Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Vocation of the Christian Scholar Pt. 2

Richard T. Hughes, The Vocation of the Christian Scholar: How the Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind. Revised ed. Eerdmans, 2005.

Hughes lays the groundwork for The Vocation of the Christian scholar in chapter one. He begins the chapter by asking the question, "Can Christian Faith sustain the life of the mind?" This reminds one of the question by Tertullian, an early christian teacher, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" What does faith has to do with reason? Hughes first defines what he means by the life of the mind. He list four key characteristics of the life of the mind.

The first attribute of the life of the mind is a "rigorous and disciplined search for truth" (2). He thinks this implies that humans are finite, not gods. We have certain "human limitations." We must search for truth because we do not know all things. These human limitations also show that "our intellectual vision is clouded, our perception limited, and our understanding flawed." This implies that we will never arrive to complete understanding.

The second attribute follows from our human limitations. While on our journey for truth, "the life of the mind entails genuine conversation with a diversity of perspectives and worldviews that are different from our own" (2). It always surprised me in discussing some text in a book group that someone sees something in a text that I did not see. C. S. Lewis remarked that his eyes were not enough. He would see with the eyes of others too.

The third attribute of the life of the mind "involves critical thinking as we seek to analyze and assess the worldviews and perspectives of others" (2). In other words, we need to know what we believe if we are going to evaluate the views of others. We need to have a "place to stand, a point of reference from which we can evaluate what we have studied." For the Christian believer, the Christian faith is our place to stand. In some sense, every Christian needs to be a theologian. How else will we be able to evaluate the beliefs and views of other belief systems.

Included in this critical thinking is also the idea that critical thinking "demands a point of reference that can be critiqued even as it seeks to critique" (3). We must be open to the idea that we may be wrong. Our interpretations may be incorrect. We need to be open to the views of others.

The final attribute of the life of the mind "involves intellectual creativity." We do this when we "seek to make connections between a variety of categories, when we think new thoughts, when we develop new insights, and when we create new and fresh ways of understanding old material" (3). It is interesting how when we apply the Bible to real life it seems to make the Bible to come alive. IN addition, when we retrieve past ideas and apply them to new situations, these old ideas seem to be new ideas.

After defining the life of the mind, Hughes asks the question can Christian faith sustain the life of the mind. In other words, can the Christian faith be a help to the life of the mind. Hughes notes, "From the outset, we must admit that Christian faith will invariably stand at odds with the life of the mind if we envision that faith in terms of absolutistic principles, sterile legal codes, or moral imperatives that require from us no reflection, no creativity, and no imagination" (4). I do not think Hughes is calling for relativism. He is calling for a Christian faith that is open to the views of others. As already mentioned, we are not God, so our understanding will always be limited. In addition, our interpretations of scripture will be fallible.

I like the remark by Paul Griffits who said that "one is a Christian scholar if one understands one's work to be based upon and framed by and always in the service of one's identity as a Christian' (8). Why do we do what we do? Is it to honor Christ? Is it to bring glory to God? I believe that God created the mind and He plans for us to use it for His glory.

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