I’ve just started (another) physical workout regime recently, and in order to drum up some enthusiasm for the task I did some lightweight web-based research on how to train and what it takes to keep going for the long term.
One recalcitrant fact I kept butting up against is that it is little use to work out only one part of the body. Apart from the ungainly disproportion that results, it can be dangerous to have one set of strong and powerful muscles working together with another set of weak and spindly ones (pardon the lack of appropriate vocabulary; you’ll have noticed I’m no workout specialist).
Sadly, something very similar can happen to the Christian academic. It’s a fact of university life that we won’t last long in academia unless we learn to become both intensive and extensive readers in our discipline area. Almost all of this reading will likely consider our discipline from a secular point of view. Now, think of this secular disciplinary reading as like working out our arms. In time we end up with hulking academic biceps, like our colleagues.
But now imagine that the Christian reading we do is the equivalent of working out our legs. How is that going, proportionately to the curls and pull-ups we are putting our arms through? Are we putting in the leg work?
It must surely be a wise rule of thumb that the level of sophistication we bring to our understanding of the Christian faith should keep pace with the level of sophistication we bring to our understanding of our academic discipline. Otherwise we risk being academic adults but Christian babies, and Christianity may well appear simplistic or backwards to us simply because we haven’t bothered to put in the hours in the gym to get deeply enough into it.
If I know from my academic discipline a whole raft of implicit and explicit criticisms of the Christian worldview at a very high level of sophistication, while at the same time surviving on a diet of occasional sugar candy from the local Christian bookshop and the quick spit and polish of a verse a day and a brief pray in the morning, it surely can’t be surprising if, little by little, I become just a tad embarrassed by my Christian convictions. Before I know it, those convictions become “former convictions” and I have walked away from Christ out of embarrassment, with a justification that goes something like “evangelical faith is for the young, the idealistic and the naive; thinking people move on to more sophisticated positions.” Among many other tragedies, such a position forgets that, in the paradoxical economy of the gospel, the weakness of God is in fact stronger than human strength, and the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.
It is crucial for our own long-term spiritual health (not to mention our capacity positively to influence our disciplines for Christ) that we treat our knowledge of Christ and his word with the same seriousness we treat our disciplinary knowledge, and that we discipline ourselves so that the former keeps pace with the latter. If I may put it this way, how are you doing in the leg department? If you realise you need to bulk up your legs, you could begin by having a look at the reading list I suggested in a previous post.