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Professors Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of Christian Faculty Paperback – January 2, 1999
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About the Author
Paul M. Anderson (Ph.D., University of Minnesota) is professor emeritus of biochemistry and molecular biology in the School of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and has published ninety-eight papers and articles. His research work, funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, has focused on enzyme mechanisms, nitrogen metabolism in fish, and regulation of gene expression in fish.
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Top Customer Reviews
The Introduction to this 1998 book states, "The authors of these essays are members of the faculty at major secular research universities and are accomplished and respected in their profession. They have wrestled with these issues of life in our increasingly secular and complex world, and they have found meaning and purpose and value, the essence of life, in their Christian faith. Each essay is an account of an aspect of the author's own experience of Christian faith and its relevance to the academic enterprise, life in general and his or her own life. These essays are not theological treatises." (Pg. 12-13)
One essayist admits, "Millions of people have claimed that Jesus has revealed himself to them in response to actions of honest surrender that are analogous to my own experience. If Christianity is basically on the right track, we expect this to happen. This is not to say that millions couldn't be self-deceived or couldn't be deceived as a group. Millions could, myself included... However, if Christianity is basically true, we would expect interaction between God and humans to take place. That is the Christian claim and it is an extremely important claim about the nature of human existence in the universe. If nothing ever happened, then either Jesus doesn't care or Jesus doesn't exist. In that case we need to face the cold reality with a stiff upper lip. It can be done. Millions of people face the starkness of a meaningless universe with courage. But I don't think it's necessary or conforms to the realities of our existence." (Pg. 72)
Another says, "I sometimes marvel at the freedom that I have experienced as a Christian faculty member in a secular university. Part of that freedom stems from the value that the university places on diversity. It tolerates all beliefs and practices, including Christian ones. But this tolerance means nothing if we fail to act on it. I continually pray for boldness in my faith so that I may express beliefs, act in a manner consistent with those beliefs, and communicate respect and love for people who do not share my Christian faith... I am convinced that our colleges and universities desperately need Christian faculty to shine the light of Christ into the darkness that envelops many campuses... to be a fool for Christ is to offer real hope to searching students and faculty." (Pg. 104)
Another essayist admits, "It is not easy to speak about Jesus in a world dancing between a modernism that worships humanity and reason and a postmodernism that denies the existence of universal truth. How do I persuade students that the quality that makes us human is our soul or spirit, which does not emerge simply from the brain or result from psychological needs to please or reject our parents and others? I remind students that most of them are in college today because they acted on faith. They believed that a college education was important. They took on faith the beliefs of their parents, friends and counselors. We are creatures of faith... This describes part of the scientific method. We assume rationality, explanations, and axioms---rules we assume to be true without a priori proof in order to study the actions or consequences that follow from them... We act on faith and could not function without it." (Pg. 135-136)
An essayist who teaches philosophy observes, "I discovered early on that interest in the rationality of Christian belief may well not be welcomed in American churches that embrace mere Christianity. One reason for this is the impact of the privatization view within the church, which in many ways reflects the general culture... Another reason for this lack of interest is a slide that scholars and nonscholars easily make from (i) not everything about God can be known to (ii) God is incomprehensible to (iii) nothing can be known about God... Still another reason is the diminution that has occurred in much of American Christianity, for which conversion and evangelism, sometimes supplemented by social action, exhaust Christianity." (Pg. 212)
This is an interesting--if not particularly "earth-shaking"---collection of essays, that will probably be of most interest to Christians (students AND faculty) in secular settings.
1) It's a great idea to give university professors a chance to write about their faith. In many fields, that opportunity does not arise naturally in interactions with students and other faculty. This book follows in the tradition of "Finding God at Harvard," and others cited in the Introduction.
2) The second thing I like about the book is that quality of the chapters is a bit uneven. These are not trained theologians, for the most part, they are just regular folks, albeit smart folks, trained in other fields, and writing about a topic that is important to them. That's the way it reads, and that's the way it should read, in my opinion. I actually would have been suspicious if all the essays were highly polished.
3) Third, I like the fact that not all the authors take the same perspective. There is even sharp disagreement on some issues, such as proselytizing in the classroom. Anyone who picked up this book would get some flavor for the richness and diversity of thought that occurs within the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. I like the fact that the common ground emerges from the essays, rather than being imposed from the outside.
4) Fourth, I like the mix of conceptual essays and personal testimony. It's very difficult for me to know where to come down on that issue, so I end up straddling the fence. I think that we must be prepared to give an account of our personal experience as Christians, but particularly as college professors, I think that we also must be able to tell a story about the theoretical and empirical dimensions of Christianity that at least makes sense to us, and hopefully would make sense to others, as well. I think that both kinds of accounts are needed to explain ourselves and our faith to other people, and this book contains both kinds of accounts.
I tend to think of the impact of the book on students, though of course, students and faculty are both important audiences. My opinion, perhaps a naive opinion, is that only a minority of our students have reached the point in their lives where they have hit some sort of wall, and realized neither they nor their secular sources of information are equipped to deal with the problem at hand. So they have not yet reached the point of having to ask God to save them from something specific (such as themselves, their addiction, their abusive behavior or their greed). For those who have reached that point, they will find testimonies of people who have gone through similar crises in this book.
Those who have not reached that point may have difficulty identifying with personal testimonies. However, many students, particularly as they approach graduation, have a great curiosity about the meaning of their existence -- in some cases, for the last time in their lives. Those students often are looking for a coherent story about life's most important topics which makes sense to them. They will find some of that material in this book, as well. 4) Finally, I admire the editor's ability to get the authors to produce their papers. I'd like to talk to him about how he did that.
Finally, I would add just a word about the message that Christian professors send to others about our life in the University. I realize that it is somewhat fashionable, somewhat exciting, and somewhat truthful to talk about the modern public university as a "hothouse of anti-Christian bias", mentioned on the back cover of this book. I would just offer three thoughts about sending that message from the university to the rest of the world.
1) I think that whatever pressure or persecution Christians may face in American universities needs to be put in perspective. We occasionally can be ostracized in some fashion, or even face discrimination in the worst cases, but no one is slitting our throats just yet. It just isn't credible to believe that a few snide remarks in the modern university are going to do in a religion that has survived all the horrors that Christianity has endured, especially the ones we perpetrated on ourselves.
2) I don't think that complaining about a hostile atmosphere in the university reflects very well on us (given the trials that other Christians are enduring); on the intellectual power (both conceptual and empirical) of Christianity; on the person and power of Christ himself; and on the university, which I still believe stands along with the Church and government as one of society's most important institutions.
I think that our mission as Christians in a university is relatively simple. We need to encourage people to do about five simple things:
1) If people don't have a Bible, encourage them to get one.
2) If they have a Bible, suggest that they actually read it.
3) Make sure that they have access to some basic information about Christian resources.
4) Encourage them to use their intellect and imagination. A.N. Wilson suggested that J.R.R. Tolkein's contribution to C.S. Lewis' spiritual development was convincing Lewis that the failure to grasp Christianity was primarily a failure of the imagination, and Tolkein knew something about imagination.
5) Encourage them to pray, even if only as a last resort, and then to be astute observers of the results. I was impressed by the number of authors in this book whose first exposure to the power of Christ was through praying as a last resort. Christians have a monopoly on the best news ever to hit the planet, and in the university there are tens of thousands of people who would be better off for hearing it. What more could we ask?
Dr. Bryan Dowd Professor Health Services Research and Policy School of Public Health University of Minnesota