An Invitation to Academic Studies by Jay Green
American Evangelicalism at large is fairly anti-intellectual (more so in the South, where I live), and since most books on Academics are very academic, the cycle continues to churn, and non-academic people go on not knowing what they don’t know. But Jay Green takes a step away from the ivory tower and writes to mere mortals in a very mere size. At 36 pages this pamphlet is very inviting and welcoming, even to the most un-academic among us.
Green’s point is that we as Christians have commented on academic disciplines quite enough—almost to death!—and we’ve used them for our spiritual purposes (namely, to bolster our worldviews), but we don’t actually excel at the disciplines themselves. He states his concern:
I worry that the “integration” project may be producing young scholars who can explain a Christian theology and philosophy of their disciplines (which is appropriate in itself), but who are much less well prepared to draw helpful, challenging insights from the disciplines as disciplines.
This “integration” project is something like the popular Truth Project from Focus on the Family. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that curriculum, it does fit into this “integration” approach which carries the same baggage. It tells us we must “redeem” the disciplines, totally ignoring the fact that they may not even need redeeming:
Rather than deciding that our task was to redeem the disciplines, what if we started to believe that they could, in their present form, be used by the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus? What if we reimagined our work within them not as a reconnaissance mission, driving us deep into enemy territory, but as an act of holy worship done humbly before the face of God? Not as something we must do, holding our noses for the good of the kingdom, but as something we gratefully embrace, because through it God will extend to us some of his wondrous gifts?
The main issue here is the connection between academics and religion. Tertullian once asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”—Athens being the academic hub, Jerusalem the spiritual. Green gives three options to handle this dichotomy.
- Avoid higher education altogether
- Engage defensively
- Resist any sort of integration
But he goes on to argue that this is just a false dichotomy. We don’t need some sort of strategy for integration. We just need to re-find our true Christian calling:
None of the strategies mentioned thus far envisions mainstream higher education (as found in the modern university) as a legitimate Christian calling, either because the strategy sees it as inherently anti-Christian (withdrawal and defensive engagement) or because it sees nothing uniquely Christian about it (dualism). However, a widely shared con-temporary rebuttal of Tertullian not only justifies Christian engagement in academic learning, but also argues that Jerusalem (faithful Christians everywhere) should take up the challenge of renewing, even transforming, Athens (educational pursuits of all kinds).
Green ends the pamphlet with a look into the true purpose of education:
A worldview mastery of a craft is no substitute for mastery of the craft itself. I believe we need to begin applying some of the same principles of craftsmanship to academic study.
We must master the body of knowledge, pair that knowledge with the virtues required to wield it, and learn about God and His creation through them (not merely by them). If we leave Christian academia to merely provide commentary on the disciplines themselves, we’ve lost what it actually means to be Christian to begin with.
Attaining a Christian worldview is a good and necessary ambition for the believing student, but I do not believe it is a sufficient one. To illustrate my point, let us consider the blacksmith. A faithful Christian blacksmith should indeed develop a deep and abiding perspective on the Christian foundations and significance of forging wrought iron with hammer and anvil. But the blacksmith with neither skill nor practical experience who can only wax theological about the said practices is, in the end, a very bad blacksmith. In fact, he isn't a blacksmith at all; he is merely a theologian of blacksmithery.
Green finished with this poignant challenge:
God has made us to be nonstop learners—and what we learn can actually strengthen our faith! What will you learn, and why?