Introduction—Faith and Learning: Foundational Commitments
David S. Dockery
Some seek knowledge for
The sake of knowledge:
That is curiosity;
Others seek knowledge so that
They themselves may be known:
That is vanity;
But there are still others
Who seek knowledge in
Order to serve and edify others:
And that is charity.
These famous words from Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) provide an illuminating framework for Christian educators who desire to bring the Christian faith to bear on the learning process. Students and educators, who are committed to a faith and learning paradigm, seek knowledge in order to serve and edify others, which provides a distinctive way and motivation for thinking about the work of higher education.
Our starting point in thinking about the role of the Christian faith in the work of higher education can be found in the words of Jesus called the Great Commandment (Matt 22:36-40). Here we are told to love God with our hearts, our minds, and our souls—and to love others completely. Jesus' words refer to a wholehearted devotion to God with every aspect of our being, from whatever angle we choose to consider it—emotionally, volitionally, or cognitively. This kind of love for God will then result in obedience to all He has commanded. These words of Jesus serve as the framework for our initial considerations regarding our calling as Christian educators.
The first and greatest commandment makes plain that we are to love God with our minds. As T. S. Eliot so appropriately expressed:
Our purpose is not merely "to make men and women pious Christians:
a system which aimed too rigidly at this end alone would become only obscurantist.
We must primarily teach people to be able to think in Christian categories."
We want to love God with our hearts. We should love God with our souls. But we must love God with our minds as well. Learning to think Christianly, or, to express it differently, to be a thoughtful Christian, will shape the way we think about schools, businesses, health care agencies, governments, social structures, recreation, and, yes, our homes and churches, too. To love God with our minds means that we think differently about the way we live and love, the way we worship and serve, the way we work to earn our livelihood, the way we learn and teach.
We need more than just new ideas and enhanced programs for our churches and our institutions; we need distinctively Christian thinking, the kind of tough-minded thinking that results in culture-engaging living. To achieve this end, we need to hear afresh the significance of Jesus' words for us. For as Eliot said so fittingly, to love God with our minds suggests the ability "to be able to think in Christian categories." Such thinking means being able to define and hold to a world and life view grounded in the truth of God's revelation to us. It means seeing life and learning from a Christian vantage point; it means thinking with the mind of Christ.
This perspective involves the whole of our human personality. Our mind is to be renewed, our emotions purified, our conscience kept clear, and our will surrendered to God's will. Living out the significance of the Great Commandment entails all that we know of ourselves being committed to all that we know of God.
Our initial step in thinking about Christian higher education is to meditate on the unity of knowledge as a seamless whole, because all true knowledge flows from the One Creator to His one creation. Thus specific bodies of knowledge relate to each other not just because scholars and students work together in community, not just because interdisciplinary work broadens our knowledge, but because all truth has its source in God, composing a single universe of knowledge.
Consequently, education involves much more than the passing on of content to our students. It also means the shaping of character, and it moves toward the development and construction of a convictional way of seeing the world by which we can see, learn, and interpret life from the vantage point of God's revelation to us. We want to see the development of men and women who are intellectually curious and who are growing in their understanding and appreciation of God, of His creation and grace, and of humanity's place of privilege and responsibility in God's world.
Our minds must be renewed by God's Spirit. We must become persons whose thinking is shaped by God's revelation to us as we think about God and His world. We need to learn to approach subject matter with more than what is often called "neutrality." We need an effective response to secularized thinking, one that questions the Enlightenment ideal of autonomous reason and recalls Augustine's model of faith seeking understanding, recognizing that wherever we may find truth, it is the Lord's, even as we struggle with issues and carry on debate in the pursuit of truth. In doing so, following the admonition of the apostle Paul, we will seek to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor 10:5 NIV). Such a lofty calling can only take place across our learning communities as our minds are renewed by God's Spirit (Rom 12:2).
A serious commitment to the renewing of minds values exploration and genuine intellectual struggle while wrestling with the great ideas of history and the significant issues of our day. We do so with faith commitments, seeking to discover and expound God's truth wherever it is found. Likewise, we bring to this calling an accompanying humility that acknowledges that God, the source of all truth, knows all things and we do not.
