Culture, the Academy, & the Christian Worldview: The Way of the Cross
Nancy Thomas,Associate Director of InterVarsity Faculty Ministry and Associate Director, Center for Faculty Development, Union University, Jackson, TN
Cedar Campus August 2004
When thinking of Christ’s redemption in our lives, one common focus
is how he saved us from our sin. Rightly so, but he also died to make us good. It seems to me that good is often under-rated in an academic culture that pursues excellence. However, when Peter has the chance to describe the ministry of Jesus, in Acts 10:38 he tells of “how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Becoming like Christ means having the freedom to be good and to go around doing good. What might the freedom to be good (like Christ) look like for a faculty member?
Freedom to believe that Jesus is the Lord of knowledge, even in the 21st century
Freedom to ponder the Lordship of Christ in the realm of ideas; believing and doing academic work as worship, believing that reading, studying and writing are part of discipleship to Christ.
C. S. Lewis in “Learning in Wartime;” The Weight of Glory (HarperSanFrancisco, 1949) illustrates this intrinsic goodness “An appetite for knowledge and beauty exists in the human mind and God makes no appetite in vain. We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty as such, in the sure confidence that by doing so we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so."
Freedom to believe that God has a faculty member’s best interest at heart and desires good in their lives as professors.
Freedom to look at creation and value it the way God does… redemption gives value and we can contemplate that value.
Freedom to redeem your discipline, making it as it was meant to be.
Freedom to live in the present, doing the work that is put before us today. This work often involves accepting the small work that we are called to do on a daily basis in our very ordinary lives. Again Lewis states this well in “Learning in Wartime”: “ the relevance of our work may not be intended for us but for our betters… for men who come after and find the spiritual significance of what we dug out in blind and humble obedience to our vocation.”
Freedom to accept the life we have been given, the talents, education and grooming received; the choices made, the sphere of influence, status and power offered through the work that we are called to do.
Freedom to have compassion on those who have more than us… more ideas, more publications, more awards and more recognition, making us free to acknowledge and celebrate other’s accomplishments.
Freedom to promote learning in the classroom by recognizing that it is not all about the professor’s content but how the students are learning, intentionally reserving judgment about student potential and therefore remaining hopeful about their possible success.
Freedom to regain the wholeness of a disciplined intellectual life that has been replaced by fragmented tasks. Part of this is imposed and part involves as Richard Foster said “the freedom to lay down the terrible burden of always having to have my own way.”
Freedom to practice daily repentance and allow Christ to change not only hearts, but minds as well. It is Christ after all that enables professors to make creative contributions in the realm of ideas. Thomas Merton describes the need for repentance in this way:
“Our five senses have been dulled by inordinate pleasure. Penance makes them keen, gives them back their natural vitality and more. Penance clears the eye of the conscience and of reason. It helps us think clearly, judge sanely. It strengthens the action of our will. And Penance also tones up the quality of emotion; it is the lack of self-denial and self-discipline that explains the mediocrity of so much devotional art, so much pious writing, so much sentimental prayer, so many religious lives.” - Thoughts in Solitude