Dr. J. Budziszewski, a defender of the natural-law tradition, is the author of several books including Written on the Heart, The Resurrection of Nature, The Nearest Coast of Darkness, True Tolerance and What We Can't Not Know: A Guide. He is a professor of Philosophy and Government at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Jay Budziszewski spoke at the God and the Academy conference for Christian professors held in June of 2000. Jay shared his time with Dr. Ken Elzinga, featured in the last Real Issue, as they spoke on ways in which professors can influence the university for Christ. The following is a transcript of his lecture:
In the third chapter of the book of Colossians, beginning in verse 23, Paul speaks as follows:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
For whose sake then do we practice scholarship? For the sake of the schools at which we serve? I hope not; they are not our highest loyalty. For the sake of our academic disciplines? No, for the disciplines do not exist for themselves. For our families? No. For whom, then? For the Lord. Scholarship is a vocation, a calling, no less than ordained ministry.
Please understand that I am not urging that we give ourselves airs. Scholarship is no more a calling than anything else that Christ asks a person to do. But whether we prove theorems, sweep floors, write articles, dig wells, design circuits, or lay bricks, we should do it for Him.
What, then, does it mean to practice scholarship as a Christian vocation, to practice it "as unto the Lord"? Does it mean just working hard? Surely we should work hard, but surely that is not the primary meaning of working as unto the Lord. A Christian mathematician is something more than a hard working mathematician, a Christian professor of English literature something more than a hard working professor of English literature.
Nor does scholarship "as unto the Lord" mean merely working with a nicer attitude. What does it mean to be a Christian scholar? "Well, I try to be nice to the students and the staff." Sorry, not enough. An electrical engineering professor who has long office hours and remembers to thank the word processing clerk has not thereby done everything that being a Christian scholar of electrical engineering requires. To be a Christian scholar is to work with a radically different purpose, a radically different orientation, and even a radically different approach to truth.
To address only our approach to truth, a Christian scholar's thought and work should reflect God's thought to the world. Sometimes we get lazy. To reconcile the so-called truths of our disciplines with the truths of faith, we repeat the misleading ancient motto, "All truth is God's truth." Yes, to be sure all truth is God's truth; economic truth is God's truth, political truth is God's truth, mathematical truth is God's truth. But does it follow that if you merely repeat the truisms of economics or political science or mathematics, you are thereby speaking in a godly way? Far from it, because how God would have us recognize His truth is often very different than how the world, the saeculum, tries to recognize it. I will return to this point later.
Why should scholarship "as unto the Lord" have prerequisites? We might better ask why there should not be prerequisites. Aren't there prerequisites for every kind of scholarly work? Of course. A mathematician must learn mathematics, a scholar of history must learn how to read. So too there are prerequisites for doing our scholarship in such fashion that it can be offered unto Christ.
One such prerequisite is commitment to the lordship of Christ. No, I am not merely being obvious. No doubt most of those attending this conference do understand that Christ must be Lord of our lives as in general. But we sometimes forget that this lordship includes our scholarship in particular. We understand quite well that God wants our friendships, our spouses, our children, our entertainment, and so forth. Do we always understand that he wants what we do for a living? That is where we often fall short.
The next prerequisite for scholarship unto the Lord is the practice of the virtues. In contemporary Evangelical circles, one can get in trouble pretty quickly talking about moral discipline; someone is sure to point out that we are all sinners. Of course, let us not think that we must already be perfect in virtue to speak of virtue. On the contrary, our awareness of our sin should be a spur to speaking about virtue, for we have learned from direct experience how great is our need for it. Professional training--our graduate studies, our disciplinary socialization, all of it--leads us to think that scholarly excellence depends solely on our knowledge and skills. It does depend on them, but it does not depend solely on them. In fact the virtues are more important still.
