13 Ways of Looking at Graduate School: Part 3

Below is part 3 (of 4) of a series by an anonymous contributor, a recent PhD recipient who has been involved with ESN and wanted to share lessons he learned during graduate school. In the fall he will begin teaching at a private Christian university. Praise God! Click here to read Part 1 and click here to read Part 2. ~ Tom

9. Don’t be afraid to be known as a fanatical Christ-follower

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9

Don’t be afraid of non-Christians thinking you’re stupid for believing in God and His divine Son Jesus Christ, and for talking about Him in public (as opposed to the common attitude of ‘you can hold whatever religious beliefs you want, as long as you hold them privately’).  We talk about other aspects of our lives that are important to us. . . . Why not God?  Whose opinion and approval matters most?   Whose opinion will we be concerned more about 1 million years from today?  I have learned how much I need to grow in this area.  “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).

10. Work as if God were my boss

“[Grad students], be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” Eph. 6:5-8

This is extremely difficult for me. I’ve been learning that this applies whether my experiments are working or not, whether my friends and colleagues are working this way or not, whether my boss is watching or not.  Working for the Lord Jesus Christ is a self-explanatory concept, but so difficult to do.  However, by His grace I will be able (and when I fail, repent and get back on track).  The coming reward (living with Him) is great beyond reckoning.

One very nice side benefit of this attitude is that it makes it much easier to work on “futile” projects, in which the project or documentation or line of experimentation seems pointless or certain to fail. It might indeed end up being useless for my career, but the time/energy/work will not be ultimately ‘wasted’, because Jesus is watching and He will reward me for my work “as unto Him” after this earthly life is done.

11. Rely fully on God’s promises

God always keeps His promises.  I’ve been learning that I need to explicitly rely 100% on God’s promises, when problems or worries arrive. He has made a lot of promises. . . such as the fact that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28), and so many more (Phil. 4:6, Ps 37:4, Prov. 3:5-6, Heb. 13:5, etc).  Worrying, though a ‘natural’ response, is not the correct, faithful, God-pleasing response.  Instead, I need to trust God!

Click here for Part 4 of 13 Ways of Looking at Graduate School

Updated 4/5/2012. 4:53 PM.

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An anonymous contributor to the Emerging Scholars Blog.

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  • jbw7@comcast.net'
    Joe Whitchurch commented on April 5, 2012 Reply

    I have liked this series but must admit that I had to chuckle that the encouragement of #9 was written by someone who is graduated, has a job and yet posts this encouragement as ‘anonymous’. I’m sure there are reasons, but I did chuckle a bit out loud. COL? LOL? (-:

    • Tom Grosh IV commented on April 6, 2012 Reply

      Good question Joe, particularly as it not only brings out more of this Emerging Scholar’s passion for the Gospel, but also provides another challenge for the Emerging Scholar to consider. Below is the Emerging Scholar’s response. Enjoy and feel free to continue the conversation 🙂 To God be the glory!

      “Actually, yes, that is quite funny… somehow I didn’t notice the irony of my anonymously posting that “don’t be afraid to be known as…” point until your friend pointed it out! Actually, there’s really one main reason for my attempted anonymity, and that is that I plan to go overseas into closed access countries (strongly atheistic or Muslim) in the future in an academic / tentmaking role, and so I try to keep my name disconnected from my writings on the internet, or at least behind a firewall like Facebook/friend privacy, so that people in the future deciding whether or not to grant me a visa won’t simply pull up my name on Google with such writings. My colleagues here all know that I’m a Christian, as is also evident from my current email signature (Matthew 16:24-26).

      But his comment is well taken… perhaps I should reconsider my internet visibility, and let God take care of the future visa situations…”

  • jbw7@comcast.net'
    Joe Whitchurch commented on April 6, 2012 Reply

    Excellent. Point well spoken and well received. All the best in Christ.

  • stevexoc@gmail.com'
    Stephen A commented on April 6, 2012 Reply

    I worry about #9 as well, but for different reasons. Byron Johnson, Director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor, tells the story of his early career, when his willingness to be the “fanatical Christ-follower” in his department adversely impacted his research priorities and led to him losing his position. Now, there were a host of other issues in his case, but when I heard him speak on the subject, the resounding point was: Don’t allow religious zeal to become a stand-in for good scholarship or rigorous academic work. That said, I think the phrasing on item #9 lends itself to this kind of misreading of a Christian’s obligations in the academic world. Richard T. Hughes’s posts from January on Christian scholarship presents what seems to me to be a more helpful view in suggesting that Christians scholars are called to produce good scholarship, and that pursuit, infused as it must be with quality work that is respected in its field, will rarely (if ever) lead to a scenario in which the scholar is seen as “stupid” or “fanatical” for holding to his or her faith.