Christians called to the academy are also called to think deeply about the things of God in relation to our disciplines. This task will be intellectually challenging, with great implications for all aspects of life, for we now see the reshaping of geopolitical alignments, the altering of the human genome, and the shaking of capitalist foundations, among numerous other challenges. The work will not be easy, but it certainly will be faithful to the calling upon Christ-followers. We will never be prepared to engage these matters if we adopt the anti-intellectualism sometimes found in the churches. We are to have the mind of Christ, a concept which certainly requires us to think and wrestle with the challenging ideas of history and the issues of our day. To do otherwise would result in another generation of God's people becoming ill equipped for faithful thinking and service in this century. Serious Christian thinking is needed to help interpret an ever-changing culture. This means being able to see life and learning from a Christian vantage point; it means thinking with the mind of Christ.
Christian thinking calls for us to bring the Christian faith to bear upon our study and our research within our various disciplines. Drawing on the long Christian tradition to help us in this task, we can begin to restore coherence to learning. This will help move us toward the development and construction of a convictional approach to education by which we can see, learn, and interpret the world from the perspective of God's revelation to us.
A call to serious Christian thinking simultaneously affirms our love for God and our love for study, the place of devotion and the place of research, the priority of affirming and passing on the great Christian traditions and the significance of honest exploration, reflection, and intellectual inquiry. These matters are in tension, but not in contradiction when they are framed by a faith-informed commitment.
Some of our friends in the academy may regard such a notion as a medieval remnant at best or, in the words of Kris Kristofferson when he sang, "a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction." Yet among an increasingly large number of intellectuals, there has arisen a deep suspicion of today's thoroughly secularized academy, so that there is indeed a renewed appreciation for and openness to what George Marsden calls "the outrageous idea of Christian scholarship." As Mark Schwehn of Valparaiso University has suggested, it is time to acknowledge that the thorough secularization of the academy is at the least unfruitful.
Might we summarize some key points of this intentional Christian thinking in the academy for which we are calling?
Thus, prioritizing Christian thinking means subordinating other endeavors to the improvement of the mind in pursuit of truth, taking every thought captive to Jesus Christ. At three places in the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that Christians cannot presume that their thinking is Christ-centered. In 2 Cor 3:14 we learn from the example of the Israelites that their minds were hardened. Then in 4:4 Paul says that the unregenerate mind is blinded by the god of this world. In 11:3 the apostle announces that Satan has ensnared the Corinthians' thoughts. So, as we have previously seen, the apostle in 2 Cor 10:5 has called for all of our thinking to be liberated by coming under the lordship of Christ. As in the days of the Corinthian correspondence, our minds and our thinking are likewise ensnared by the many challenges and opposing perspectives in today's academy. Certainly, this is a high calling for us as we seek to live faithfully in the twenty-first century. Not only can we learn from the apostle Paul and Bernard of Clairvaux, but we have much to learn from the entire Christian intellectual tradition.
It is not just the apostles who give us guidance on the subject of Christian thinking, for we also learn from the postapostolic period. We can learn to think deeply about the things of God from those who have gone before us. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus were probably among the first in postapostolic times to articulate the need for faith-informed thinking and scholarship. In Alexandria in the third century, both Clement and Origen instructed their converts not only in doctrine, but in science, literature, and philosophy. Augustine in the fifth century, in On Christian Doctrine, penned the thought that every true and good Christian should understand that wherever we may find truth it is the Lord's.
This legacy may be found in almost every culture, for wherever the gospel has been received, the academy and Christian scholarship have generally followed. This legacy can be traced through Bernard, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Pascal, Kepler, Edwards, Washington, Lewis, Sayers, and numerous others.
Within this Christian intellectual tradition we find what Anglican scholar H. E. W. Turner calls "the pattern of Christian truth." Of course some scholars, such as the German scholar Walter Bauer in his work Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, have challenged the continuity of this tradition. Today Bauer's argument is articulated by scholars like Elaine Pagels in the academy and popularized in such works as Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. These modern-day skeptics would seek to drive a wedge between the Jesus of history and the classical theological confession.
