Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Called to the Life of the Mind

Richard J. Mouw, Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars. Eeerdmans, 2014. 73 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6766-7

Richard J. Mouw is Professor of Faith and Public Life and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a long-time professor of Philosophy at both Full Theological Seminary and Calvin College. He has been a major evangelical thinker for about fifty years. Called to the Life of the Mind is lessons the author has learned over the years he thinks might be helpful to future evangelical scholars. The chapters are short, 2-3 pages. In it, he addresses certain challenges he has faced in being faithful to the Christian faith and to scholarship.

He begins the book by declaring that he had not intended nor his forbears intended him to spend his life in Christian scholarship. He notes, "In my early spiritual environs, higher education was something you suffered through in order to be able to get on with the Lord's real work:" (1) preaching the gospel. He was brought up on the rhetoric of anti-intellectualism. While a college student he was influenced by a chapel speaker to pursue the life of the mind. This commitment to pursue Christian scholarship did not end his struggle with anti-intellectualism. Throughout the book Mouw emphasizes being both faithful to the Christian faith and scholarship. He notes that "there is more to the Kingdom of God than academic pursuits" (9). Not everyone is called to the academy. There are many gifts and functions in the body of Christ.

Two virtues the author emphasizes are humility and hope. He notes, "it is precisely because we are finite beings--and if that were not bad enough, fallen ones as well--that we must take a humbly modest approach to human knowing. God alone knows all things" (23). Because we are finite beings we must be humble about our knowing. On the other hand, we believe that God is real and He is able to reveal Himself to us. We are always situated between humility and hope.

Another theme of the book is the need for a scholarly community. We must not carry on our scholarship isolated from one another. He notes how the early universities founded in America were established by communities who "believed that the academic calling had a profound religious significance" (29). Mark Schwehn in his book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation states that "these intellectual communities were undergirded" by spiritual virtues like faith, hope, and love. These virtues were sustained by religious practices. These are things not emphasized in the secular academy. In other words, worship must be connected with scholarship. Body and soul, faith and life must be connected.

Called to the Life of the Mind is a little book that can be read in one sitting. It contains important lessons for future evangelical scholars or any Christian who wants to be a faith Christian and scholar.

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