It is obvious that the beginning of the semester is just around the corner. I am seeing freshmen excitedly wandering the halls with bewildered looks on their faces. They are looking forward to the new experiences that await them here at the university. Their sense of expectation is almost palpable.
This time of year being a faculty member is an invigorating experience. Students are truly excited about their educational journey, and want to begin it in earnest. This excitement is rather contagious, and I find it an invigorating part of my academic life. With all of the renewed hustle and bustle around campus I am reminded that I really enjoy teaching students, and that I truly miss my interactions with them when the university is not in session.
One of the things that many students expect when they come to a Christian university is that they will actually come away with a new understanding of the world around them. They believe that their academic endeavors will endow them with certain abilities that will enable them to navigate the morass of human interaction, and facilitate their understanding God’s universe.
What many of them find out is that their expectations are filtered through many layers of tacit ideological paradigms that they have been developing during their years or elementary and secondary education and general cultural immersion. This often ends up handicapping their initial intellectual investigations of God’s universe.
When I ask my students to examine their foundational beliefs they discover, much to their surprise, that they have been espousing ideologies that are either tacitly empiricist—holding that knowledge is only available through the discipline of naturalistic science and/or that they are moral relativists—that the value judgments of good and bad or true and false are at best social constructs.
As I said, these tacit ideological misunderstandings are not intentional. The majority of my students come from homes that are deeply committed to evangelical Christianity. If asked they could give their Christian testimony with little preparation. The problem is that the students (all of us actually) live in a world that is deeply incoherent, and yet screams powerful ideological messages.
Often times their Christian faith does not come into direct contact with their academic pursuits. If anything they are often quite defensive (personally and intellectually) of their faith, but often this defense comes in the form of aphorisms that while true are void of any deep personal understanding.
Students who are interested in changing the world for Christ must develop robust intellectual understandings and skills. They must see their theological undertakings as a part of their intellectual development. Albert Mohler points out again and again on his blog that many of our Christian theological crises can be seen as an outgrowth of our intellectual confusion and compromises.
Historically, Christianity held much of the intellectual high ground. Christianity has, since its beginnings, been about the ability to gain a true understanding of the world around us. Over and over the Apostle Paul points out the need of us as Christians to be active rationally. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 states, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
For one to be intellectually mature one must have a clear knowledge of the truths of God’s universe. Maturity enables one to have an impact on one’s church and community at large. Students must strive to overcome the incoherent noises of the world, and work hard to gain a coherent comprehension of God’s creation. This can only be achieved when a systematic understanding of theology is understood to be a fundamental player within ones intellectual development.
Universities that see theology as a necessary aspect of human academic pursuit and human flourishing enable their students to play a significant role as leaders within their church, their home and within the world at large.