In Cambridge just over a week ago an audience of postgrads and other researchers gathered to think about the relationship between “Revelation and Reality”. This was the title of the 6th annual Forming a Christian Mind conference, co-organised this year by the Jubilee Centre, Christian Heritage, KLICE, UCCF and Cambridge’s own Christian Graduate Society. While the talks were helpful at a general level, the most exciting facet in my view was that, for the first time, this year’s conference serves as a springboard to a follow-up conference where we can explore Christian perspectives on our own academic disciplines. That’s scheduled for 9 February 2019.
The event ten days ago was helpful for laying some groundwork – particularly the morning sessions. After some opening remarks by Tim Laurence, Andrew Fellows spoke engagingly about “Re-awakening the biblical mind” and then Chris Wright spoke about “Retrieving the biblical meta-narrative”. These talks provided an overview of a biblical worldview and some pointers to how it might shape our perspective on contemporary society and its challenges. If God’s revelation in the Bible is taken seriously, it can provide a key to our interpretation of reality. This includes, as both speakers pointed out, recognising the inherent goodness of the created order and being confident as we participate in its structures: our animal nature, our family life, our economic functions, our civic roles and so on. At the close of the morning session there was mention of Abraham Kuyper’s legacy concerning the many societal spheres in which God’s people should be pleased to live.
Chris Wright’s talk was based on the overview of the biblical meta-narrative that Craig Bartholomew (now director of KLICE, as it happens) and Mike Goheen popularised as a six-act drama in their book The Drama of Scripture. The first act is Creation, as God establishes the cosmos as His temple of glory. The second is Rebellion, in which humans turn away from their creator and pervert the functioning of the created order. The third act comprises the long story of God’s people that culminates in the life of Jesus Christ, which itself is Act 4. The fifth act is another long journey as God’s people bear witness to Christ’s lordship, striving to participate in the coming of His kingdom. This is where, chronologically, we find ourselves. The final act in Bartholomew and Goheen’s scheme looks ahead to the return of Christ and the new creation. At this point, Chris suggested that an additional act be inserted: Act 6 as the judgment carried out by Christ at his return. This rights the wrongs of Act 2, a necessary precursor to the eternal reign of Christ with his people in the age to come – which becomes Act 7. The 7-act structure that Chris proposed also has a pleasing symmetry, with the Christ-event central.
The important question is: how does retrieving this meta-narrative actually illuminate or guide our scholarship as Christians? Chris pointed out that while, chronologically, we clearly live in Act 5, for various purposes we may locate ourselves within other acts. For those of us working within the natural sciences – or maths – I think it’s essential to place ourselves within Act 1 for the focus of our research. The laws and structures that scientific research seeks are part of that good created structure – even while our actual research activities may suffer from the effects of sin in various ways. Sometimes and in some contexts, a Christlike approach to a problematic, sin-infested situation may call for nothing less than our immersion in Act 4. And perhaps our loftiest motivations and aspirations as researchers should be rooted in an anticipation of the final act, in which the fruits of our scholarship might, figuratively, be brought into the new Jerusalem amid the glory and honour of the nations (Rev 22).
As someone who has been excited by this kind of big-picture Bible reading for many years, I did experience some disappointment that last week’s event didn’t take us further in suggesting how Christian perspectives might enrich research in diverse kinds of fields. It was also disappointing that the audience numbered fewer (perhaps 50) than in previous years. But that is offset by my strong hope that the event on 9 Feb will make up for these deficiencies. Four speakers delivering parallel sessions for different subject areas are promised at that event, which is open to researchers from around the country. Watch this space for news or check the Jubilee Centre‘s web site.