Today we would suggest that the pattern of Christian truth, drawn from the teachings of Christ and the apostles, lies at the heart of the Christian intellectual tradition. This pattern is both shaped by and informed by our confession of the Christian faith. Timothy George makes a helpful distinction in noting that when we call for faith to inform and shape our thinking it is fides quae, the faith which is believed, more so than fides qua, the faith by which we believe. Imbedded in Scripture and made known throughout history is this pattern of the faith once for all delivered to God's people (Jude 3), which provides guidance in our search for understanding. With George, we choose to prioritize pattern over pastiche.
Certainly we all learn apart from the great Christian intellectual tradition, apart from the vantage point of faith. But we cannot connect various aspects of knowledge into a unified whole, we cannot fully understand the grand metanarrative, we cannot truly grasp how to explore and engage the issues in history and science, business and healthcare, apart from an integrated approach to learning. We recognize that it will require hard work to understand what such an affirmation means for all aspects of life.
We gladly acknowledge that there is no corner of the universe to which the Christian faith is indifferent. Echoing Abraham Kuyper, we recognize that not one inch in terms of space, not one second in terms of time, does not belong to Christ, and thus a call to apply the Christian intellectual tradition is a recognition of the fullness of the incarnation and the intemporization of Jesus Christ. It is in this way that the Christian faith has significance for all spheres of life.
We would not want to be interpreted as implying that the intellectual aspect of the faith is all there is to Christianity, no, not at all. Yet those called to serve as Christian educators have been given responsibility on our campuses and as members of the academy at large to think deeply about how the Christian faith influences life and culture, for right thinking lays the foundation for right living.
Thinking deeply about the things of God involves theological commitments. Following John Stott, J. I. Packer, Alister McGrath, Thomas Oden, and others, we would suggest that our thinking needs to be framed by confessional essentials related to the trinitarian God. These essentials include the authority of God in and through Scripture, the majesty of Jesus Christ in and through the cross, and the lordship of the Holy Spirit in and through His manifold life-giving ministries. Thus a thoughtful Christian will focus on the trinitarian shape of the Christian faith: (1) in the initiative of the creator God in revealing Himself, (2) in the love of Christ in redeeming us from our sins, and (3) in the Holy Spirit in regenerating us and facilitating every aspect of thinking and living Christianly.
Theology can render service to thoughtful Christians in many ways. It satisfies the mind so that we can know God, so that we can know the living Christ. Theology is vitally important for both the teaching and culture-engaging task. Theology is necessary as a touchstone for understanding what we believe and for recognizing the principles by which our lives are to be shaped. Such beliefs and practices come from serious theological reflection.
We need to cultivate a holistic orthodoxy, based on a high view of Scripture and congruent with the trinitarian and Christological consensus of the early church. We must ground our efforts not only in the biblical confession that Jesus is Lord, but in the great tradition flowing from the Apostles' Creed to the confessions of Nicea in ad 325 and Chalcedon in ad 451. Likewise, we must claim the best of the Christian confessional heritage as well. Such historic confessions, though neither infallible nor completely sufficient for all contemporary challenges, can provide guidance in seeking to balance the mandates for right Christian thinking, right Christian believing, and right Christian living.
Such historically grounded confessions can also help us think rightly about faith and about how we relate to one another in love, pointing out for us the important differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary issues in Christian theology and practice. For example, a bedrock primary doctrine essential for us to confess is that salvation is by grace alone, but the different Calvinistic or Arminian expressions of that truth are secondary, not primary. Confessing that Christ will return is a primary doctrine, but defining the nature of the millennium is a secondary or probably even a tertiary matter. The great confessional tradition, though not the final authoritative word, can serve as a tremendously helpful resource for us in distinguishing primary issues from second- and third-order doctrines.
