on christian scholarship
Part of the events of the Forum on Music and Christian Scholarship conference at Covenant this weekend was a panel discussion. I was the token graduate student on the panel whose theme was "Musical and Christian Scholarship as Calling: Obstacles and Opportunities". (They had to throw the calling thing in so they could get some funding from the Kaleo Center at Cov.) Not all of us dealt specifically with music scholarship, and I think there were some interesting things said for scholars who are Christians in general. So I give my prepared comments (somewhat underdeveloped due to the time constraints I had) for further discussion in blogosphere:
Musical scholarship as a Christian calling---
When thinking about each aspect of—“music” and “scholarship” and “calling” and “Christian”—it has been observed in communications during the preparations for this panel that there are tensions regarding these terms in relation to each other in their various combinations. In some ways it can be boiled to the “faith and life integration” pot, and in that respect, I have been challenged to think about these things all of my life. Having been brought up as a covenant child in a Protestant Reformed household, the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life from doing the dishes to studying my math facts was especially emphasized. This understanding of sovereignty carried over into academics in a particular way when I got to Covenant College. The overwhelming question that permeated all of our classes was ‘how does the sovereignty of God particularly effect my work in x discipline as a scholar?’ So I have not really experienced, to a great extent, skepticism on the part of my particular Christian circle as to the legitimacy of my pursuit of scholarship. But after all my time at Covenant I still do not really know how Christian scholarship is different or what it is supposed to look like.
Two particular premises about Christian scholarship that I have received from my Covenant education are first, that a Christian’s scholarly work will not necessarily and essentially look different from a non-Christian’s scholarship, though it may be tempered by our unique knowledge base, for instance, intimate knowledge of the Bible and liturgy if awfully handy when studying the music of the church, and second, that with rise of postmodernism in academia Christians can claim their place at the table along with the feminists, etc. (I call this the “Marsden thesis”.)
These two premises have led me to begin to question recently how we use the qualifier “Christian”. If our scholarship does not have particular gospel content and if we are in the same way hindered as the non-Christian by what evidence is available to arrive at historical conclusions, why bother calling it Christian? I am becoming less and less comfortable using the term “Christian scholarship.” I am also becoming less comfortable with the Marsden thesis for which I am not really sure, but I think it has to do with the fact that I do not think there is such thing as “Christian scholarship.” Thus, to think of it as an advocacy position that requires a place at the table along with the Marxists and the feminists does not make much sense.
To add the notion of vocation to me as a Christian doing scholarship adds a new shade of complexity to the discussion. “Calling” is a word used often in Christian circles, perhaps it is a word used too much. We think of it in one way as referring to the calling of elders or deacons to an office, but people often use the word “calling” in a much broader way as anything having to do with any occupation they take up. Sometimes it is easy for people to inadvertently justify their own actions or to gain approval for their decisions by saying they were “called” to do it. Who can argue? God has spoken. It is also easy to think that if you were called to a particular occupation, such as scholarship, in our case, you have to become a scholar and become defined by this vocation. Perhaps, though, it may be more appropriate to think of calling in a more general way. Not so much as ‘I am called to be a scholar’ as ‘I am called to be obedient to Christ.’ It is difficult to discern clearly what God’s will is for my life, but I think when we seek Him with a desire to be obedient he will show us and lead us in the direction He will have us go. So for now, the Lord has provided me with the skills, the desire, and the opportunities to pursue scholarship. But I think of my following this path not so much as a path of calling as a path of obedience. If the doors of academia were to close for me, my calling would remain the same. This is also tremendously freeing for me, because I do not have to worry if I am called to this or that, I just have to focus on obeying Christ. Maybe in the end that does not look different from those who say they are called to be scholars, but this is a helpful way for me to look at it.
There are also some practical considerations about being a Christian in academia, which probably are just essentially the problems of being a Christian in the world. A particular tension, which actually comes more from the church than the world, has to do with the fact that I am a woman. I am married, and the traditional picture, at least that I have received, is that I stay at home, have some kids, possibly homeschool them, and follow my husband supporting whatever career he may have. Many women I know view the sum total of their “calling” as being a wife and a mother. This inherently is not a bad picture, but I am clearly on path that does not fit with this picture, if I expect to actually use the Ph.D. I am currently working towards. My husband and I desire to be obedient with regards to the two of us as a family and to our future covenant children, if we are blessed with them, so it means creating a completely new picture for us if I am supposed to throw “scholar” on the pile of things I am “called” to do, which may partly be why I am attracted to simplify the notion of “calling.” Becoming a scholar, especially, as a woman also means that I am asserting independent ideas from my husband and other men, which make some in the church bristle.
Other tensions that are probably more relevant to my daily life right now do not really come from the university as much from the way I think I should live an obedient life. In my experience, I do not really get a lot of “negative energy” because I am a Christian. The people in my department know that I am serious about my faith and respect it as my personal belief. Maybe we can call this the “post-Marsden” phase. The tensions I face are those any Christian in the workplace does—for instance, keeping the Sabbath or deciding to commute daily 85 miles each way to school in order to remain active in the life of the fledgling church we are members of.