Steven Harris on Scholars in the Church

In this video, Steven Harris, director of advocacy for the ERLC, outlines some of the common pitfalls in scholarship and encourages those in the academy to see the value of all disciplines and areas of study and to pursue their work in a way that commends a Christian worldview.

If I’m trying to encourage those who have committed themselves professionally to the life of the mind, scholars, on how best to support and advance the mission of the church, I’m actually concerned about a couple of things even before I get to that question.

Jesus in Matthew 22:37, when he’s answering the question of an inquirer, a lawyer, about the greatest commandment, he responds, that we ought to love the Lord with all of our heart, with all of our souls, and with all of our minds. And so, Christians who have committed themselves to the life of the mind must be conscious of the fact that, what they do with their minds and the things that they give attention to ultimately ought to be the means by which they love God in an ever-increasing way.

And I also want to make sure that they understand the warnings that Scripture gives along the noetic lines, things that have to do with the mind. One warning is that because we’re fallen, sin’s effects have pervaded all of our faculties including our minds. These are called the noetic effects of the Fall. When Paul in Romans 1:24–32 is talking about the evidences of a people being given over. He talks about them having a futility of mind, they’re futile in their thinking. But a second warning comes from Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:1 where it says, “Knowledge puffs up.” The more we pursue knowledge, the greater danger of pride we will face.

So for scholars, I want to make sure that they understand that there are dangers to be avoided and there are things worth pursuing. Again, going back to Jesus’ words, in Matthew 22 we can see what we should pursue.

First, I want to encourage Christians in the academy to pursue a range of disciplines. I think oftentimes when we think about advancing the mission of the church, we rightly think of making disciples. We’re called to take individuals from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity, and that involves a lot. And so, I don’t want to put the burden on scholars across a range of disciplines that if the monographs that you’re writing or the dissertations that you’ve worked on don’t explicitly point to justification by faith alone or the exclusivity of Christ, then you’re not advancing the mission of the church. I don’t think that’s true. I think the advancement of the mission of the church is supported by a whole host of things. I know individuals who are astrophysicists and legal scholars, and they need to know that those things matter. Across a range of disciplines, Christian scholars should pursue their fields diligently and critically.

Second, I would encourage Christian scholars to understand that foundational to all their work is a worldview that seeks to honor and glorify God and commend Christ. I think that you can pursue your work in a way that doesn’t dispute those things. And I think you can even pursue your work in a way that goes even further and at times commends those things in unique and creative ways. The Christian scholar must recognize that they have a calling as a Christian to make disciples in their daily lives, but also in their own scholarly work, where they ought to be giving thought about the local church, they ought to be giving thought certainly to the glory of God.