RUNNING HEAD: Scholarship and Christian Faith
A Review of Scholarship and Christian Faith; Enlarging the Conversation
Ann Marie Kerlin Liberty University
A Review of Scholarship and Christian Faith; Enlarging the Conversation Jacobsen, D & Jacobsen, R.H. (2004) New York City: Oxford University Press
Jacobsen and Jacobsen (2004) wrote five chapters in the book, Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation. They also included five essays from other writers on the combination of scholarship and Christian faith. These essays are hopeful in nature and speak to the broadening of paths between what are sometimes considered uncomfortable or irrelevant connections between religion and other academic disciplines. There is and has been a division between secular and religious education and scholarship; this division or middle ground has begun to be explored. This small book provides a rich and provocative glimpse into areas where faith and academics may meet and combine in positive and stimulating ways. Dr. Douglas Jacobsen is a prolific writer and is Distinguished Professor of Religious History at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. He also serves as Coordinator of Christian Scholarship and College Identity. He is a member of the United Church of Christ and has been teaching for 35 years. Scholarship and Christian Faith is his latest work, coauthored with his wife, Dr. Rhonda Jacobsen. Dr. Rhonda Jacobsen serves as Professor of Psychology and Director of Faculty Development at Messiah College. Her interests include bridging the gap between science and faith, and the social sciences and faith. She also has numerous publications to her credit, and has received several grants and awards for her work in these areas. The purpose of this book was to describe the way that faith and scholarship already overlap and blend, rather than to suggest a model of integration. There are ideas in the book about how integration might look, but the purpose of the authors was to enlarge the conversation by opening up avenues perhaps not already explored. Because both of the authors have a significant amount of time serving in a Christian college, and because
their interests and research have touched upon the areas of integration, this book is very current and refreshingly upbeat. It touches upon the history of the disintegration between scholarship and Christianity without excessive criticism. This book developed out of conversations held during some seminars developed by Messiah College, including one called “Christian Scholarship Seminar.” The Jacobsens included a foreword by Martin E. Marty, a preface by the authors, a prologue by Rodney J. Sawatsky and an epilogue by Kim S. Phipps. The book is designed to flow from a description of the most prevalent integration model of faith and learning and expand into different paradigms and thoughts about how such integration does and could operate. They do not suggest a particular model of integration, however, they welcome the merger, incorporation, and blending in various forms of scholarship and faith. Sawatsky’s prologue, “The Virtue of Scholarly Hope,” included the themes of love, hope, and faith as part of scholarship. He quoted Parker J. Palmer who said that scholarship arising from Christian faith includes an incarnational understanding of truth. However, the authors added that truth is not the only goal; faith is usually in the forefront, but needs to be tempered with love and hope. The hopeless view that Christian scholars have had about the decline of faith-based scholarship was also countered with statistics about the burgeoning interest in spirituality and the growth rate of Christian institutions of higher learning worldwide. Chapter One begins with Tertullian’s statement that faith and learning are incompatible. The Jacobsens pointed out that on the contrary, Tertullian’s life itself modeled an integration of faith and learning. Arthur Holmes’ integration model was discussed. Holmes recommended that Christian scholarship take place while acknowledging our own and other divergent views. He believed that because Christian
scholars did take their worldview into account, they were perhaps seeing a little more clearly than other academics who did not examine their own assumptions. However, in his model he did not feel it was necessary to take a rigid epistemological approach, but rather, to use the word, “perspective” instead. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s model also considered worldviews integral but stressed the need for scholars to debate and argue with other theorists from other backgrounds. Both opted for open questioning and debate in the search for truth. In real life, the authors note, this tends to lead to arguments and conflict; the scholar becomes a combatant for the faith. He also mentioned that the Reformed model tends to be the most common approach to integration and can be a foreign idea to scholars from non-Reformed backgrounds. Ernest L. Boyer also championed a view of faith and scholarship that stressed his belief in the connectedness of all things and all people. He believed Christian scholarship should not isolate itself, nor present aggressively or defensively, or even stress the particularly Christian elements, but, instead walk alongside mainstream academia. His four views of scholarship include discovery, integration, application, and teaching. All of these areas are full of overlapping and blending modes. Crystal Downing’s essay was delightful and enriching to read. She suggested that instead of forcing a position of integration onto Christian scholars, a better idea would be an imbrication model. Understanding that we all are made of various layers of “shingles,” as she used in her description, may be a better picture of the way our faith relates to our disciplines. In her discussion about the integration model, she compared it to Bauhaus architecture which was an integration of art and technology. Bauhaus architecture produced very ugly buildings which the people who lived in them hated. She seemed to indicate that a forced integration would not be attractive or desirable!
