The Pursuit of Excellence

Read and discussed On The Pursuit Of Excellence: Pitfalls in the Effort to Become No. 1 (Richard H. Bube, Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith: Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Vol 39, 1987, pp. 67-76) as part of an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Faculty Ministry Catalyst Workshop.  Below is the conclusion of the article.

Profound issues are raised in dealing with the pursuit of excellence. A person’s entire world view is involved in responding to these issues, and Christian perspectives may frequently be quite different from those of the secular world. First, there is the question of what constitutes excellence. A common secular response is to regard excellence as the state of being better than anyone else. Competition between people is the framework in which excellence is defined, and the achievement of excellence requires, in the last analysis, being recognized as No. 1. The Christian perspective sees excellence rather as the state of being of the highest quality as measured by the standards of God. There is no necessity for superiority of one person over others, and no particular virtue in being labeled No. 1.

Second, there is the question of how excellence is judged. In a secular framework, excellence is judged by the opinions of other people. In particular areas some direct quantitative measure of excellence may be agreed upon, but this also represents the opinions of those constructing the quantitative measure. The Christian perspective measures excellence against the standards of God. In fact, it begins with the recognition that no one is by nature excellent before God, but that by His grace in Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit, we may serve Him to His glory in all that we do. The opinions of other people may indeed be helpful in guiding a person in the pursuit of excellence, but they do not constitute the final decision.

Third, in a secular perspective excellence can be viewed by considering one part of life at a time. A person may be judged to be an excellent physicist at the same time that he is judged to be a complete failure as a husband and father. People are rewarded for maximizing areas of excellence in life without taking any special care for other areas in which failure results. Excellence is task-related, and there is little vision of excellence in all of life as a major goal. For the Christian, excellence in all of life is the goal. Excellence in specific aspects of life is to be maximized only insofar as such maximization is consistent with the minimization of unfaithfulness to responsibilities, broken relationships, failed commitments, and insensitivity to others’ needs.

If an academic institution chooses to follow directions laid down by the secular perspective, it becomes quite a different place than if it had followed the Christian perspective. The deliberate choice to become No. 1 enters a university on a treacherous path scattered with many pitfalls. Individuals concerned for the quality and effects of education should carefully consider the implications of this choice.

Questions/Recommendations:

  1. How do you pursue excellence?
  2. Do you pursue excellence in all or only part of your life?
  3. Is excellence a too culturally laden term for a follower of Christ to use?  If so, what term would you propose?
  4. Note: As time permits, please take the opportunity to read the whole article, available here, and pass it along to some friends/colleagues.  Then find the time to chat about it via email, on-line, or over coffee/lunch sometime over the course of the next several months.
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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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