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.