Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Christianity and the Soul of the University

Christianity and the Soul of the University: Faith as a Foundation for Intellectual Community edited by Douglas V. Henry and Michael D. Beaty. Baker Academic, 2006. 192 pages. Isbn: 978-0-8010-2794-9

Christianity and the Soul of the University is a collection of essays that grew out of a 2004 conference held at Baylor University on the relationship between the Christian faith and the University and how the Christian faith can provide the foundation for an intellectual community. The first part discusses some of the major issues of a Christian intellectual community. In chapter one Richard B. Hayes shows how the epistles of John, Peter, and Paul can provide insight for creating a Christian intellectual community. He discusses five characteristics of the Christian community: it values concreteness, it tells the truth, it is wary of cultural idols, it locates itself in the Christian story, and is intellectually charitable to outsiders.

In chapter two Jean Bethke Elstain shows through autobiography and argument that the intellectual mind and the Christian faith are friends. She thinks the university is a place for both reasoned faith and respectful discourse. She show how her intellectual struggles deepened her faith. She describes her own journey from childhood belief, "to halfhearted yet dogged unbelief," to belief. In the next chapter John C. Polkinghorne argues for Christian disciplinarity. He shows how the Christian faith unifies knowledge in contrast to the modern fragmentation of knowledge in the university. In the last chapter of part one David Lyle Jeffrey offers an excellent essay, "Faith, Fortitude, and the Future of the Christian intellectual community." Jeffrey asks the question if there is a future for the Christian intellectual community. He answers in the affirmative if "there are communities of scholars who make it their business to privilege faith," practice academic freedom that is "grounded in the larger Christian principle of love your neighbor;" as long as we do not become "double-minded and unstable in all our ways;"  and "as long our faith is unwavering, accompanied by fortitude and perseverance" (99). Susam M. Felch begins the second part which deals with the practices of the Christian intellectual community. Felch's essay, "Doubt and the Hermeneutics of Delight" argues that delight serve as a better characteristic for the intellectual community than doubt. She does agree that doubt has a place in the university, but she says doubt becomes a problem when doubt is crowned as "education's patron saint." She proposes that "we consider delight as an alternative to doubt." Aurelie A. Hagstrom proposes Christian hospitality as an important practice for the intellectual community. She believes it serves as a better alternative than tolerance. She asserts, "Tolerance is ill suited to address matters of deep controversy because of its tendency to trivialize what is important to us." She thinks it is a "false form of engagement." She states that "hospitality is much more engaging, risky, and costly" than tolerance. She continues, "Hospitality takes the identity, story, and tradition of the guest seriously as a foundation for table fellowship and meaningful dialogue, and it does so without pretending to be less than one is a Christian" (127-128). She concedes that true dialogue in the context of Christian hospitality is not easy. In addition, she shows how Christian hospitality is an exercise in Christian charity.

Other essays discuss the importance of worship, moral imagination, and the importance of emphasizing the protestant doctrine of vocation which has been deemphasized. This book is an excellent collection of essays about how the Christian faith can serve as a foundation for the intellectual community.  

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