Faith, Work and the Academy
Over the summer, I finally had the chance to read a great little book I’d been wanting to pick up: The Outrageous Idea of the Missional Professor by Paul Gould. I’m convinced that if God cares about us, he cares about every part of out lives–and that includes our work. How should being a Christian impact the way we do our jobs? That’s a question I’ve been asking a lot lately.
As an adjunct professor of World Religion and Christian Apologetics teaching online for William Jessup University and one who is called to prepare for a full-time teaching ministry, I really appreciate Paul’s message.
He’s a Talbot grad from the M.A. Philosophy of Religion and Ethics program where I used to work as an undergrad at Biola. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Purdue and teaches Philosophy and Apologetics classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
He was kind enough to send me a copy of this book last year, although I hadn’t met him until we bumped into each other at the Dallas Love Field airport while getting on the same plane to San Diego for the ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) meetings last October.
In this book, Paul shares the idea that God wants to use Christian professors as professors to reach colleagues, administrators and students in colleges and universities. He shows how God’s mission to redeem and restore a fallen world includes disciples who teach in the most influential institutions in society–the university.
Since many Christian academics struggle to live missionally in their jobs, Paul gives his readers a clear vision and practical examples through the stories of modern-day role models. Although his primary audience is Christian professors teaching on secular campuses, even those teaching on Christian campuses will find this book helpful in their broader interactions with the academy.
3 Key Points from the Book
Here are just three ideas I enjoyed reading about in The Outrageous Idea of the Missional Professor.
1. God calls Christian professors to serve Him as professors
Paul says this idea seems outrageous because many Christian professors have unconsciously accepted the sacred-secular divide, missing the connection between their academic work and their discipleship to Jesus. Rather than desiring self-aggrandizement, Christian professors must see their field through a Christian worldview, be equipped in philosophy and theology and live faithfully for Christ in the academy. In order to unleash these disciples for the advancement of God’s kingdom, the church must affirm the calling of Christian professors as professors—individuals who shape the lives and thoughts of future leaders, apply their expertise to the world’s needs, pointing colleagues, administrators and students to Christ.
2. God calls Christian professors to be a certain kind of people
More than just preaching a gospel of transformation, God calls Christian professors to show some evidence of what transformation looks like. Paul says,
“We need to integrate all that we are and do as Christians with all that we are and do as university professors. The gospel is not just something to believe, it is also something to obey,”
“we are after an all-of-life view of discipleship unto Christ, where Christ is Lord of work and play, the sacred and the secular, of faith and scholarship (25).”
I like that. Our primary identity must be as a follower of Christ. Being Christlike in character should be the main goal our lives as Christians and scholars. Paul offers a commitment we can remind ourselves with everyday:
“I will live for Christ, come what may as a professor. I will find my identity and hope in Christ and point others to Christ through my teaching, relating, and research for the glory of God and the sake of the lost (51).”
3. God calls Christian professors to put Christ first
In a chapter called “The Christian Scholar and the Mind,” he encouraged his readers to cultivate the life of the mind and be “intellectually virtuous.” As we enter into broader conversations in our academic disciplines, which are often dominated by naturalism and postmodernism, we must put Jesus first:
“Faithfulness to Christ in the academy requires the virtue of intellectual courage…there is incredible pressure to sacrifice our Christian integrity in order to maintain academic respectability” (59).
He also reminds us to intentionally put Jesus first in our work, rather than be driven by self-aggrandizement or the pursuit of academic accolades:
“Let’s tenaciously pursue Christ and our research projects for his glory rather than our own” (62).
Read the Book
The university is a major center of cultural influence. This book challenges Christian professors and people training to work in the academy to see how living a missional life can have a major impact on their students, colleagues and even the world.
Look inside the book on Amazon.