We believe that Jesus Christ is the head of the whole creation, and that our study and research, like the rest of our lives, can and should be practised for his glory. Many posts on the Faith-in-Scholarship blog explore how our work might actually be enhanced when we approach it from a worldview in which Jesus is Lord. But how do we persuade the majority of our colleagues who don’t submit to Jesus to consider his claims? How can we begin to awaken non-believing scholars to the wonder, delight and contrition that come with a Christian worldview? The current blogging team share their thoughts below…
I am the worst person to ask about this as I fail so much more than I succeed, but I think the first step is to ‘show your colours’: if you’re at a Bible study on a given night and so can’t make a department event, tell people why you can’t! Letting people know you’re a Christian opens the door to conversations in a natural way. Also, a friend recently pointed out the importance of doing research in order to witness effectively in the academy: look into the historicity of Jesus and the Bible, as both are common objections to the faith – particularly from academics. As we see in 1 Peter 3:15 ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’
Evangelism seems to get harder the more we find our place in a society that’s not only secular but secularist. I’m not a natural persuader or boundary-pusher, so for me structures are really helpful. The Leeds Postgraduate Christian Fellowship was great, as it provided a lunchtime event where I could occasionally tell a colleague that we’d been discussing some interesting topic in a Christian perspective (and occasionally invite someone along). The other thing I was involved in at Leeds was a late-night street outreach – rather like some CUs do, but ours was just a few guys from church. Because two of us had PhDs and the other was Mark Roques, we regularly had the most amazing conversations with students of all kinds that ranged from homesickness and career options to philosophy of science (see Mark’s account here!). I’d love to start something like this in the next city where I settle…
Like Richard, my involvement in a Christian postgraduate group, the Oxford Graduate Christian Forum, has been helpful in opening doors for conversations about faith in my academic context: simply using social media and other means to advertise our events results in many of my peers knowing that I am a Christian and happy to talk about it. I feel very inadequate when it comes to evangelism, especially when I compare my zeal, and willingness to take opportunities, to when I was an undergraduate and involved in the more explicitly evangelistic CU. But I think it’s hugely important that Christians be open about our faith, and its impact on our lives, in casual ways in the context of our relationships: that way, colleagues who perhaps operate under unconscious assumptions about the incompatibility of intellectual life and religious beliefs will be challenged, and that can be the basis for something further.
I agree with all of the above! I certainly think the starting-point is simply to be open about our faith and alert to the different ways it intersects with our research and underpins our life both within and outside the academy. It’s also important for us to take seriously (as Alicia points out) the chance we have to provide living counterexamples of some widespread assumptions about the relationship between Christian belief and intellectual integrity. The other thing that I think I’d emphasise (and an area which I feel God is challenging me about at the moment!) is our calling to bring God’s Kingdom into our workplace through every aspect of our behaviour, as well as through explicitly evangelistic or faith-focussed discussions. What is our response when discussions around us in the academy are dominated by cynicism, negativity or despair? How can we best reflect the character of Jesus when we are drawn into discussions about the prevailing intellectual (or political!) controversies of our day? These are difficult questions, but I think that our evangelistic calling as Christians in the academy starts by asking God to empower us, through the Holy Spirit, to be ‘salt and light’ in those situations – so that people can see the difference that Jesus makes in our lives and our character. Help us, Lord!