Writing: The Academic Writing We Need
The Church and the academy seemed to have always had an intimate, if not volatile relationship. Among the multiple results that have followed from it has been the fascinating and seminal role theology has had in the academy’s work. The Christian faith with its doctrine of the Triune God as creator and redeemer reveals the theological nature of all human knowledge in every sphere. Thus, the Christian faith has been at the very root of academic pursuits in every aspect of human knowledge for centuries. It has been so, first and foremost, on the basis of the Triune God as creator, and humans as his creatures created in his image, that have, by the very nature of the case, true knowledge. God made it so. God makes us know. In all that we know we know him. Thus all the objects of knowledge are an encounter with the living God, and the communication of knowledge, at least from a Christian perspective, is objective and subjective simultaneously, as well as theological and thereby ministerial.
As God’s creatures we cannot help but serve the Triune God when we make him known, and since all things were created by him and for him our knowledge in every subject sphere reaches its greatest clarity when we are cognizant of the ways in which that knowledge reveals the Triune God and serves his purposes in his creation. According to God’s written word, an essential part of serving God’s purposes is the communication of truth to others so that they too might serve God faithfully. Thus, for academic writing to be Christian it ought eventually to clarify how its subject matter expands and extends knowledge of the only living and true Triune God and his kingdom. In order for this to take place sinners must be regenerated and continuously renewed by God the Holy Spirit through his ministering God’s word to and through them.
Ironically, what seems to have been the case perhaps more often than not is that what has passed for the “outrageous idea of Christian scholarship” or the “Evangelical mind” is academic writing that either warrants trying to hide Christian commitments, or capitulates in various ways and to varying degrees to non-Christian presuppositions. It amounts to actually acquiescing to the epistemological dogma of those who either explicitly deny the Triune God, or by their claims misrepresent his presence and purpose on earth in human knowledge. Writing that serves the Triune God will not do so by attempting to do what he has already done, is doing and will continue to do, or by endorsing those who try, but rather by revealing how he has been at work, is working and will work in and by Jesus through the Holy Spirit to accomplish his purposes.
When we admit and think according to the truth that God really is present in all creation and thereby in all human knowing, and pay attention to much of current trajectory of thought that passes for Christian scholarship today we cannot help but raise significant questions. Isn’t all human reasoning, according to Scripture, automatically an exercise of faith in something and/or someone? Is there actually a need to integrate faith and reason, when in point of fact God has already done so? Is the project of distinctly Christian education accomplished when from the outset one proceeds with the presupposition that the Triune God really is not present and active in every aspect of his creation? Isn’t the Christian scholar’s participation with God in the pursuit of truth more accurately described as being given the increasing ability to perceive truth that is already present in the subject matter investigated so that the idolatrous radical subjectivism of Western academia that denies God’s presence and work is exposed and called into question? To what degree can one achieve Christian scholarship when one embraces a misrepresentation of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity? Can we possess academic writing that faithfully upholds Christian theology when we deny the presence and authority of the Holy Spirit in the church through the written and preached word of God, and the administration of the sacraments, or when we malign and misrepresent the doctrine of salvation taught in the Old and New Testament? How does one write in accord with faithfully Christian theology when one thinks that there really is not much in the way of significant difference to be highlighted between Roman Catholicism and what the Protestant Reformers taught? Will we have writing that calls sinners to repentance when we endorse worship services that exalt the same kind of sinful self-indulgence, self-absorption and sensuality present in American culture? Can we have theological writing that ministers the power and authority of the Lord Jesus when we fail to acknowledge that he created Adam male, Eve female, and gave them the good gift of sex that is only to be enjoyed in the marriage covenant union of one man to one woman?
Perhaps the academic theological writing needed the most is that which will call putatively Christian scholars, colleges and universities to repent.
David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.
George M. Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (NY: Oxford UP, 1997); Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994). Marsden and Noll endorse perspectives that fall prey to each of the respective failures mentioned.