Review of Caleb D. Spencerâ€™s â€œWorking Knowledge: Faith, Vocation, and the Evidence of Things Unseen,â€ inÂ Faithful is Successful.Â [Read more…] about Giving Thanks: A Christian Approach to Vocation (Scholar’s Compass)
In an evangelical world in which â€œsecularâ€ knowledge is sometimes not valued, itâ€™s important to remember that the Bible itself, at least in a couple of instances, supports the learning and use of whatâ€™s sometimes termed â€œsecularâ€ knowledge. Of course, there is no such thing as â€œsecularâ€ knowledge, really. There is simply knowledge, and God has all of the knowledge itâ€™s possible to have, including the â€œsecularâ€ and â€œsacredâ€ kind. So, we really shouldnâ€™t have to defend the use of â€œsecularâ€ knowledge. Nevertheless, the following places in Scripture are useful: [Read more…] about A Biblical Basis for Secular Knowledge (Scholar’s Compass)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
â€œOur danger has not been too much thinking, but not enough.â€
The epigraph to Williams book gives us the purpose of this book in a sentence: to make the argument for the importance of thinking and the life of the mind. Williams originally did this in pamphlet form, which has now been expanded into this still concise little book that gives us the contours of an argument for thinking.
He begins by describing why those who like to think do so: to understand the way things are, to bring coherence to oneâ€™s beliefs, to grow in self-understanding, to apply serious thought to public issues, and to make sense and meaning of oneâ€™s life. He then proceeds to argue that thinking well is intrinsically important including this syllogism:
1. What God made is good.
2. It is intrinsically good to know about what is good.
3. Consequently, it is intrinsically good to know what God has made.
He then goes on to delineate positive effects of thinking in terms of enhancing human flourishing, supporting our faith and training in goodness.
His next chapter was perhaps both the most interesting and also the place where I felt the most additional work needed to be done. In it he explores the tensions between the life of the mind and Christian faith under the categories of inquisitiveness, imagination, arrogance, and the neglect of evangelism, compassion, justice, and devotion. While acknowledging the realities of these pitfalls, I felt he did not go far enough in identifying their roots in both hubris and neglect of our hearts. Equally, I would have valued more exploration, beyond the acknowledgement of these tensions and the possibility of living within them, of how one does so. This seems to be critical to the flourishing of thinking Christians in contexts that often challenge faith.
Subsequent chapters explore the tensions between the life of the (Christian) mind and the culture we find ourselves in, the value of thinking in community, and a concluding chapter that describes the life of the mind in terms of living in the tension between hermit and explorer (fascinating images!).
While couched in Christian terms, many of the arguments Williams make for the life of the mind make sense for anyone who considers ideas and careful thinking important. At the same time the book is directed to a Christian college audience (under the imprint RenewedMinds, an imprint of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities). It seems that one of the things that might be helpful if this work is revised and expanded would be to address more explicitly what the life of the Christian mind has in common with the life of the mind more generally, and what distinguishes this mind. Mark Noll has done the latter quite helpfully in his Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.
In its present form, Williams has given us a helpful articulation of the intrinsic value of developing the life of the mind and some preliminary considerations of how one goes about this process. I could see this being very helpful to an undergraduate student considering a life of scholarship and equally to someone at mid-life asking questions about how one might move from simply an activist life of doing to going deeper in thinking about faith and the context of oneâ€™s life.
â€˜And God blessed [mankind] and said to them, â€œBe fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.â€ â€¦ The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.â€™ Genesis 1:28, 2:15 (NIV)
â€˜For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. Romans 8:19-21 (NIV) [Read more…] about Navigating Knowledge: Integrating Faith and Palaeoecology (Scholarâ€™s Compass)
â€œBy wisdom the LORD laid the earthâ€™s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the watery depths were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.â€ Proverbs 3:19-20 (NIV)
â€œSee, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills â€“ to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.â€ Exodus 31: 2-5 (NIV)
The most common reaction I get when I tell people I am an archaeologist, is â€˜I always wanted to be an archaeologist when I was little!â€™ Since most people later leave that dream behind and find more useful things to do, I sometimes find myself pondering why it is worthwhile to engage in archaeology. After the first excitement of the prospect of digging up treasures has worn away (probably after weeks of finding nothing whilst digging in rock-hard clay in the scorching sun, or alternatively sloppy, slippery clay in the pouring rain), why would a Christian have an interest in pursuing an academic career in archaeology at all?
Archaeologists are interested in how people lived in the past â€“ in particular those parts of the past for which we have no written documents, or those aspects of life in the historical period for which we do not have written descriptions. They study peopleâ€™s lives and culture through examining all kinds of objects: from cooking pots and other everyday objects, to temples and palaces: human artefacts.
Proverbs describes Godâ€™s creative activity using three words: God created by wisdom, by understanding, and by knowledge. These same three words are also used for human cultural activity, for example in the passage that describes the beautiful objects that Bezalel made for the temple of Solomon, but also in another passage in Proverbs about building a house (Prov. 24: 3-4).1 Archaeologists, and for that matter, other scholars in the humanities, therefore study the ways in which people most clearly express the image of God: in the making of culture and the transformation of their environment, however tainted by the fall this activity may be.
Archaeology is arguably also the discipline that does most justice to the great diversity of Godâ€™s creation. Of course archaeologists are primarily interested in people and how they lived. But to properly understand human life and culture, you need to have an understanding of all the different aspects of Godâ€™s multifaceted works. Human culture is embedded in the landscapes that we inhabit, the materials we use to build houses, make tools, toys, art. Then there is the non-human living world: the foods that we eat, our pets, the small creatures we share our living spaces with.
Whilst many disciplines are at risk of reductionism, losing sight of the wonderful ways in which everything in Godâ€™s creation holds together in Christ (Col. 1:17), archaeologists are forced to consider many different aspects of the world in order to piece together the full picture. What is more, to build up a complete account, specialists from many different disciplines have to work together. In this way, archaeology implicitly acknowledges the richness of Godâ€™s creation, not least in the complexity of human life and culture. This reflects the Lordship of Christ over all that exists, because God has created a world that is very multi-faceted and everything is intertwined with everything else.
1 Middleton, J.R., 2014: A new heaven and a new earth, Reclaiming Biblical eschatology, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
1. How does your discipline engage with Godâ€™s multi-faceted creation? Where is it in danger of inappropriate reductionism? Could a consideration of other facets of creation enrich your discipline?
2. Does your scholarship reflect the image of God that is in you?
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. All things have been created through you and in you all things hold together. Fill us with the knowledge of your will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that we may live a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way.
Middleton, J.R., 2014: A new heaven and a new earth, Reclaiming Biblical eschatology, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Adapted from a blog post on the Faith in Scholarship-blog, posted 20 June 2014, http://faithinscholarship.org.uk/a-is-for-archaeology/
Image courtesy of Eline van Asperen