All Christians need to grow and mature in thinking deeply about the things of God. Some at this time might be asking, "Does this mean that all involved Christians are to be theologians in the sense of being uniquely summoned to the task of leading in theological thought?" Certainly we would like to encourage all Christ-followers to be theologians, but not necessarily theologians in the technical sense of that term. What is needed today is for believers to think lofty thoughts about God and to live accordingly, that is, to live according to God's way revealed in Holy Scripture. Some theologians suggest that theology essentially is thinking about God. If they are right, and we believe they basically are, then to abdicate the theological domain to specialists alone either because of a lack of interest or because of the technicalities involved is not only harmful to the development of thoughtful Christians, but we believe also that it is displeasing to God. The truth is that every believer is in some sense a theologian, for all believers who know God have the responsibility to see and understand the revelation of God for their foundational beliefs, while integrating these beliefs into their life and work. Theology is certainly not the whole of life; but there must be a place for the true intellectual love of God, for Jesus has told us to love God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and also to love our neighbor as ourselves. This should not lead to some cold intellectual approach to the faith unaccompanied by affection. For too many, theology is a kind of intellectual aloofness or uncommitted intellectual curiosity. Theology is more than interpreting God's revelation for me as an individual; theology represents our interpretation of God and His world for the community of faith. It is vitally important that we understand theology not merely in individualistic terms. We need to move toward a corporate and confessional understanding of these ideas.
The responsibility of making theology helpful to and for Christ-followers rests both with professional theologians and with other thinkers across the disciplines as well. Theology must be made understandable to nonprofessional theologians. Too often what theologians write is unintelligible for many outside the discipline. Lest anyone misunderstand, we think that serious theological research and investigation must continue, but that cannot be the end of the theological enterprise.
In the past, theologians of the church wrote so that literate people could understand, and it must be acknowledged that Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley are often much easier to read and understand than many contemporary theologians. Today we need theologians who can write in ways that are understandable, powerful, and effective. In this vein the Reformers frequently commended the biblical writers for their clarity, simplicity, and brevity, and sought to emulate them in their own writings. If theology is to impact the Church and inform the work of Christian higher education, theologians must learn to communicate in understandable ways.
We must admit that some theologians have unduly complicated the Christian faith or distracted us from aspects of helpful Christian thinking and living. Rightly understood, theology can enable all of us to recover a true understanding of human life, regaining a sense of the greatness of the soul. Theology can help us reclaim the awareness that God is more important than we are, that the future life is more important than this one, and that a right view of God gives genuine significance to life, work, and ministry.
Thus, understanding theology in the context of the great Christian intellectual tradition of the church at large and within the stream of various denominational traditions can provide insight for today and guidance for the future. In this way theology can help us engage the wrong-headed thinking often evident in today's academy. Knowledge of the past keeps us from confusing what is merely a contemporary expression from that which is enduringly relevant. Theology helps present to the church and the academy a valuable accumulation of enduring insights along with numerous lessons and warnings, both positive and negative. Theology that is done with the focus on the church and done for the good of those serving in society will always have one eye on the historical past of the Christian tradition.
Do these theological commitments stifle honest intellectual exploration? We do not think so. Our challenge is to preserve faithfully and pass on the Christian tradition while encouraging honest intellectual inquiry. We believe these two things can co-exist, even if in tension, in an enriching dialectical dependence. Guidance and balance in these matters will come as we are faithful in integrating an informed theological foundation with all areas of learning. For Christian thinkers to address these matters we must hear afresh the words of Jesus in the Great Commandment to love God with all that we are (Matt 22:36-40). This kind of love for God will guide us toward a whole-hearted devotion to distinctively Christian thinking. Students and professors will be able to see life from a Christian vantage point, learning to think Christianly about all of life.
What we are calling for is certainly intellectually challenging. It is not the easiest road for us to travel, but it is the one faithful to the best of our Christian heritage, and it provides no room for mere anti-intellectual piety, much less some vague spirituality. We are to have the mind of Christ; this certainly requires us to think and wrestle with the challenging ideas of history and the issues of our day. The loss of theological verve weakens churches, Christian institutions and organizations, and ultimately hampers the Missio Dei. Christian thinking is needed to engage the world. Instead of allowing our thoughts to be captive to culture, we must take every thought captive to Jesus Christ. What is needed is a bedrock, nonnegotiable commitment to a belief in a triune God—in one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who was God incarnate.
