of those big classes. He or she would transform the dry process we sometimes experienced into pure joy. That is why we stayed. Sadly, such a genius of pedagogy was rare. What we needed, we thought, was a way for education to be good even when the teacher was not great. We had no illusions, however. We knew that as students we were not so great either. In fact, we had been fortunate in our teachers. Yet even the best teachers and students seemed hampered by the way they were forced to go about teaching and learning. The system seemed to work against us (and our poor instructors), not for us. Perhaps the system was not bad for everyone, but for a certain kind of student it did not work well. We knew that we did not know what to do, but suspected that someone else, some place, knew.
The New Way was an Old Way
It was then that we rediscovered ancient wisdom. For most of human history, education did not operate like a factory. Students were tutored, not forced to fit pre-built molds. Individuality was cherished, not viewed with fear. Teachers and students alike were on a quest for learning. The teacher had something to give the student: not a head full of facts, but a whole soul.
This helped us understand the source of the problem. Modern culture, influenced by naturalism and its assertion that man has no soul, views man as an animal subject to heredity and environment. Naturalism views education as training or conditioning. Humans, it says, don't need to be tutored any more than does a dog; they need to undergo behavior modification. More recently naturalism has come to depict man as machine; man needs to be programmed, as computers are programmed. This thinking even influenced Christian educators in the modern era, who all too often have treated their students like computers made out of meat.
Then we became excited about a different model of education in Oxford University, a truly Christian school for most of its history. We learned that its approach to education had genuinely stimulated the thinking skills of many of our favorite writers, such as C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. Having rejected the fashionable, but silly notion that new is better, we were able to look to the past without a modern bias. What Dorothy Sayers called the "lost tools of learning" were still available.
Torrey: The Recovery of the Lost Tools of Learning
Providing this kind of education to others became my goal. As I looked for a school that shared this ancient vision, and that was truly Christian, in God's grace Biola University became excited about the promise of this classical approach to education. Biola embraced the Torrey Honors Institute as a way to bring education back to its roots.
Torrey is not about being smart or amassing a lot of knowledge. Many, many Christian and secular colleges focus on students' minds. At Torrey we want whole souls: minds that think, hearts with a passion for the Good, and hands that act in the world.
Unlike many Great Books programs in the post-Christian civilization that the West has become, we are also not about "doubt." Socratic questioning is an important part of what Torrey does. But unlike post-modern questioning, which is headed no place in particular, we believe with Plato and the Bible (and the X-Files!) that the Truth is out there. We think that Christianity is where this Truth is found. So we examine everything, including that basic belief, but we do so in the context of traditional Christianity.
In fact, the Torrey Honors Institute is at war with the modern culture. Torrey does not want to "get along" with materialism, secularism, naturalism, post-modernism, radical feminism, or spiritualism. We want to win over through service every facet of the culture, from the arts to the sciences, for the Kingdom of Christ. Because Christians have been deeply impacted by the Spirit of our Age, we have to start by cultivating our own souls. That is why Torrey has to be more than attending class. Torrey tries to mentor each student to be like Christ, and not like our culture.
This does not mean reacting against everything in the Western culture, however. The best of pagan thought often contains wisdom. Torrey does not have the hubris not to listen to such voices. The Word of God, perfect and without error, must captivate every thought. But that Word can be illuminated by the Wisdom that the shattered image of God still can produce in sinful men. As Augustine puts it, the people of God leave Egypt with many spoils. The best pagan thought is part of our heritage, the human heritage, and we carry it out of Egypt. We shall transform it, the way the gold of Egypt was transformed to serve in the wilderness Tabernacle. We are committed to placing every good and noble idea in service to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Goals of Torrey
The motto of Torrey sums up what we pursue, "Bonum, Veritas, Pulcher," or Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Torrey wants to see Goodness. We believe that morals are absolute and objective. With Aristotle, we believe that the pursuit of virtue is not an exact science, but that it is a science. We know it is wrong to kill. We know it is wrong to steal. We know these things just as surely as we know the earth is sphere-like and not flat.
Torrey wants to know the Truth. We believe that Truth is not what is fashionable or politically correct. We are realists. The universe and God are there. They are not matters of convenience. Every idea must bow to that reality. We realize that Truth is not just a series of propositional statements, though it includes that. It is also a person: Jesus Christ. Knowing the Truth must therefore be about more than understanding abstract ideas. It must be about a relationship with the God of the Universe.
Torrey wants to experience Beauty. We believe that some things are Beautiful and some things are not. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. As children of the living God who created a world of Beauty, our job is to create beauty in all we do. A goal of every mature Christian should be to develop an artistic and aesthetically sophisticated soul.
This is our quest and it is a hard journey, for the pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty is not fashionable. Our culture may not like what we are about, but we shall win them over in the end. How? Not by our brilliance and certainly not by force. Instead, we shall win them over by service. The mission of Torrey is to learn to serve and in that way lead. Missions is of prime importance to what and who we are.
One hundred years ago, a very wicked man sat by a lake in Switzerland. He wrote little books read by only a few young men. At a moment of great cultural chaos in his homeland, he was able to transform it. He accomplished this even though his followers were few and many of his ideas were evil. Vladimir Lenin converted Russia because he had a simple, consistent worldview. He had a way to answer the question, "How should we then live?" His simple notions of Peace, Bread, and Land won many to his cause.
Our age accounts Lenin's folly as wisdom. Many Americans see their highest goal as personal peace. They want to live fat and comfortable lives. They want some piece of this world to call our own. And they no longer want something more. Torrey Honors Institute students believe that there is a different message: one of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. So help us God, we shall never cease from the fight until every person on earth has heard that message.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds
Return to top of page