The church has found a renewed interest in matters of “faith-work integration,” but while we hear plenty about following the voice of God in business and entrepreneurship, we hear very little about the world of academia. What does it mean, as a Christian, to be called to the work of scholarship?
In Scholarship, a newly released collection of convocation addresses by Abraham Kuyper, we find a strong example of the type of reflection we ought to promote and embrace. For Kuyper, the call to academic life is a “sacred calling,” one that demands wise and creative stewardship of the mind and a Christianly posture and position that connects with each other area of the Christian life.
Although the Economy of Wisdom may differ from other spheres in its emphases and modes of operation, those of us called thereto are at a fundamental level propelled by the very same stewardship mandate: be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth through truth, knowledge, and wisdom.
As Kuyper explains, the scholar’s very mind is his “field of labor,” one that must be cultivated actively and attentively:
In your mind lies your glory as scholars. That is your field of labor. Not merely to live, but to know that you live and how you live, and how things around you live, and how all that hangs together and lives out of the one efficient cause that proceeds from God’s power and wisdom. Other people, when evening falls, have to have sown and plowed, counted and calculated; but you have to have thought, reflected, analyzed, until at last a harvest of your own thoughts may germinate and ripen on the field of your consciousness.
You too for your part must feel called to be a nurseryman in this consecrated garden. And if others plant a cedar or a vine while you perhaps make only cuttings of lilac or hyssop, that does not matter. Even mint, dill, and cumin belong to the plant world. Just as long as something is growing, and as long as that something is not a weed.
The pseudostudent builds a house of blocks, like a child, and when he has finished it he puts the blocks back in the box. The true student builds a proper house and takes care that his studies are done properly: the beams have to be real beams, the iron bolts of real iron and not of tin, and the cornerstone a real stone that can bear the necessary weight. This causes him to develop a sense of what is truth. Not guessing at it, and by chance coming up with a tolerable answer. Not bragging and showing off with what is not asked and what is not relevant. But really knowing what you know. Every argument a genuine argument. Every opinion an opinion that has merit. Checking every link in a chain of ideas to see whether the argument is watertight.
After all, the man of science does not play fast and loose with the facts, but it is granted him to track down the gold of God’s thoughts, the gems of divine wisdom, a labor that requires real discernment. Then you may at times know much less than the braggart and look shabby next to the dandy; but is the woman who can adorn her throat with one real diamond not richer than the trollop from the music hall who has bedecked her bosom with the glitter of costume jewelry?
For those of us called to the work of scholarship, how then ought we to study and search? How do we order our lives, allegiances, obligations, and desires in a way that glorifies God? What is our delight,” as Kuyper puts it? Are we striving after our own thoughts for our own self-serving purposes, or are we searching to uncover God’s truth, so that we might glorify, honor, serve, and obey him in all that we do?
For more, purchase Scholarship: Two Convocation Addresses on University Life, or grab For the Life of the World, which includes an entire episode on the Economy of Wisdom.
More than a hundred years ago Abraham Kuyper and his followers recognized that knowledge (curriculum) and behavior (pedagogy) are embedded in everyone’s core beliefs about the nature of God, humanity, and the world. Kuyper delivered the two convocation addresses included in this volume to the students of the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam in 1889 and 1900.
A long and hard fight against modern secularizing forces in education and government had in the end provided serious Christians a place at the table of public conversation and gave historic Christianity a voice in the hallowed halls of the university and the public square. Such was the vision for the Vrije Universiteit, a place of religious liberty and rigorous scientific study where the original ideals of the university could flourish again. Here Kuyper offers his views with incisive analysis, good humor, and common sense that still ring true today.