The Role of Christian Scholarship
In Thornton Wilder's Bridge of San Luis Rey, Brother Juniper tries to conduct quantitative research on the ways of God. Trying to figure out why certain people die, he sets up categories of goodness, piety, and social usefulness, applying numerical value to each person. He presented his carefully researched findings to the Church, which promptly burned him and his writings at the stake. Christian scholarship is a risky undertaking.
G. K. Chesterton hoped it was impossible for any Christian "to write any book on any subject [from priests to post modernity to pigs] without showing that he is a Christian." Sociologist Peter Berger echoed the journalist acknowledging that "I suppose one sticks one's neck out when it comes to things one deems important. I think the Christian faith is of very great importance-too important to leave out of any discussion or debate. Therefore, one must stick out one's neck."
Clearly then, it is of utmost importance for Christian scholars at Azusa Pacific University to bring their Christian convictions and faith to bear on their research and teaching. Many, in fact, have already stuck their necks out, engaging the academy with ideas grounded in a Christian vision of their disciplines. Following the vibrant models of St. Augustine, John Henry, and Cardinal Newman, APU scholars like Alan Padgett, Steve Wilkens, Diana Glyer, and David Weeks have investigated 19th century philosophy and the liberal arts in higher education, making significant impact into a culture waning in Christian perspective.
Faith and experience are the grounds for all good thinking. We have an opportunity, like that of St. Anselm of Canterbury in 1109, to promote "faith seeking understanding." What we know as Christians can shape the questions we choose to ask, the subjects we choose to probe, and the methodologies we choose to examine our subjects. It is our opportunity as scholars to set agendas for our disciplines from distinctly Christian foundations. The opportunity to engage must be rooted in the Latin idea of schola as school or learning partnered with its Greek notion of leisure. At proper seasons, the soul should be able to grow unhindered by stress, excessive busywork, or the tyranny of things. This requires a commitment by the university to unyoke and feed the faculty.
"Our responsibility is to enter the arena of academics as verbal gladiators, lest we should merely gravitate to happy little Christian circles where the only opposition we encounter comes in the form of arguments fabricated in like-minded circles, created with the intent to be easily disproved."
Our responsibility is to enter the arena of academics as verbal gladiators, lest we should merely gravitate to happy little Christian circles where the only opposition we encounter comes in the form of arguments fabricated in like-minded circles, created with the intent to be easily disproved. Like St. Paul, we jump into the marketplace of ideas. We might confront America's dominant Pelagian heresy, with its denial of the doctrine of original sin and therefore our need for Divine Grace, or its pervasive consumerism. So, too, we must write, as C. S. Lewis recommended, not more little books about Christianity, but more little books "on other subjects with their Christianity latent." We must present that which is timeless in the vernacular of our disciplines.
We need accountability with each other as there are seductions even for the closeted scholar. As people, not just scholars, we continually slip into sloth, writers' block, complaining, murmuring, pride, and such common ailments of the academic life. What corrects and balances such obstacles is belonging to a community of fellow saints and scholars. As a fellowship of academic pilgrims, we should be more communal than individual. Accountability keeps our feet to the fires, both on academic and personal levels. Your friends know your ploys, your shams, your excuses, and the tricks of your trade. As such, Christian scholarship should not be divorced from personal and communal holiness. Solomon's reign of wisdom was contaminated when he married numerous foreign wives and assimilated their idols into Israel's culture. It is not enough to be wise; one must also be good.
Soren Kierkegaard warned about those who would enter a dark room to fetch something of utmost importance and not carry a light. It is the Light of our faith in Jesus Christ that must go before us and with us in the world of scholarship. Azusa Pacific University is keeping that Light alive. It is a risky enterprise, but one for which it is worth sticking out our necks.
Lindvall earned his B.A. in Biology and Literature at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California before earning his M.Div. from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and taught at APU for four years. He is former president and current distinguished chair of visual communication at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Posted: June 1, 2001