Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What does it take to be a Christian Academic?

In a conference where I presented my paper on the role of academics in the development and outcomes of local social movements' actions, I was confronted with the question, how should a Christian academic respond to secular academic values and principles? This question appeared in my head during the conference's open forum when one of the panelists reacted to the statement of a participant regarding the need for public intellectuals to be more “assertive and bold” in addressing social problems. The man, who happens to be an staunch, principled activist professor, expressed a bad language (by cussing) in dramatizing his point, which the lady panelist quickly reacted to because it hurt her sensibilities. What happened next shall never be erased from the memory of those who witnessed the confrontation. The scenario highlighted the propensity of the so-called “intellectuals” to show their unpleasant side—“low emotional IQ”. Moeover, it made me realize how mainstream academics can be easily misled by their secular knowledge and values.

Being part of the academe is my unavoidable Christian calling. I finished my post-graduate degree because I believe that Christians should be a model of academic excellence. If others could finish multiple MAs and PhDs, why can’t Christians do the same? It is my firm belief that Christians should not only be concerned with the building of their “private stairways to heaven”, but it is also their responsibility to help others see the path to a God-pleasing life. A slogan in a high school where I graduated from reads, “The highest goal of learning is to know God”. The following neatly summarizes my convictions and beliefs on how a Christian must maneuver in the world of academe.

The Scriptures offer truths about the nature and purpose of acquiring knowledge. We must recognize that all wisdom (spiritual and secular) comes from God (James 1:5, Ephesians 1:17). For the Lord gives wisdom; out of His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6). Psalm 111:10 declares that “ the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Any knowledge that is not anchored to a true relationship with Christ is useless. I believe that true, sensible knowledge can only be found in Christ. As Thomas a Kempis said: Without the way, there is no going; Without the truth, there is no knowing; And without the life, there is no living. That life is Jesus Christ (John 14:6)

Academic believers must not only be an exemplar of wisdom but also inspiring values and character. This is what James called as “truly pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (James 3:17). Unbelievers are more prone to a character that is earthly, sensual, devilish (James 3:15) since they fail to recognize the real meaning of their vocation. If we are indeed wise, we should show it by works of good conduct with meekness of wisdom (James 3:13).

Maintaining an open mind is a sine qua non in any academic environment. No one has the monopoly of knowledge. You have to listen to others’ claims and propositions. It is the bastion of academic freedom. You question everything that exists in the world. But as a Christian, there are “non-negotiables” especially as far as my faith is concerned. I just cannot embrace any “ivory tower” ideas that challenge the core of my faith. Hence, I question my discipline based on my deeply-held Biblical and Christian convictions. I believe that “Christianity” is not a subjective term because it has a standard—the Bible. I cannot veer away from what God is saying through His Word.

The academe is a rendezvous of different faiths and persuasions. In university, one can say that anyone can choose whatever he/she desires without being told or pushed what to embrace. But for me, establishing your values on unstable foundations of academic learning is detrimental to the Christian faith. For one, God despises secular wisdom which desires to rise above His glory. St. Paul wrote, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written, "He takes the wise in their own craftiness." And again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain." He can confound the wise (I Corinthians 3:18-19). A Christian must never compromise his/her convictions for the sake of academic objectivity. Objectivity is measured on rationale findings of research but many aspects of the Christian faith can never be measured by man-made academic instruments. Christians live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

To be a Christian academic means mastering a discipline and producing the first class scholarship that will inspire others to seek God and obey His commandments. Jesus commands all to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). This should be the “true north” of all believers who want to make a difference in the academe.

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