Surely by now we realize scholarship and devotion belong together. In "heads, hearts, and hands" Christianity, this is a given. The only things that remain are proportions, and posture.
Regent College historian Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh opened on Monday the National Forum for Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC) by speaking to this topic. As befits a historian, Dr. Hindmarsh sketched where we are in our cultural moment. Most recently, we've been through a "battle for the Bible" in the earlier half of the twentieth century, as Christian "fundamentalists" responded to liberal theology. We then engaged a "battle for the mind," as the subsequent generation grew tired of the fundamentalist generation's neglect of intellect in favour of absolute pronouncements of biblical truth. Citing Mark Noll's famous 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind ("the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind"), Hindmarsh suggested that the past few decades have come a long way in addressing that scandal. There is much good work that is taking place today of first-rate Christian scholarship—and, I might add, also in public theology.
But as we stand today, making a counter-cultural argument in our über-rational age, this must be the ironic exclamation point: a posture of humility.
Hindmarsh warned that with measured success comes danger. Has our focus on cultivating the Christian mind eclipsed our call to cultivate the Christian spirit?
A spirit of intellectual integrity, he argued, should include "a commitment to think about all we know about the world with all that we know about God." Triumphalism, he suggested, is an act of intellectual dishonesty.
The public theology work that Cardus engages in can be thought of as translation work. Day to day we use the language of everyday life, researching practical social questions and proposing tangible solutions to public issues. We do so, however, taking serious the reality of God and the wisdom that he provides. Understanding and applying that wisdom requires diligence and humility. Christian public theology rejects the hubris of worldly wisdom which implies that if God should only be listened to if his input fits into our existing frameworks of solutions. But right theology also rejects our triumphalism—"pretending that we have all the answers," says Hindmarsh, when in fact sometimes the best we can do is struggle together with the important questions.
And so Hindmarsh's concern speaks to those in public life and to those involved in Christian scholarship. In our concern for integral living, for "heads, hearts, and hands" Christianity, we sometimes forget the importance of our knees. The posture of prayer is a humble posture. We don't pray because God needs to know what is on our mind. We pray because God is pleased to listen to our needs as a caring creator. We also pray because the very act of prayer helps shape and change us, reminding us of our dependence and putting us into that posture of humility.
This is not to minimize the importance of first-rate scholarship or rigorous public theology. By all means our work needs to meet the highest standards. But the head and heart and hands in a body cannot be separated from their soul, nor from the knees that can make us the faithful witness we are called to be.