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Christian Faculty: Members of a Dual Priesthood—Challenges & Opportunities, Part 2

{This is the second of a two-part post, adapted from a topical Bible Study I led at the UT faculty group.}

Yesterday’s post suggested that as Christian faculty we are priests of two orders—the priesthood of believers and an academic order, and these can come into conflict.

So, how do we handle it when the academic order makes demands inconsistent with our faith? Let’s first see how Daniel handled it (Daniel 1:11-20, Daniel 3, 6). He sought ways to negotiate with the secular authority to make allowances for his faith, because he understood the critical pinch points between his roles and creatively looked for ways to resolve them. There are several principles we can apply in our situations.

The first is to take advantage of the principles of academic freedom. This is a bit tricky, because the academy has fallen into a bit of hypocrisy in this area, but if you can carefully navigate the politics of things, you can win a certain amount of freedom with a minimum of stubbed toes.

Secondly, don’t be a firebrand simply for the sake of being bold. In short, do not seek controversy or conflict. (“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” I Thess 4:11-12) If controversy/conflict finds you anyway, fine.

Third, be wise. (“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Eph 5:15-16) It’s fine to stand up for your faith and pursue your passion, but make sure your colleagues know you first for excellent scholarship, and it helps to get tenure before making too many waves. It’s only six years, and you then have 20-40 to blaze.

Fourth, work with excellence. (“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.” Col 3:22-25)

The final one I will mention is trust God to know and guide your heart, and do not spend your energy wondering too much about if you are worshipping knowledge more than God. You have His Spirit in you, and keeping your devotional life active will help. In 2 King 5, we read of the Aramean general with leprosy, Naaman. After he is healed, he says, “’But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.’ ‘Go in peace,’ Elisha said.”

Just like Naaman, God has placed us in positions of influence, and He is not ignorant of the conflicts that creates and His grace washes over us, “lubricating” the points of friction.

Given these challenges, what opportunities do we have as dual priests? I have come up with six:

To put it bluntly, we are in positions of influence in our culture, so let’s influence! (“Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” Proverbs 22:29)

We have the opportunity to demonstrate excellence without the idolatry that many of our colleagues unwittingly pursue.

This contrast gives us the chance to show that knowledge and scholarship are means to an end and not an end unto themselves—our studies point to higher knowledge, wisdom and understanding—to the source of all knowledge and wisdom, God Himself.

In doing this, we should then be able to demonstrate a joy in our lives and scholarship that will reveal the fruitlessness of “academism,” my name for the false religion in the ivory tower that includes the various incarnations of naturalism, humanism or whatever ‘ism’ is prevalent in your department.  (“…We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. I Cor 8:1-2 (admittedly out of context))

Fifth, Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28 instructs us in the Greek that as we go, we are to make disciples. It is our spheres of influence that are our mission field and source of disciples. Therefore, we have the opportunity and responsibility to mentor those in the lower ranks (undergrads, grads, junior faculty).

 Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, we are being paid to explore God’s creation as a vocation! What more could you ask for?


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