What I have just said may sound pious but untrue. Of course, our secular colleagues would not consider it true. The last time someone applied for an academic position in your department, did anyone ask about his or her moral character? Who takes virtue seriously any longer in recruitment? To be sure, our secular colleagues probably recognize the importance of a few virtues for scholarship. For example, they admit, by and large, that good scholarship requires honesty; one must be able to report the data without lying. But there are various ways of trying to limit the damage of this concession. One is to label honesty an "intellectual" rather than a "moral" virtue, and say that only the intellectual virtues are necessary to good scholarship. Sorry, but the moral virtues are necessary to it also. You see, every unrepented vice, whether moral or intellectual, eventually metastasizes into the intellect. Why is that? One reason is that it takes a lot of lying to be a consistently bad man in any realm of life. If you lie enough to other people you will have to lie to yourself. Just as each lie to my neighbor leads to another, so each lie to myself leads to another. Pretty soon I can't think straight. But thinking straight is a scholar's job.
Another prerequisite for scholarship "as unto the Lord" is a comprehensively Christian worldview. There has been so much talk about worldviews among Evangelicals lately that perhaps I need not say much about this subject. Then again, perhaps I do. Don't we tend to speak as though a Christian worldview meant merely a Christian view of the whole--as though it had nothing to do with the parts? Unfortunately, this way of speaking is false. Each of us needs a Christian view not just of "things in general" but of particular things, and these particular things include his or her own academic discipline.
How many of us have even begun to think about what it may mean to take a Christian view of one's own academic discipline? Yet in a few disciplines this has happened. Consider philosophy. Largely because of the work of Christian scholars, American philosophy has been transformed during the last thirty years. Two generations ago, perhaps most American philosophers were atheists; today, most are theists. Philosophy of religion, pronounced dead in those days, is now where the action is. Apart from the umbrella organization, the American Philosophical Association, the most active professional organization among philosophers in this country is the Society of Christian Philosophers. For another example, consider biology. Here less progress has been made than in philosophy, but a growing number of biologists have begun to rethink the fashionable assumption that "nature is all there is." This has been due mostly to the pioneering work of Christian scholars who have developed scientific criteria for the detection of Intelligent Design.
What would it mean to rethink the other disciplines from Christian assumptions? How about economics? Or political science? Or mathematics? Wait a moment. Mathematics? Absurd. What difference could faith make to the mathematical profession? Isn't "Two plus two is four" just as true for Hindus as for Christians? Yes, of course, but don't think that mathematics includes no theological assumptions. For example, some mathematicians accept on faith that the ultimate ground of all reality is mathematical. This idolatry has ancient roots; the Pythagoreans literally worshipped numbers. One of the books on my shelf includes a Pythagorean prayer to the number ten. Oftentimes such idolatries affect the way we do our work, but in ways that escape our notice. We should make it our business to notice them.
The next prerequisite of scholarship "as unto the Lord" is the simple recognition of calling. If scholarship is really a calling, then several things follow. One is negative. If you weren't called by God to scholarship, get out of it! If you're called to sell cars, sell cars. If you're called to lay bricks, lay bricks. If you're not called to sell cars or lay bricks, don't do either; find out what God does want you to do. Many of my students enter scholarship merely because they like their field, or the life of a scholar appeals to them, or some teacher told them they had promise. Those things are well and good, but they do not add up to a call.
By the way, the call is not just to be a scholar, but to be a particular scholar. Put another way, God's call has four notes, and we must listen for each one of them. There is a calling to scholarship as such; there is a calling to a particular discipline; there is a calling toward a particular task in that discipline; and there is even a calling toward certain insights concerning that task. You see, our minds have not all been made the same way. There is only one truth, to be sure--but each of us is better at seeing certain fragments of it than others are.
God may give you several insights. He may give you only one. Never mind if that one is all you have. For you--just because it is His gift--it is one facet of that pearl of great price which you should not allow to be tarnished.
We must now speak of the snares and distractions that afflict scholarship "as unto the Lord." There are, perhaps, about five of them.
The greatest snare is probably intellectual pride--our tendency to take personal credit for our intellectual gifts. I have never met a scholar who didn't have this tendency to some degree. "Knowledge puffs up," said Paul. (1 Cor. 8:1.) I don't know why a scholar should be more inclined to pride in his or her intellectual gifts than a plumber is inclined to pride in plumbing gifts, but it is true. Do you agree with me in finding it also rather terrifying? Our gifts come from God, and they are given to us for the building up of His kingdom. We will keep only what we use for that purpose. In heaven, we will not have the pleasure of those gifts we have refused to give back to Him during life.
