Core Curriculum

Critical Thinking

Proverbs 18:17 tells us that “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” In other words, there’s real danger in simply believing everything you hear—or read. But how can you distinguish the truth from error? Answer: By learning to think (and read and listen and watch) critically. That’s why you’ll begin your studies in Excel College with this course designed to train you in identifying, evaluating and responding to the good and bad arguments you’ll find in books, lectures, movies, music, debates and even your private conversations. Armed to think clearly, critically and creatively, you’ll then be ready to enter confidently into the “Great Conversation” about God, man and the world that’s kept Western thinkers chattering for millennia. To help with this, you’ll learn Excel College’s Critical Thinking Method,” a practical strategy for understanding and critiquing anything you read, hear or think before deciding to agree or disagree with it. You’ll explore the forms and functions of (good and bad) arguments, the nature and kinds of (strong and weak) evidence, the similarities and differences of (elegant and inelegant) texts and the clues and consequences of (Christian and non-Christian) thinking. By the end of this module, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the skills you’ll need to live “the examined life” that alone is worth living.



Theology

Proverbs 1:7 tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” And man, as John Calvin reminds us, “never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God.” So this course will lay the all-important theological foundations of your studies at Excel College—and life beyond—by introducing you to Christian theism’s central claims regarding the existence, nature and acts of God and His intentions for our world. For only by learning to think well theologically can you think well philosophically, mathematically, scientifically, aesthetically, politically, economically, etc. In today’s intellectual climate, however, Christian theism’s claims about God are often met with open antagonism and/or seductive alternatives. So to prepare you to meet these attacks, this course will arm you with: (1) a historical overview of the defining moments in the Church’s ongoing life with God; (2) a credible response to the most common objections to the existence of God; (3) a biblical picture of the nature and character of God; (4) a thorough understanding of and biblical response to the question of evil and suffering; and (5) a foundational grasp of the centrality of the cross of Christ to the Christian life. By the end of the course, you should be able to make a convincing case for belief in—and whole-souled devotion to—the God of Christian theism. So equipped, you will then be ready to take up life’s ultimate questions, which you will begin to explore in the Philosophy module to follow.

Philosophy

Solomon and Socrates agree. “Philosophy”—the love (Gk. phileo) of wisdom (Gk. sophia)—is the pinnacle of man’s intellectual pursuits. Why? Because only a life ordered by wisdom “finds good” (Pr. 19:8), according to Israel’s wise king. And “the unexamined life,” says Socrates, “is not worthy living.” So this course will prepare you for the life-long pursuit of godly wisdom by introducing you to the four foundational questions of all philosophical thinking: (1) What’s Knowable? (Epistemology); (2) What’s Real? (Metaphysics); (3) What’s Good? (Axiology/Ethics); and (4) What’s Ahead? (Teleology). Having already studied Logic, answering the question “What is True?” during the Worldview module, you’re ready to dig deeper into the discipline of philosophy. Answering these four questions correctly is the key to finding the wisdom that Solomon and Socrates commended. But where do we look for such answers? Fortunately God has not left us without help in such pivotal matters. And this course will show you how and why Christian theism offers the most plausible response to philosophy’s four foundational questions as well as the most satisfying explanation of our world—including its enigmas, evils and errors. You’ll discover how the responsible application of our God-given reason in the examination of God-given revelation offers the only sure path to knowing, being and doing. Along the way you’ll explore a number of “dead ends” leading away from this path that thinkers before us have pursued and learn why and how to avoid them. For only by staying on this path will you find your way to the godly wisdom that alone points the way to all meaningful living.

Mathematics

“Does the biblical God have anything to do with mathematics? Is God’s revelation silent in this realm? Does it really matter? A Hindu, a Buddhist, a Christian, or even an atheist would all agree that 2+2=4 in the base 10 decimal system. Therefore the case is closed. It would appear mathematics has nothing to do with God.”

Not so fast. Excel College believes that there is a biblical view of mathematics and that the notion of “neutrality” is a myth because all mathematical conclusions are determined by the presuppositions on which they are based. In addition, mathematics does not exist in a historical vacuum. In order to provide the proper groundwork for proving that mathematics finds its ultimate foundation in the biblical God, surveying the historical flow of mathematical thought becomes necessary. Why? Because man is made in the image of God, and he is gifted with the ability to observe the physical creation and formulate relationships and consequences that both explain and predict. And throughout the history of mathematics, we find man doing just that.

Physics

Matter matters!

