By David S. DockeryPresident, Union University, Jackson, Tennessee"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).
A call to serious Christian scholarship is a call to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Paul's words call us toward a wholehearted devotion to Christ-not just with our hearts but with our minds as well. It is a call to think Christianly. As we enter this new century we need more than just novel ideas and new delivery systems; we need distinctly Christian thinking, or as T. S. Eliot puts it, "to think in Christian categories." This means being able to see life and learning from a Christian vantage point; it means thinking with the mind of Christ.
The beginning place for a call to serious Christian scholarship points us to a unity of knowledge, a seamless whole because "in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:15-18) for all true knowledge flows from the One Creator to His one creation. Thus, specific bodies of knowledge relate to each other not just because scholars work together in community, not just because interdisciplinary work broadens our knowledge, but because all truth has its source in God, composing a single universe of knowledge.
Christian scholarship calls for us to integrate faith thoroughly with our research within our various disciplines. Drawing on the long Christian tradition to do so, we can begin to restore coherence to learning. This will help move us toward the development and construction of a convictional world and life view by which we can see, learn, and interpret the world from the perspective of God's revelation to us.
Serious scholarship-often mentioned in cliche terms such as "the search for knowledge" and "the quest for truth"-must not be described carelessly or flippantly. When we speak of scholarship from a Christian perspective we speak of more than scholarship done by Christians. Rather we speak of a passion for learning based on the supposition that all truth is God's truth. Thus, as Christian scholars related together in a learning community, we are to seek to take every thought captive to Christ.
It is not just the apostle Paul who gives us guidance on the subject of Christian scholarship. Justin and Irenaeus were probably the first in post-apostolic times to articulate the need for faith-informed scholarship. In third-century Alexandria, both Clement and Origin instructed their converts not only in doctrine but in science, literature and philosophy. In the fifth century, Augustine penned in On Christian Doctrine the thoughts that every true and good Christian should understand that wherever we may find truth it is the Lord's.
This legacy may be traced across the centuries and in almost every culture, for wherever the Gospel has been received, the academy and Christian scholarship have followed. This legacy can be traced through Bernard, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Melancthon, Edwards, Kuyper, and, in this century, with numerous others.
A call to serious Christian scholarship simultaneously affirms our love for God and our love for study, the place of devotion and the place of research, the priority of affirming and passing on the great Christian traditions and the significance of honest exploration, reflection, struggle, curiosity, and intellectual inquiry. These matters are in tension, but not in contradiction and are framed by a faith-informed commitment.
Christian scholarship is not just piety added to secular thinking, nor is it merely research that takes place in a Christian environment. The Christian intellectual tradition calls for rigorous thinking, careful research, and thoughtful publication. Christian scholarship is far broader than biblical and theological studies, though the disciplines help provide the framework for serious intellectual wrestling with other areas across the curriculum such as literary, philosophical, scientific, historical, technological and social issues.
A Christian worldview provides the framework for Christian scholarship in any and every field. This worldview, which grows out of the exhortation to take every thought captive to Christ, begins with the affirmation of God as Creator and Redeemer, for the dominating principle of Christian scholarship is not merely soteriological but is cosmological as well. We thus recognize the sovereignty of the triune God over the whole cosmos, in all spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible.
In the large majority of our institutions it is teaching that is rightly prized and prioritized, but we also need a complementary place for Christian scholarship. Rightly understood, Christian scholarship is not contrary to either faithful teaching or Christian piety. Christian scholarship provides a foundation for new discovery and creative teaching, as well as the framework for passing on the unified truth essential to the advancement of Christianity. Teaching, worldview formation and spiritual formation must serve one another in the cause of Christian scholarship.
Ultimately, Christian scholarship must surely subordinate all other endeavors to the improvement of the mind in pursuit of truth, taking every thought captive to Jesus Christ. At three places in the Book of 2 Corinthians Paul reminds us that we cannot presume that our thinking is Christ-centered (see 2 Cor. 3:14; 4:4; 11:3). Thus, in 2 Corinthians 10:5 he calls for all of our thinking to be liberated by coming under the Lordship of Christ.
So now, like in the days of the Corinthian correspondence our minds and our scholarship are ensnared by the many challenges and opposing worldviews in today's academy. Like Paul and others on whose shoulders we stand we must combine the intellectual with the moral and the spiritual. This that is the essence of serious Christian scholarship: bringing every thought captive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in order to serve and edify others. That is a high calling indeed as we move forward and faithfully into the 21st Century.
Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn. and a member of the CCCU board of directors. Previously, he served as vice president for academic administration and dean of the School fo Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. He received a doctorate from the University of Texas-Arlington, a master of arts from Texas Christian University and a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dockery has written or edited 18 books and has contributed to 20 others. He has served on the Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Executive Board of the Tennessee Foundation for Independent Colleges and Univeristies (TFICU).