Scholarship: a Christian and human vocation

At the recent Faith-in-Scholarship conference, ten participants spent an intensive 22 hours with the six FiSch Fellows and two guest speakers: Jonathan Chaplin and Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin. This post is the first in a short series giving you a flavour of the three main talks.

The first talk was by Jonathan on ‘Scholarship as a Christian — and a human — vocation’. Jonathan is a specialist in Christian political thought, and is Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE), which is based at Tyndale House in Cambridge.

Christian scholars should view their work as a ministry given to them by God. This could be because it provides opportunities for evangelism, or because Christian scholars can serve the church. But it would be wrong to see those as the principal purpose of Christian scholarship. Christians ought to approach scholarship, first and foremost, as a shared, human vocation.

Before returning to that theme, it is worth considering the context in which this scholarship (usually) takes place: the modern university, which is the site of a contest between modernity and postmodernity.

The project of modernity started out as ‘faith seeking understanding’ but ended up insisting that faith was strictly inadmissible in all disciplines except theology. Now, although there is a proper ‘differentiation’ of knowledge into distinct disciplines, which will (rightly) lead to a distinction between theology and other areas of knowledge, the dominant reason for excluding faith considerations from scholarship was more an attempt to assert the primacy of ‘objective’ knowledge over ‘subjective’ faith. However, modernity failed to produce universal knowledge, and instead gave rise to numerous warring paradigms.

The very notion of ‘objective’ knowledge has been radically questioned in postmodernity, according to which all knowledge is ultimately particular and contingent. So, while modernist scholarship remains deeply suspicious of any attempt to allow a religious faith to shape it from within, there are now some postmodern ‘cracks in the secular’. These reveal a new openness to faith-based commitments and to a diversity of standpoints, including Christian perspectives.

Scholarship is a shared human vocation, because all scholars are part of the same creation. In the Bible, ‘wisdom’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ are about being aligned with the created order. And the particular kind of reasoning involved in scholarship is one route to wisdom.

But the creation we are investigating is now a fallen one. We do our scholarship with a certain blindness to the true order of creation, and we are prone to lapse into all kinds of intellectual and ideological distortions. Thus there is an ‘antithesis’, not between Christians and non-Christians, but between truth and falsehood.

This leads us to the theme of scholarship as a Christian vocation. There is a promise of redemption for the fallen creation. Christ was present at the origin of creation as well as in its redemption (see Colossians 1:15–17; Hebrews 1:1–3), so in pursuing faithful scholarship we will always be moving towards Christ. And this is the deepest basis for the dignity of the Christian and human scholarly calling.

Finally, what is the goal of scholarship? It is not just about intellectual transformation: scholarship is intended to serve society and humanity.

In summary, Christian scholarship may be described as: ‘a transformational vocation to acquire critically-oriented systematic rational insight into, and to disclose truth about, some facet of created, fallen and redeemed reality, in the light of an intellectual framework responsive to the fullness of biblical revelation, in critical dialogue with others, and in service of humanity’.

Comments

Good to read this report. However, allow me to disagree with one point. I very much like your idea that scholarship is a “shared human vocation, because all scholars are part of the same creation.” When you say the following, however, I am prompted to wonder.

“But the creation we are investigating is now a fallen one. We do our scholarship with a certain blindness to the true order of creation, and we are prone to lapse into all kinds of intellectual and ideological distortions. Thus there is an ‘antithesis’, not between Christians and non-Christians, but between truth and falsehood.”

Is it possible that the problems we have in understanding the world around us are due to the fact that we are creatures of God, and not God? That sin, though it may be a problem, is not the underlying problem?

Ever since I was a kid, the problem has always been sin. But, the more and more challenging that the cosmos becomes in the course of our recent scientific investigations of the galaxies and the atom, the more I am prompted to think that we are dealing with a reality that is so much richer than we normally think. If that is the case, then we are part of a reality that is rich in spiritual knowledge as well as material and physical knowledge, always out ahead of us, challenging us to learn, think and understand more, because there is so very much for us to understand.

