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I love the life of the mind. I am immensely thankful for good scholarship, intellectual investigation, and the best of the academic enterprise. As a pastor and just as an intellectually curious sort of chap, I want Christian academics to flourish. I also want these Christian scholars to be thoroughly Christian.

Which means at least seven things:

1. Invest in the local church. Take the membership class. Sign up as an usher. Take your turn in the nursery. Sing the hymns and praise songs like you really mean them. You need community. You need accountability. Your need diversity. To be sure, your school probably talks a lot about diversity, but what about educational and intellectual diversity? After writing that festschrift you need to be around factory workers and farmers and firefighters. Find a good church. Get plugged in and stick around.

2. Be humble. Honor others above yourself. Don’t look down on others who are less intelligent, even if it’s the pastor or the worship leader. Understand that everyone has different gifts. There are people who won’t read three books this year, but they are pure gold around the hospital bed, in the youth room, under the hood of a car. A PhD does not make you (or me) The Special. Being an expert in one little thing does not make you an expert in everything. And don’t forget about people. Engage them with the same curiosity you would your research.

3. Serve the body of Christ with your gifts. Don’t be afraid to put some of the cookies on some of the lower shelves. Teaching or writing in a way that can be understood by the hoi polloi is not a sign of selling out. Be creative, be mindful of others, and find a way to use your knowledge to encourage and equip your brothers and sisters in the faith. Eschew obfuscation!

4. Be a good spouse and pay attention to your kids. There are few contemporary idols as addictive and as respectable as academics. The promotion is not worth a divorce. That journal article is not worth your kids’ well being. Being a good dad or a good mom is not a waste of your degree. You learned, didn’t you? You gained valuable skills and contacts, didn’t you? What will gain a Christian scholar if he gains the endowed chair but forfeits his family?

5. Maintain a resolute allegiance to the word of God. Peer review, tenure review, comprehensive exams, a dissertation defense–they’re not as important as standing before the judge of all the earth with a clean conscience. Don’t sacrifice your faith for academic credentials or credibility. Don’t forget the noble ideals that inspired you to pursue this path in the first place. Let God be true, even if every man thinks you’re a nut-job.

6. Do your work to the glory of God. Work hard. Be honest. Be kind. Refuse to participate in all the games and all the politics. And as you do your reading, writing, and teaching to the glory of God, under the authority of the word of God, know that God delights in it. God loves professors as much as he loves pastors and missionaries.

7. Put your studies in perspective. We need specialists. We need scholars doing confusing work that most people wouldn’t understand and may not care about. We need people who work tremendously hard so that the pool of human knowledge can swell just a little bit more. But we also need all of this to be put into perspective. There are people in the church with wayward kids, people with depression and anxiety, people who are lonely, people struggling with same-sex attraction, people devastated by marital infidelity, people numb from the pain of infertility, people with quietly dismal marriage–and this is to say nothing of the needs outside the church. People need to hear the gospel. People need to know you care. People need to meet Jesus. I’m not saying your research doesn’t matter. I’m just reminding all of us that a whole lot of other things matter too.

 


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13 thoughts on “7 Ways Christian Academics Can Be Truly Christian”

  1. Steven Kopp says:

    Very nice article. Was the line “Eschew obfuscation!” intended to be ironic? ;)

  2. Ched says:

    Thanks for this! I appreciate your work and service along these lines.

  3. Peter B says:

    Okay you meant like scholars in fields that have primary bearing upon the thought that forms Christian belief and practice. As opposed to Christian experimental psychologists, med school researchers, engineering interns (you know the ones who care about the lab as much as ‘industry’) etc. By the end of the piece, that’s what I think you mean by ‘Christian Academics’. Still gonna take your advice though, so…in your face, Kevin DeYoung!

  4. Sam Olson says:

    Valuable nuggets here for us non-academics too- Thanks! Oh, and appreciated the Lego Movie shout out. :)

  5. Chadley says:

    Thanks much for this, Kevin!

  6. Curt Day says:

    The above 7 ways of being a Christian academic are good, but perhaps either one more way should be mentioned or #2, being humble, should be expanded or better emphasized. What I am thinking of is that we learn by asking those outside of our circle what they think or what life is like for them. Us conservative christians seem to have a flaw regarding learning from others. That flaw comes from a misapplication of the principle that the Scriptures trump experience. For not only will we apply that status to the Scriptures, we apply it many of our pet theories we’ve developed and pet theologies. As a result, we sometimes rely too much on those theories and theologies to the extent that we don’t feel the need to ask people about how they experience life or a certain teaching, we presume to know ahead of time because of our pet theories and theologies. This oversight of not asking people about how they are experiencing things robs us of a valuable part of our education.

  7. Amy says:

    Hmmm. I want to say this in a respectful way, but I am not sure I understand the author’s purpose here. It was written for a wide audience, yet it sounds like he had someone in particular in mind. Perhaps the more helpful approach would be to talk to that individual than indict all academics (academics who are Christians in any field or academics whose field of study is Christianity, I wasn’t sure) by offering them the same encouragement as if they were all the same. Sorry, I have gained a lot from some of the author’s other works, but this didn’t seem very well thought out.

  8. Bond says:

    Thanks for this, Kevin!

  9. Jason MacGregor says:

    I know that this list is not comprehensive, but since most academics spend at least some time with students, should students not be considered in ways to be truly Christian. For example, I would suggest Christian Academics should be marked by grace, love, and justice when dealing with students.

  10. Nate B says:

    What happened to Discuss comments?

    I like this. I was in the academic world (getting my masters) for 2 years and it felt pretentious. I like #7 the best because it addresses the need for practical application. Some academics have little intention connecting their studies with common folk. This is disturbing, since they are the experts. We always need to connect to the common folk in some way. I did not want to get a PHD in English because many of the academics I was around were out of touch with practice and real life. The kind of specialization I saw in the PHD program I was around was not attractive to me.

  11. Eric says:

    Agreeing with #7

    [Phl 3:3-4 NASB] 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:

    So we put no confidence in our intellectual strength, or in men with intellectual strength. Only in Christ. What we are capable of is rubbish compared to knowing Him.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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