Last week I had the privilege of several coffee breaks with Christian friends doing PhDs in different areas. Each time I came away excited by a fresh glimpse of how big God’s world is. One friend is doing a PhD on a certain grammatical obstacle for Kurdish speakers learning English, and also preaches at a local Arabic-speaking fellowship. Another is looking at how to embed an ethic of caring for the earth into church teaching in east Africa. Another is trying to find the best way of freeze-drying blackcurrant juice without losing anthocyanins – and praises God for the nuances of physical chemistry. Totally different topics – but let me tell you: the delight of engaging with someone else’s research, just for half an hour, is like nothing else!
Posts by Richard Gunton
The following is my summary of a sermon preached by Tom Wright in the chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge some years ago. As an undergraduate, I was gripped and inspired by this vision for my calling as a student. The main text was Revelation 5 , and there were also illuminating references to Job 29 and Psalm 8, the other texts for that particular evensong. The image above is my diagram illustrating his sermon.
Academic scholarship prides itself on rigour and objectivity. Science is considered the most reliable body of rational knowledge about the natural world, while the arts and humanities pursue unbiased investigation of social phenomena, penetrating what it is to be human. Let the life of the mind flourish, and truth will prevail!
Or is that all spin and nonsense? Let me come clean: I wrote that first paragraph tongue firmly in cheek! Does scholarship really have pride in itself? What’s all that impersonal drivel about “science is considered” and “the arts and humanities pursue”? In the whole paragraph no human being comes into view at all – as if academic work has a life of its own! What’s “the mind”, after all, and how can it have a life?
The European Reformation of the 16th century clarified the distinction between Christianity and the Church. The believer’s primary allegiance, claimed the Protestants, was to Jesus Christ, and church congregations were an essential expression of this rather than providing salvation itself. At this time came a renewed emphasis on Christ’s lordship over every area of life: all kinds of work were to be seen as vocations to pursue in service of Christ the coming King.
What do you think of when you hear the word “ecology”?
The discipline of ecology may be unique among the sciences in that its name has become strongly associated with a political agenda . Indeed, “ecological” has connotations of “sustainable” and “environmentally-friendly”. What we call “green” translates in many languages as “ecological”, evoking one of the dominant ethical movements of our time.
The third key element of the biblical worldview is redemption. That means God buying back what was lost. And if we take the biblical accounts of sin seriously, it’s clear that the whole created order was corrupted by the Fall. So, building on an understanding of Creation and Fall, we see that Redemption is the way that God’s original purposes for the filling and cultivating of the earth may continue despite sin. In other words, it’s not a Plan B, but the rescuing of Plan A:
Mark is away this week, so here's something you may have missed last month.
As anticipation mounted for the World Cup final, a feature about football and faith went out on 6th July on 16 local radio stations around the country: from Yorkshire Coast Radio to Cornwall's Pirate FM. Mark was a central commentator: speaking alongside Christian professional footballers Bruce Dyer and Bobby Hassell, he talked about the drama, joy and wackiness of football as one of the good things we can do in God's creation.
I heard a talk about “Being a Christian in Academia” recently and wanted to make a response. I had a list of points at which I would have said something different from what the speaker said, and there were probably enough for a 30-min talk.
But as I reflected, there seemed to be just one point that really mattered. One thing could set the general direction for everything else, and perhaps that was all I needed to say. That point was, “What’s the point?” I mean: why be a Christian in academia? And why have universities at all, from a Christian point of view?
This week, I’m taking a look at another initiative concerned with Christian scholarship.
Grad Resources has a unique model for engaging with the university. Based in the USA, it has a telephone helpline dedicated to PhD students in moments of crisis, or who feel a need for anonymous support. The National Grad Crisis Line (freephone
1.800.GRAD.HLP) receives hundreds of calls a month, apparently helping many postgraduate students avoid despair, self-harm and even suicide.
At one of our postgrads’ discussions, a friend doing a PhD in literature was sharing how difficult it is to attribute special authority to the Bible in the English faculty, where a first principal is that all texts are treated equally. Must we just make a special exception for this book, and take the ridicule on the (other) cheek?
I’m from a science background, and in my faculty non-scientific texts are supposed to have no authority at all. Can either of us ever hope to be considered rational by our colleagues, when we trust in God’s written word? Surely that challenge is there even if we never get into apologetics discussions at work, never mind claiming scientific or literary insights from the Bible in our research!