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-by Wilfred M. McClay
Why the Academy Needs Christians
The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship
By George M. Marsden
Oxford University Press
119 pp.; $22
It is sometimes hard to know exactly what we mean by the modifier Christian, particularly when we apply it to our work. Does it indicate merely that one happens to be a professing Christian? Or does the word Christian necessarily imply a distinctive approach to one's work? And if so, should that distinctive approach alter the substance of what one does--or just the manner in which one does it? Christians must subject all aspects of their lives, including their work lives, to the lordship of Christ. But it is not always obvious how that requirement is best obeyed, no matter what work one does.
The problem is particularly elusive for those of us in the business of academic scholarship. A Christian plumber manifests his faith through painstaking attention to his craft and customers; he need not consider whether his faith should dictate the methods used to unclog your drain. One could approach the problem of "Christian scholarship" in a similar way. In this view, Christian scholars strive to be consummate professionals, who honor God by their example and thereby lead colleagues and students to wonder about the faith motivating such exemplary labors.
But, although this is surely sound advice, it would seem that the rightful claims of Christian scholarship are far more extensive. All scholarly writing relies upon, and in turn reinforces, certain suppositions about the nature and meaning of the phenomena being studied. It should make a very big difference if one believes what Christians believe; and that difference should entail more than just being a dedicated teacher. Indeed, Christian scholars would seem to have a clear mandate to follow the lead of Romans 12:2 and demonstrate that the renewing of our minds can transform our vision of the world.
Alas, as George Marsden points out in this provocative and valuable book, they rarely make good on this obligation. Instead, most Christian ...