At the recent Faith-in-Scholarship conference, ten participants spent an intensive 22 hours with the six FiSch Fellows and two guest speakers: Jonathan Chaplin and Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin. This post is the first in a short series giving you a flavour of the three main talks.
The first talk was by Jonathan on ‘Scholarship as a Christian — and a human — vocation’. Jonathan is a specialist in Christian political thought, and is Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE), which is based at Tyndale House in Cambridge.
Christian scholars should view their work as a ministry given to them by God. This could be because it provides opportunities for evangelism, or because Christian scholars can serve the church. But it would be wrong to see those as the principal purpose of Christian scholarship. Christians ought to approach scholarship, first and foremost, as a shared, human vocation.
Before returning to that theme, it is worth considering the context in which this scholarship (usually) takes place: the modern university, which is the site of a contest between modernity and postmodernity.
The project of modernity started out as ‘faith seeking understanding’ but ended up insisting that faith was strictly inadmissible in all disciplines except theology. Now, although there is a proper ‘differentiation’ of knowledge into distinct disciplines, which will (rightly) lead to a distinction between theology and other areas of knowledge, the dominant reason for excluding faith considerations from scholarship was more an attempt to assert the primacy of ‘objective’ knowledge over ‘subjective’ faith. However, modernity failed to produce universal knowledge, and instead gave rise to numerous warring paradigms.
The very notion of ‘objective’ knowledge has been radically questioned in postmodernity, according to which all knowledge is ultimately particular and contingent. So, while modernist scholarship remains deeply suspicious of any attempt to allow a religious faith to shape it from within, there are now some postmodern ‘cracks in the secular’. These reveal a new openness to faith-based commitments and to a diversity of standpoints, including Christian perspectives.
Scholarship is a shared human vocation, because all scholars are part of the same creation. In the Bible, ‘wisdom’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ are about being aligned with the created order. And the particular kind of reasoning involved in scholarship is one route to wisdom.
But the creation we are investigating is now a fallen one. We do our scholarship with a certain blindness to the true order of creation, and we are prone to lapse into all kinds of intellectual and ideological distortions. Thus there is an ‘antithesis’, not between Christians and non-Christians, but between truth and falsehood.
This leads us to the theme of scholarship as a Christian vocation. There is a promise of redemption for the fallen creation. Christ was present at the origin of creation as well as in its redemption (see Colossians 1:15–17; Hebrews 1:1–3), so in pursuing faithful scholarship we will always be moving towards Christ. And this is the deepest basis for the dignity of the Christian and human scholarly calling.
Finally, what is the goal of scholarship? It is not just about intellectual transformation: scholarship is intended to serve society and humanity.
In summary, Christian scholarship may be described as: ‘a transformational vocation to acquire critically-oriented systematic rational insight into, and to disclose truth about, some facet of created, fallen and redeemed reality, in the light of an intellectual framework responsive to the fullness of biblical revelation, in critical dialogue with others, and in service of humanity’.