Of course God makes no promises about how he will have us use our gifts for him, and that leads us to the second snare: Intellectual selfishness. Intellectual selfishness is the tendency to do not the particularly scholarly work to which God calls us, but other scholarly work instead. This may be the work we find easiest, that we have done before, that we find most interesting, or that earns the greatest worldly rewards. Which of these it is has no importance, if it is not the work God has given us.
The next snare is intellectual clubbishness. This one has been well described by historian Paul Johnson:
Intellectuals, far from being highly individualistic and nonconformist people as they fancy themselves to be, follow certain regular patterns of behavior. Taken as a group, they are often ultra-conformist within the circles formed by those whose approval they seek and value. That is what makes them, en masse, so dangerous, because it enables them to create climates of opinion and prevailing orthodoxies which themselves often generate irrational and destructive courses of action. [Intellectuals, Harper and Row, 1988.]
But God intends us to think outside of the prevailing, secular orthodoxies. Clubbishness should have no role for us.
Related to intellectual clubbishness is intellectual cowardice. Cowardice is the tendency, even when we do think outside of the prevailing secular orthodoxies, to hold back from speaking our minds. Now I realize that there is a time and place for everything, and that each of us must exercise discernment. There is a time not to speak of certain things. But there are certainly times to speak, and some of them are times to speak loudly. In general, the time to speak loudest is just when we are running into the greatest scholarly opposition simply for being Christians.
The last snare is of intellectual sloth. The definition of sloth is a failure to love the good with the ardor that it deserves. From ancient times sloth has been called a "deadly" sin, a kind of spiritual nerve gas. The essence of intellectual sloth is loving the intellectual life more than the goods of the intellect toward which this life is ordained. Do we suppose that it is enough to love the truth? It is not enough. We must love truth more than the pursuit of truth. We must love it more than the pleasures of the scholarly life. If I love truth less than I love the smell of a book in which truth might be written--if I love it less than the fact that the book belongs to me -- if I love it less than the fact that I wrote the book myself--then I am no friend of God. If I love it less than the privilege of controlling my schedule--less than the pleasure of going to conferences--less than the petty thrill of being thought smart--then I am in peril of hell.
For the theme of the second part of my talk I again borrow one of Paul's exhortations. At the beginning of the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Romans, he writes as follows:
Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and prove what God's will is. His good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me, I say to every one of you, do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. But rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others and we have different gifts according to the grace given us.
The main meaning of this passage is clear: To each of us God has given different gifts for building up His Kingdom. To some He has given these kinds of gifts, to others those kinds of gifts, and to a few even scholarly gifts. But I think the passage means more than that. Even within the scholarly organ of the Christ's body, there is a diversity of gifts. These gifts are not merely dissimilar, but complementary, and we need to do our work in recognition of how they fit together.
I hardly need remind you that the academic pecking order is more rigid than that in any other chicken yard, except perhaps junior high school or La Cosa Nostra. Pride of place in the academy goes to those who have gone to the most prestigious schools, earned the most prestigious degrees, won jobs at the most prestigious places, and published in the most prestigious journals. But we are called to think first of our place in the body of Christ, not of our place in the academic club; and we are to think of the arrangement of Christ's scholars not as a pecking order, but as an organic unity, each of us dependent on all the rest. This sounds preposterous, because it is so different from how our institutions are set up. But if each promotes the Lord's kingdom in the way that the Lord has equipped him, then that is the way it will be among us.
The reason God gives so many kinds of scholarly gifts is that there are so many avenues for the scholar's ministry. They include both ministry inward and ministry outward--inward to the campus, and outward from the campus. A drawback of scholarly conferences like this is that they blur the interdependence of the scholarly gifts. They give too much prominence to those of us whom God has given big mouths, who serve by public speaking. Yet that gift is no more necessary to the Body of Christ than the others. It is only more conspicuous.
