Christianity and University Studies
Questions to consider/discuss in groups:
• Why did you go to university?
• What three words best described your attitude to your studies as a student?
• How much were you helped to think about your course of study from a Christian perspective? What was helpful?
Dualism: the sacred-secular divide
Problems with dualism:
1. It’s unbiblical.
– 1 Timothy 4:1-6 “Jesus attended weddings and parties. He slept soundly and did not live life in a mad rush to reach the world. In fact, when things got frantic he took his disciples away so they could relax and learn in a more exclusive environment. We are obviously not meant to live life in an anxious panic for God. As Jesus died on the cross, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Jesus did not accomplish everything on earth that needed doing – there were still many lost people, many sick people. But his part of the mission was complete. We are not responsible for the whole of God’s mission. But we do need to do our part.” (Krish Kandiah, Fresh).
2. It’s not been the understanding of great Christians of the past.
“Leave the works in one class. Consider one as good as another. Fear God and be just, as he has said. And then do whatever comes before you. This way all will be well done even if it be no more than loading manure or driving a mule… In this way a man can be happy and of good cheer in all his trouble and labour; and if he accustomed himself to look at his service and calling in this way, nothing is distasteful to him. But the devil opposes this point of view tooth and nail, to keep everyone from coming to this joy and to cause everyone to have special dislike for what he should do and is commanded to do. So the devil operates in order to make sure that people do not love their work and no service be rendered to God.” (Martin Luther)
3. The mind gives the heart reasons to worship and delight in God.
“The whole educational and intellectual enterprise, for a Christian, should be caught up in the desire to love God ‘with all your mind'. The whole process of curiosity, questioning and discovery can be a journey, full of wonder and praise, into the mind of God who created everything… Loving God with all your mind means to praise him for everything that is learned. It is to love God for all his works. It is to cultivate the sensitivity and excitement of the psalmist, who exults in ‘the works of the Lord.’” (G.E. Veith, Loving God With All Your Mind)
“Through contemporary scientific approaches, we are privileged to study and comprehend the creation to a degree unfathomable to previous generations. We also are thankful for this unique and privileged glimpse into the creation. Science has allowed us to understand more and more about God's creation. And with such a tremendous increase in knowledge, compared to that of previous generations, we should be even more enthusiastic in directing our praise to God. Through the eyes of faith, scientists who are Christians can understand and appreciate different aspects of the creation from those outside the faith; as a result, they can affirm God's handiwork. Most of us can see the beauty of a sunset, but not many get the opportunity to marvel at the mechanism that produces the proteolytic cleavage of proteins. Science makes that knowledge possible.” (Statement on the Natural Sciences at Wheaton College)
4. We do not use our God-given faculties in a way that honours God.
“It would seem then that if your mind can spin out complex mathematical calculations, you are to love God in mathematics. If your mind can plan a business, design a building, analyse a novel, understand a philosophical problem, or imagine a story, you are to love God in your planning, designing, analysing, understanding or imagining. When Jesus says ‘all’ the mind, He is claiming every mental faculty we have.” (G.E. Veith, Loving God With All Your Mind)
5. We become vulnerable to intellectual questions… as does the wider church.
“If discipleship is private and sacred but college studies are public and secular, then training the intellect will not be valued as a part of teenage mentoring. That is why discipleship materials often leave Christian young people vulnerable to atheistic college professors with an axe to grind. For such professors, shredding an intellectually unprepared undergraduate’s faith is like shooting fish in a barrel.” (J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind)
6. We become secularised without even knowing it.
“We are all affected. It is like passive cigarette smoking: we may not personally accept most secular assumptions, yet many around us do and the presumptions affect us too. Consequently, some ways we choose, think and act may not be biblical.” (Gavin McGrath, Confident Life)
7. We become evangelistically less effective.
“If a person has a sacred /secular dichotomy in his life due to a lack of a carefully thought out, integrated Christian world view, then the gospel will have to be forced into an otherwise secular discussion. But if a person has developed a Christian mind, she can relax because she has an understanding of and a Christian view about a number of ‘secular’ topics. There is no need to try and find a crack in the discussion to insert a gospel presentation utterly unrelated to the flow of conversation. What a joyful fruit of the intellectual life this is.” (J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind)
8. Our culture becomes increasingly broken and distorted: we have less to give away.
“The greatest danger besetting… evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind as to its greatest and deepest riches is not cared for enough…. People are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the gospel… The result is that the arena of creative thinking is abdicated and vacated to the enemy… At the heart of all the problems facing Western civilisation – the general nervousness and restlessness, the dearth of grace and beauty and quiet and peace of soul, the manifold blemishes and perversions of personal character; problems of the family and social relations in general, problems of economics and politics, problems of the media, problems affecting the school itself and the church itself, problems in the international order – at the heart of the crisis in western civilisation lies the state of the mind and the spirit of the universities.” (Charles Malik, The Two Tasks)
Healthy Christian Expectations for Study
Creation says that God is the Creator of all things, the One who designed creation for human flourishing and for development. Christian students should expect and discover order, marvel at intricacies and mysteries, and seek to unlock the goodness and potential that God has placed in his very good creation. All disciplines allow students to explore different creational realities. We’re called to try to understand things in connection to their Creator, and to try to comprehend how various aspects of life in the world ought to honour God and connect with one another.
- What wonderful aspects of God’s good creation do your studies illuminate?
The Fall’s effects reach into every aspect of creation – and consequently into every university discipline. Christian students should ask, “What are the lies or ideological confusions that distort my discipline and my personal approach to this discipline?” We should also expect to see the effects of the Fall in our own personal approaches to study.
- What elements of pride are there in your discipline? In what ways have those within your discipline set themselves up in opposition to God and his truth?
- How do your studies illuminate the fallen, divided and alienated nature of the world?
- How does your approach to your studies reflect and highlight your own sinfulness?
Redemption says that without Jesus, the world would remain in the clutches of the enemy, each of us powerless to maintain resistance. The work of Christ is not limited to saving individuals. Jesus died for the entire creation (Eph. 1:7-10; Col. 1:20). His resurrection is good news for every aspect of creation (Rom. 8:22-23). Those who are in Christ are called to engage in the reconciliation and restoration that mark the ongoing work of Christ in his creation (Lk. 4:14-21; 2 Cor. 5:17-20).
- How might what you are learning in your discipline contribute to comprehending the good of God made structures, healing the scars of sin, expressing the gospel engagingly or developing God honouring relationships?
New Creation teaches us that while we await the final day of reckoning and restoration, we do not sit on our hands in the meantime. Instead, we live each day enjoying the blessings of the gospel and pursuing its hope. We live to see the international reach of the gospel and a culture substantially shaped by it. We are called to be imaginative in seeing beyond what meets the eye now as to what will be.
- How might your discipline be of service (or bring resources) to the kingdom? How can those who pursue it witness to the kingdom?
Ten encouragements to pass on to Christian students
- Work well – study is a gift, a privilege and a responsibility
- Honour others – listen well, respect lecturers, seek to encourage rather than outdo
- Maintain wonder – this is Jesus’ universe!
- Avoid pride – beware any human system seeking to explain everything
- Suspend judgement – sit with doubts and questions, don’t rush to judge
- Do something practical with your study – no matter how small
- Don’t be ashamed – don’t fear lecturers or trends, be faithful to truth and the One who holds it
- Ask questions – you’re only ever a question away from a gospel theme
- Take rest – don’t work so hard you forget what you’re here for
- Be a blessing – let your work bring forth truth, goodness and beauty
Cover picture: Aaron Burden on unsplash.com