Academic work is a lot like discipleship. You do the day to day work of writing (or pastoring) and publishing (or praying) and teaching (or preaching), and you may or may not ever see the way that your work makes a difference. But the leverage involved is enormous. Ideas can change the world. Good, true ideas, expressed well, can make a powerful difference for the Kingdom of God. And if those good, true, well-written words also open the door for others to do good work — and if the scholar is the kind of Christian who uses his own tremendous gifts to inspire others to serve Christ – and who encourages and teaches in word and example – then the effects are incalculable.
I can’t calculate the incalculable (I’m an English professor; I don’t even balance my checkbook) but I can say a little bit about why I believe Christian scholarship is vitally important — not in abstract language, not this time, but with one stellar example.
I have been writing about my move to Houston Baptist University, where great things are happening. The whole university is on the move to do great things for the Kingdom, but my own part in changing the world is to help develop (and then teach in) HBU’s new MA in Apologetics, which will have a cultural apologetics focus. I am grateful and delighted in equal measure (with a dash of trepidation) that my work in imaginative and literary apologetics is an integral part of this project.
How did that happen? Certainly it makes sense to bring together my academic training in English literature with my academic training and ministry work as an apologist – but what kindled my own imagination and helped me realize that I can do work that makes a difference in the world was the inspiration of Malcolm Guite’s scholarship, most notably in his book Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination. It is now available in a paperback (and hardback) second edition from Ashgate Press. (Read my extended review here.)
In a marvelous series of interviews done by Lancia Smith (read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), Malcolm discusses a number of vitally important issues about imagination, creativity, and the role of the poet. Here he comments on the significance of Faith, Hope and Poetry:
I began to see that poetry was meeting a deep need in me and in others because there was a fundamental imbalance in our culture, an imbalance between reason and imagination, and that my book needed to be a defense of imagination and a plea for restored balance. In particular I saw the need to defend the role of imagination as a truth-bearing faculty, distinct from and yet complementary to reason, not just some private subjective mythmaking, but a real clue about how things actually are. So in the end the book became a bit of a manifesto, a rallying call to resist the bleak reductive materialism of our age, not only for the sake of the gospel as I understand it but for the sake of truth itself.
It was a rallying cry indeed… one that I am attempting to answer with action.
Can Christian scholarship make a difference in the culture? Can Christian scholarship be part of transforming the world for Christ? Yes.
Malcolm Guite’s work – his clarity and depth of vision, the connections he makes with the work of other writers and thinkers, past and present, his ability to share what he sees in clear, powerful language – is Christian scholarship at its best.
And so I look ahead with anticipation to the academic work that I will be doing in the years ahead, with gratitude for my fellow scholars like Guite who have opened the door, lit the way, and inspired me to do good work alongside them.
Can Christian academics change the world? Yes. And, God willing, we will.