Friday, March 7, 2014

The Vocation of the Christian Scholar

Richard T. Hughes, The Vocation of the Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 2005. 145 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8028-2915-3.

I read the first edition of this book a few years back. I have thought about reading the new edition since last year. It was on the reading list for the speaker at Faulkner University's recent conference on Faith and Learning. It gave me the extra push to pick up the volume and read it.

It is interesting that I like to keep books around me even when I am not reading them. I do not know when I will need to pick them up and read them. It is important to have them close at hand. I assume that is one of the reasons I became a librarian.

I finished the reading of this book at the Waffle House. Many of the books I have read is associated with the place where I read them. Does this say something about the body and place? Is the body necessary? I think so. Christ came in human flesh.

I was not disappointed in a second reading of this book. I can see a need for a third reading. It is amazing how many good books have been written the last thirty years on the relationship between the Christian faith and the life of the mind. Why is that?

Richard T. Hughes is a professor of religion at Messiah College. In The Vocation of the Christian College: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind, the author argues that not only are Christian faith and the life of the mind are compatible; but the Christian faith can actually "sustain the life of the mind." Paul Griffiths of the University of Chicago states, "one is a Christian scholar if one understand one's work to be based upon and framed by and always in the service of one's identity as a Christian" (xvii). This statement is basically fleshed out by Hughes in this book. Similarly, Madeleine L'Engle answering a student who desired to become a Christian writer said: "if she is truly and deeply a Christian, what she writes is going to be Christian, whether she mentions Jesus is not. And if she is not, in the most profound sense, Christian, then what she writes is not going to be Christian, no matter how many times she invokes the name of the LOrd" (xvii). What do you think? Christianity is not just another set of clothes one puts on. It concerns what we are at the core. Griffiths in another book I read said that Christians are not born, but made. WE are made by spiritual practices. We are shaped by what we do.

An important concept for Hughes and this book is paradox. I thought often of Chesterton every time he mentioned paradox. Hughes writes, "For the plain fact is, those of us who are both Christians and scholars will inevitably live in the midst of a deep and inescapable paradox" (xvii). What does this mean? We live in two worlds: the world of Christian faith and the world of the academy. Do the two ever meet? Hughes explains: "As Christians, we are committed to a highly particularistic tradition. Yet, as scholars, we are committed to a radical search for truth that simultaneously embraces particularity and ambiguity, knowing and not knowing, affirmation and investigation. We are called to honor our Christian faith, but we are also called to take seriously the diversity of perspectives that abound in the modern academy. It is not our job to trum those perspectives with our Christian convictions. Instead, we are called to engage those perspectives, really engage them, and bring them into dialogue with the Christian faith" (xvii-xviii). This quote seems to say that the church and the academy are at loggerheads with one another. Is Christian scholar an oxymoron? Can one be a faithful Christian and a faithful scholar? We will see what Hughes has to say in the next post.

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