Last summer, I had the pleasure of facilitating a hybrid “Writer’s Workshop” for LCC colleagues. We heard from three experienced researchers from the US, UK, and Hungary about how to conceive of, generate, and popularize our research as Christian academics. Then about seven of us LCC faculty continued to meet in person to work through a book that takes a novice researcher from raw data to submitting to a journal in 12 weeks.
I’ve written previously to explain what we mean by “academic research,” specifically how it relates to mission:
By “academic research,” I mean chiefly the production of new essays and publications that–ideally–advance the scholarly conversations toward better understanding of an object of study: in my case, the biblical text. This takes the form of thoroughly researching what has been written on a particular text or topic in other scholarly journal articles and books; applying different analytical methods and frameworks to the text; and subjecting insights to the scrutiny of other scholars. Such scrutiny is obtained at academic conferences through oral presentations, and ultimately by sending essays to journals for consideration by (typically anonymous) peer-reviewers. (In some disciplines, such as my own, chapters published in edited volumes are considered roughly equivalent to journal articles, with the understanding that the book editors and series editors are responsible to scrutinize what other authors publish in their books.)How Academic Research Supports Mission (2019)
“Academic research” is not necessarily on the radar of most people outside academia (except maybe in health sciences), but it plays an important role upstream in all areas of life: the ideas, insights and methods developed in universities inevitably work their way into government, education, healthcare, the “hard sciences,” theology, culture, and entertainment.
As Christians engaging in this work, our challenge is to conduct our research in ways consistent with our faith. This means not only doing work of high quality, conducted ethically; it even shapes the kinds of questions we pursue and our presuppositions about the outcomes that are achievable.
As the workshop continued, I began sharing some pastoral reflections about research. My colleagues said they appreciated these emails, and I’m choosing to share some of them here in a new series, “Researching Christianly,” lightly-edited, and anonymized (research ethics, you know!).
It’s been very interesting for me this summer to continue thinking deeply not only about my own research, but about the process of research and what it means for us to be Christian researchers in our various fields. I especially enjoyed our conversation with L____ about researching “Christian-ly,” through the lens of “virtue.”
If you’ll permit me, I’ll continue to share some thoughts semi-regularly about what I think the Bible has to say about our lives as Christian researchers. I’m keeping with the analogy of researcher-as-priest, because I think it captures the dignity and the gravity of our vocation as seekers and mediators of truth.
A few months back, [our colleague] F____ shared an article about the rise of bullying in academic communities. Given what we know about the sort of people who gravitate toward academia and some of the dysfunctional practices and structures, this did not surprise me at all. F____ and I emailed back and forth a few times, lamenting this situation, and wondering what could be done about it.
Certainly few people set out in their careers intent on being bullies, and most of us do not want to be part of an academic culture where bullying is tolerated. But the message of the gospel is not only that the Christian community must be only marginally better than the wider world—rather, the aims and structures must be the inverse:
James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. “But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35–45)
These words in particular stand out to me: “…but it is not this way among you.” In our profession (academics), more so than in others, projecting confidence and authority tends to be rewarded; we stand in front of our students and tell them truths that they need to remember and regurgitate in order for us to authorize them to continue on in their studies. But Jesus says that the authority among the community of his followers must be exercised differently. It requires humility, sacrifice, and service.
So, even as we set out upon the priestly task of research and writing as authors, leaders who understand this or that topic and can speak authoritatively on our subjects: we must remember that our manner must be humble, and our aim, service.
For more in this series, click here. Next: “Love of Wisdom.”