Briefly Noted: On Keith Campbell and The Academy as a Mission Field

In a recent article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus Keith Campbell challenges evangelicals to take a missional approach to the academy in general, and to international universities in particular. He argues that such an approach is good in-and-of-itself, and that it is particularly helpful during a time now because of the glut of scholars who hold terminal degrees biblical and theological studies compared with the relative dearth of openings (338). The traditional education path for American scholars, which involves earning successive degrees at the Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral level and the being hired immediately for a teaching position, is increasingly difficult to follow (342).

One solution to this problem, according to Campbell, is for evangelical scholars to take a broader view of the geographical scope of their calling (341). He looks for advancement of global evangelical scholarship on two fronts.

First, denominations should begin to promote higher education as a core missions strategy. He cites the relative lack of denominational promotion of higher education as mission as a problem, seeing the denominationally unaffiliated International Institute for Christian Studies (IICS) as a model for denominational mission boards to pursue (343–47).

Second, Campbell calls on individual scholars to thoroughly evaluate their own calling. He articulates four important points for consideration: (1) What is the individual’s ability level? Campbell argues that only the best scholars should compete for academic positions and writing contracts in the U.S., while the capable, but perhaps less academically gifted scholars can perhaps best serve the Kingdom by educating others overseas. (2) Where can the individual make the most significant Kingdom impact? Campbell calls for scholars to question whether their academic contribution in the U.S. will be comparable to their potential evangelistic impact overseas. (3) What are the individual’s motives for seeking a position in the U.S.? With the market in the U.S. overwhelmed with applicants, Campbell asserts, it is important for scholars to evaluate whether they are seeking to maximize their impact or to find the most comfortable career. (4) What are the individual’s social and economic circumstances? This is a question that is best considered early in the academic progression, according to Campbell, since marriage, property ownership, debt and course of study can all impact an individual’s ability to teach overseas. There may be some who are unable to serve overseas because of these factors (347–50).

While Campbell recognizes the difficulty of making contributions to the cutting edge of evangelical scholarship in some international circumstances, he argues that there may be unique opportunities for scholarly contributions from individuals serving in less conventional academic settings. Research may be more difficult in some settings because the latest scholarly publications are not readily available and daily activities like shopping may consume more precious research time. Yet Campbell recognizes that some of the historical difficulties in pursuing scholarship while overseas are being overcome through advances in electronic publications. Additionally, he offers that pursuing scholarship in a context outside of the U.S. may significantly enhance an individual’s contributions by helping them to consider alternative view points, engage in cultural experiences that enhance understanding of some biblical texts, and wrestle with questions that would go unasked in a conventional U.S. classroom (350–52).

Response

In the big picture of things, I could not agree more with Campbell. One place I differ is in his first point when he mentions that the better scholars might want to stay in the West, while those with lesser ability may want to go abroad. I’d modify that to say that the best and the brightest might very well find a better ROI by going to teach in the Global South and East.

With that said, I’ll add that the 20th century evangelical world at large abdicated its responsibility to the Academy. Although we started some fine Christian institutions, we mostly ignored the need to shape the professorate and the curriculum at major state universities and private colleges. As a result, we have little hand in shaping what is perhaps the most influential sector of American society and of many global societies. While state universities and influential private universities are busy shaping the minds and hearts of young people across the globe, evangelicals have been largely absent. If evangelicals wish to be faithful to our Lord in the 21st century, we must find ways to proclaim him with our lips and promote him with our lives in university contexts, both here in the West and around the globe.

