The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students

If this title sounds similar to George Marsden’s The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, it is no mere coincidence. Marsden says, “This book provides clear and accessible guidelines on how to relate one’s faith to academics. I hope it will be widely read.” Walt Mueller writes, “This book addresses numerous timely issues related to the place of academics in the life of the Christian student. Nothing I have seen yet addresses these particular issues with a combination of theological depth and easy accessibility that mark this book.” Therefore, I am in good company when I say, by all means read this and give it to your teenagers, especially those headed for a college or university.

The authors call for “academic faithfulness;” and by that they simply mean what Malik does in the earlier review about the unity of faith and learning, the integration of faith and intellect. Even though the authors state that the Christian life is much more than academic faithfulness, much of the rest depends on this area. They claim that this is a book about discipleship, and discipleship is a life long process. They state that their desire is for the reader to experience “the unending challenge of exalting Christ as Lord of your thinking.” One of the best ways to experience this is to learn together.

The writers make clear that when they refer to academic faithfulness, they are not talking about academic arrogance. Arrogance is the opposite of having a Christian mind. As I read this book, the one on Malik, and the one by David Dockery, though they are often referring to the university’s or college’s failure to teach people how to think conceptually and clearly, I was also reminded that the sole responsibility does not lie with the higher learning institutions. Responsibility must be in the lower levels and particularly in the churches. In testimony after testimony, many college students and particularly later graduates, demonstrate a lack of ability to defend their beliefs. Even though the Bible tells us to be able to give a reason to those who ask us why and what we believe, so many college students are not discipled to do that. This lack of ability plays havoc with their faith.

The authors point out that when Paul in Colossians 2:8 says, “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ,” that students are not always equipped for that battle. They cannot always recognize those deceptive philosophies before the damage is done.

The church has to take its disciple making assignment seriously. Christians, young and old, must be taught and helped to develop a Christian perspective, a Christian world and life view, a Christian philosophy of life that will enable them to avoid the pressure to separate or fragment their lives as far as faith and knowledge are concerned. In college, students must be able to ask about any particular discipline in the curriculum: Is there a Christian perspective on this subject? And if so, what is it?

I appreciate the way the authors frequently reminded us throughout the book that knowing also involves doing, a point we try to make regularly. To know something, to really know something, requires and creates transformation, not only of thinking but living as well. I also appreciate their emphasis that knowing is also relational-good perspective on Christian epistemology. They write, “the biblical idea of knowing includes our response to what is learned. To truly know something means not simply understanding it, but acting on that understanding.”

Here is another point they make that bears reading and discussing. “Our relationship with Jesus can’t rest on the emotional high. It must be nurtured the way any relationship is-by spending time together. And this is what the church is all about. Christians gather together to spend time in relationship with Jesus Christ.” (Also read the lead article on the Communion of the Saints in this edition of Equip to Disciple.) They further remind us that this relationship cannot be on hold while we are at places other than the church. Such is true at work, at play, as well as church. If the church is doing its job in making kingdom disciples, then each Christian knows that being a Christian is a 24/7 experience.

Echoing John Stott, they challenge students while developing a Christian mind and healthy relationships to listen to the Word and listen to the world. And the bottom line is that the key to developing academic faithfulness requires all the above. But above all, academic faithfulness requires much prayer. Buy this book! Read it and discuss it! Give a copy to any teachers, preachers, professors, and students.

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