New Tips Series: Growing Spiritually in Your Academic Life

Life in the university promises a chance to think about the big questions in life, to reflect on who we are and what we’re learning. But all too often, life as an academic seems so busy as to overwhelm any chance at contemplation; it can be a struggle to figure out even how to have daily time with God. For our fall tips series, we’re asking writers to share a brief tip or idea on building your spiritual life in your role as an academic. We’re thrilled that longtime friend of ESN Mary Poplin has agreed to start the series today. Click here for other work by Mary. 


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One of the most gratifying and rewarding experiences in both my spiritual and intellectual life was taking a year to read the Bible from my own discipline. I remember how Dallas Willard urged us to ask the question, “What does Jesus think of your discipline?” Orthodox Christian, Charles Malik had asked a similar question in 1982, “What does Jesus think of the university?” So I asked God to prompt me as I read the Bible that year to stop and contemplate anything that had to do with my discipline of education.

Aside from a study of how Jesus taught, I was struck by the fact that while knowledge appears to be of the mind, understanding is generally related to the heart, and wisdom is related to the spirit of the LORD. There is a higher place than knowledge. We know a great deal and every year more and more, but in our secular age, we have lost the moral tether to know what to do or not do with our knowledge.

Secondly, I discovered the entire sequence of a great education or a well educated person is laid out in 2 Peter 1:5-9:

For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

Mary Poplin
Claremont Graduate University

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Mary Poplin

Professor Mary Poplin earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas and is a professor in the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University. She began her career as a public school teacher. Her current work spans K–12 through higher education. Her empirical work is on highly effective teachers in low-performing urban schools. Her current work in higher education explores and critiques contemporary intellectual/worldview trends dominant in the university as they influence the various academic disciplines—the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. She is the author of a new book on worldviews—Is Reality Secular?—published by InterVarsity Press.

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