Professors Who Believe

     I hope you read last month’s “On to Jubilee” in which I recalled the central focus of our unique conference-the Lordship of Christ over the whole of life, understood in light of the duty of the college student to “take every thought captive” and bring reformation to each theory operative in the classroom. Given the anti-intellectualism of American culture, and the relativism and hedonism of most campus cultures, it is imperative that we aggressively help our students, prodding them on to greater righteousness, encouraging them to ponder what it might take to bring redemptive thought to their majors. And so, I offer two things: suggestions and an important new book.

      The suggestions: Be careful how you talk about worldviews and integration. A Christian worldview (a pre-theoretical vision of life’s meaning and structure) informs all of our life, and therefore, our theories. In other words, one’s worldview is basic to everything else; one does not have a worldview for nursing and a worldview for economics and a world-view for management. Often, students come to the Jubilee book table innocently asking for books on such things (“Gimme a Christian worldview of teaching, please…” ), which is sort of like going to a home improvement place and asking for a floor for a window, or a foundation of the attic. (Which do they really want first, the foundation or the attic? We got both.) Likewise, we sometimes talk about integrating faith and learning. In the most general usage, that is fine and helpful. Still, it too often comes across like we’re just mixing two separate and equal things (shades of dualism there, huh?). A better way to discuss such matters is to insist on the normative (that is, authoritative) relevance of our biblical worldview for a given field and then go on to talk about a Christian perspective, or a biblically-based approach, or discovering Scripturally-directed theories, or how biblical assumptions compare and contrast with the secularist ones, or what creational laws for that area need to be honored in our thinking? Sometimes, our integration rhetoric leads students to think that we merely accept the givens in their field and add on some biblical “values” or pious motivations to serve in that career.

     Granted, I hope (for instance) that Christians in politics piously apply Bible verses about, say, honesty, in their public service, but we simply must have our students go deeper: how do Christian assumptions about life, the structures of creation, the nature of institutions, God’s intentions for government, the task of the state, the legitimacy of power (etc., etc.) inform and color our theories about statecraft, diplomacy, vital interests, civic leadership, and the methods of democracy? We must be radical (from the Latin, radix, meaning root, or foundational) rethinking everything in light of a biblical vision. We are not just bringing Kings, Amos, Jesus and Paul to the academic table alongside of and “integrated” with the texts, lectures and orientations of the poli sci department. Rather, we allow the vision of the former to shape (critique, re-form, relativize) the latter.

     Overcoming these two misunderstandings (about the comprehensive and foundational role of worldviews and the need for the radical re-formation of theories) will be crucial if our students are to develop uniquely Christian contributions, “tearing down” and “planting” (to use Jeremiah’s phrase) in their areas of research. Sadly, such confusions mar a few of the essays in the otherwise extra-ordinary collection of testimonials by college profs, entitled Professors Who Believe: The Spiritual Journey of Christian Faculty edited by Paul Anderson (IVP, $14.95, paperback). The editor is himself a professor of biochemistry, and this fine book is an essential tool in your CCO staff tool kit, as it brings together several strands of the CCO mission.

     Firstly, it is obviously written with the hope of strengthening students or college staff who need reminded of the intellectual credibility of the faith. These diverse thinkers, with only a few exceptions, offer remarkably cogent (and at times innovative) reasons for faith. Refined in the often-hostile environment of departmental meetings, scholarly journals and postmodern political correctness, these believers have struggled with self doubt, questioned the legitimacy of historic Christianity and have come out, finally, as clear and powerful witnesses. Hearing of the salvation or renewal of brilliant academics is an incredible joy and a rare sign of hope for those of us who care about higher education!

     Secondly, this book is ideal for “contextualized collegiate evangelism” and will be wisely used by passing it on to thoughtful doubters and seekers. This is an evangelistic book ideally suited to give to professors. I hope you let your students know about it, maybe pick up a few and try to resell them to students so that they may give them to their teachers with whom they are discussing the faith. (I’ve often said that a great by-product of students writing papers from a biblical perspective is opportunities for evangelism with the profs!) Why not call IVP and ask for permission to photocopy small numbers of particular chapters so that you can share specialty areas with the appropriate student or teacher? Nearly all the contributors to this book are well-respected in their professional disciplines and teach at regarded (secular) universities. You or your students could share this confidently with almost any faculty member.

     Thirdly, besides apologetics and evangelism, this collection has some beautiful examples of attempting the development of credible Christian theorizing in specialized fields. If you need brief, very introductory essays showing students examples of this, in mathematics (yesss!), geography (a great chapter!), history, astronomy, molecular biology, literature, this is a place to turn. Remember, though, that this isn’t an anthology of reformational scholarship; it is a collection of testimonies. Many of the pieces oddly don’t even mention their work or profession. Still, some of these are quite good, Pat Rayburn (author of My First White Friend) has a wonderful, classic black testimonial, while other authors cite C.S. Lewis in grand style as they resist the ideologies prevalent in their training. We can only assume that editors permitted such non-contextualized stories to be included because they were so good, thoughtful and honest and well-told. Most, though, are clearly set among the ivy and offices of university life. One, however, left me wondering whether to laugh or cry. The good professor listed ways his “spiritual” life is enhanced by the physical truths of his field. (I shouldn’t have to point out that he uncritically and dualistically accepts these “truths” as neutral facts, untouched by his faith!) This cheesy view of honoring God in the classroom is common among sophomores (before they go to Jubilee, that is!). If one of our students talked like that we’d sincerely applaud them for the good first step of seeing God’s presence in the middle of their studies, buy them Creation Regained or Discipleship of the Mind and send them to the library for a few hours. That a PhD can think in so shallow a manner (and get it published in an otherwise great work) speaks volumes of Christendom’s need for greater clarity on worldview issues, the meaning of integration of faith and learning, and the need for a Christianly-conceived philosophy to under-gird biblically-faithful theorizing. In other words, “On to Jubilee!”

     Of course, to make things even trickier, not all the Jubilee speakers have this fully worked out themselves (and some are, shall we say, unfamiliar with that of which we speak…). It is up to us to give talks, teach on Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5, do academic mentoring, pass out articles and equip students to be discerning and eager to learn the righteousness that would please God in this area of discipleship.