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Why Do I Even Bother?

A young man recently asked me, “Aren’t you involved in the Bradley Study Center?” He followed with, “What makes you want to be involved?” In an unexpected moment of lucidity, a pretty good answer came to mind. I’d like to share it with you. However, I must first outline some context.

I believe the core mission of the Bradley Study Center (BSC) is to build a Christian academy. The term academy captures two important ideas. It means a community of scholars sharing a common educational focus, or, a place of learning. Developing and conserving a shared story is essential in each case. For example, think of Israel in the Old Testament. They were a community of promise and people of a promised land. Their national story is a portion of the grand biblical redemption narrative. Similarly, BSC aspires to be a placed learning community that relates the deep truths of the Christian faith to the various affairs of a 21st century research university. Sharing these thoughts is one way to contribute to the story of this emerging community.

Reason One: All of life is worship.

  • This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (Romans 12: 1b & 2a, NLT)

I became serious about my faith at about the time of my mandatory tenure review. With the prospect of being a professor over the long haul on the horizon, I realized, “if you are going to be a Christian professor in a public university, you have to know why you believe what you believe. After all, professors are supposed to profess.” Though my degrees are professional – not academic – God used the writings of Francis Shaeffer to fuel a desire to know more about history, literature, art, philosophy and theology. I had to learn about these things in order to relate my faith to my academic work with any depth of understanding. Reading became enjoyable. It was leading me somewhere important – toward a truly integrated way of seeing and living my life.

Reason Two: Christian students and faculty have interrelated special callings

  • When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. (Luke 12:48b, NLT)

University students and faculty members are intellectually gifted, bound for careers that afford social status, and atop the global population in terms of wealth. We should expect some responsibility to accompany such gifts and privileges.

Faculty are in a unique position. Their responsibility to the university permits them to work in and through its structures and operations. I am convinced that each faculty member has a unique calling related to the specifics of their position. God’s special calling on our lives entails more than meeting the demands of our job descriptions. We are, in all of this, agents of God’s kingdom. Similarly, students are positioned in the university for a season of time that should be preparatory to a lifetime of leadership and service to society. For all their worth, campus ministry leaders and pastors cannot help students in this area of their lives like professors can. Christian professors need to be working directly with Christian students (and vice versa) if either group is to optimally fulfill their reason for being on campus.

Reason Three: Education has left the building

  • The greater the university, the more intent it is on competitive success in the marketplace of faculty, students, and research money. And the less likely it is to talk seriously to students about their development into people of good character who will know that they owe something to society for the privileged education they have received. (Harry R. Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, Excellence without a Soul, 2007)

The growing Christian study center movement is intimately connected to forces of privatization that are at work in today’s public research universities. For fiscal and ideological reasons, the humanist liberal education of the early twentieth century is gone. Though it had notable shortcomings, it was the last bridge between a Christian worldview and the academic life of universities. In its place are curricula hostile to the idea that higher education, in part, is about the formation of virtuous citizens – society’s future leaders.

Christian parents, and churches, have been slow to recognize the shift and formulate an appropriate response. This is evident in the high percentage of the Christian students entering university who subsequently walk away from their faith. The preparation these young people receive prior to entering higher education is deficient and – when challenged – proves too removed from the stream of life to be considered relevant.

It is impossible to connect one’s faith to a meaningful way of life in the absence of a liberal education that is grounded in biblical principles. Though study centers are not a sufficient response to this educational challenge they can mitigate its effects by fostering intellectual curiosity, disciplining a limited number of motivated faculty and students, offering core content that builds proper foundations for learning, and aiding those struggling to reconcile the Christian faith with their university studies.

  • And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 14, NKJV)

According to the Apostle John, Jesus is the very embodiment of grace and truth. These attributes of His being are not on a cost/benefit curve so that as one increases the other decreases. It is of no small consequence, then, that BSC’s core purpose of learning is positioned within the context of face-to-face community. A community of Christians can never be comprised of, what James K. Smith calls, “brains on a stick.” Learning together is an activity that is bound to include all the blessings and frustrations of relationships between redeemed – yet imperfect – human beings. It will entail the full sense of belonging and of being sent into the world as Christ’s witnesses, ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation.

The Lord Jesus Christ prepared the way for us to substantially participate in resurrection life here and now. Our task is to live in accordance with what we have already attained in Him. I am passionate about the Bradley Study Center because it seeks to contribute to the formation of Christian faculty and students who will seek to reflect the fulness of the incarnate Christ through their entire way of being and living. This will involve, but not be limited to, developing our mutual understanding of how Christian faith grounds and guides the pursuit of our respective disciplines and professions.

Telling my personal story is, in part, a way of thanking the students and volunteer leaders who are already involved with BSC through book studies and the emerging BSC Fellows Program. It is meant, also, as an invitation to those who wish to join our academic ministry community. And finally, it is an appeal to parents, alumni, and local church members, to pray for and support us in this vitally important ministry.

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