This commitment represents a belief in a totally truthful and authoritative Bible and in the message of God's justifying work by grace through faith revealed in its pages. It is rooted in a focus on the Church and lives in hope of the return of Christ, resulting in a commitment to a life of prayer, holiness, obedience, and growth in Christ. These truths are not culturally confined, nor are they easily expunged without great peril. What is needed for this time is an ancient kind of orthodoxy, a primitive but passionate core of theological truths that nurtured persecuted believers in the past and will be the only thing to comfort once the flames of suffering are stoked again. If persecution looms on the horizon, then our orthodox commitments must give us a firm rock on which to stand—commitments that are firm but loving, clear but gracious, ready to respond to issues and challenges that the culture and world present to Christ-followers, but not necessarily responding to every contextual skirmish or intramural squabble.
It is often heard that theology is divisive and thus should be de-emphasized in the context of Christian higher education. We, however, want to affirm that theology is foundational for the development of mature, thoughtful followers of Christ. The apostle Paul says that believers with an immature faith will be "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching" (Eph 4:14 NIV).
Healthy theology that matures the head and heart not only enables believers to move toward maturity, but it results in the worship and exaltation of God, for good theology leads to doxology. Following his exposition regarding sin, justification, sanctification, and the future of Israel, the apostle Paul concludes this section of the Epistle to the Romans with these words:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
"Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?"
"Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?"
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Rom 11:33-36 NIV)
While it may be true, as previously noted, that the writings of a few Christian thinkers unduly complicate the Christian faith, sound theology lays the foundation for the sound practice of Christian life. Ministry and service based on unsound theology will not only be unhealthy, but could even be dangerous. Worship that does not see God as He has revealed Himself does not rightly glorify God. Theology can enable thoughtful believers to understand better the faith we desire to share in our missional efforts and, moreover, can help lead us to an awareness of the grandeur, greatness, and goodness of the God we worship.
Our primary source for learning to think about God is Holy Scripture. Though we learn much from God's revelation in nature and through our own experience, these matters must be tested by God's Word in Scripture. It is important for us to recognize what others have thought about such things, for in many ways we stand on their shoulders as we seek to communicate the meaning of the Christian faith that has been passed down to us over the past 2,000 years. We believe, therefore, that theological reflection equips and encourages thoughtful believers in their relationship with and service to God.
One might well ask: "How do we know that our theology is true and sound?" This question is an important one in light of the challenges that Christians face at this time, including rampant unbelief, the growth of various cults, the expanding perspectives on religious pluralism, and the rise of secularism.
We would like to suggest that we can do theology with a level of confidence because God has made Himself known to His people (1 Cor 2:10). Humans, who have been created in the image of God, can think God's thoughts after Him and organize these thoughts. Believers can know and experience God because both our hearts and minds have been made new by God's regenerating grace, enabling us to interpret and apply God's self-manifestation of Himself made known in Holy Scripture. This ability to perceive spiritual truth is made possible by the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (Ps 119:18; 1 Cor 2:14-15).
Thoughtful Christians, informed by Scripture, can recover a true understanding of human life, a sense of the greatness of the soul. It helps us recover the much-needed awareness that God is more important than we are and that the future life takes priority over this one. A right view of God provides significance and security for thoughtful Christ-followers. We thus understand that happiness is the promise of heaven and that holiness is our calling while in this world.
Theologically informed believers will be better able to understand what we believe and why we believe it. We can appreciate our heritage and enliven our future hope. The truth content of the faith can be preserved. It is the express calling of thoughtful believers to seek to understand and expound the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:7).
Without the foundation of solid theology, the church will see a lack of effective long-term preaching, evangelism, or missionary outreach. Thoughtful believers will recognize that a "what you don't know can't hurt you" attitude is anything but helpful, especially if such an approach is taken toward ultimate matters like heaven and hell. On the other hand, sound, reliable theology, based squarely on God's Word, offers reassurance and hope. We need to hear what God has said and rest our case there.