We make jokes today that we don’t want to spend eternity wearing white robes, playing violins, and sitting around on clouds. Now I begin to think I would hate to think of an eternity where there is nothing new to learn and study, nothing serious to do in the world of knowledge, that all the books I have never had the time to read will simply disappear as useless.

In short, I think we need to begin thinking new thoughts about the nature of the real world, about the Creation with which God has gifted us. We might find others more interested in the God we claim to know, if we proceeded in this way.

John – thank you for this thoughtful comment, to which Richard drew my attention. I think I’m inclined to say that this is not an /either/or but a both/and. Can’t the problems we have in understanding the world be due both to our finitude (the necessary epistemological limitations and challenges of creatureliness) and our fallenness? If so, we needn’t identity one or the other as ‘the’ underlying problem. Why might we have to choose only one of these explanations? The challenges of our finitude – or, to put that more positively (as I tried to do in the talk), the exciting invitation God calls us to take up to stretch our minds to the full to explore his world – will never end, not even (I wholly agree) in the new earth, where scholarship as a human calling will continue, yet without the distorting effects of sin. I too look forward to reading all those unread books – and, who knows, writing some news ones (not unread, I hope!).

But this is not to exclude, also, that sin works damaging epistemological effects. This isn’t at all only an orthodox Protestant claim. Even Thomists, who distinguish between natural knowledge available without the direct aid of revelation, and revealed knowledge, accept this. If so, we need to give some account of those damaging effects, and incorporate that account into a full Christian epistemology. For example: the vast proliferation of competing and incompatible paradigms (I know the social sciences better than the natural) surely isn’t only a sign of a legitimate epistemological pluralism arising from creatureliness (which might explain part of it) but also of deep divisions over fundamental convictions and claims about reality – more a Babel of voices than a Pentecostal diversity. And some of these paradigms are deeply dehumanising (just as naturalism or physicalism are in the natural sciences). This isn’t only because they are guilty of technical failures of logic/reasoning/evidence-gathering that we might put down to finitude, but also because they are in the grip of deeply (and culpably) false assumptions – ie they are the result of what I called ‘spiritual blindness’ (as, of course, Christians might well be).

Of course we can’t draw completely bright lines between the results of finitude and fallenness. But one of the challenges of Christian scholarship, I’d suggest, is equipping ourselves to do the best we can at that task of discernment.

Thank you for your kind, thoughtful, and even humorous reply – I especially like this line, “…I too look forward to reading all those unread books – and, who knows, writing some news ones (not unread, I hope!).” Indeed !! ;-}

Your reply does prompt me to acknowledge your points about sin, which I do not want to utterly discount. However, what I am wrestling with is a new understanding of scholarship as a “human vocation”, a vocation for everyone, gifted as we all are with God’s “common grace” and “general revelation.”

The brief lines below in a short piece by Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Advice to Those Who Would Be Christian Scholars”, have been ringing changes on my thinking for some time and prompted this response, especially because of your opening with the title of one of the talks at your conference,
‘Scholarship as a Christian — and a human — vocation’.

“…the Christian scholar participates as Christian in those social practices that are the disciplines. Those practices are not a project of the Christian community, nor are they the project of some anti-Christian community.
They are ***human; they belong to all of us together*** – just as the state is not for Christians nor for non-Christians but for all of us together….”
– see the middle paragraph of section #3.
http://gfm.intervarsity.org/resources/advice-those-who-would-be-christia...

Put most bluntly, if sin were the only problem in our quest for knowledge, then Christians should “have a lock” on the knowledge enterprise. By all accounts, that is not the case. In fact, based on the evidence of the many major universities, with a number of important exceptions, Christians do not stand out at all, though they are not as negligible as non-Christians often like to proclaim.

In short, my concern here, indeed in my own study, I am attempting to address the challenge of the knowledge enterprise, in order to see it as a fully human activity, hedged in by many limitations, one of them being sin, but others having to do with human finitude and creatureliness.

