Richard J. Mouw, former President at Fuller Seminary, has been one of the most versatile and insightful leaders of the 20th-21st Century for American evangelicalism. He helped shape the “moral minority” as a Calvin professor and then led Fuller in times of its becoming a leading — if not the leading — seminary in North America. (Yes, I say that as a professor at Northern Seminary.) Mouw is a committed Kuyperian and in his most recent book, Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars, offers to professors, teachers, administrators and educators wisdom on the value and glory of the academic calling.
I believe every evangelical professor and anyone who wants to be a professor should own and read this small book. It complements the 20th Century’s great book by Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Here are some drops of wisdom from this book, written with elegant and simple prose:
He grew up with some anti-intellectual strains around him, including a young woman who had been to a university philosophy class:
I remember my reaction well. I was inspired by her straightforward and unadorned faith. And I silently prayed that I too would always have the kind of simple confidence :hat would keep me from being carried away by philosophical speculation (2).
But all this changed:
Here I was, then, a student at Christian liberal arts college who was finding my studies an exciting intellectual adventure (3).
Those voices worrying about losing one’s faith didn’t leave him:
Still, I also thanked the voices. And this is important for me to report now. I was grateful to those voices for making ne aware of the dangers associated with the intellectual life. You overstate your case, I told the voices, but you are lot completely wrong in your basic concerns (6).
What evangelicals have to keep in mind, though, is the danger of allowing a concern for the practical value of learning to merge with lingering tendencies toward anti-intellectualism in the evangelical movement (16).
Neo-evangelicalism inspired many to an academic life, but it led to another danger:
The problem, though, was that the call to scholarly engagement sometimes took on a triumphalist tone, moving from separation to an attempt at domination (25-26).
We are not alone but we are on an unknown adventure:
Academic activities are not performed by isolated individuals — they are functions of academic community (29).
lie scholarly life is an ongoing series of steps into the unknown. Every time we pick up a new book to read, or choose a new topic 3 write about for an essay assignment, or map out a new research project, or agree to take or teach a new course, we are taking some steps into uncharted territory. In our intellectual pursuits we are regularly stepping out on new adventures (47).
The academic life is a love affair with reality:
The world desperately needs lovers of created realitv, people who look deeply into the fullness, and especially, ut of course not exclusively, into the complex created fullness that is displayed in human beings — the psalmist’s “all who dwell therein” — in all of their marvelous diversity. To love reality in its depths means that we cannot help but grieve over the brokenness and woundedness of God’s world in its present condition. And we know that to do so s to share in the sorrows that reside in the deep places of God’s own being (56).
He’s Kuyperian for sure in what he says next:
I have to confess that “being like Jesus” has not been an important theme for me. I never wore one of those “WWJD” bracelets. “What would Jesus do?” is not something that I think to ask when faced with a difficult decision. As an ethicist, I am much more inclined, when talking about where to look for ethical guidance, to recommend that people climb Mount Sinai, rather than the Mount on which Jesus taught.
In my theology I tend not to focus on what Jesus did that we could not possibly do. We are lost sinners who can not get ourselves out of the mess created by our shared rebellion. Jesus came to do for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves — going to Calvary on our behalf. Rather than “the imitation of Christ,” I have thought more about the ways in which he is “inimitable” (63-64).