Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Periphery of Intellectual Existence

Is there such a theology of the university? Or does the university fit into the Christian worldview? One of the things I've found myself doing this year as I work alongside the EU's Post Grad faculty is to read books that try to answer these questions. As I've prayed and dreamed about where this growing ministry might go in the future, there have been a number of books I've found helpful in imagining the vocation of Christian academia.

Admittedly, most of these books are American. They appear to be written out of some American angst in solving the dilemma of having both Christian and secular universities.

One name has repeatedly popped up this year: Charles Habib Malik. A former President of the UN General Assembly, Malik was himself a giant in the mid to late 20th's public forum. Malik was a brilliant thinker who studied under Heidegger and Whitehead; he also possessed a generous orthodoxy in loving and welcoming Catholics and Protestants as well as other Orthodox Christians. Amongst contemporary Christians he perhaps most famous for this quote:
"The University is a clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. The problem
here is for the church to realize that no greater service can it render both
itself and the cause of the gospel than to try to recapture the universities for
Christ, on whom they were all originally founded. More potently than by any
other means, change the university and you change the world."
I've recently been reading Malik. Like most of what I've read about Christian scholarly witness, what I've found in Malik is a love for the God and Father of Christ Jesus that is displayed in part through a love for the university, and more generally for knowledge and learning. He had a great vision for the university as a place that is captured for Christ. He prayed for a university that would use it's wisdom that would serve Jesus. Malik believed that it would be Evangelicals who had the most opportunity to make this happen. Here is his charge to them:
The problem is not only to win souls but to save minds. If you win the
whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover that you have
not won the world. Indeed it may turn out that you have actually lost the
world.In order to create and excel intellectually, must you sacrifice or neglect
Jesus? In order to give your life to Jesus, must you sacrifice or neglect
learning and research? Is your self-giving to scholarship and learning
essentially incompatible with your self-giving to the scholarship and learning
essentially incompatible with your self-giving to Jesus Christ? These are the
ultimate questions, and I beg you to beware of thinking that they admit of glib
answers. I warn you: the right answer could be the most disturbing
People are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money
or serving the church or preaching the gospel. They have no idea of the infinite
value of spending years of leisure in conversing with the greatest minds and
souls of the past, and thereby ripening and sharpening and enlarging their
powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is
abdicated and vacated to the enemy. Who among evangelicals can stand up to the
great secular or naturalistic or atheistic scholars on their own terms of
scholarship and research? Who among the evangelical scholars is quoted as a
normative source by the greatest secular authorities on history or philosophy or
psychology or sociology or politics? ...For the sake of greater effectiveness in
witnessing to Jesus Christ himself, as well as for their own sakes, the
evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible
intellectual existence.
Malik offers a caution against the anti-intellectualism that had the potential to characterise evangelicalism in the 20th century. And if we truly believe in lives transformed by Christ, we need to seek not just the conversion of souls, but the conversion minds, hearts and hands (on which see here). As I reflect on what this might look like for EU's Post Grads, my hope is that they will bring every part of their lives under the Lordship of Christ. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. My hope is that they will be the best post grads in the university, because they're using their intellect to serve Jesus and his church and his world; because they're engaging with other academics from across the university; because they want take every thought captive to obey Christ.


byron smith said...

Who among the evangelical scholars is quoted as a
normative source by the greatest secular authorities on history or philosophy or psychology or sociology or politics?

Got any suggestions?

Matthew Moffitt said...

Was hoping that you might have some...

byron smith said...

None that I can think of, though I'm not working in any of those fields directly.

rowan kemp said...

thanks matt - really appreciated this post. Inspired me to read some Malik

rowan kemp said...

... and I love the photo of the Quad!

Conor said...

I came across your blog randomly and I had some suggestions for evangelical scholars quoted as normative sources: Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolsterstorff, Richard Swinburne, Peter Van Inwagen, Mark Noll, N.T. Wright, and others.
They are out there but that does not lessen the need for more. Anyway, it sounds like we are on the same journey--though in different parts of the world--so i thought it only appropriate to help you along the way and leave you with encouragement to fight on. God Bless :)