A commitment to faith and learning will help us develop a way of seeing and engaging God's world that is joyously able to contemplate a wide range of ideas. This approach to education also holds out hope for restoring the endangered virtues of kindness, humility, love, grace, truth, beauty, goodness, honor, justice, and purity (Phil 2:1-4; 4:8). A Christian way of thinking about life is not just one's personal faith expression, nor is it simply a theory. It is an all-consuming way of life, applicable to all spheres of life.
James Orr, in The Christian View of God and the World, maintains that there is a definite Christian view of things that has a character, coherence, and unity of its own, and stands in sharp contrast with counter theories and speculation offered by those opposed to biblical revelation. A Christian worldview has the stamp of reason and reality and can stand the tests of both history and experience. Such a holistic approach offers a stability of thought, a unity of comprehensive insight that bears not only on the religious sphere but on the whole of thought. A Christian worldview is not built on various types of truth (religious and philosophical or scientific), but on a universal principle and all-embracing system that shapes religion, natural and social sciences, law, history, healthcare, the arts, the humanities, and all disciplines of study with application for all of life.
James Orr in 1891 and Abraham Kuyper in 1898 brilliantly articulated the meaning and implications of such a Christian worldview at the turn of the nineteenth century. Over the past 50 years, James Sire, C. S. Lewis, Carl F. H. Henry, J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Arthur Holmes, David Naugle, and Charles Colson, among others, have articulated well the essence of a Christian worldview. Thoughtful Christians in our time must seek to build upon their work to articulate a coherent and purposeful way of seeing the world around us for the twenty-first century—a time of tremendous challenges and changes—and to show how such Christian thinking is applicable across the educational and cocurricular activities on campus.
We recognize that truth, morality, and interpretive frameworks are being ignored, if not rejected in our world. Throughout modern culture, the very existence of normative truth is being challenged. We observe these challenges in the poststructuralism of Jean-Francois Lyotard, the deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida, the radical subjectivism of Michael Foucault, and the reader-focused hermeneutic of Stanley Fish. A normative view of truth has been devalued if not lost in our contemporary culture.
Thoughtful Christians will need to begin to address these things in a fresh way. Such thinking will seek to connect the church's tradition, by framing these things in light of a foundational confession of our belief in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth (the Apostles' Creed). This confessional framework will help us wrestle with life's big questions:
Where did we come from?
Who are we?
What has gone wrong with the world?
What solution can be offered to deal with these challenges?
In addition, we must seek to answer the key questions of life and their general implications or specific applications such as: Why do we exist? What is the purpose of life? Central to our framework is the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor 15:3-4). The resurrection establishes Jesus' lordship and deity, as well as guarantees the salvation of sinners (see Rom 1:3-4; 4:24-25). Jesus' resurrection enables believers to see, think, and live anew.
This confessional framework becomes an influencing aspect for our understanding of Christian higher education, giving us a sense of God's plan and purpose for this world, helping to inform and shape our identity as believers. We no longer see ourselves as alienated sinners. This way of thinking is not escapism, but an energizing motivation for godly and faithful living in the here and now. It also gives us confidence and hope for the future. In the midst of life's challenges and struggles, this framework or worldview helps to stabilize life, serving as an anchor to link us to God's faithfulness and steadfastness.
A Christian way of thinking about the world has implications for understanding history. We see that history is not cyclical or random. Rather, we see history as linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God's purposes for humanity (see Ephesians 1). Human history will climax where it began—on the earth. This truth is another distinctive of Christian thinking, for Christianity is historical at its heart. According to its essential teaching, God has acted decisively in history, revealing Himself in specific acts and events. Moreover, God will act to bring history to its providential destiny and planned conclusion.
God who has acted in history in past events will also act in the future to consummate this age. So when we ask, "How will it end?" we do not simply or suddenly pass out of the realm of history into a never-never land. We pass to that which is never-the-less certain of occurring because God is behind it and is Himself the One who tells us it will come to pass.
