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What is Christian Scholarship?

Recently, my church started sponsoring a new ministry to Christians involved in Academia. We’ve called it Christian Scholars Network, and it is open to anyone who is interested in pondering questions raised by their scholarship and how they might intersect with a Christian worldview...

Author: 
Bei-En Zou, University of Melbourne
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Recently, my church started sponsoring a new ministry to Christians involved in Academia. We’ve called it Christian Scholars Network, and it is open to anyone who is interested in pondering questions raised by their scholarship and how they might intersect with a Christian worldview. The thought is to meet fortnightly, for a talk, with opportunity then for discussion over a drink and some dinner. We also hope that this will genuinely have the nature of a network: that by simply introducing people to each other we will facilitate any number of other helpful things to happen - whatever is of interest to the members themselves.
The inaugural meeting of the Christian Scholars Network of Melbourne took place on a Tuesday evening in June at The Wilde pub in Fitzroy. Armed with pints and nachos, we commandeered the leather couches in the pub’s upstairs’ room to hear our inaugural speaker, C. Stephen Evans, Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Baylor University in Texas.
Professor Evans spoke on the relationship of faith to the academic disciplines. The question of how Christians should approach the scholarly life, said Professor Evans is a species in the broader genus of the question: “How should Christians approach common human or cultural endeavours in the world?”
Professor Evans argued that Christians ought to participate in the broader culture as Christians, allowing our faith should shape the form our participation takes. This should be done, however, in recognition that others in society will participate from their own faith-stances and Christians should support the right of others to do so, so long as those faith commitments do not infringe on the freedom of others.
Christian scholarship, Evans suggests, is “scholarship that is done to further the kingdom of God.” It is scholarship that is carried out by the citizens of that kingdom, whose “character, attitudes, emotions and convictions reflect their citizenship, and whose work as scholar is shaped by their Christian convictions, emotions and character.” The scholarship is only a partial outworking of the entire calling of a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Christian scholarship is therefore diverse. There is Christian scholarship that is explicitly Christian, but equally valid is Christian scholarship that is implicitly Christian. Furthermore, sometimes faith does not always impact scholarship in any obvious way: Christian scholarship doesn’t have to look distinctively Christian, either as product or process. Sometimes Christians are called to do the same experiments or construct the same mathematical proofs that non-Christians may be doing.
A challenging thought came from Professor Evans when he quoted the Christian philosopher Nicolas Wolterstorff, who distinguished between ‘authentic Christian commitment” and “actual Christian commitment.” My ‘authentic Christian commitment, says Wolterstorff, is that “complex of belief, emotions and actions that embody what Christ expects of me as his followers at a given time.” My “actual Christian commitment” is my imperfect understanding of my authentic Christian commitment at a given time. Both may be different for different Christians and even different for the same Christian at different times.
Another highlight were Professor Evans’ many stories about being Christians in academia He recounted the experiences of his friends, working in fields ranging from history to psychology, medicine to philosophy. It was stimulating seeing the diverse application of theoretical ideas in the lived experience, and encouraging to be reminded that there are others, striving to love and serve God.
It was clear from his stories there is no single model on how to be a ‘good’ Christian in academia. He argues that since our Christian calling are different; there is room for diversity. He urged us to explore our gifts and then to work according to what God has given us.
Secondly, as with all work, there is a need to strive for excellence in whatever academic endeavour we find ourselves in. It is, he said, ‘a matter of serving God properly.’ It was sobering to reflect on the fact that Christian scholarship can be done well or poorly, and that the strongest argument against Christian scholarship may well be the shoddiness of much of what claims to be that.
Professor Evans urged us to be humble in our academic work. Since Christians share in the finitude and sinfulness of the race, Christian scholarship is fallible, and Christians often need to learn from and even be corrected by non-Christians.

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