As Christians we are familiar with Jesus and the Holy Spirit providing us with compassion, patience, joy, courage, and mercy, but what about knowledge, wisdom and creative ideas, insight, or clarity?
In his essay Learning in Wartime, C. S. Lewis provides an image of the Christian’s pursuit of God in the realm of knowledge and ideas:
An appetite for knowledge and beauty exists in the human mind and God makes no appetite in vain. We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty as such, in the sure confidence that by doing so we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so.
In this 1934 essay, Lewis offers an illustration of the Christian intellectual tradition in practice. Satisfying our human appetite for beauty and knowledge can show us something of the Lord Jesus, who is the core of every thing and every idea (“in him all things hold together” Col. 1:17). In this way, our intellectual pursuit of knowledge and beauty through reading, reflecting, teaching, writing and learning are aspects of our discipleship to Jesus Christ. This is not always obvious. For many Christian faculty these practices are often overlooked as part of their identity in Christ; if they are not overlooked, they have no idea as to how to go about integrating their faith in their learning.
Graduate and faculty ministry believes that as we engage in learning and biblical reflection in every area of life and seek a unity of knowledge and practice, we are more likely to worship God in Christ as creator and sustainer of all. We believe that the integrity of this pursuit will be a witness of his Kingdom to the academic and professional worlds. Through our experience in graduate student and faculty ministry, we believe there are at least seven core aspects within the pursuit of integrating faith, learning and practice as matters of Christian discipleship.
An awareness of:
- the presence and pre-eminence of Jesus Christ. We believe in the Lordship of Christ over all of life and his risen presence in all of life. The Christian life consists in understanding and practicing more fully what it means to follow Christ in every pursuit of life and to grow increasingly aware of the moment by moment presence of Christ with and in us. “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’” ~Abraham B. Kuyper. In order to follow Jesus in the academic world we need to believe he knows more and is ahead of us. He is present in our classrooms, laboratories, offices—the time and space of our lives.
- that theological and worldview acuity matter. Integration occurs as we increasingly understand and engage the world through the lens of Christian faith. This involves a deeper understanding of the doctrines of creation, fall, incarnation, redemption, and revelation and their implications for daily life in the academy. This also requires a growing discernment of the basic premises and worldview assumptions that shape the philosophical foundations, values, discourse and practice in one’s chosen discipline and profession.
- the reality that our work matters to God. Work is not the curse but can be redemptive… making us more like Christ and enabling us to make a contribution. Along with relationship by which we image the invisible God, God the worker, who makes and sustains creation. The place where we spend most of our waking hours is the place where we can be faithful to the calling for which we were created and redeemed.
- the reality that Christian discipleship involves more than getting our thinking straight. The good news is that when intellectual practices and spiritual-discipline practices fill our days, we further discover that Jesus Christ is Lord of everything, including our areas of scholarly knowledge and professional expertise. The intellectual disciplines and the spiritual disciplines complement each other. As we follow him more fully, we become more like him; he renews our minds and develops our thinking in all areas of life.
- the false dualism that militates against an integrated life. This can be described as the distinctions between facts and values, the public and private sphere of life, or separation between the sacred and the secular. All of this leads to the tacit or explicit exclusion of Christian thought and practice from the discourse and practices of our academic disciplines—an idea entirely inconsistent with Christian doctrines of creation and the incarnation.
- that integration is a community affair. Disciplinary knowledge advances through careful reflection, publication, peer review and critique and refinement. Christian community likewise can be a place where understandings and practices can be verbalized, critiqued, and refined and implemented through dialogue, support, and prayer.
- ways of being that have a redemptive influence on the people, ideas and structures of each discipline or profession. This is the practice element which explores the questions that reveal how our faith informs the dominant ideas of our discipline and navigate the institutional realities of the university and our engagement with students, colleagues and clients.
Asking Questions and Learning More…
Questions about Creation:
- How would you describe the purpose of creation and how it affects your discipline?
- What does creation tell us about God’s love for us?
- How did the incarnate Christ reveal that God loves his creation, calls it good and the fall did not remove its worth?
- Consider the interesting tension between order and freedom in the creation account. We’re told that God’s activity included “separating” but also “let the waters teem with living creatures” …the skies with birds…” What does this tell us about God?
- Can we practice stewardship through teaching and research by looking at creation, valuing it as God does and developing what is there?
- How do we take the creation (or cultural) mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) seriously? How does this translate into our life in the university day by day?
- In what ways does your behavior make it clear that you believe God is the creator and sustainer of the universe?
- What is good, true, and beautiful in your discipline?
- Where do you experience excitement, delight, a sense of joy in your work?
- Describe for me where you see your discipline bringing order out of chaos.