Practical Steps

Consonant with Campbell’s approach, I wish to mention three practical steps we may take toward building a missiology for the academy.  But first, allow me to say that we should continue to do the one thing that evangelicals have not neglected: campus evangelism through student ministries. We should throw our support behind local church college ministries such as Generation Link and Campus Outreach, and behind campus ministries such as Campus Crusade or Baptist Campus Ministries. However, in addition to this aspect of campus ministry (on which evangelicals have focused), we must take at least three other practical steps (which we have often neglected):

First, our churches should preach and teach in such a way that they assign significance to the life of the mind, and to the realms of life represented by the academic disciplines. We must rid Christianity of the sub-Christian belief that our physical, material, and intellectual life doesn’t matter to God. It does matter, because Christ is Lord. Every station of life—whether it is biology, philosophy, literary criticism, or business marketing—matters to Christ and should be undertaken in a Christian manner. In taking these stations of life seriously, we are able to leverage them for Christ and his gospel. We proclaim him with our lips and promote him with our lives.

Second, our churches should encourage people with PhDs to take their credentials and their vocation overseas. There are hundreds of major universities in Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East who are eager to hire Americans who hold a PhD. Many of them are willing even to hire an evangelical whose PhD is from a seminary and whose expertise is in New Testament or Theology. Most American students who graduate with a PhD will never find a full-time teaching job here in the United States, but they might easily find one overseas in a country where their gospel influence would be significant.

Third, our churches should encourage some of their most gifted young people to take their PhDs from Ivy League schools or well-respected state universities, so that they might find themselves in tenure-track positions in those same types of institutions. The whole world is sending their best and brightest children to study in American universities. Those children are shaped by our American professors, and then are launched into influential positions here in the USA or elsewhere. Why not send them on their way after having been shaped by several robustly Christian professors who put in the blood, sweat, and tears to earn a position teaching in a major university?

Concluding Thought

Missional Christians do not seek to escape from their earthly existence, but to shape it in light of the gospel. “The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and a mythological hope,” writes Bonhoeffer, “is that the Christian hope sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way.” The academy, both in the US and abroad, is ripe for professors whose vocation is motivated and shaped by the hope they find in Christ Jesus.

 

Southeastern Seminary (4): A Faculty Who Assess Themselves by Five Criteria

[Note: This blogpost is the fourth installment in a five-part series which articulates and expounds Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s mission to be a Great Commission seminary.]

A Great Commission faculty member is one whose professorial vocation is shaped not only by his confessional commitments but also by professional standards in the field of higher education. These confessional commitments and professional standards are the criteria by which faculty members are appointed, elected, and promoted, but more importantly are the criteria by which they can measure growth in their divinely-given vocation. Five criteria are noteworthy: Christian character, classroom instruction, research and writing, church and community service, and institutional commitment.

1. Christian character. Professors display a Christian way of life. One way of encapsulating this way of life is to say that they are actively engaged in obeying the Great Commission. Another way is to view it through the lens of the Great Commandment, in which we are told that the Lord God is one (Mk 12:29), and which instructs, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:30-31). It is interesting to note that our Lord refers to the Shema as he articulates the two greatest commandments (Deut 6:4). He draws upon its declaration of God’s Oneness and its instruction to meditate upon God’s Word in order to instill Christian love for God and neighbor. We can say that the loving and mutually reciprocal inner life of the Triune God is the model for us as we seek to love God and neighbor. We can further say that love for God issues forth in love for neighbor. Faculty members love and honor God publicly in front of their students. They love and honor their fellow faculty members, the seminary’s administration and staff, and the students who sit under their tutelage. Such love is at odds with cynicism, hyper-criticism, and other vices which sometimes poison academic communities.

The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned, it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt. –J. L. Dagg

2. Classroom instruction. Professors shape their courses and pedagogy consciously in light of the mission, and the core competencies which cause students to flourish as learners. A professor’s course never stands in a one-to-one relationship with any single core competency; indeed, even though a particular course will emphasize certain competencies over others, it will somehow be related to all of the competencies. A systematic theology course, for example, will conceptualize and articulate truth by reflecting upon biblical teaching (biblical exposition), conceptualizing and articulating it (critical thinking and communication), bringing it into conversation with what has been learned in other courses (theological integration), applying it to life and ministry (ministry preparation), and allowing it to drive us deeper into fellowship with God (spiritual formation). Inversely, a core competency never stands in an exclusive relationship with any single course or discipline. Biblical exposition, for example, is not the sole possession of the Old Testament and New Testament faculties. Each professor shapes all of his courses in light of God’s Word, listening attentively to his address in relation to the subject matter at hand. Moreover, Great Commission classroom instruction extends beyond course design into instructional method and style. Great Commission professors value each student under their charge, embracing the challenge to teach every student the churches send, whether that student is undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate; whether that student is residential or online; whether that student is learned or unlearned; whether that student is male or female; whether that student is a member of our ethnic and cultural heritage or not.