After all, that’s the “stuff” God spoke into existence and put into motion when He decided to create a universe chock-full of wonders like quarks and quasars. In fact, you might even think of matter as something like a “natural grammar” by which God speaks in a language that’s universally accessible. As such, this “Book of Nature” (as earlier generations described it) is somewhat like a companion volume to the “Book of Scripture” in revealing the grandeur and goodness of the God who thought it all up (cf. Ps. 19). And Physics (or “natural philosophy,” as those earlier generations dubbed it) teaches us how to “read” this awe-inspiring book by acquainting us with the origins, operations and occasional oddities (!) of this cosmos made of moveable matter and exquisitely ordered to reveal the mind of its Maker. But this understanding of matter—and why it matters—isn’t universally shared in today’s world. Consequently, our journey into the domain of Physics will require an introduction to a number of themes not typically covered in a standard first year course. In addition to the basic concepts, theories, methods and debates informing our contemporary understanding of the macrocosmic and microcosmic worlds, we’ll also investigate such controversial questions as the age of the earth, the possibility of miracles and the significance of sentient life-forms—like us!—in a world like this.

By journey’s end, it should be clear why only Christian theism—rooted, as it is, in the “physics” of creation, incarnation and resurrection—offers the necessary perspectives for understanding why matter really matters.

Biology

No single wonder of Eden was more precious—or precarious—than the Tree of Life that shaded the center of the Garden of God. For its leaves held the promise of health (Rev. 22:2) and its fruit the pledge of “life” (either continued or eternal). So valuable indeed was this “life” that not even the angel’s sword that denied our first parents access to this Tree (Gen. 3:22-24) could destroy their children’s appetite for its fruit. For in every Adam-descended culture memory of “the Tree” and hunger for its yield survived. Thus ancient Mesopotamia recounted the exploits of Gilgamesh in his search for the “plant of immortality.” And Europe’s sea-faring explorers risked the dangers of uncharted waters in quest of the ever-elusive “fountain of youth.” Still today, our best storytellers entertain us with fabulous (on- and off-screen) tales of the medieval alchemist and his hunt for the “elixir of life.” Truly, few things are more highly prized, carefully protected or passionately pursued than this thing called “life.” But what is “life?” Whence did it come? How does it function? Why does it end? Good questions all! But, as we’ll see, most of the proffered answers to these (and similar) questions are fraught with controversy and conflicting worldview perspectives. So our introduction to Biology—the “Life Sciences”—will include a philosophical as well as an experimental approach to the identity, unity and diversity of “life.” We’ll inquire about the “origin of life”—and ask how God fits into the picture. We’ll explore the “chemistry of life”—and ask if there’s more. We’ll think about the “varieties of life”—and ask how they arose. We’ll investigate the “contexts of life”—and ask if they’re threatened. And as the answers unfold, it should become increasingly clear why only the biblical worldview can provide a credible explanation of the nature of “life” in general and an adequate estimation of “human life” in particular. Such a gift, as we’ll see, rightly deserves to be prized and protected, even if we can’t do it by wielding an angel’s flaming sword!

Anthropology

It was the Goliath-slaying and God-adoring David—Israel’s poet-king—who voiced most memorably Anthropology’s basic question: “What is Man that You are mindful of him?” (cf. Ps. 8:4)

But Jesse’s son was neither the first nor last of Adam’s race to muse on the mystery and meaning—and the Maker’s mindfulness—of our shared humanity. For Job had earlier wrestled with David’s query from the depths of his sorrow (cf. Job 7:17), while Pascal would later seek its answer in the mysterious interplay of the “majesty” and “misery” of the human condition. Aristotle, on the other hand, would struggle to distinguish the “human” soul from that of brutes (or beasts!), while Descartes would famously distinguish that soul from its body in his much-debated dualistic view of Man. Still others, like H.G. Wells, were (and are!) willing to reduce the human to the chemical and leave us as machines, perhaps paving the way for those now emerging who see the cyborg as the next stage of human “evolution.” But not until answers to David’s question were sought through scientific methods and experimental testing did the Freuds, Skinners, Adlers and Jungs turn humanity’s introspective gaze into an academic discipline—and thus give birth to psychology.

But Anthropology’s scientific methods and secular assumptions have thus far yielded fruit of only mixed quality. So in this course we’ll approach the discipline with an analytical (but appreciative) eye. First, we’ll locate human identity in our status as “psychosomatic Image-bearers” wired to flourish holistically in Christ. Then we’ll plumb the depths of human dysfunctionality as we examine the roots and results of our inner- and interpersonal plight(s). God’s prescription for the recovery of our health and wholeness will occupy us next. And then we’ll wrap up the module by contemplating human destiny and how it endows both life and labor with meaning and significance—even now—and holds the key to finding a biblical answer to David’s ancient question.

Sociology

Why…?

Why do some cultures favor earrings, while others don nose rings? Why do some societies revere talismans (magical objects), while many rely on technology? Why do some civilizations tolerate bribery—while none approve of murder? Why do some nations struggle with poverty, while only a handful enjoy prosperity? Why…why…why…?

