Following Christ 08 Day 1 – ESN Day Ahead

Greetings!  I look forward to sharing with you over the next few days my experience at the Intervarsity Following Christ 2008 conference in Chicago, IL.

Saturday marked the first day of the conference; while the official conference program starts on Sunday, I chose to come to a Day Ahead event.  I have been a member of the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) since its inception in 2004, but have recently decided to be a little more involved in the mentoring program.  Thus far, I have really enjoyed my interactions with fellow ESN attendees.

The ESN is primarily composed of undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and tenure-track faculty, and there is a good representation of scholars from all stages of academia at the conference.  For the first eight hours of the Day Ahead, we discussed two questions:

  1. Why consider an academic calling?
  2. What do I need to learn about Christian thought and practice to be faithful within my academic calling?

First, a panel composed of Ken Elzinga (University of Virginia), Marc Baer (Hope College), Mary Poplin (Claremont Graduate School), and Ronald Potter (Jackson State University) shared their “Stories of Calling”.  The moderator, Francis Su (Harvey Mudd College) asked the panelists to expound on the definition of calling, the moment(s) when they first received their calling, and the distinguishing features between them and their non-Christian colleagues.  All believers share their primary calling to Jesus Christ, in that we should love God as exhibited in our relationship with Him and with our neighbors.  Our secondary callings may all be different based on our individual giftedness and experience, but in each case, we should perform our teaching and research unto the Lord.  We also need to realize that, particularly at “secular” universities, that faculty are not hired to propel the Christian faith in the classroom, but rather, are called to mentor students, perhaps during their office hours.

It is shocking to realize how difficult it is to be a Christian in the academy.  Fully 70% of entering college freshmen lose their Christian faith within the first semester of college.  Furthermore, 97% of high school seniors choose to attend “secular” colleges and universities.  At the faculty level, only 1% of professors at elite universities profess the Christian faith.  However, it is also important to realize that God has had a hand in the formation of higher education in the United States; many elite universities, now “secular”, were founded on Christian principles.

Marc Baer then spoke on “What is Calling?” and Mary Poplin spoke on “Is an academic calling valid and for me?”  Some things I took away from their talks included the need to find another person (not family, and not necessarily even a colleague) who really knows me well, and to show courage in supporting our fellow Christian colleagues.

In the evening, Alec Hill (Intervarsity) spoke on Isaiah 61, Ronald Potter spoke on “A Christian Scholar, or a Scholar who is a Christian?”, and Mary Poplin spoke on “The Idolatries of Academia”.  Some things I took away from their talks included our calling to be oaks of righteousness and to rebuild spiritual ruins on campus, the ecclesiastical influence on the European medieval academic culture and the subsequent rise of modernism during the Enlightenment, the need to cultivate the life of the mind and develop a passion for ideas and intellectualism, and the reminder that Christianity was founded on liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy.

I look forward to continuing the ESN Day Ahead, and participating in the Plenary session and Engineering & Technology track.

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