The divide between Sunday, and Monday through Saturday, may be one of the biggest challenges facing Christians in the academy. In this article Bob Trube, ESN’s director, explores how we may live toward an undivided life through loving God in our field of study.
Following Jesus in pursuit of his kingdom calls us to an undivided life. This is a life of loving the people in our field of study with a longing to see them follow Jesus and loving what we study. Both flow from loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. It means seeing our field of study and the people in it through the eyes of faith. And it means understanding our discipline within God’s big purposes for the world, whether we are in English Literature or Electrical Engineering. Here are some ways you can grow in your love for God in your field of study:
- Bathe it in prayer. Do you pray before study and before classes and not just before exams? Do you ask God for insight as you work problem sets, devise research methodologies, or read journal articles? When you see something really cool, do you offer praise to God for it? A professor friend who teaches embryology speaks of wanting his students to respond to course material with “doxological wonder.” Offer what you love about your field to God.
- Pursue excellence in your field. This is not about grades or citations but about honoring God in your work. Your interest in course material, your contributions to discussion, and your interest in your field of study beyond the classroom in non-competitive ways opens doors to work with classmates and catches the attention of faculty. Christians are often known as “anti-intellectual.” Your excellence will commend Christ to others.
- Find something that really catches your attention in your field and take opportunities to go deeper. Explore the possibility of doing research with a professor if you are an undergraduate student. Go beyond what you need to pass the exams to make a class into a life-changing learning experience. For graduate students, this can serve as a basis for your dissertation. Sometimes what catches your attention is what is not there.
- Be curious! What questions do the things you are studying raise? Are there questions that your studies raise about your faith? Don’t worry if you cannot readily answer these. Give them time and study, just as you do with questions in your research. Are there unsolved questions in your discipline that might be interesting to research? Keep a journal or a file on your computer where you write down those questions.
- What is the place of your field of study in God’s big story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation? If you study languages or linguistics, have you thought about the culture mandate of Genesis 1:27 and the dispersal of the nations at Babel? For those in the arts, how is human creativity connected to God the Creator? If you are a civil engineer, how may the construction of public works from sewers to bridges to buildings contribute to stewarding the creation and the pursuit of human flourishing?
- Read books by Christians that explore the intersection of faith and your calling as a student. Steven Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness is a good place to start. James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door helps you discern the premises that undergird texts you are reading. David Dockery’s bibliography by discipline, though dated, is the most comprehensive online resource. Check out InterVarsity Press!
Bruce Edwards, a C.S. Lewis scholar, passed along and commented on this observation made by Owen Barfield, a friend of Lewis:
“Owen Barfield, longtime friend of Lewis, once wrote, in the preface to a volume of essays about Lewis that I had the privilege of editing, that “Somehow what Lewis thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything.” Lewis’s life was, in other words, thoroughly integrated, a man whose presuppositions and convictions about life, faith, and reality, were centered in God and manifested themselves in all that he attempted.” (In C.S. Lewis: My Mentor).
Not many of us will attain to the heights achieved by Lewis. But we may learn from how his love for God in all things led to a seamless “thoroughly integrated” life. His faith, his scholarship, his relationships with colleagues, his life as a public intellectual were of a piece, woven together by his love for God. So may it be for us!
[An earlier version of this article was posted as a resource for InterVarsity’s Ambition 21 conference.]