First in order is ministry towards students; its avenues include teaching, class fellowship, and all that goes on during office hours--the things that Ken Elzinga has spoken so well to you about [The Academy and Jesus, http://www. leaderu.com/real/ri0009/elzinga.html]. They also include ministry to student organizations, like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ. One way to minister to student organizations is to sponsor them. You don't have to be a good speaker to sponsor an organization, because if you can't speak well yourself you can get other people to speak. Moses did it. By the way, if you can speak, don't wait to be asked to speak; volunteer. The student Christian organizations are hungry to hear Christian faculty, and may not know where to find them.
Frankly, in such settings even the speakers don't need particularly strong speaking gifts. Better is the gift of encouragement. Many of the students take for granted that all of their teachers are infidels. They may never have heard any other kind--especially if they attend certain nominally Christian colleges. Just to see your face and hear your voice--just to know that there really are some believers in that spiritual and intellectual wasteland called "The Faculty"--may mean more to students than you can imagine.
Next is ministry toward secular colleagues. One form this takes is scholarly colloquiae--but only provided that you present a distinctively Christian view. Take the chance! Another form that ministry toward secular colleagues can take is friendship with them--but only provided that you are a really good friend, using the opportunity to model what a Christian means by intellectual companionship. Ministry toward colleagues can even include something like academic governance, whether serving on the faculty senate or taking a part in the administration. If that is your gift, you will have opportunities there to use it. It isn't my gift, but some of the people who organized this conference have it. Should you be granted such an opportunity, I beg of you, do not waste it. Use it to make room on campus for dissent from the prevailing secular orthodoxy. And use it to make sure that moral as well as pragmatic considerations are taken into account when the university is making policy. Apply a Christian spirit to everything from pure academics to the rules for assigning roommates in the dormitories.
You might not think of them this way, but your Christian colleagues also represent opportunities for ministry. Many of you are involved in a Christian faculty fellowship. If your school doesn't have one, why not start one going? Not everyone has that gift either, but you may be the one who does. There are many good reasons to begin a campus fellowship, not least of which is that it provides a place where accountability partnerships can develop. But be charitable, because not every committed Christian will participate in the Christian faculty fellowship. Take me as an example. I love my brothers and sisters in the campus fellowship, but I am not active in it because so much of my own ministry is outward from the campus. When I'm not out of town, I am always scrambling to catch up. But that's all right; we don't all have to be doing the same thing. What is important is that the particular work that does belong to you gets done. Christians with different ministry gifts depend on each other here, too. I may not be active in my own campus fellowship, but when I travel to another campus to speak of Christian things, it is usually the campus fellowship that hosts my visit. And so we help each other, lean on each other, and build each other up.
Last come the opportunities for ministry toward groups that mix Christians with non-Christians. Several years ago my institution hosted a national conference on scientific naturalism and the nature of the scientific enterprise. This conference drew scientists, philosophers, and specialists of various other kinds, with Christians and non-Christians participating on equal footing--not only in planning and executing the conference, but in the presentations as well. I noticed, though, that the Christians were the ones with the new ideas. The others noticed it too. That was a witness in itself.
The example I just gave was purely academic, but of course ministry to mixed groups includes on-campus evangelism too. The most effective academic evangelism, I think, is partly academic anyway; it includes speakers who address scholarly issues of general concern from a Christian point of view. You don't have to say "And now let me tell you about Jesus." To be sure, a few of those who speak should do that. But some plant, some water, and some merely prepare the soil for planting. If you have done nothing more than astonish the local atheists by a clear demonstration of intelligence from someone who is a confessed believer, you will have broken strongholds. A model of what I mean is Veritas Forum, which has taken place literally hundreds of times at colleges and universities all over the continent.
I have been talking about ministry inward; now what about ministry outward? In this section I can move more swiftly, because so much of what has been said before applies here too. The first avenue of ministry outward is ministry outward to students.