I am doing this in order to better appreciate what others, many of them neither religious nor Christian, have done to help us understand ourselves and our cosmos, even with those problematic methods of naturalism and physicalism.

Just this evening, I “happened” on a PBS program entitled “Memory Hackers”, which reported the recent work of scientists to identify the physical natural parts of our brains that store and release memories. We all know that even 100 years ago, people would have thought this impossible, and still even more immoral to tamper with what God has provided for us.

I was enthralled by this scientific work, by all the details they have been able to work out, and rejoiced in the discoveries others are making about the cosmos that God has given us.

Yes, this work points to many ethical problems, problems acknowledged by several of the scientists, but not discussed. But, I welcome the opportunity to be drawn into such work, and then, along with Wolterstorff, seek to identify a Christian perspective that might add some additional meaning and understanding to this work.

In sum, I guess I worry less today about the source of human limitations, whether they be sin or finitude, but acknowledge them both simultaneously in order to be alert to the constant need to ask questions about current knowledge and understanding, whatever the discipline. I hope that in this way I can be seen by everyone, religious and not, as a contributor to the current conversation, even when some of the questions I raise point in deeper directions, religious meaning directions, that many do not consider important, or do not consider at all.

‘Scholarship as a Christian — and a human — vocation’ – a very provocative title for a talk, opening up many avenues of thought, investigation, research, ministry and service. This service Wolterstorff calls Shalom.
https://www.faithandleadership.com/qa/nicholas-wolterstorff-its-tied-tog...

John – thanks for a helpful and illuminating reply, with which I am essentially at one.

I am quite comfortable with Wolterstorff’s formulations; and his description (in the article from which you quote) of what ‘daily life’ is like for a Christian scholar sounds pretty much on target to me. Indeed if every Christian scholar practiced that kind of approach to their vocation, the Christian contribution would already be much greater than it is now.

I certainly agree that the disciplines are not a ‘project of the Christian community’ in the sense that they are public enterprises in which Christians must participate as equals in a common search for truth, and from which all can and must learn from, and be corrected by, all. (In the natural sciences, I myself am particularly fascinated by the current exploration of Mars which I find utterly captivating – perhaps because I am old enough to remember vividly the first Moon landing, and never got over it!).

If there is a difference between us it seems to be one of emphasis. On the one hand, I think that in the past too much ‘difference’ has sometimes been demanded and expected of Christian scholarship, whereas the goal is really authenticity, faithfulness, intellectual integrity, rather than distinctiveness (that’s true in every area of life of course). To demand distinctiveness as a sign of authenticity is unrealistic and merely generates disappointment and disillusionment.

On the other hand, I would also want to include in the larger project of Christian scholarship the possibility of generating new approaches/paradigms/theories/ concepts that might be suggested because of a Christian worldview (that might, to use another of Wolterstoff’s terms, ‘comport well with’, or be fitting for, that worldview) – even though I would not want to label them ‘Christian paradigms/concepts’ per se. Indeed not only the ‘possibility’ but, in certain circumstances (eg where regnant paradigms were palpably false and positively destructive) but the ‘responsibility’.

To say only that scholarship is a common human project doesn’t quite account for this generative, creative potency and calling of Christian scholarly activity – a potency that, of course, should be directed at the search for common truth and public benefit (and not in any sense intended merely to ‘showcase’ the distinctiveness of Christian scholarship). Such truly innovative achievements are quite rare, but then that is true generally and not just for Christian-inspired ones. In my own field, one example of this is the way that the 17th Calvinist legal theorist Althusius generated an innovative ‘covenantal’ theory of law and politics out of a creative, theologically-influenced synthesis of various strands of biblical, classical and renaissance thought (his work in turn influenced Locke and thus, indirectly, us). So, while much of our day to day work mostly looks pretty much like that of others, or at best functions as a critical embrace of or commentary on extant ideas, how might the Christian scholarly community create conditions, and feed aspirations, that could nurture a new Althusius (etc) for our times? In political science, at least, still much governed by the tacit or explicit influence of individualistic secular liberalism, we certainly need one (or more).

