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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Integration and Service in Scholarship

Having been pursuing the Reformed tradition of culture as well as theology, my head could not have fully escaped the triumphalism in the arguments of even the mildest defenders of NeoCalvinist thought. This was just a failure to grasp the paradoxical nature of the prospect of the intergration of faith with all of life.

In trying to take this seriously and follow through by pursuing a graduate education, I had to eventually come face to face with the fact that Christianity was neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good scholarship, as Wolterstorf is clearly aware in his book "Reason Within the Bounds of Religion". This seemed to indicate the the academic value of Christian faith was zero or at most an INUS condition. It did prove that the academy could well get along without believers. Since my faith was not necessary what else did I have to offer the academy. Nothing much! And so I despaired of the value of my original sense of purpose and calling.

But Alvin Planinga reminds that as a matter of faith, the Christian must regard coherence with his Christian belief as, in some sense or another, being a necessary condition of good scholarship even as naturalism is often sureptitiously held to be a necessary condition. This leads to an apparent contradiction:

(C) Christianity is a necessary condition of good scholarship.
(~C) Christianity is not a necessary condition of good scholarship.

The answer to this is that (~C) is true as a matter of reason alone because reason can never vouchsafe to us the truth of the Christian faith. Certainly for any proposition p, if p is true, then its a good making feature of a hypothesis that in coheres with (or is consistent with or explains or is explained by or . . .) p. However accepting p as a good making feature of a hypothesis (and at least necessary as a condition of good scholarship) depends on the sorts of reasons given for holding that p. In the case of properly scholarly reasons in virtue of which the academy is an information producing enterprise, the acceptance of Christianity remains moot on the basis of scholarly evidence and thus cannot be accepted as playing the role of a good making feature of scholarship from the point of view of scholarship.

But this is not surprising since Christianity is accepted on the basis of faith in a credible testimony to a hopeful prospect. As such its motivation is not that of scholarship but of appropriate desire. Some will argue that as such the intergration of the information of any other field into Christianity can only produce theology and nothing else. Plantinga points out that even so the task of unifying all of our information still remains as an important task whether it be called theology or whatever. He is certainly right about this.

This admits that the value of the intergration of faith and learning is in a sense only catagorically appreciable by the genuien believer and not to the academy as a whole. The moral lesson in all of this is that we must simply be content with this. Christian 'scholarship' exists for the Christian community and is only potentially universal in the same way Christianity is potentially universal, that is people will only appreciate it in so far as they are moved by God to believe.

The realization of this makes me both hopeful and humble. From the point of view of faith the vision for the intergration of faith and learning remains a calling and intrinsicly valuable but it also means working in a situation hwere the rest of the acadmy can not assure itself of this and to whom the King must appear to be a Clown. So the truimph of intergration never peeps outside the shadow of the Cross.

Yet the intergration of faith and learning presupooses we have new information so to intergrate, so for the sake of God we believers must be productive and such productivity will not only be valuable to us but to others outside. Thus our devotion to Christ we improve the devotion to our work which will improve our work. And when our work is good, we can be of service to those outside the community as well as ourselves so that intergration and service feed into each other. We can make ourselves useful even without assuming the lead because of having the "wrong" beliefs.

So receiving all things into the Kingdom by means of scholarship is flip side of walking in the way of self-denial and cross bearing in the modern academy. One cannot help but think there is a parallel to all this in the Christian's political service as well.