Seeking answers to such perplexing questions about human behavior is the burning passion of every sociologist. For all modern students of human society (like many ancients before them) are fully persuaded of two simple things: (1) human relations matter immensely and (2) human relations can—and should—be managed wisely. And the biblical worldview could hardly agree more! For Scripturally speaking, humanity’s relational propensities (and cultural peculiarities!) are an integral part of our Creator’s original intention that our social environment(s) would reflect His own Trinitarian—i.e., relational—life. In other words, ‘imaging God’ means more than just stewarding earth’s natural resources; it entails a faithful stewardship of our personal relationships as well. And Sociology, it turns out, is something like a systematic search for the ‘rules of the game’ when it comes to human relationships.

So over the next few weeks we’re going to join the search—but with the added advantage of access to the ‘Rule Book’ penned by the game’s Creator. We’ll see ‘why’ family matters—and how marriage should be ‘played.’ We’ll ponder ‘why’ religion exists—and if it should be ‘forfeited.’ We’ll explore ‘why’ social ills persist—and how they might be ‘beaten.’ We’ll contemplate ‘why’… —well, you get the idea! So go ahead, pop in your nose ring and let’s get started!

Political Thought

Law – it’s everywhere. In Tibet, no monk can reincarnate before registering with the government. In Nevada, you need a permit to ‘modify the weather.’ In Australia, only licensed electricians can change a lightbulb. While in Oklahoma, it’s illegal to wrestle a bear. In England, you can only shoot a Welshman with a longbow if he’s within the city limits – and then only after midnight. And while Kentucky reserves the right to prosecute anyone with an ice cream cone in his pocket, Baltimore positively forbids you from escorting a lion to the movies. And then there’s Singapore, where suicide (or at least attempting it) is punishable by death! Law – it’s everywhere!

Clearly the rationale for some laws will forever elude us (like those cone-pocketing bans!). But all laws share a fundamental assumption: Every society requires these regulation of human (and feline!) conduct if you want to maximize flourishing and minimize injustice in the relational interactions of self-inclined people (including Welshmen!). And the biblical worldview lends its weight to this basic tenet of Western (and Eastern) jurisprudence by depicting the only God-designed nation in human history (i.e., ancient Israel) as one where all relationships were (ideally) ruled by law.

So this module will zero in on the essential component of well-ordered societies as we explore the nature (What is it?), basis (Why is it?), origin (Whence is it?), extent (Where is it?) and goals (Whither is it?) of Law. We’ll see how a proper view of God makes Law sustainable, how a proper view of Man makes Law indispensable and how a proper view of the World makes Law a little unpredictable. But we won’t simply hover in the heights of legal theory. Instead, we’ll try to keep our feet on the ground by exploring the outworking of that theory in the formation and functioning of our own American legal system (both as the Founders envisioned it and as we currently experience it). By journey’s end, we should have a heightened sense of why being a ‘law-abiding citizen’ is itself an intrinsic aspect of living out our American heritage and (more importantly) our Christian worldview.

But, of course, a few mysteries will just have to remain unexplained: like why frogs can be fined for croaking after 11p.m. in Memphis; or why you need a hunting license to set a mousetrap in some parts of California; or why it’s illegal to fish for whales on Sunday in Ohio; or why Iowa frowns on horses eating fire hydrants; or why chickens are a ‘protected species’ in the Key West; or why, why, why… What can we say? Law – it’s everywhere!!

He assumed power at age 16 by marrying his half-sister and poisoning her brother. Then, falling in love with his best friend’s wife, he exiled his sister-wife (whom he later had beheaded!) to a deserted island and married his newfound love after the untimely ‘loss’ of her first husband. Again, love soured, and he ‘annulled’ his new marriage by kicking his second wife to death—along with the infant she carried in her womb. Soon his own mother fell into disfavor, whereupon she too, after escaping a series of mysterious ‘mishaps’ (like

poisoned dinners and bizarre shipwrecks), met a violent end when he had her clubbed to death. And as for political opponents (and popular scapegoats)—those for whom he had no familial affection!—these were made useful in illuminating the dark streets of his capital city by being suspended on stakes and set ablaze as ‘living’ torches, enabling the city’s elites to more easily make their way to his frequent palace orgies. If you’re suspecting by now that this is the plot of some demented reality TV show, “Sorry, thanks for playing!” This was Nero, emperor of the Roman empire when the divinely inspired Apostle Paul (who would soon lose his own head under this frenzied despot) wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1). Say what!?! Obviously discerning God’s view of government is a little more complex than many modern day pundits would lead us to believe. That’s why this module will help you listen afresh to God’s Word—and the main players in Western political philosophy—about human authority with all of its moral ambiguity and potential splendor. We’ll ponder why (and for whom) government exists, what it should (and shouldn’t) do, how it works and goes wrong (think ‘Nero’!) and where we (as citizens or sovereigns) fit in to it. But since we’re not the

first to grapple with such questions, we’ll allow the Founders of one of the grandest political experiments in human history—America—to frame our discussions as we listen in to their struggles to shape a government informed by the best insights of the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Christians and Europeans before them. Who knows? Lessons learned here just might save you from ‘lighting the world’ as the next human streetlight. So learn these lessons well!