Jonathan – yes, I agree that we are basically on the same page, just seeing these matters from a slightly different perspective.

Your viewpt is that of the very fine Kirby Laing Institute. Mine is that of a layman, working at The University of Chicago in the law library. I came here to do graduate work in education and public policy for developing countries many years ago, after serving as a teacher with the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Africa. When I arrived here, there were few signs of active Christian engagement with academia, though more was happening at The Divinity School than I was aware, having grown up in evangelical circles and so clueless about justice issues that mainline theologians had been pursuing for years.

When two Christian Roman Catholic scholars started the Lumen Christi Institute here back in 1997, I took notice and realized work could be done here.
http://www.lumenchristi.org/

Several years later, I came across an audio tape of a lecture by the late Dallas Willard, philosopher and author of books on Christian spirituality, entitled “The Redemption of Reason.” In this lecture, given in 1998, he challenged those in attendance and anyone who came across this presentation later to get going – Christians could and should be engaging the entire range of the university, and the only thing holding people back is fear. That resonated.
http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=118

After completing a transcript of this lecture, I recommended to the senior InterVarsity staff here that we should invite Willard to speak. That happened and then as a volunteer directed the efforts of a number of us to put together a series of conferences that flew under the banner of The Redemption of Reason, and now The Charles Malik Society for Redeeming Reason. We were able to present conferences from 2005-08, until the stock market crash and funds dried up. With that, interest waned for people who were not yet sure that this kind of work should be done.
http://charlesmalik.org/

All this to say, from my perspective I continue to encourage people that Christian engagement with all of academia is both possible and immensely important, because of your very point – Christians can bring a perspective that can indeed generate new ideas and approaches. When I see resistance to this because people keep fretting about sin in academic ideas, fretting that they are not doing enough evangelism, then I begin to think that attention to sin is another trick to keep us out of the wonderful opportunities of the kind of engagement you repeatedly do at Kirby Laing.

Especially here at The Uof Chicago, I have been inspired by Dr. Farr Curlin, an evangelical now at Duke, who founded the Program on Medicine and Religion, and now an annual national conference on religion in medicine. Dr. Curlin knew that a Christian voice would be given a hearing only if all religions were involved, and so now Christian, Jewish, Muslim and all religions share in a common endeavor, and Christians are given an opportunity to bring their voice to the conversation.
https://pmr.uchicago.edu/directory/farr-curlin

In short, you see the Christian vocation of academic engagement from the perspective of one flourishing in this work. I see matters from the perspective of one trying to promote such work among people who are still afraid to do it, and often fretful that there is no point because of sin, no point because it is not evangelistic.

Therefore, when you speak as you have of Christian scholarship as a human vocation worthy of full Christian engagement and effort, I shout for joy and say “More, more.”

I would only add, that following on Wolterstorff’s ideas about knowledge enterprises as “social practices”, we might here have an idea that helps us deal with the question of “objective knowledge”. Increasingly, as scholars in every domain encounter scholars from around the world, we are aware that knowledge is a “constantly moving target” – one question addressed, and a ton more come into view. Here too, it seems to me, Christians can happily join the effort, attuned as we are to human limitations and thus always open to learning more. Some ideas can become firm convictions, say the Resurrection of Jesus, while the meaning of that for a host of issues facing us everyday is both an ongoing challenge and an inspiration for new ideas and work.

Thanks for the opportunity for conversation which you have sparked.

Thanks. Again, warm agreement with all of that. I now see, also, that your ‘aversion’ (if I might put it like that) to talking of ‘sin’ in academic life springs from a perfectly right and necessary reaction to those who would invoke sin as a reason for NOT ENGAGING in the scholarly task. I myself (by God’s grace) never went through such a phase of non-engagement, because by the time these issues confronted me (just before I entered university) I came across wise voices who showed me that engagement was both necessary and possible. My desire to keep ‘sin’ in the picture springs, however, from a worry that Christians (myself included) may not be critical enough of what they find when they DO engage. A different inflection, perhaps, chiefly reflecting our different journeys? Thanks for sharing something of yours.