To teach seriously is to lay hands on what is most vital in a human being. . . . Poor teaching, pedagogic routine, a style of instruction which is, unconsciously or not, cynical in its mere utilitarian aims, are ruinous. They tear up hope by its roots. Bad teaching is, almost literally, murderous and metaphorically, a sin. It diminishes the student, it reduces to gray inanity the subject being presented. –George Steiner

3. Scholarship: Professors will engage regularly in research and writing. God’s revelation of himself sets the stage for the importance of such scholarship, which is vital to the life of the seminary. Because God has spoken, we listen attentively to his voice, in submission to the Scriptures, seeking to craft lecture notes and publish research in a manner worthy of our calling. As we teach our students to love the Lord God will all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, we ourselves demonstrate love for God by faithfully engaging our chosen disciplines with spiritual purpose and intellectual rigor. Although some professors will be more inclined than others toward research and writing, each professor is expected to engage in research and writing at some level, for the good of our students, our colleagues, and various publics who might benefit. A professor who continues to grow and develop within his field is likely to be a more interesting classroom instructor. A stagnant researcher is likely to make a stale instructor. Further, one of the seminary’s distinctives is its expectation that faculty members remain in scholarly conversation with professors from other disciplines, so that each professor has a transdisciplinary perspective which helps him to understand his own chosen field of research. It should be noted that the seminary integrated its office space for just such a reason. Faculty offices are not arranged by departments or fields of research; instead they are integrated in a transdisciplinary fashion.

The point of Christian scholarship is not recognition by standards established in the wider culture. The point is to praise God with the mind. Such efforts will lead to the kind of intellectual integrity that sometimes receives recognition. But for the Christian that recognition is only a fairly inconsequential by-product. The real point is valuing what God has made, believing that the creation is as ‘good’ as he said it was, and exploring the fullest dimensions of what it meant for the Son of God to ‘become flesh and dwell among us.’ Ultimately, intellectual work of this sort is its own reward, because it is focused on the only One whose recognition is important, the One before whom all hearts are open. –Mark Noll

[The scholarly life] implies a serious resolution. The life of study is austere and imposes grave obligations. It pays, it pays richly; but it exacts an initial outlay that few are capable of. The athletes of the mind, like those of the playing field, must be prepared for privations, long training, a sometimes superhuman tenacity. We must give ourselves from the heart, if truth is to give itself to us. Truth serves only its slaves. –A. G. Sertillanges

4. Church and Community Service. Professors serve their churches and communities. Similar to a profession of faith in Christ, meaningful membership is a prerequisite to one’s vocation as a seminary professor. A seminary professor who is not regularly and closely involved in the life of his church is disqualified vocationally. Although a professor may not be serving on staff at a church, he is known as a regular attender, a person in close fellowship with the church, and one who otherwise demonstrates his commitment to the redeemed community. Through meaningful church membership, professors teach their students that one who loves Christ will also love Christ’s bride; they model for their students the life-on-life discipleship that emerges fully only within a local church setting.  Likewise, professors may find ways to serve the community.

The enduring authority of Christ’s commands compels Christians to study the Bible’s teaching on the church…. Christian proclamation might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (see John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible. -Mark Dever

5. Institutional Commitment. Professors serve at Southeastern because they are committed to Christ’s call on their lives through the ministries of this institution. They teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the articles of faith and statements of affirmation. They are committed to the vision and mission of the seminary as expressed in its mission statement. They are committed to engendering faith, hope, and love among their colleagues, students, and the administration. Although the seminary is not a church and should not be confused with one, it is indeed an institution which trains the church’s servants and which should therefore serve as a model of Christian community. Faculty members will be careful to love and honor students, colleagues, and the seminary’s leadership. They will pray for the seminary community, and faithfully seek to play a part in the spiritual vitality of that community.

Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim…. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -G. K. Chesterton

A Missiology for the Academy (3): Three Practical Steps & A Conclusion

There are many ways to minimize God’s glory. One way is to reduce his Lordship to immaterial “spiritual” things like our devotional lives and personal ethics. Those things are very, very important, and in fact build the core muscles with which we do everything in life. But alongside of those things we must also recognize Christ’s Lordship over the material and “cultural” aspects of our lives. If we minimize the academy—thereby minimizing the arts, the sciences, the public square, business, sports, and any other realm represented by the academy—we rob ourselves of the ability to fully glorify the Lord.

Practical Steps

What are some practical steps we may take toward building a missiology for the academy? For starters, I’ll say that we should continue to do the one thing that evangelicals have not neglected: campus evangelism through student ministries. We should throw our support behind local church college ministries such as Generation Link and Campus Outreach, and behind campus ministries such as Campus Crusade or Baptist Campus Ministries. In addition to this aspect of campus ministry (on which evangelicals have focused), we must take at least three other practical steps (which we have often neglected):

First, our churches should preach and teach in such a way that they assign significance to the life of the mind, and to the realms of life represented by the academic disciplines. We must rid Christianity of the sub-Christian belief that our physical, material, and intellectual life doesn’t matter to God. It does matter, because Christ is Lord. Every station of life—whether it is biology, philosophy, literary criticism, or business marketing—matters to Christ and should be undertaken in a Christian manner. In taking these stations of life seriously, we are able to leverage them for Christ and his gospel. We proclaim him with our lips and promote him with our lives.

Second, our churches should encourage people with PhDs to take their credentials and their vocation overseas. There are hundreds of major universities in Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East who are eager to hire Americans who hold a PhD. Many of them are willing even to hire an evangelical whose PhD is from a seminary and whose expertise is in New Testament or Theology. Most American students who graduate with a PhD will never find a full-time teaching job here in the United States, but they might easily find one overseas in a country where their gospel influence would be significant.

Third, our churches should encourage some of their most gifted young people to take their PhDs from Ivy League schools or well-respected state universities, so that they might find themselves in tenure-track positions in those same types of institutions. The whole world is sending their best and brightest children to study in American universities. Those children are shaped by our American professors, and then are launched into influential positions here in the USA or elsewhere. Why not send them on their way after having been shaped by several robustly Christian professors who put in the blood, sweat, and tears to earn a position teaching in a major university?

Conclusion

Missional Christians do not seek to escape from their earthly existence, but to shape it in light of the gospel. “The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and a mythological hope,” writes Bonhoeffer, “is that the Christian hope sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way.”[1] Missional Christians recognize that the gospel is always proclaimed, and the Christian life is always lived, within a cultural context. Instead of chafing against this reality, we may participate in the joyful task of working out the gospel’s implications in those cultures, allowing the gospel to critique them and bring them under the scrutiny of God’s revelation, and seeking to redirect them toward God’s design.

“We await the return of Jesus Christ,” writes D. A. Carson, “the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, the dawning of the resurrection, the glory of perfection, the beauty of holiness. Until that day, we are a people in tension. On the one hand, we belong to the broader culture in which we find ourselves; on the other, we belong to the culture of the consummated kingdom of God, which has dawned upon us.”[2]God restores his creation instead of trashing it and expects us to promote the gospel within our creational and cultural context rather than attempting to withdraw from it. As such, we find ourselves with the opportunity to promote the gospel within the university context rather than denigrating it, minimizing it, neglecting it, or withdrawing from it.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trans. Reginald Fuller and others, rev. ed. (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1967), 176.

[2] Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited, 64.