Economics

Kings have killed for it. Nations have warred over it. And thieves have schemed to steal it.

You can find it in purses, mattresses, backpacks and perhaps even your own car’s cup holder. Its color and quantity may vary, but its value is rarely denied. That’s why some hand it out to needy strangers, while others hoard it up like greedy scoundrels. Kids love to play with it; adults occasionally wallow in it; and more than one pet has been known to swallow it. But no one, it seems, wants to do completely without it. For without water, we would all soon die.

That’s right—water! But perhaps you were thinking of something else—say, money? If so, your mistake is quite understandable since (almost) everything mentioned above might also be ascribed (with a few qualifications!) to this odd little thing we call ‘money’… or ‘cash’…or ‘dough’…or ‘bread’…or ‘currency’…or ‘stash’…or ‘bucks’…or ‘greenbacks’…or ‘pesos’…or ‘loot’…or ‘wad’…or ‘bankroll’… or any of a thousand other names used for legal tender (Oops! There’s another!) And, of course, it’s money that most readily comes to mind when anyone mentions ‘Economics.’ But merely equating this discipline with dinero (sorry!) is a little too simplistic. For Economics encompasses all of those large- (macro) and small-scale (micro) aspects of humanity’s vocational responsibility to steward God’s creation by viewing wealth as a good, wisdom as our guide and well-being as the goal. And fulfilling this responsibility demands more than learning how to pocket a few pennies. Consequently, in this module we’ll invest our time in taking stock of those biblical principles and fiscal practices necessary for (1) producing wealth successfully, (2) distributing wealth equitably, (3) exchanging wealth justly and (4) consuming wealth responsibly.

Why? Because, as we’ll see, adoption of these principles and practices yields innumerable dividends for personal and social flourishing. While, on the other hand, failure to acquire and apply this wisdom can be quite costly. For without it, both wealth and well-being can elude our grasp and slip right through our fingers—like water. So learn these lessons well that you might rejoice in the God who gives “power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:18).

Literature

We study literature as a way to experience other worlds.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself…We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own…We demand windows…This, so far as I can see, is the specific value of good literature…; it admits us to experiences other than our own….My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.” It is in seeing through others’ eyes that we begin piecing together the true, the good, and the beautiful—the God-prescribed good life. Good literature will always offer examples of how to engage the world (or other worlds); sometimes the examples are negative ones, antitheses that serve to warn us of wrong choices and evil. Sometimes the examples are heroic and highlight morality. Literature offers us the invaluable experience of vicariously sharing experiences from which we can learn and ponder the human condition.

Art

Quick: Name three “Spirit-filled” Old Testament characters! Abraham? Maybe. David? Perhaps. Moses? Likely. [Joseph (Gen. 41:38), Joshua (Num. 27:18) and Micah (Mic. 3:8)? Evidently.] But Bezalel and Oholiab (Ex. 31:1-11; 35:30-35)? DEFINITELY! Beza-Who!?! Oholi-What!?!

Chances are, those last two weren’t the first ones that came to mind. Why? Because we naturally think of builders of arks, slayers of giants, heralds of prophecies and other doers of exploits as those uniquely endowed with the Spirit’s power. But Bezalel and Oholiab are unquestionably qualified to join the ranks of this highly favored list. Their exploit? Adding beauty to the place (and personnel-cf. Ex. 28:40) in which God would meet with His people in their long wilderness wanderings!

That’s right—adding beauty! For the same God who desired mathematical precision in ark building (Gen. 6:11-16), procedural exactitude in priestly offerings (Lev. 1-7) and ethical excellence in personal and social living (Ex. 20) is the same God who delights in the lovely, sublime, exquisite and elegant—that is, BEAUTY! As Creator, He (originally) tempered His works with it. As Redeemer, He (graciously) secured a way back to it. And as Re-Creator, He will (fully) re-clothe the world with it. Until then, He calls us to (skillfully) work at it. But what is beauty? And how can we appreciate it, create it and evaluate it? These are just a few of the questions we’ll take up in this module as we explore the monuments, metaphysics, meaning, methods and morality of beauty. Through on-site exposure to artistic masterpieces in Italy and intellectual engagement with historical, philosophical and theological debates surrounding the nature of aesthetics, your God-like capacity to see, savor and share beauty will be nurtured (or perhaps even birthed!) as you make your way through this course. You’ll then be ready to join the “band of Bezalels” in the call to delight the heart of our beauty-loving God through your own beauty-prizing and (perhaps) beauty-making pursuits—as a unique reflector of the Master Artist Himself.

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