by Eric Newton
A Christian liberal arts college education is virtue education. It seeks to develop the whole person, not merely as laborers but as truly human beings who bear God’s image and help others flourish. But this raises a question? How does one develop character? Can it be mastered in one three-credit course or even a full 128 credit hours?
Answering that question well requires clarity about character itself. Character isn’t a commodity that can be purchased or transferred. It is a result. Character is the imprint of virtuous habits. Our patterns in life engrave qualities that exemplify who we are. Character is life’s trademark inscribed by habits over time.
What kind of habits? The kind that reflect Jesus Christ, our Savior and the only perfect Human. God’s master project is to conform redeemed sinners into the image of His Son, “that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Peter puts it this way, “And beside this [or because of God’s gracious provision], giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). These are core virtues because they resemble the Lord Jesus Christ.
And unsurprisingly, these characteristics—moral excellence, true knowledge, self-control, perseverance, God-centered devotion, empathy, sacrificial love—are what families and churches and communities and employers need. NYT columnist David Brooks calls them “eulogy virtues,” the kinds of qualities that at the end of the day and the end of a life really matter. Our world needs people whose lives have been stamped so clearly by the gospel of Jesus Christ that they live in a distinctly virtuous way that helps others flourish.
So, our quest this year is to place all of our time and energy and obligations and opportunities at God’s disposal so that by His grace we might develop virtuous habits.