Among the important questions that arose during my years as a graduate student, and later as a faculty member were, How are those who profess faith in God through Jesus Christ to view and to approach academic pursuits? How are Christian scholars to understand the place and meaning of the disciplines of study, teaching, research and writing and other disciplines related to a life of scholarship? Further reflection reminded me of one of the primary “living” documents of the Church, The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and to a particular statement in that document: “ . . . all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.”.
I understood the meaning of the phrase “all things” to include simply that: all and everything. Thoughts, words, deeds, dreams, hopes, goals, education, profession and every pursuit for good: all of life must be “subservient to my salvation . . . .” Most certainly, “all things” would include one’s calling to and participation in the academic life.
The doxological nature of authentic scholarship embraces the idea of praise and worship in obedience to God. In the ancient Hebrew language, “hear” did not refer primarily to auditory “hearing”–a physical, cognitive process. To say “I have heard your Word, Lord” meant “I have obeyed your commands to me.” One could not claim to “hear” God unless one obeyed God’s commandments.
Every passing year, the truth seems more clearly confirmed to me: education, in biblical terms, is not primarily participation in the pursuits of academia. Curriculum, reading, study, writing, texts and tests, although important as disciplines in the academic life, have no power in and of themselves to create an authentically learned or wise person. One may be, in the secular sense, an academician par excellence, but this does not necessarily indicate a person is learned or wise in the biblical understanding of those qualities.
The learned or wise person, in both the Old and New Testaments, is the person transformed by God’s love through obedience to His Word; through a relationship of love and learning that is truly doxological. One cannot separate the biblical understanding of wisdom from the truth that a wise scholar is wise not due merely to her or his excellence in academic studies, but because she or he possesses the moral character and practices the godly actions that express the fruit of the Spirit—the character of Christ Jesus.
The “Report of the University Tenure-Promotion-Workload Taskforce” reminded me that “Ernest L. Boyer, in his influential book Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990), concluded that ‘the work of the professoriate might be thought of as having four separate, yet overlapping, functions. These are: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching” (16); (2010, 8).
Yet, the biblical perspective of scholarship also considers that each of these functions is, at its center, doxological: the scholar’s vocation, in all his or her pursuits and service, is first for the purpose of glorifying God. The vocation of the godly scholar is centered in the Spirit-infused worship of God; worshipping God through the gracious, Spirit-empowered gifts that allow a scholar the privilege of serving God, the academic community and many others.