Her final statement is beautiful: “So also the imbricated architectonics of Christian scholarship free us to ‘go out“ of protective edifices of thought to enter into relationship with all for whom God, by way of Christ’s architectonic self, chose to “go down” (43). She wrote that we do not have to integrate things that do not belong together; freedom comes…“through acknowledging that finality is always a pretense, that unfinalizability, like the cross, is the source of all becoming“ (43). A model of imbrication does not force two unconnected fields together, but allows for natural overlapping and flow between them. The Jacobsens paraphrased Bakhtin’s ideas about dialogic models of integration and how the interaction with other disciplines can be of benefit. “Our traditions, then become part of our surplus of seeing, illuminating the blind spots of other scholars just as our own myopias are clarified through the perspectives of those other to ourselves” (p. 78). In the essay by Edward B. Davis, “Is There a Christian History of Science?” the writer described various faith traditions and their basic assumptions about truth. This is an interesting area of contrast and comparison; even within Christian scholarship there are quite a few differences in basic assumptions. Catholicism is described as analogic knowledge. They compare like/with and both/and when describing the divine. For example, human passion is like divine passion. In contrast, Protestant thought is more digital or dialectical and stresses unlikeness and uses either/or thinking. Catholicism stresses the interrelatedness of ideas, people, properties, etc. and embraces those connections and paradoxes. The human and divine penetrate one another, reason leads to faith, and faith leads to reason. There are a vast web of connections just waiting to be discovered. John Henry Newman’s idea of truth is a unity. Truth cannot be separated into
bits and pieces except by an artificial division and these boundaries need to be broken down by Christian scholarship. The Catholic university is viewed as an entirety and not as individual scholars. Faith and learning are also blended. “Faith seeks understanding; belief alone is not faith it is mere fideism…True faith weds belief to knowledge” (p. 83). Lutheranism, while similar to the Reformed model, contains more of a sense of humility, mystery, wonder, and a sense of humor. In their view, “the world is full of paradox. God is at work in surprising and sometimes hidden ways and it is hard to predict in advance where truth or grace will suddenly burst forth” (p. 84). Anglicanism doesn’t claim they have a complete understanding of the world, but do recognize human finiteness. They dialog between faith and reason and use liturgy, tradition, and imagination in worship. The Wesleyan tradition is described as quadrilateral: it employs the Bible, experience, reason, and tradition. Pentecostal thought embraces inclusiveness, experiential worship, and the relation between “truth” and personal experiences. A Primitivism tradition embraces no tradition and relies on the Bible alone; it seeks always to begin fresh and start over to avoid becoming tradition bound. Because these religious beliefs shape worldviews, the difference between Christian scholars needs to be accounted for as well as the differences between Christian and non-Christian academicians. This entire section on the variations of views toward Christianity itself was intriguing. The notion of faith being apophatic or cataphatic in substance was a new idea to this writer. In a way, the apophatic theological construct fits well with postmodern thinking. If we can really describe the divine, then it loses its mystery. Is God really knowable or describable? Perhaps our relationship with him seems describable, but can we really get a picture of infiniteness and omniscience and omnipresence and transcendence? This was an interesting section of the book.
Susanna Bede Caroselli’s essay on instinctive response was composed to show how instinctive responses affect scholarship, consciously and unconsciously. She used a painting from the late 1400s to model the way we approach new information. Some of her points included the fact that our observations and prior knowledge will limit or enhance the questions scholars ask about the data set. The scholar who is familiar with this era of painting will view the picture very differently from someone who studies architecture, for example. She asked, “Will scholars unconsciously use instinctive response to force the reading they personally advocate when considered response presents contradictory findings? Yes” (p. 146), she answered, they already do; not acknowledging or realizing what our instinctive response is or that is works under cover of our rational reaction/analytical thinking limits honesty in scholarship. This book was a rich read, and contained some good ideas and perspectives on the models of Christianity and scholarship. Indeed, today there is a new interest in the spiritual aspects of life in a lot of disciplines. Spirituality may not be Christianity, but at least there is recognition that “something” exists. The writers described our spiritual nature as that essential aspect of man which resonates clearer when it is nurtured and acknowledged. The authors also posited that we will have either faith informed scholarship or academically shaped faith. There are no “blank slates” that the academician can begin from because everyone comes with presuppositions; faith is only one of them. Without having the initial skirmish about the reality of God’s existence, the conversation between religious scholars and scholars from other disciplines can yield much fruit. This book also brought out some considerations that may not be apparent to the secular academic fields. While there is still much prejudice against faith and scholarship in overt practice, and a great deal of agnosticism in the field of secular academia, there are
people who do have religious beliefs and are scholars. Not all of them are working in a Christian college or university. In this era, there is a greater interest in spirituality and faith issues and how they relate in fields of human endeavor. This book gives a hopeful and compelling look at what the integration of faith and scholarship may be like in real life and practice. The final essay advocates intellectual hospitality because scholarship is not a task undertaken alone but in community. Phipps mentioned Ernest Boyer’s four categories of scholarship : discovery, integration, application, and teaching as ways of approaching any academic field. Gardner’s multiple intelligences were also mentioned as ways that such conversations and hospitality might be approached or viewed. Kim S. Phipps’ final statement is a fitting ending to the book: “In many ways, the ultimate goal of Christian scholarship and the reason why Christian colleges and universities exist is not merely to seek truth; the goal is to seek truth in order to more intelligently love the world and every person in it” (159). May such a goal be the guiding principle behind all Christian academic endeavors!
Published on Feb 21, 2009