The new school year has begun, and with it college students have flocked back to their colleges and universities to encounter the challenges, gifts, and opportunities that the life of scholarship entails.
But upon entering this field of labor, what ought Christians to consider and deliver in such a setting? What is the goal of university study, and what does sacred scholarship look like?
In Abraham Kuyper’s newly translated Scholarship, a collection of two convocation addresses given at the beginning of the school year at Vrije Universiteit (Free University), he offers some healthy reminders to kick off the school season:
At the start of the new year I wanted to put this question to you before the face of God: What should be the goal of university study and the goal of living and working in the sacred domain of scholarship? I wanted to see whether I might perhaps rouse in some of you a more sanctified passion.
To have the opportunity of studying is such an inestimable privilege, and to be allowed to leave the drudgery of society to enter the world of scholarship is such a gracious decree of our God. Nature out there (God’s Word says as a punishment for sin) is hard for 99 percent of the human race. Of the 1,400 million people who live on this earth [in 1889] there are at least 1,300 million who literally have to eat their bread “by the sweat of their brow”—on farm or factory, at lathe or anvil, in shop or office, forever occupied in wresting food, clothing, and shelter from nature by processing, shaping, shipping, or selling it. And the real man of science does not look upon this with contempt. On the contrary, he senses that to live such a life should really have been his lot too, and that he, bowing under God’s ordinances if that were his occupation, would have found happiness and honor in it. But God created, in addition to the world of nature with all its elements and forces and materials, a world of thoughts; for all of creation contains Λόγος [Logos]…
…You and I have received this great favor from our God. We belong to that specially privileged group. Thus, woe to you and shame on you if you do not hear God’s holy call in the field of scholarship and do not exult with gratitude and never-ending praise that it pleased God out of free grace to choose you as his instrument for this noble, uplifting, inspiring calling.
It is for God’s honor that there should be scholarship in the land. His thought, his Λόγος in the κόσμος [kosmos], must not remain unknown and unexamined. He created us as logical beings in order that we should trace his Λόγος, investigate it, publish it, personally wonder at it, and fill others with wonder.
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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.