- Where do you see the Holy Spirit hovering over your work?
- For students in disciplines helping people: what does Scripture say about the value of persons that shapes your work?
- Is what you are doing a service to God, an offering of worship? Are you offering yourself to God such that you are cooperating with God?
Questions about The Fall:
- In what ways do you see people in your discipline set up the discipline or career success as an alternative to God?
- How do you see disharmony between man & God, self, others and nature show up in your discipline?
- What evidence is there in your discipline of a suppression of the truth about God that results in a not-quite-rational resistance to truth?
- What ideas or practices in your discipline seem opposed to a Christian understanding of God and the world?
- Where do you see the relational effects of the fall in your discipline’s understanding of human relationships and society? In the relationships within your department?
- How does your discipline think about the physical world and the relation of human beings to that world?
- What considerations govern your choices of research questions? In technology oriented disciplines, what thought is given to the intended applications of research?
- How would you characterize the prevailing climate of conversation with you peers—is it one of wonder and delight, or something closer to cynicism? Why do you think this is?
- What is idolatry in one’s academic work?
- What is the point of suffering and how might your discipline reveal this?
- How might suffering play a part in one’s academic work?
- Where does evidence of the fall show up in your discipline?
- Where/ what is the promise/problem trade-off with particular knowledge and research in one’s discipline? – e.g., biomedical research, ethanol research in farm states, research funded by the military, etc.
- What are the moral considerations that arise in knowledge and research in one’s discipline?
Integration questions on The Fall that would challenge non-Christians:
- Is there purpose in the universe?
- What do you think is wrong with the world?
- Ponder these quotes:
- “… the problem of tragedy, suffering, and injustice is a problem for everyone.
- It is at least as big a problem for nonbelief in God as for belief. It is therefore a mistake, though an understandable one, to think that if you abandon belief in God it somehow makes the problem of evil easier to handle.”
Timothy Keller. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, p.27.
“The power of rule creates the lust to rule.” ~Augustine
Questions about Redemption/Incarnation:
- In what sense does your academic discipline only make sense when seen through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What is missing when your academic discipline is seen without any mention of Christ? (In what sense is Christ the antidote to the issues of fall/sin that you’ve seen in your academic discipline?
- How deeply do you believe and communicate that Jesus Christ is (in a scholarly way) a necessary “piece” to understanding the whole “puzzle” of your academic discipline?
- Read Colossians 1:13-20. In what ways does this knowledge of Jesus Christ change the way you see your academic discipline: its goals, its values (i.e. what things are most important in your academic discipline?), its ultimate significance? What difference does it make in your discipline that Jesus Christ reconciles “all things?”
- What are the ways that holding a strong, central, foundational understanding of Jesus Christ:
- Makes little substantial change in the way you approach your academic discipline?
- Does not change the way you do your scholarship but gives you, the Christian, a deeper insight into what’s going on?
- Changes everything about how you see things and what you do, making it very difficult to talk about or do your scholarly work without reference to Christ?
Questions About Redemption:
- What is eternal about your discipline?
- What does Jesus love about your dissertation?
- Do you ever worship in your study? Can you worship in your study? Why or why not?
- When Jesus says, “Well done, good and faithful chemist” (or fill in the blank), what will that mean?
- How is God using your discipline to bring redemption?
These questions were generated by Kevin Offner, Nancy Flack Thomas and Bob Trube in conjunction with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministry staff present at a March 2008 workshop.
Additional Faith and Learning Questions:
How are we helping creation be what it was meant to be?
What spiritual disciplines do you regularly practice and how have you found they help you to mature as a disciple?
Do you come to your discipline asking:
What does this work tell me about larger Biblical truths like the fall or redemption?”
Can we practice stewardship through teaching and research by looking at creation, valuing it as God does and developing what is there?
How do you make use of what your research and writing reveal?
Do you go to your discipline area to defend or pursue?
How did the incarnate Christ reveal that God loves his creation, calls it good and the fall did not remove its worth?
How does your discipline reveal the human condition in all its beauty and awfulness for general understanding?
Redemption gives value; contemplate the value of your discipline.
How has Christianity affected the history of your discipline?
Lewis states “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.”
In what ways do you find scripture applicable to your daily life?
Do you believe that study, reflection and writing are aspects of discipleship?
How is writing a spiritual discipline?
Is knowledge a gift or an achievement?
What ideas from scripture apply to your profession or area of study?
What are you doing to understand and apply biblical concepts to your academic discipline?
What do you think faculty need to know in order to engage students in dialogue about their faith knowledge and their content area?
What do faculty need in order to disciple students in their content area?
Photo credit: t.spang via Flickr.