Developing a worldview is an ever-advancing process for us in which Christian convictions more and more shape our participation in culture. This disciplined, vigorous, and unending process will help shape how we assess culture and our place in it. Otherwise, culture will shape us and our thinking. Thus thoughtful Christians not only have a different way of thinking, but a distinctive way of seeing and doing, based on a new way of being.
A Christian worldview provides a coherent way of seeing life. It is a perspective distinct from such philosophies and approaches as deism, naturalism, and materialism (whether Darwinian, humanist, or Marxist forms), existentialism, polytheism, pantheism, mysticism, or deconstructionist postmodernism. The theistic emphasis of Christianity provides bearings and direction when confronted with New Age spirituality or secularist and pluralist approaches to truth and morality. Fear about the future, suffering, disease, and poverty are informed by a Christian worldview grounded in the redemptive work of Christ and the grandeur of God. As opposed to meaningless and purposeless nihilistic perspectives, a Christian way of thinking offers meaning and purpose for all aspects of life.
To the extent we succeed in putting these things into practice and in guiding students in these important matters, we will succeed in the development of the intellectual, moral, and character formation across our campuses. Thus, at the heart of our Christ-centered approach to education is the belief that God has revealed Himself to us in creation, in history, in our conscience, and ultimately in Christ, and that this revelation is now primarily available to us in Holy Scripture. It is here we find the words of Jesus Himself, claiming that He alone is the way to God, claiming that He is not only the way and the life, but He is also the Truth.
This revealed truth is the foundation of all we believe, teach, and do. We believe that this God-revealed truth is the framework in which we understand and interpret our world, the events of human history as well as our responsibilities toward God and one another in this world. This is what it means for us to become thoughtful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and to love God with our hearts, our strength, and our minds.
The essence of the Christian faith is that God is Savior, but we fail to understand the comprehensiveness of the Christian faith unless we also see God as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Father, and Judge. These foundational blocks are essential for framing a Christian worldview.
We want our commitments to be informed by the whole of nature and of history, as well as philosophy and literature, those elements that we believe to be at the heart of a liberal arts curriculum. We can emphasize the greatness of God, who is not only the beginning and ending of all things, but the One to whom we ultimately will give account. The apostle Paul claimed that these things are known by and in God's creation (see Acts 17; Romans 1).
Many people today are rejecting the Christian faith not because they perceive it to be false, but because they believe it is superficial or trivial. People are looking for an integrated way of seeing life that brings coherence to all learning and helps make sense of life's experiences—some of which are quite confusing.
In many, many ways, our post-Christian Western culture in general—and American culture in particular—resembles the pre-Christian Athens of Paul's day, particularly in the focus on the new, the novel, and the world of chance as emphasized by the Epicureans. Our culture is similarly enthralled by novelty. C. S. Lewis, in his famous collection of essays, God in the Dock, in which he highlights the value of classic works, maintains that we are obsessed with the new and the novel. Truth and values in our culture of novelty seem to be of little concern or consequence. Paul models for us and thereby invites us to integrate Christian truth in culturally relevant ways and to communicate and live this truth in the midst of an incredibly superficial world.
We recognize that piety alone will not sustain the high ideal of the Christian intellectual tradition. Serious engagement with issues will be needed. Thus, our goal as Christians must be to engage the issues of our day in the various areas of learning, while recognizing that God, the source of all truth, is central in every academic discipline and every sphere of life. Bringing the Christian faith to influence our learning is the most distinctive task of Christian thinking—always was, is now, always will be. This ideal involves not only the study itself, but also the motivation for the study. We can see God behind it all and over it all, whether in math, art, science, literature, or other fields of study. Beyond academic disciplines, this practice also influences the way we see life and the way we live. This does not, as some opponents of Christian thinking have argued, transform all learning into religion studies. Rather, as Charles Wesley penned in his hymn, we are uniting "the pair so long disjointed—knowledge and vital piety."
As we move toward the conclusion of this chapter, we offer eight implications for thoughtful Christians, which can be offered based on our previous observations. Piety is essential but not enough by itself to bring about mature thoughtful believers.