Thanks again for all your kind responses. Having “cleared the ground” a bit on the slight differences of emphasis between us, allow me a question arising from your closing remark in your first response to my initial comment. You wrote,

“Of course we can’t draw completely bright lines between the results of finitude and fallenness. But one of the challenges of Christian scholarship, I’d suggest, is equipping ourselves to do the best we can at that task of discernment.”

In light of all the work you and others have done at the Kirby Laing Institute, could you comment on an issue for which the “task of discernment” was, and maybe continues to be, rather challenging.

Based on my experience here, both in my daily survey of public policy issues via journals and books that I encounter at The Uof Chicago Law Library and then attendance at various religious and Christian engagement programs via Lumen Christi, the Program on Medicine and Religion and others, there are many issues for which “truth and/or falsehood” do not work well. Any number of policy issues remain open to solutions, because situations are constantly changing.

For example, recently Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, chose to welcome many refugees from Syria into Germany in response to a dire crisis. Among other things she said, she offered that she believed that this was something Germany must do to demonstrate to the world that Germany is now a place of hope, not a place of Holocaust. Now, as we all know, Germans have gone to the polls and voted against her policies in large numbers. One could easily argue that she failed to discern the best way forward.

Using this example, or another from the work you have done at Kirby Laing, could you offer some thoughts on the “task of discernment”, dealing as we must with human limitations, both of creatureliness and sinfulness?

This is not a trick question, but directly related to the human enterprise of scholarship which we both are interested in promoting. I always learn more when I am dealing with a specific case, an example where theories and ideas are applied, sometimes well, but often not and with less than happy consequences. I am enthusiastic about and anxious to encourage Christians to engage academia and culture, but I agree that discernment is part of the task.

John – let me pick up the example of Germany, which is a perfectly fair one but a complex one. I fully agree that distinguishing truth v falsehood in cases like the European response to the refugee crisis is very difficult and prone to go wrong; no-one can ever claim to have got such judgments completely right. But I think we are implicitly making such judgements whether we like it or not (even if we don’t call it a distinction between ‘finitude’ and ‘fallenness’).

Here’s how I would try to approach (not resolve) the issue. The fact that Merkel suffered at the polls for her stance isn’t yet enough to show that she discerned wrongly. Perhaps she was right and the electorate were wrong? Perhaps sections of the German electorate are under the influence of a ‘sinful’ attitude of selfishness, and not enough guided by a perfectly proper judgment about ‘finitude’, ie that there are simply not enough resources in Germany any more to offer a truly just hospitality (one which is genuinely good for them) to just any number of refugees. We can’t know that for sure, but keeping that distinction in mind will allow political leaders to interrogate and educate public opinion and not just follow or defer to it. But yes, perhaps Merkel then has to pay the political price for the electorate’s wrong discernment (if it is wrong) – even to the extent of losing office for taking the right stand. So be it. That affirms the ‘truth’ of government’s task, which may in the long term be better overall for Germany than any loss of short-term influence by Merkel.

As it happens, I think her early bald offer that ‘Germany can take a million’ was imprudent because it didn’t reckon sufficiently with the force of both of these factors (fallenness and finitude). On the other hand, we should note that much poorer and less stable nations like Lebanon and Turkey are already taking far more than that, partly because they have no choice but, perhaps, partly because of an instinctive solidarity (among Muslims?) that is lacking in (Christian?) northern/western Europe? That latter point is speculative, admittedly.

