Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition

Greg Strand – June 26, 2012 Leave a comment

David Dockery, President of Union University, Jackson, TN, serves as the editor of a new series published by Crossway: Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition (you can see the books available in this series at Crossway’s website). This looks to be an excellent series.

I have the inaugural volume written by Dockery and Timothy George on my desk, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). In the preface they write of the ultimate goal of these series of books (p. 12).

At the heart of this work is the challenge to prepare a generation of Christians to think Christianly, to engage the academy and the culture, and to serve the church and society. We believe that both the breadth and the depth of the Christian intellectual tradition need to be reclaimed, revitalized, renewed, and revived for us to carry forward this work. These study guides will seek to provide a framework to help introduce students to the great tradition of Christian thinking, seeking to highlight its importance for understanding the world, its significance for serving both church and society, and its application for Christian thinking and learning. The series is a starting point for exploring important ideas and issues such as truth, meaning, beauty, and justice.

Justin Taylor interviewed Dockery about this series , and I include below a few of the key statements made by Dockery.

Dockery explains the goal of this series:

The “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition” series is designed to provide an overview for the distinctive way the church has read the Bible, formulated doctrine, provided education, and engaged the culture through the centuries. The various contributors to the series all agree that personal faith and genuine Christian piety are essential for Christian living and for service in the church.

The authors of the books in this series will focus on the following:

The contributors to the series will explore how the Bible has been interpreted in the history of the church, as well as how theology has been formulated.  We will seek to ask:

  • How does the Christian faith influence our understanding of culture, literature, philosophy, government, beauty, art, or work?
  • How does the Christian intellectual tradition help us understand truth?
  • How does the Christian intellectual tradition shape our approach to education?

These books are primarily intended for college students and those associated with college and university campuses. But the scope of those who can benefit from these works include pastors and church leaders.

I think that the books can be quite valuable for pastors and church leaders.  At the heart of this work is the challenge to prepare a generation of Christians in all spheres of life to think Christianly about church, culture, and society.  We hope that readers will better understand the breadth and depth of the Christian intellectual tradition.  The works are designed to be accessible and understandable in order to provide a framework to help introduce Christ-followers to the great tradition of Christian thinking, seeking to highlight its importance for understanding the world, its significance for serving both church and society, and its application for Christian thinking and learning.  We trust that the series will be a starting point for exploring important ideas and issues such as truth, meaning, beauty, and justice. We are certainly encouraged by the initial warm response that the series has received from a wide-ranging group of scholars and academic leaders.

As Dockery considers the future of Christian higher education, he remains both excited and concerned. Two of his concerns are:

  1. divorcing academic excellence with Christian commitment/piety, and
  2. the moral pressure placed on Christian institutions that compromise the mission.

Unfortunately, many institutions take an either/or approach to this matter, thinking that they must choose between academic excellence or Christian commitment.  The result has been a long list of institutions, since the days of Harvard University, who have walked away from their Christian commitments and their connections to the churches.  On the other hand, there are some institutions that have focused only on Christian faithfulness and authentic piety, but have avoided serious academic work.  We must avoid this “either/or” approach to higher education.  Likewise we need to avoid models that separate head and heart, faith and reason, or Christian tradition and intellectual inquiry.  We need a coherent approach to Christian thinking and living that seeks to bring these matters together rather than separating them from one another.

Special interest groups continue to offer pressure on Christian institutions of higher education to conform on issues that will compromise our mission.  We must anticipate that the issues of sexuality and sexual freedom, including same-gender unions, could possibly impact federal funding or accreditation matters.  The right to hire will likely be the most important legal issue that Christian colleges and universities will face in the years ahead.  These issues, along with the growing economic pressures faced by every campus, will make the challenges of providing Christ-centered higher education in this century more challenging than ever before.

Dockery’s goal? For Christian institutions to become more mission driven as they serve the church and society.

With these factors in mind, we must think wisely, carefully, strategically, and creatively as we look toward the future to become more thoroughly mission driven.  I am hopeful that Christian institutions in North American and particularly those in the Global South can work together to serve church and society, providing thoughtful foundations for us to engage the  culture and envision a blessed and kingdom-focused future for the days ahead.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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