What does a “Christian approach” to my discipline even mean? Do I need to mention Jesus in the papers I write? Is it OK just to allude to something Christian in the acknowledgments? Should I quote the bible? What will happen if I do? I found myself asking questions like these pretty early on in my doctoral studies. I’m still asking them, and I suspect that I will be until I retire, but I have picked up some pointers along the way.
One of the biggest helps to me in thinking carefully about what a “Christian approach” means was a passage in Don Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited:
that stance is most likely to be deeply Christian which attempts to integrate all the major biblically determinate turning points in the history of redemption: creation, fall, the call of Abraham, the exodus and the giving of the law, the rise of the monarchy and the rise of the prophets, the exile, the incarnation, the ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the onset of the kingdom of god, the coming of the spirit and the consequent ongoing eschatological tension between the “already” and the “not yet,” the return of Christ and the prospect of a new heaven and a new earth. (p. 81)
What Carson helped me to understand is that I shouldn’t be looking for one secret key, one killer verse or one way of thinking that will provide a fail-safe “Christian approach” to my work. The key isn’t that my discipline systematically forgets the doctrine of sin, or that it sees no possibility of redemption, or that it assumes there is no authority in the universe greater than human beings. Or rather, it may or may not be all of these and more besides, but it is none of them alone.
Developing a Christian approach to our disciplines is a long and careful process of taking the web of narratives, values and ideas that structure what our discipline is trying to do and why it is trying to do it, and then slowly and thoughtfully comparing those with the bible’s narrative, God’s values, and what the bible tells us about the purposes of human life.
The fruit of such an approach might be subtle, or it might be visible as Christian from miles away (it will often depend on the intended audience). It might be clear that what is being taken is a “Christian approach”, or it might not. That is not the most important thing. What is important is that the discipline be well and holistically understood, graciously analysed, and uncompromisingly interrogated in terms of God’s story, values and truth. That is the work of a lifetime.