We need to remind ourselves from time to time "teaching" doesn't just mean lecturing in a classroom on your campus. But perhaps someone invites you to teach one of those six-week intensive technical skills workshops that we are always urging our advanced students to attend. What is to prevent you from accepting the post? Perhaps you have never connected your area of specialization with Christian faith--perhaps you don't see how the study of the thermal properties of ceramic composites, shall we say, is affected by the Lordship of Christ. But you can use such off-campus teaching opportunities to model Christian scholarship and pedagogy to students whom you would not ordinarily meet.
And what about your writing? Excuse me--I mean your "publication activities." We don't have to publish just for other scholars, do we? I don't think it is required by law. We can publish in ways that reach students too. For example, there may be curricular materials which you would write in a distinctively different way than a secular colleague would. Or you might write for the general student market. For instance, a number of Christian scholars have contributed, as I do, to an online magazine for Christian college students called Boundless (www.boundless.org). You can't put such work on your C.V., your colleagues won't care about it, the promotion committee won't care about it, but Christ cares about it. If you have the gift of explaining things clearly--after all, many teachers do--why shouldn't this be another way of giving it back to the Lord?
Another avenue of ministry outward from campus is ministry towards off-campus secular colleagues. I've already spoken about the various opportunities for ministry to on-campus secular colleagues, but such ministry is not just a local affair. Isn't your research read off-campus? Doesn't academic governance include disciplinary governance as well as institutional governance?
And how a Christian influence in disciplinary governance is needed. Many of the professional associations impose a virtual tyranny of "secular correctness." For a notorious example, consider the Modern Language Association, where a Christian voice is hardly to be heard--where even a voice of appreciation for great literature is hardly to be heard. If you have the gift of organizational activism--if you know how to get the thin edge of the wedge into the crack in the organization and drive it in--you could be tremendously important to the Christian witness. In using such vigorous metaphors as driving wedges, I do not mean that you should treat non-Christians unfairly. On the contrary, for that is not the spirit of Christ. What I am proposing is that you find ways to put an end to unfair treatment of Christians and non-Christians alike, and open the minds of your secular colleagues to what a free exchange of ideas would really be like.
Long-distance scholarly friendships also come to mind as an avenue of ministry to off-campus secular colleagues. Since the development of email and online discussion groups, such relationships can be maintained more easily, and at greater distances, than ever before--you can keep up dialogue with colleagues you have never seen, in ways that were once unthinkable.
Nor does ministry outward from the campus mean only ministry to the outer academic world. There is also the rest of the outer world. Here the chief avenues of ministry are simply telling what you know and using what you know. What do I mean by telling what you know? You may have the opportunity to testify before a legislative committee about something within your area of expertise. Or you may have the opportunity to participate in continuing medical or legal education--not necessarily because you are a medical or legal scholar, but because you know something that the doctors or lawyers want to learn. All of this can be done from a Christian point of view. For example, I've talked to doctors about medical ethics and to lawyers about the natural moral law.
And what do I mean by using what you know? If you teach in a department of civil engineering, you may be a consultant on some public work. Lawyers, chemical engineers, biologists are often called upon as consultants. Be on the alert for ways to use these opportunities to reflect Christ.
I have presented a classification of the avenues of scholarly ministry--not a list. In every category of my classification, there are dozens of opportunities besides the few that I've mentioned. Although these opportunities are diverse, they conform to the same model. In each of them, something which is there already is redeemed. In each, something which is already a part of the scholarly life--teaching, publishing, intellectual friendship, consultation, whatever it may be--is transformed by the illumination of Christ.
In order to put our gifts at God's service, we have only to listen to His call. If you are a Christian scholar but you think he hasn't called you, you aren't listening. He is calling you now. He has something for you to do. Perhaps it is something that others have done. Perhaps no one has done it before. Perhaps no one else can do it. Perhaps it is something that no one has even thought of before, and Christ intends you to be the pioneer.
In Romans 12:2, Paul says "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is; His good, pleasing and perfect will." Although that passage is directed to the whole Church, I believe that it has not only a general application for all Christians, but a special application for Christian scholars. Because it concerns the renewing of the mind, it could serve as our intellectual charter.
So may we be, not Christians and scholars, but Christian scholars: Intellectual soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is King not only of matter, but of mind.