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The Calling of the Christian Scholar

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kuyper-portrait-paintingIn the latest issue of Themelios, Robert Covolo reviews  Abraham Kuyper’s newly translated Scholarship alongside Richard Mouw’s Called to the Life of the Mind, examining the common traits that emerge from two perspectives on scholarship from the “Kuyperian strain.”

Outside of the differences in tone and audience that one might expect from authors separated by a century (and an ocean, for that matter), Covolo notices each author’s emphasis on scholarship as a distinct “sphere,” thus involving a distinct calling. “It is hard not to recognize a strong family resemblance” between the two authors, he writes.

First, a taste of Kuyper:

Kuyper contends that Christians entering academic work must do so recognizing “a distinctive calling in life and a special God-given task” (p. 5). In stark contrast to those who jump through academic hoops merely to secure a good job, Kuyper calls budding Christian scholars to appreciate the privilege afforded them, considering theirs a holy calling as priests of learning. For, according to Kuyper, to be a true Christian scholar requires more (though not less) than sustained and careful thinking, reflecting, analyzing, methodical research, attention to form and an understanding of academic etiquette. It also calls one to a life of humility, prayer, service, pure living and sincere piety. Indeed, Kuyper claims no area of one’s life—from financial planning to taking care of one’s body—is unaffected by this call.

Next, the continuity from Mouw:

Mouw is also concerned that Christian scholars understand their work as involving a distinct calling. Echoing Kuyper’s reference to priesthood, Mouw compares becoming a Christian scholar to joining a religious order. As such Christian scholars are not only to cultivate the life of the mind, but also to be marked by virtues such as faith and self-denial. Indeed, echoing Kuyper’s discussion on proper humility in one’s scholarship, Mouw claims that the Christian scholar is to humbly embrace her epistemic and personal limitations as one player within the larger academic body. Moreover, also akin to Kuyper, Mouw claims the Christian scholar is to take up this calling as part of a higher aim: a way of loving God and neighbor.

As it accomplishes for other spheres, the Kuyperian view of scholarship enhances our vocabulary and expands our imagination when it comes to Christian cultural engagement. As pursue a more fully integrated approach to stewardship and discipleship, both authors offer a compelling path for Christian witness within the realm of scholarship, further showing how that witness edifies and complements the rest of the body.

For more on the calling of the Christian scholar, see Scholarship or Called to the Life of the Mind, and watch Episode 5: The Economy of Wisdom, from For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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