To decide policy mainly on electoral popularity would, I’d say, be to have a ‘false’ view of the task of government. That task, I’d suggest is to secure as much justice in the public realm as is possible, all things considered (and ‘justice’ would need to be spelled out, of course) . Among political elites (and the media) it is often understood instead as something like ‘furthering national interests’, or ‘managing competing pressures’, the latter being is a functional view that misses the moral mandate of government. A generation ago, political scientists called this the ‘conciliation of interests’ and some still do – an example of a concept which was, yes, false and damaging. They’ve been aided and abetted by (liberal) political theorists who denied that governments had any role in promoting any ‘conception of the good’ (while yet tacitly promoting an individualistic conception).

So, while this view of govt doesn’t at all resolve the specific case of what to do about the refugee crisis, it suggests a different way of asking the question: not, ‘how many can public opinion tolerate?’ but ‘how can we and our European partners offer just hospitality to those forced to flee to our borders?’ That does imply setting some numerical limits at some point (our resources are finite; and people are selfish); and it implies some principle of just burden-sharing across the EU (the UK’s limit of 20,000 over 5 years seems to me mean-spirited for a nation of our size and wealth, notwithstanding that the UK has been among the most generous in giving funds to support refugees staying in camps in their own region).

Anyway those are some initial thoughts. You ask a highly pertinent, and I’ve only gestured to the beginnings of an answer. Can other help?

Thanks, John and Jonathan, for this scintillating exchange. Picking up the discussion of what’s meant by “truth vs falsehood”, I thought I might point out that this week’s post on the blog argues for a broad view of truth with respect to artistic representation. I wonder if this can help reconcile John’s emphasis on finding creative solutions to complex problems where “any number of policy issues remain open to solutions” with Jonathan’s emphasis on doing what is “right” – e.g. having a “true” view of the task of government.

In other words, I want to draw both upon Jonathan’s use of “true” in asking questions like “What is the true task of X?”, and on John’s emphasis on creativity (which might be framed as “truth” in the sense of this week’s blog post) when looking for practical responses to that question. More briefly: my true duty is to be true to God’s Kingdom in all my doings. For me, that reflects Jesus’ ministry: his claim to do the will of the Father while also being creative in his evasion of trick questions and traps.

The talk reported in this week’s post, incidentally, was given by Jonathan’s wife Adrienne, so I imagine he will concur with it by and large…

Thanks for your kind comment Richard. Some additional ideas, prompted by the work that I do at the law library for The University of Chicago Law School, a place where I have worked for more than 20 years.

We receive new books, journals, magazines, and now online resources of many types everyday, sometimes several times a day. Never once in all the time that I have worked there has a book or document arrived with a flag saying, “Work in this discipline is now complete. All that can be known is known and agreed upon. We have arrived at the truth”. Not in contract law, torts, estates, employment, copyright, etc, et. al., not to speak of multitudinous constitutional law.

It took me a while to awaken to this fact, but when I did I realized that I had discovered something about human knowledge. It could have occurred to me that this is due to the fact that humans are sinners. However, that was not what came to mind. Rather, I had noticed as I skimmed through many of the books and journals that I encounter everyday, that generally authors speak of disagreeing with one another, but they do not accuse others of purposely misleading people, of lying in their writing. So, I realized, there really was something to this idea of the Imago Dei in everyone, and that scholars were actually talking to one another and working hard with their ideas.

Then I came across the little piece by Nicholas Wolterstorff mentioned in a comment above, “Advice to Those Who Would Be Christian Scholars,” esp. section #3, where he speaks of the knowledge enterprise as – human “… social practices, some, like philosophy, with a long ancestry, some, like molecular biology, of recent origin. And I think of these practices as constantly changing due to all sorts of developments both inside and outside the discipline.” In short, the knowledge enterprise is a long, never ending conversation, never ending because never completed, never able to claim “The Truth”, but always circling around this possibility.
http://gfm.intervarsity.org/resources/advice-those-who-would-be-christia...

An example I use in conversation is dentistry – 100 years ago, dentists had the truth about dentistry. However, today, none of us would go back 100 years to that truth to have our teeth treated. Today, dentists know more, thankfully, and we go more often.

