Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition: An Interview with David Dockery
I am excited about the potential for the new series, Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition, edited by David Dockery of Union University. I have desired to have a series like this for years—introducing various disciplines from a Christian perspective—and I am so thankful that it has come together under his capable leadership. We recently dialogued about the idea behind it, what’s coming next, and how all of this relates to the promise and peril of Christian higher education.
We are very excited about the opportunities associated with this new project and most grateful to Crossway for their support in this effort. The “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition” series is designed to provide an overview for the distinctive way the church has read the Bible, formulated doctrine, provided education, and engaged the culture through the centuries. The various contributors to the series all agree that personal faith and genuine Christian piety are essential for Christian living and for service in the church.
Why do we need something like this?
We believe that this series is needed at this time to remind ourselves and to help others recognize the importance of serious thinking about God, Scripture, and the world. We believe that Christians need a renewed emphasis on these things in order that the truth claims of the Christian faith can be passed along from one generation to the next.
What do you hope this series will accomplish, by God’s grace?
It is our hope that the series will enable college and seminary students, faculty and staff, trustees, parents, and administrators, as well as church leaders to see afresh how the Christian faith shapes how we live, how we think, how we write books, how we govern society, and we relate to one another in our churches and social structures.
By exploring the Christian intellectual tradition and its inferences and application for all major subjects in a college curriculum, we hope to see afresh the richness of the Christian faith and its implications for the complex challenges that believers face in the world.
The contributors to the series will explore how the Bible has been interpreted in the history of the church, as well as how theology has been formulated. We will seek to ask:
- How does the Christian faith influence our understanding of culture, literature, philosophy, government, beauty, art, or work?
- How does the Christian intellectual tradition help us understand truth?
- How does the Christian intellectual tradition shape our approach to education?
We believe that the series is not only timely but that it meets an important need because the secular culture in which we now find ourselves is, at best, indifferent to the Christian faith, and the Christian world—at least in its popular forms—tends to be confused about the Christian faith.
In order for us to reclaim and advance the Christian intellectual tradition, we must have some understanding of the tradition itself. The series, which will include at least fifteen volumes, will seek to explore this tradition and its application for our twenty-first century world.
Which books are available so far, and what are some of the books in the pipeline?
We are pleased that three books in the series have already been published.
Timothy George and I wrote the first volume called The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking.
Gene Fant, chief academic officer at Union University, has written a marvelous volume on The Liberal Arts.
Louis Markos, the fine C. S. Lewis scholar and professor of English Literature at Houston Baptist University, is the author of the work on Literature.
We will publish two additional volumes this fall.
David Naugle, author of the masterful work on the history of worldview thinking, has written the work on Philosophy.
We hope to publish at least three or four volumes in 2013, 2014, and 2015. We are excited about the forthcoming contributions to the series by Philip Ryken (Christian Worldview Thinking), Michael Wilkins and Erik Thoennes (Biblical and Theological Studies), Ben Mitchell (Ethics and Moral Reasoning), Edd Noell (Economics), Paul Munson and Joshua Drake (Music and Art), John Woodbridge and Greg Thornbury (History), John Bloom (The Sciences), and Read Schuchardt (Media and Journalism), among others.
Who is the target audience?
The series is particularly designed for Christian students and others associated with college and university campuses, including faculty, staff, trustees, parents, and other various constituents. We believe the series can serve the academy and the church and help strengthen the partnership between the two in our shared calling and service.
Who else might read these books besides college students? Why should others take a look at these volumes?
I think that the books can be quite valuable for pastors and church leaders. At the heart of this work is the challenge to prepare a generation of Christians in all spheres of life to think Christianly about church, culture, and society. We hope that readers will better understand the breadth and depth of the Christian intellectual tradition. The works are designed to be accessible and understandable in order to provide a framework to help introduce Christ-followers to the great tradition of Christian thinking, seeking to highlight its importance for understanding the world, its significance for serving both church and society, and its application for Christian thinking and learning. We trust that the series will be a starting point for exploring important ideas and issues such as truth, meaning, beauty, and justice. We are certainly encouraged by the initial warm response that the series has received from a wide-ranging group of scholars and academic leaders.
I know this is an impossibly broad question, but as you look into the future, what excites you and what concerns you about the direction of Christian higher eduction?
I am excited about many aspects of the future of Christian higher education and simultaneously concerned about the numerous challenges that we face.
I remain hopeful about the number of campuses who are seeking to take seriously the call to reclaim, apply, and advance the Christian intellectual tradition. Last year, the journal First Things recognized about 25 Christian colleges and universities that were seeking to faithful in their commitments to academic excellence and to Christian worldview thinking. I trust this number will expand in days ahead.
Unfortunately, many institutions take an either/or approach to this matter, thinking that they must choose between academic excellence or Christian commitment. The result has been a long list of institutions, since the days of Harvard University, who have walked away from their Christian commitments and their connections to the churches. On the other hand, there are some institutions that have focused only on Christian faithfulness and authentic piety, but have avoided serious academic work. We must avoid this “either/or” approach to higher education. Likewise we need to avoid models that separate head and heart, faith and reason, or Christian tradition and intellectual inquiry. We need a coherent approach to Christian thinking and living that seeks to bring these matters together rather than separating them from one another.
Moreover, we must recognize that the changes in higher education seem to be ever-shifting in terms of philosophy, methodology, and delivery system possibilities. It is impossible to keep up with these changes, but we must continue to monitor these trends and provide education that is faithful to our heritage as Christ-centered institutions while seeking to be ever more connected to the reformulations of the world in which we now find ourselves. These changes are manifold and can be summarized in terms of technology, education delivery systems, and the interface between traditional education and the rest of society in terms of internships, classroom consulting, service learning, distance learning, and strategic institutional alliances. All of these cause us to rethink traditional classroom boundaries.
Special interest groups continue to offer pressure on Christian institutions of higher education to conform on issues that will compromise our mission. We must anticipate that the issues of sexuality and sexual freedom, including same-gender unions, could possibly impact federal funding or accreditation matters. The right to hire will likely be the most important legal issue that Christian colleges and universities will face in the years ahead. These issues, along with the growing economic pressures faced by every campus, will make the challenges of providing Christ-centered higher education in this century more challenging than ever before.
With these factors in mind, we must think wisely, carefully, strategically, and creatively as we look toward the future to become more thoroughly mission driven. I am hopeful that Christian institutions in North American and particularly those in the Global South can work together to serve church and society, providing thoughtful foundations for us to engage the culture and envision a blessed and kingdom-focused future for the days ahead.