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An Invitation to Academic Studies (Faithful…
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An Invitation to Academic Studies (Faithful Learning)

by Jay D. Green

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This 40-page booklet is an attempt to suggest that academic study should “cultivate and nourish” one’s faith in Jesus Christ. The author contends that “modern fields of academic study are sophisticated and time-honored crafts that, when thoughtfully practiced, hold enormous potential for cultivating a deeper love for God and our neighbors.”

He notes that American evangelicals have “an uneasy relationship” with today’s higher education system. They see the classroom as “little more than incubators for left-leaning radicalism and secular humanism…” and, quoting Marsha West, notes that “[y]oung people who’ve been raised with moral values will go behind the fortified walls of Babylon, pretty much unarmed. And the barbarians are prepared to chew them up and spit them out.”

To date, three responses have been proposed to high education. First, avoid it. Second, defensive engagement. That involves teaching students how to identify and stand against the “ideological hazards” they will encounter. Third, treat the issue as separate issues. The church becomes a concern only to the faithful. Believers may participate within the “common kingdom” (the world) with the goal of bringing stability to the social order than to redeem it.

Mr. Green offers a fourth alternative. This is to view academic disciplines as gifts from God and then ask how what we learn can be used to make us more like our Savior. Those disciplines are extensions of what God has created and therefore represent how we exercise dominion of that which God created. While academia may be “controlled by sinners” and although its “most masterful practitioners are unbelievers”, the world of learning is still a gift from God, our goal, he suggests, is to consider how God might be using those disciplines to bring about His purposes. To those who warn of the dangers, Green says “the spirit is able to protect us better than we can protect ourselves.”

As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit Priest, said: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Green suggests that all students must master a body of knowledge. Christian students (why only Christians?) must develop that mastery in the context of the world representing God’s goodness. Students must then develop skills that enable them to decipher, interpret, manipulate, test and communicate what they are mastering. Both knowledge and skills must, however, be fostered alongside certain academic virtues. And it is here that he best expresses the value of what might often be considered religious virtues:

humility in the face of vast and complicated data; charity when encountering new or objectionable ideas; honesty as we discover results that don’t fit our presuppositions; courage to ask difficult questions, to change our minds, and to face ridicule or antagonism for upholding unpopular or unexpected conclusions; compassion in the face of human suffering and cruelty; patience when working on projects with people who are irritating or lazy; and diligence as we face a long semester filled with a pile of difficult assignments that seem beyond our ability to complete.

The 15 discussion questions at the end should provide hours of conversation. ( )
  WaltBristow3 | Dec 29, 2014 |
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