Lecture Series Examines Issues Affecting the Christian ScholarJune 9, 1999
WACO, Texas -- One of the most complex issues currently facing colleges and universities with religious ties is how to keep true to their Christian commitment and remain premier institutions of higher learning. This difficult and sometimes controversial subject was discussed during the three-day H.I. Hester Lecture Series, part of the annual meeting of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools, held June 6-8 at Baylor University.
Dr. Stephen Evans, dean of research and scholarship and professor of philosophy at Calvin College, spoke on what it means for an institution of higher education to be distinctively Christian and what steps these institutions can take to encourage faculty to be Christian scholars.
Evans defines Christian scholarship as "scholarship that is done to further the kingdom of God. It is scholarship carried out as part of a calling by citizens of that kingdom whose character, attitudes, emotions and convictions reflect their citizenship, and whose work as scholars is shaped by their Christian convictions, emotions and character."
During his first lecture, "The Calling of the Christian Scholar-Teacher," Evans said the "Christian scholar-teacher lies at the heart of a Christian educational institution," and these universities, colleges and schools must ensure that a core group of its faculty are committed Christians who are excited about their institution's mission.
He claimed that for these faculty to be Christian scholars, they first must embrace a "transformative Christian vision" -- a desire to participate as Christians in common cultural endeavors, such as the arts, education, business and government and a knowledge their participation will shape and enliven these endeavors. Too often Christians believe they can take part in these areas but their faith will not affect their participation, or conversely, that they must withdraw completely from contact with persons outside their faith, Evans said.
Secondly, the Christian scholar must realize that one's job -- teaching in the scholar's
case -- is part of an individual's Christian vocation, and the Christian faith can make an intellectual difference in one's life.
"Seeking to be faithful to his or her authentic Christian commitment, the Christian professor is called to be a double missionary, representing the life of the mind within the church, and the life of the church to the intellectual world," Evans said.
In the second part of the lecture series, Evans focused on ways that biblical faith might impact scholarly activity and affirmed that Christian scholars must examine the Bible, which he called a "grand drama," to understand how their research will be affected.
"All followers of Christ must seek to understand this story and its meaning for their lives and for the community of which they are a part. The story needs to become the frame or context in terms of which the way we investigate our world," Evans said.
Evans did note the impact of Christianity on a scholar's work can take three forms -- the purely vocational, implicit and explicit -- and the substantive impact of Christianity will vary from field to field. "Christian scholarship does not have to be or even appear to be uniquely or distinctively Christian. Some Christians are called to engage in what I call purely vocational Christian scholarship. However, in every field there are some questions, and in some fields many questions, where Christian faith might make a real difference, either implicitly or explicitly, to the scholarly work being done," he said.
Evans also explained that Christian scholarship should be diverse, that it should be done well, that it can be fallible, and that it must be intellectually honest. "The Christian community must trust the community of Christian scholars and recognize the importance of academic freedom; in return the Christian scholar must affirm his or her ultimate loyalty to the church," he said.
In his final lecture, "The Voice of the Christian Scholar in the Postmodern Academic Conversation," Evans looked at the opportunities and dangers for Christian scholarship in the current cultural climate. The challenge for Christian scholars is to realize that while skepticism looms as a continual threat, there is certainty, Evans said. "There is truth -- truth is God's view of things," he said.
Evans concluded his remarks by stating that the Christian, whether scholar or not, must realize that he or she will always stand in tension with what the Bible calls the world.
"We are content to be one voice in a larger conversation ... because we have confidence in the power of God's Spirit. However, we have an obligation to hear as well as speak, and God can speak through the voices of all his created children. He can speak to us as well as through us," Evans said.