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Pack Your Suitcase: Fold Faith into Learning

How should we think about our intellectual journey as we prepare to travel in the post-normal world of the 21st century? In this essay, Dr. Jay Gary offers four principles on how we should integrate faith and reason as Christian leaders.

“The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” -Alvin Toffler

In this poignant quote Toffler underscores the irony that we face in the 21st century. Whether as saints or scientists, we all run the risk of becoming illiterate. It is as if we have packed our mental suitcase for a vacation in the tropics, but have landed in Greenland. We are now ill-suited for the new terrain of this post-normal world.

Our “illiteracy” does not come from the lack of learning, but from the ill-suited filters we use to make sense of reality. Stated pro-activity, as Christian educators, we must give attention to constructing, deconstructing, and constructing a robust biblical world view for our times.

In response to this context of change, what is my philosophy of truth? What practices do I engage in order to encourage students to create a unity of faith and learning? How do I help them navigate the push of tradition and the pull of innovation, or reconcile the tensions between religion and science? How should Christian Higher Education approach what Richard Florida calls the “Great Reset”–finding new ways of living and working to create post-crash prosperity.

Let me offer four principles that I follow to integrate both my religious and intellectual life, and invite others to follow Jesus.

1. We must stand on the firm foundation of God’s Word, but realize our search for truth about God’s world is still open.

This first principle says that all truth is God’s truth, whether it comes from religion or whether it comes from science. It also maintains that truth, which was once made know in Jesus Christ is final; but also that more truth is being apprehended as we study God’s creation.
This means as Christian scholars we must maintain our integrity in our disciplines with both the Reformation and the Enlightenment. We must live by both our hearts and our heads. We must embrace both the humanities and the sciences. We must use words and numbers. We must draw upon both qualitative interpretation and quantitative measurement.

2. We must live constructively in this tension between being a Christian and being a citizen of our Republic.

In his 2005 book, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar, Richard Hughes speaks to how two religious traditions emerged in America. The first was based on theism and drew from evangelical Christianity; the second was based on deism and drew from the Declaration of Independence.

As Christian scholars we must keep faith with both “religions,” or with both Church and State.
We must affirm both the particularity of Christianity and the universality of the Republic.

Rather than foment a war between the sacred and secular, or seek to coerce righteousness, we must use the power of persuasion, as Os Guinness says, to call our nation back to God. In this regard I reject both the propaganda of the New Atheists and the New Theocrats to polarize the church and our society.

3. We must see the quest for knowledge as the prelude to service, and help our students build deep vocations.

Once we unshackle ourselves and our students from the false war between religion and science, we must set our students on the path of serving others. In the Christian tradition, we are not Gnostics. We are saved by divine love, not by knowledge.

Therefore, as Christian scholars we must die to ourselves and take a posture of service. This must start first in our disciplines. We must earn the right to be a voice and speak as both pastors and prophets. We must invite our students into this living community of practice, which encompasses both saints and sinners.

The apostle Paul, who was quite learned, renounced his inherited knowledge as rubbish. In speaking of his new vocation, he wrote, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power” (Eph. 3:7).

Jurgen Habermas wrote that society must restrain itself from maximizing the knowledge interests or special interests, in order to focus on the emancipatory interest. I help my students overcome the tension between faith and reason by inviting them, as Paul did, to embrace the emancipatory interests of the underserved. I call them in critical loyalty to follow the Great Commandment and fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus, by embracing the Great Work of time to build mutual civilizations of peace, prosperity and equity.

4. We must model for our students a life well lived, in, by and through the Spirit of God.

The final principle we must follow to help our students integrate faith and learning is to insure that we as faculty walk in the Spirit each day, and invite them to follow us, as we in turn follow Christ. I aspire to treat every student as child of God. I approach them, as psychologist Carl Rogers says, with ‘unconditional positive regard.’ I cannot do this in the Flesh, but only in the Spirit.

I believe the Spirit of God is calling forth a new generation of Christ followers, who are focused on creating a way beyond the internal contradictions of modernity, and beyond the Babylonian captivity of the Church. I see Christian Higher Education, if shaped by this integration of faith and learning, as vital to releasing this digital generation into the open, democratic, and high value learning societies of the 21st century.

This will require a paradigm shift from old command and control models, as Toffler said, to new open dynamic models of life, where humility, mercy and justice meet. It is to this end that I labor with all the strength God gives me to see a new generation enter a new land, empowered to create the new worlds of tomorrow.

Dr. Jay Gary is president of PeakFutures.com, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years he has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

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