Monday, January 01, 2007

On Being a Christian Academic: Booklet Review

In his essay, "The Spiritual and Intellectual Crisis of the University," Professor Charles Malik wrote:

"The university is the most important institution in the Western world, indeed in the whole world. Leaders of government, church, industry, business and the media are all either graduates of universities or of schools whose teachers are themselves graduates of universities and whose textbooks are produced by such graduates. Even the ordinary citizen and the parents and children at home, regardless of whether they are or have been students of universities, are perpetually bombarded by university influence through the impact of the media. Man today never finds himself outside the direct or indirect influence of the university."

Christians who yearn for the reality of Jesus Christ to be known in the academy (and in all of life) should take this to heart and act accordingly. Distinguished evangelical philosopher, William Lane Craig, has done so, and has written an outstanding booklet called On Being a Christian Academic, published by Lewis and Stanley in 2004. This short treatment of twenty-six pages lays out cogently three concerns for the Christian academic after briefly highlighting the tremendous influence of the university on culture.

First, the Christian academic must dig deeply into his or her faith. Craig laments that many highly-credentialed Christian academics have little better than a "Sunday School level" understanding of their religion. (Sadly, this means it is superficial if not juvenile. Adult education should be a thing of depth and rigor in the church, but in most cases it is not. For some advise on how to change this for the better, see J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind.) To overcome this ignorance, Craig recommends a healthy diet of reading in the area of biblical studies, theology, church history, and apologetics and suggests appropriate texts, including his excellent work, Reasonable Faith.

Second, those who desires to honor Christ in the academic area must learn to integrate her discipline with a biblical worldview. That is, one must assess the presuppositions and general philosophy of one's specialty and bring it before the authority of Christian truth. Craig points out that much of modern physics is based on a philosophically faulty view called verificationism that claims that a proposition on physics is only meaningful if it can be empirically verified. This epistemological program has been decisively refuted in philosophy, but still reigns in the philosophy of physics.

Third, Craig strongly exhorts academics to develop their spiritual life, to not ignore it in the competitive world of the academy. This includes valuing one's family and not sacrificing family relationships for one's career, as so often occurs. Craig writes that we must learn to value who we are and not simply what we do academically. Indeed.

This booklet is an ideal tool for challenging Christian academics to be salt and light in their professions. As such, it deserves the widest distribution.

7 comments:

Yossman said...

I recently listened to a couple of lectures by J.P. Moreland on this topic. It electrified me and I kept saying 'wow' as I drove home from work. I am so grateful for the recent revival of apologetics.

Isn't verificationism this English theory in the mid-20th century that was self-refuting in that it couldn't be itself proven empirically?

Happy New Year!

Tim said...

I have not seen this booklet, but from your description (and indeed from the fact that Bill Craig is the author) it looks well worth reading.

I would add just one thing. In every academic field worth studying, there is a body of knowledge and fundamental technique that one must master. In philosophy, this includes at a minimum familiarity with the major positions and arguments across the subfields of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics, a basic grasp of the history of philosophy, and facility with elementary symbolic logic. Anyone wishing to be a professional philosopher must master this body of material. And this is particularly important for Christians, who are likely to be singled out for scrutiny.

Two good models in this regard are Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga. Both are unashamed Christians who have written extensively on issues at the intersection of philosophy and Christian faith. They disagree with each other, sometimes profoundly. But no one who takes the trouble to be informed about the matter can be in any doubt that they have a thorough mastery of the fundamental material in the field.

Such mastery of the fundamentals is not a sufficient condition for one to be a professional philosopher. That requires more. But it does not require less.

Yossman said...

Tim:

In addition to be excellent specialists in their respective fields, Christian academics should be knowledgeable generalists. This would bolster the development and aid the perception of a unified integrated Christian worldview as opposed to specialization which so often is the expression of a fragmentated view of truth and reality.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Yo

Yes, verificationism--or logical positivism--is self-refuting and thus necessarily false; false in every possible world; not possibly true. And to think that the big wigs (sorry for the technical language) of mid-Twentieth Century philosophy thought this was the philosophy of the future, the slayer of metaphysics, the hangman of silly religious illusions.

As my mentor Keith Yandell used to say, "Who says philosophy makes no progress? We got rid of logical positivism, didn' we?!"

Yossman said...

Do:

Keep the technical language coming. I have a healthy interest in philosophy and am about to order a bunch of books from your annotated apologetics bibliography (my birthday gift) through Amazon. I'm going through something of an intellectual renaissance at 40+.

D. A. Armstrong said...

I've listened to William Lane Craig present this paper on an mp3. I found it very stimulating. I'm starting my MA in philosophy this month and this booklet as well as Craig's paper "Advice to Christian Apologists" are two of the things that help keep me going.

cymrudyffed said...

Just found your blog (via The Wittenburg Door).
Thanks for the review of Craig's book. Though I'm a graduate student in history, I have a tenacious tendency to mentally wander into most of the other humanities (like a child curious to know if the neighbor's toys are more fun to play with).
I have read much of Craig's work (though his theories on time overwhelm someone who spends too much time looking simply at the past). This looks to be a great aid to any Christian academic. Thanks.