    • Tom Grosh IV commented on April 7, 2012 Reply

      Thank-you Stephen. I appreciate how this post has sparked discussion with regard to the public expression of faith by followers of Christ in higher education. To clarify before making a few comments and pass along a response by the author of the post, I concur with you that Richard Hughes shared very helpful material in early 2012, http://blog.emergingscholars.org/author/richardhughes/. As a matter of fact, I invited both of the guest bloggers — appreciating the wisdom of age and the passion of youth with myself somewhere in between listening/yearning for the best which both have to offer 😉

      Three brief practical points:

      1) I have found that in some contexts just the mention of following Christ and inviting others to do likewise leads to the labeling of one as a fanatic. Personally the greatest push back to my serving as a campus minister occurs at “former” Christian colleges and/or with campus ministers who consider me a “fanatic”/proselytizer due to my affiliation with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

      2) Awhile ago a friend related a story about probably loosing an academic position based on being a “fanatical Christ-follower.” Although it gave pause to the vocation of Christian scholars in secular higher education AND was quite difficult at the time, in the long run the encounter shaped the scholar’s public identity in a helpful manner. Maybe the experience broke the utopian perspective of “higher ed open to all ideas” and/or “God will always protect your job no matter what.” Trust for next steps must be placed in Christ alone.

      3) Instead of vocal lab bench or honor college preaching, “a fanatical Christ-follower” will be most often marked by dedication to vocation (more below in quote) and inexplicable humility and love/care for neighbor birthed by love for God. Hospitality and concern toward the other (especially the outsider) cannot be held back in a place so needy as in the context of high pressure academic pursuit. The expression may simply be taking time to listen in the hall or over a snack/meal, asking good questions to deepen relationship/conversation, inviting to gatherings with Christ-followers (including campus dialogues regarding faith-vocation), providing a meal/ride, learning another language. Sometimes the responses are just plain awe as care has never been extended (in many cases their stories never listening to/appreciated) and there is a longing to know “Why?” It’s so different. So strange for many. Not just here, but in their place of origin (whether in the United States or from another country). . . . As this Emerging Scholar shared in his series, “I seek the humility of John the Baptist, who said of Jesus ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30).” Yes, it’s fanatical, but when the kairos moment arises we are to give testimony with both deed and word. To God be the glory!

      Below are a few words emailed to me by the Emerging Scholar who wrote the post. Once again, thank-you for your comment, feel free to keep the conversation going. I’m excited about the opportunity to sharpen the material presented on the blog.

      “Yes, I think Stephen raises some good points. His point of “Don’t allow religious zeal to become a stand-in for good scholarship or rigorous academic work” is excellent and I think fits in with my point number 10. Basically, there is a “balance” necessary… but the balance is NOT between “two extremes of very-religious versus very-secular”, but rather two complementary subsidiary passions, with the basic root being 100% devotion/commitment/love for God… the two complementary passions which flow from this are BOTH diligence in one’s work (for God’s glory) AND being willing to talk about Christ and invite other people in the workplace to consider Him, even sometimes when it is considered unpopular (for God’s glory).

      I.e. one of the most adamant unspoken commandments of today’s workplace is “Thou shalt not proselytize. Ever. Or act in a way which someone else might construe as proselytization.” My point #9 was meant to contradict this secular commandment. Jesus has given us the primary mission in life of “making disciples”… I suggest that there are times when as followers of Christ in the workplace we need to talk about God, explain our Biblical motives, invite coworker friends to consider Jesus, ask questions leading to discussions about spiritual things, etc, even though these activities are often considered taboo.

      Yet as Stephen well pointed out, WHILE being zealous for Christ and His gospel, we must also work hard at our job, to please God and so that others will be drawn to Him…”

      • Tom Grosh IV commented on April 7, 2012 Reply

        A few additional thoughts from the author of the post:

        “Also, regarding fanaticism, Tim Keller has a great section on this in his book “The Reason for God”, pages 56-59. A short excerpt:

        “Many people try to understand Christians along a spectrum from ‘nominalism’ at one end to ‘fanaticism’ on the other. A nominal Christian is someone who is Christian in name only, who does not practice it and perhaps barely believes it. A fanatic is someone who is thought to over-believe and over-practice Christianity. In this schematic, the best kind of Christian would be someone in the middle, someone who doesn’t go all the way with it, who believes it but is not too devoted to it. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that the Christian faith is basically a form of moral improvement.” . . .

        “Think of people you consider fanatical. They’re overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they’re too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding – as Christ was. Because they think of Christianity as a self-improvement program.. . . What strikes us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.”

