Nicholas Wolterstorff on How to Think with a Christian Mind

In a 2007 address at the University of Tennessee, Nicholas Wolterstorff offered some thoughts on how to faithfully and effectively serve in the academic world as a Christian:

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First, be patient. The Christian scholar may feel in his bones that some part of his discipline rubs against the grain of his Christian conviction, but for years, and even decades, he may not be able to identify precisely the point of conflict; or, if he has identified it, he may not know for years or decades how to work out an alternative. Once he does spy the outlines of an alternative, the Christian scholar has to look for the points on which, as it were, he can pry, those points where he can get his partners in the discipline to say, “Hmm, you have a point there; I’m going to have to go home and think about that.” He doesn’t just preach. He engages in a dialogue – or tries to do so. And that presupposes, once again, that he has found a voice.

Second, to arrive at this point, the Christian scholar will have to be immersed in the discipline and be really good at it. Grenades lobbed by those who don’t know what they are talking about will have no effect. Only those who are learned in the discipline can see the fundamental issues.

Third, to be able to think with a Christian mind about the issues in your discipline, you have to have a Christian mind. As I see it, three things are necessary for the acquisition of such a mind.

First, you have to be well acquainted with Scripture – not little tidbits, not golden nuggets, but the pattern of biblical thought. Let me add here: beware of the currently popular fad of reducing acquaintance with scripture to worldview summaries.

Second, you need some knowledge of the Christian theological tradition.

And third, you have to become acquainted with the riches of the Christian intellectual tradition generally, especially those parts of it that pertain to your own field. Too often American Christians operate on the assumption that we in our day are beginning anew, or on the assumption that nothing important has preceded us. You and I are the inheritors of an enormously rich tradition of Christian reflection on politics, on economics, on psychology, an enormously rich tradition of art, of music, of poetry, of architecture – on and on it goes. We impoverish ourselves if we ignore this. Part of our responsibility as Christian scholars is to keep those traditions alive.

Fourth, Christian learning needs the nourishment of communal worship. Otherwise it becomes dry and brittle, easily susceptible to skepticism.[/pk_box]

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