A person who thinks deeply about the things of God and applies theological reflection to the critical issues of our day will be equipped to live well in relation to others in the world. Thus, this approach to life provides a framework for ethical thinking because humans, who are made in God's image, are essentially moral beings. We also recognize that the fullest embodiment of good, love, holiness, grace, and truth is found in Jesus Christ (see John 1:14-18).
Right thinking is not all there is to the Christian faith; we must also apply the Christian faith, for we are to be "doers of the Word" (James 1:22). We are to love our neighbor and care for orphans and widows. We are to be agents of reconciliation in the church and in society. We are to build bridges where there are walls, particularly with reference to the racial divide that has haunted our country since its inception.
This is what it means to love our neighbor, to be doers of the Word. If we stop and think upon that last phrase, it is shocking. We normally are hearers of the Word, thinkers about the Word. We can spell a word and reflect upon a word, but to do the Word puts a different shape on what it means for us to apply the Christian intellectual tradition to all of life.
Careful Christian thinking therefore also points to ethics. Certainly it is possible to act one way and to think another, but it is not possible for us to do so for long, for even the biblical writer has admonished us, "As [a person] thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov 23:7 NKJV). Since one of the goals for helping Christ-followers become thoughtful Christians involves helping students live in the world with a lifestyle that issues in glory to God, then we must think—and think deeply—not only of personal ethics, but also of the implications of the biblical faith for social, economic, and political ethics.
We need to seek God's guidance in how we can best contribute to constructive exercises that will help us honor, respect, and love one another. We want to model the love and forgiveness of Christ in the workplace. We desire to be quick to offer forgiveness when we have been wronged. At the same time we want to claim responsibility and seek forgiveness when we have wronged others. We will ask God to help us be agents of reconciliation to a broken and hurting world, which remains in disorder as a result of the fall. We pray that God would give us grace to be agents of redemption in this broken world and to embrace one another regardless of national, ethnic, or racial background. In order to do so, it will be vital for us to understand how to think about and interpret the ideas and issues of our day.
Humility, gentleness, love, and kindness are virtues of thoughtful believers. In our speech we are to use our words for good and positive purposes. We demonstrate thoughtfulness for and consideration to others by speaking what is helpful in building them up. In our actions we are to be kind and loving, reflecting the character of God who has forgiven us in Christ (Eph 4:32). Thoughtful believers reflect the love of Christ, resulting in lives that encourage harmony in relationships and sensitivity to the needs of others.
On this foundational framework can be built authentic Christian educational institutions characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). To see students at these institutions develop, spiritual formation must be intentional, which includes caring mentors. This noble goal will lead us to meet each student as the person he or she is in Christ's eyes, which leads us back around to our starting point in Christ's Great Commandment.
Jesus taught us to apply our love for God with mind, heart, and soul by loving others. Divine love issues in interpersonal love, influencing even the most basic elements of life. Being a thoughtful Christian should lead to a life of thoughtfulness, for thinking must be accompanied by action. If we do not show love to one another the world has a right to question whether Christianity is true.
At the heart of an application of the Great Commandment is the visible demonstration of valuing one another. We will seek to model the love of Christ in all our communication and relationships, whether in the workplace, the classroom, the meeting room, or the home. Ultimately the love and grace that has been lavished upon us will lead us to lives of dependence on God and thoughtfulness toward others.
Faithful Christ-centered institutions of higher education are needed today as never before. Let us pray that a new generation of thoughtful believers will step forward with a desire to learn more about God and His world, His purposes, and His activities as they impact our various spheres of life. Thoughtful believers will have a different purpose and motivation for learning and living. We need educators to ask for fresh eyes to see the potential role that developing a generation of engaged students has as the means for establishing a Christian presence in the world. Let us, with wisdom, humility, and confidence, recognize the unique calling that is ours, ready to provide an answer for the hope that is ours through Jesus Christ the Lord (1 Pet 3:15).
We pray that God will renew Christ-centered educational institutions as we seek to develop a new generation of thoughtful Christians, even as we pray for all involved in this important enterprise. May these commitments not be easily lost or forgotten, but may they remain firmly rooted in our minds and hearts for years and decades to come for the glory of God.
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