I like the way that Jonathan started his 2nd paragraph in his last comment, “Here’s how I would try to approach (not resolve) the issue. …” That is now “the truth” for me. Jonathan reiterates that point in his next to last full paragraph, reporting on the changing frameworks used by political theorists – demonstrating NW’s idea above, “And I think of these practices as constantly changing due to all sorts of developments both inside and outside the discipline.”

Thinking of knowledge in this way, as an ongoing developing enterprise, can make many Christians uncomfortable. In fact, this was the reason I responded initially. Some campus ministry people have reported that Christian students think they must be finding “the truth”, so then they are reluctant to engage their academic work because they might “get it wrong.” I sense that many Christian faculty in the US similarly steer clear of such engagement for good reason – they know that Christian professors have lost their jobs at Christian colleges and universities when they “get it wrong.”

Thinking of knowledge in this way, as an ongoing developing enterprise, has provided me with a great sense of adventure and freedom. Rather than constantly worrying about where I am going wrong, I join the human endeavor of learning and knowing, as a Christian, with the hope of learning more and with the hope that I might share something of the knowledge of God with others in the course of my participation. I no longer worry about getting “the truth”, but work at doing the best I can, knowing that all are so engaged.

So just to clarify, Richard, I am not interested in creativity per se, though creativity is involved. I am interested in and concerned about a better understanding of the human knowledge enterprise, such that we see it in all its ongoing and developing possibilities, as well as all its ongoing and developing limitations, whether they be due to human creatureliness, sin or continuing failure to understand Jesus’ Good News of the Kingdom, and what NW emphasizes about that, namely Shalom.

This view of knowledge has also then brought into view the collaborative nature of all knowledge. No more am I interested in the so-called independent genius, except to connect a noted scientist or scholar to the human community of learning of which they were a part. Such a view of learning presents such a wonder-full opportunity for Christians, who can then fully share in this human enterprise, and add all the Christian dimensions that come to mind as they do their work

And of course, Jonathan is correct – the practice, both the personal and social practice, of discernment is now fully involved. But, there is no formula for that discernment. Here we must learn from one another, case by case, advancing the project of knowledge as best we can, with humility.

+++

Here are three resources on knowledge as conversation, as social practice, which have been very helpful for me.

Michael Oakeshott, from “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind.” – late English political philosopher
http://english.ttu.edu/kairos/2.1/features/brent/oakeshot.htm

Robert Maynard Hutchins, “The Great Conversation” – the introduction to the Great Ideas and Great Books by the late president of The Uof Chicago
http://www.thegreatideas.org/libeducation.html

Kenneth Bruffee, “Collaborative Learning and ‘The Conversation of Mankind'” – professor emeritus of English, Brooklyn College
https://www.uni-bielefeld.de/exzellenz/lehre/docs/Bruffee_Collaborative_...

+++

ps. I have posted a note with several comments and links at the blog note on art, material about Nicholas Wolterstorff’s new book, Art Rethought: the Social Practices of Art, which are relevant to my comments here. Richard’s reference to this blog in his comment prompted this.

I hope I have not overstayed my welcome. It seems to me that Paul in I Corinthians 13 is a resource for our conversations together on our Christian vocations in the universities where we work, and in our conversations with academic colleagues and with our academic work in all of its domains. Paul’s comments about not seeing clearly on spiritual and theological matters and knowledge has application for all of our knowledge and life. We aim for the truth, but we are always circling around it. Even in the sciences, one problem solved, one discovery made does not bring an end to investigation, but opens a hundred more questions.

And so, of all people, Christians have special responsibilities in the knowledge enterprise. We know that we are creatures, not the Creator, not God; that we are made Imago Dei, and yet fallen; that by common grace, all are blessed as we are blessed, that all can and many do creative work, many who know not God and yet have been genius in some knowledge domain.

In short, I am thankful for having been inspired by Nicholas Wolterstorff to be more confident in working at engaging the university, but now as part of a much larger conversation that joins scholars today and through the ages in common effort, some of them Christian, and some of them not.

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