locating scholarly Christianity for your scholarly types

The conference I attended last week draws a uniquely diverse crowd. And one of the groups particularly well-represented is scholars.

Both Protestant and Roman Catholic seminary professors, seminary students, and other scholars attended in abundance, creating a different feel even during lunchtime conversations (not to mention in the seminars, which mostly run the spectrum all the way from scholarly-practical to scholarly-theoretical!).

And yet I can honestly say I’m someone who loves that environment. That’s just how God has wired me. I actually find it fun. It refreshes me.

***It’s important to note, right here, that I’m not equating scholarly with smart. I’m using “academic” and “scholarly” interchangeably, and neither mean a difference in quality or “level” or “depth” or any such nonsense. It’s just a difference in kind, a difference in approach. Not better. (Just… brainier?)

If that’s not clear, the rest of this will seem insulting. It shouldn’t be.

(Clarification over.)

Some of your students like the scholarly side of Christianity too. Or they would, if they had been exposed to it.

The truth is, many students have only received (in any great amount) two things in college ministry (or youth group before it):

  • practical discipleship
  • theology that isn’t particularly “academic”

And that’s awesome! Those are the things we should be teaching in Large Group Meetings and most small groups, because they’re what especially help Christian collegians grow deeper in their faith and more faithful (and fruitful!) in their walks with the Lord. Most of your students wouldn’t be edified by an academic lecture on Art and Beauty or Cultural Entrepreneurship.

But for some students, there’s still this itch (recognized or not) for a Christianity that reflects academic scholarship. Christianity that can get really complex, because that’s how those students think anyway. Discipleship that discusses and learns from a diverse range of not only theologians, but also philosophers and historians and social scientists from modernity and antiquity. A faith that can follow those students deeply into the life of the mind – as far as they wish to go.

But if they aren’t exposed to this kind of Christianity, students wired this way will face a growing rift – a rift between

  • their day-to-day growth as scholars as they progress through college and graduate school and beyond, and
  • their day-to-day Christianity (which may stop at a Sophomore level of scholarship, at best).

These students certainly need the practical discipleship and accessible theology, too. We’re not aiming for Gnosticism here. But they also need this approach to faith, too.

Shepherds feed the sheep what they need. So it’s one of a college minister’s (many) jobs to help these particular students discover this scholarly Christianity. Plenty of books, conferences, and web sites are available. Honestly, you might simply urge them to find it for themselves – they’ll probably relish the opportunity. But wherever and however you locate it, this kind of Christianity will stimulate their minds, liven their hearts, and buttress their faith – because they will indeed face plenty of heady attacks on that faith in the days to come.

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