        My post point #9 was about being unafraid to be CONSIDERED a fanatic… that is to say, being unafraid to being called that epithet. But of course I was not advocating BEING a fanatic in the sense of being judgmental and harsh and insensitive. . . . On the other hand, I would advocate BEING fanatically/completely/wholeheartedly/100% committed to Jesus Christ, nothing held back, unashamed, “all-in”, imitating both His loving/gentle/forgiving traits (John 4 to the woman at the well) and His bold/courageous traits (cleansing the temple, calling the Pharisees ‘whitewashed tombs’). So there are two issues I guess. . . . the difference between what one is “LABELED” versus what one actually “IS”, and the difference Keller mentions between being fanatically “self-righteous” versus being fanatically in love with / worshipping Jesus Christ.

        I suspect that Jesus Himself, were he to work in academia today, would be highly disdained and condemned for His beliefs [such as His belief in the Creator God (versus today’s secular evolutionary mindset), His beliefs about marriage (versus today’s permissibility regarding homosexuality and fornication), the exclusivity of the One True God (versus today’s pluralism), etc]. He would be admired for His love and gentleness, but castigated for His stubborn literal belief in the Jewish Scriptures. Therefore I suggest that we should not afraid to experience the same vilification.”

  • jbw7@comcast.net'
    Joe Whitchurch commented on April 8, 2012 Reply

    I really like the Tim Keller clarity. I’ve gone down that same line of reasoning on moderation and come up short but didn’t understand the why of this as well until reading the above. Thanks anonymous and TG IV.

    I did have another thought and it hasn’t had quite the clarity of the Tim Keller paragraph in its formation. I wondered why when giving tips for ways of looking at grad school that #1-8 couldn’t also be seen as at least potentially a distraction to scholarship. But typically the protest to the assumption of poor scholarship comes up with uncanny regularity with the number nine view. I suppose it is at this point where the ‘cost’ can really come back at us, e.g. the cost of commitment. But it does seem there is something about number nine. Keller’s point on how the common paradigm of fanatic doesn’t work and the distinction between willingness to be ‘thought of’ versus actually being a fanatic was helpful. There is just something about number nine.

    It is a bit similar and perhaps this falls into the ‘merely thought of as such’ category, as what happens in another context. That context is when you speak of the beauty, doctrines, or the assumption of creation. You won’t be far into that conversation before someone mentions that “all the good science says..” as if to make sure one knows their rightful place. And assure that none transgress the properly approved boundaries of the ostensibly thoughtful not to mention correct majority.

  • stevexoc@gmail.com'
    Stephen A commented on April 9, 2012 Reply

    Thanks for the feedback; I also like the section from Tim Keller, in fact, a few years back I taught a class on that very book. My background is in English, and I’m finishing my PhD in British literature next year, so obviously words and semantics are significant to my thinking. In fact, I think the Tim Keller point is exactly why I hesitate at #9. In my graduate student experience in the humanities, to be “thought of” as a fanatic would mean, to me, that I had failed in my Christian calling precisely because it would mean that others saw me in all the negative ways that Keller describes. I guess I’m not too keen on the thought of trying to “recover” this particular term as a positive descriptor, because it is already loaded with so much negativity. In fact, Keller’s point also suggests that to be fully Christian in some ways precludes the possibility of fitting into the nominal/fanatic spectrum. As such, if those with whom I worked found that it was possible to place me in that spectrum, my response wouldn’t be “don’t be afraid to be labeled this way,” but “in what ways have I failed to fully live out the gospel.” The author makes the correct point that we should emulate both Christ’s gentleness and love as well as his boldness. I would think that being thought of as fanatic would suggest a rush to boldness where more love/gentleness was needed. Indeed, in our experiences in the academic world, I would argue that we are going to meet far more “women at the well” than we will encounter “white-washed tombs.”

    In response to your point, Tom, that even to profess faith has led to being labeled fanatic, I can only say that I am thankful that this has not been my experience in graduate school. I am at a major research institution with a large English department, and while my faith is known to my friends, colleagues, and professors, it has never been the source of this kind of labeling.

    It’s also true that being in the humanities offers me many more opportunities than the author, who I gather is in the sciences, to incorporate the academic resources of the Christian tradition directly into my work and research. While my dissertation is not on a theological topic or theme, there are still numerous intersections, and I have been pleased to draw upon (and cite) the work of folks like Miroslav Volf in my work. It may be that the author and I will remain at odds on point #9, and some of our difference perhaps stems from these disciplinary distinctions. (That said, Keller’s book also discusses the false dichotomy that has developed between science and faith, and I hope that we will be able to see some kind of drawing together of these two areas that have for too long been seen as incompatible.)

    One last thing, the author might consider using a pseudonym in the future, rather than posting anonymously. As a student of literature, I can attest to the well established practice of pseudonymous publication, which I have used for some online writing for reasons similar to those of the author. Pseudonyms allow the author to have an online presence, with an identifiable identity that readers can relate to and track across multiple publications, while maintaining the benefit of not being too easily “google-able.” In any case, thanks for the great conversation.

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