Sideline or Worldview: Scholarship as vocation

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I’m trying to be a serious academic, but sometimes it feels that considering how my faith impacts my discipline is merely an interesting sideline to my work. It’s a subject to be confined to my Christian postgrad group and occasional books read on the sly, rather than a unifying principle in my work.

Over the past few months, this blog has posted a series on a Christian worldview. In June, Anthony Smith wrote the first blog post in our overview, discussing Creation: the role of the academic in unearthing some of the riches God has given us, and making those available for others. In July, Thom Atkinson provided an overview of the Fall, and its effect on academics, including Christian academics. He pointed out that intellectual endeavour is likely to be hard work. A month later, Richard Gunton outlined a view of Redemption for all areas of scholarship.

We’re not the only ones to be interested in this approach. Many others have found a Creation-Fall-Redemption worldview significant in their view of Christian scholarship, for example our friends at the Emerging Scholars Blog.

The question which exercises me today, is not whether there is verifiable benefit for my discipline in this approach (worthy subject though that is), but rather whether I’m justified in being selective about when and how I use it in my work.

In Engaging God’s World, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. outlines a vision for learning using the Creation-Fall-Redemption worldview. Interestingly, though, his next chapter does not seek to apply this framework to particular scholarly subjects. Instead, Plantinga embraces the subject of Vocation for the Christian looking to live well in their sphere in Christ’s Kingdom. It’s a total view, with little room for my cognitive dissonance.

My struggle is that I tend to view myself as an impartial observer, standing outside looking in, and hence able to pick up or drop a Christian approach to scholarship at will. It’s a flawed view of course: I’m part of God’s creation, which fell and has been redeemed by Christ, too. There is no vantage point in my work from which I can sideline my faith. My colleagues continue to provide insights through God’s common grace, but when I think in vocational terms I recall the antithesis of faith and find that there is a unifying principle in my work.  His name is Jesus.

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