Scholarship & Christian Faith (15)

I know it’s kind of crazy, but I’m in the midst of about 5 or 6 different books. I just read a chapter or two of each and then move on; it’s kind of fun!

Newest addition: Scholarship & Christian Faith by Douglas and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen (with a few other essays by other authors). Picked this up in my visit to Powell’s down in Hyde Park when I was at the Wheaton Theology conference in April. A fascinating and interesting book; all contributions are by faculty at Messiah. In terms of thinking about my vocation as educator, one of the most intriguing so far this summer.

Just a quick taste: the introduction suggests that the traditional formulation of “integration of faith and learning” may need some tweaking (my wording, not theirs). An alternative integration of faith, hope, and love & learning is offered, with faith being both verb and noun. Unpacking all that would take more space than I have here, but in short: faith as a verb suggests an openness and searching for truth (not simply a static content); love as passion for the truth as motivation (I talk about this in terms of intellectual virtues); and hope as both a confidence in God and the academic vocation (vs. pessimism and a focus on declension) and as an expression of a forward looking goal or telos for education. This emphasis on hope for me was very helpful; it connects to a broader focus I have been trying to develop on the goal of creation as a project. Theology, if this is a correct focus, cannot be merely a backward look, but must be forward looking toward the goal that God has planned for his great creation.

In the first section of the book, the focus is on analyzing and critiquing (in a good way) the integrationist approach to christian scholarship. Recognizing its strengths and important contributions, the authors suggest several important limitations (I’m slighly reshaping them for this post): 1) the approach is deeply grounded in a Reformed theological framework but makes universal claims (the Reformed outlook is valid enough, and one to which I am generally committed, but there may be alternative models in Lutheran, Anabaptist and other circles), 2) though the best advocates of integration conceive of the model as dialogic, there is a tendency on the part of many to make the conversation all one direction, often leading to a conflict model, 3) the model is dependent on a very philosophical approach to knowledge and scholarship in ways which seem largely irrelevant in some disciplines and increasingly so in others (compare this emphasis on word and theory with pietism and its emphasis on right feeling or Anabaptists on right living, for example).

The essay that follows this chapter (each content chapter has an accompanying essay) challenges the fundamentally modern conception of knowledge at the core of integration, instead advocating an approach with greater intellectual humility. The author (Crystal Downing) suggests a different metaphor: imbrication. The term, which describes overlapping shingles on a house, suggests various kinds and manners of interaction between faith and a particular discipline. This intentionally has a postmodern feel; not denying there is a core, but recognizing that there is no one discourse that is universal. I’ll admit this section has given me some things to think about.


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