Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where am I going?

All new tenure line faculty at Calvin College has to take the Kuiper Seminar. I took it during the Interim Term (January 2009). We met everyday for 3 hours, and had a lot of heavy readings. My PhD training was easier than this. In the middle of the hectic Interim term, Don, Chairperson of my department, asked me about the Kuiper Seminar. I said “It’s busy, but I am enjoying it.” Don then asked me: Maybe it’s a good time for you to lead devotions for our faculty meeting in February. Would you share your blessings with us?” I agreed. I shared the following stories as devotions for the first faculty meeting in Spring semester.

Right before the Kuiper Seminar, I completed the first semester at Calvin College. Finishing all the grading around December 23rd, I was ready for Christmas break. Of course, I enjoyed our first Christmas in Michigan. After Christmas, I spent many hours of reflecting on God’s call and my reality. Of course, His call I mention was leaving Indiana and serving Calvin. My immediate realities include my increased pain related to the hip-joint arthritis. Cold weather and snow (I felt like having snow everyday) contribute a lot to my pain. In addition, taking phlebotomy (it is a practice of bloodletting, which involves taking larger amounts of blood out of your body) every Tuesday to reduce the iron level in my body has been very hard (the reason for the phlebotomy is iron-overload). I have 30 more weeks to go with it. In the middle of experiencing these challenges, I asked some questions to God.

• Why did you send me here?
• Could it be easier to deal with these issues at Indiana?

They were complaining questions. However, the real discerning question was this: “Lord, where am I going?”

The painful silent stillness from God was His response. With this silence, I was attending the Kuiper Seminar. From the first week of the Seminar, I was experiencing an INTELLECTUAL CRISIS. One of the definitions of the word “crisis” by one dictionary ( provides two meanings:

1. a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined

2. turning point.

I believe this definition is more accurate and better than other definitions such as “a condition of instability or danger.” I feel like I am standing in a somewhat dark tunnel, not knowing exactly where to go. I see directions a bit unclearly (it’s somewhat dark), questioning what they are. While I don’t have clarity in discerning directions, I do know that my journey is for better, not for worse. I realize that it involves the second definition of the word crisis: “turning point.”

I agree with what Susan Felch stated in her tenure statement written in 1998. She wrote that Christian scholars may have to work three times harder than non-Christian scholars. She said that, firstly, we need to understand our discipline through “a close, empathetic look” at various concepts and perspectives. Secondly, she added that we need to reflect and evaluate these concepts and perspectives in the light of Scripture, which requires the development of our own “theological acuity.” She did not stop at these two challenges. She proposed that we should be able to sophisticate our critiques and suggest solutions as Christian scholars.

I spent time reflecting on Felch’s three challenges. I think I did quite well with the first challenge. I think I have worked very hard not only to understand disciplinary concepts and theories but also to advance them through publications and presentations. I thought I took the second challenge, but my effort had been minimal. I have not written anything on this matter, which clearly indicates dullness of my theological acuity. Therefore, Felch’s third challenge wasn’t even a consideration. However, all her three challenges have become my academic tasks as a Christian scholar!

Re-defining Intellectualism

To take Felch’s challenges, I need to evaluate and reflect on major theories and concepts in my own discipline. Unless I examine them from a Christian perspective, I am not sure what I will be doing for my research and what I will be teaching my students. Wolterstorff noted that “… the calling of the Christian scholar is to practice scholarship in Christian perspective and to penetrate to the roots of that scholarship with which she finds herself in disagreement, along the way appropriating whatever she finds of use”. I need to penetrate to the roots and find the areas where I agree and disagree and why. I don’t think Satan has distorted all truths, but tweaked some of them. Perhaps, my task is to develop a filtering intellectual system (perhaps, theology) to discern various concepts and theories. Re-orienting and re-developing my research program should evolve naturally as my filtering system becomes more sophisticated. Until then, I need to walk in faith, which leads to my next point.

Plantinga stated that “To love God intellectually is to become a student of God—a student who really takes an interest in God.” Developing a filtering system involves examining Scripture prudently and diligently. In addition to the Bible, I also need to read other articles and books written by Christian brothers and sisters. Perhaps, I need to attend various workshops and conferences that help me sharpen my theological acuity.

Developing a filtering system also involves redefining intellectualism. Plantinga also noted that “Anti-intellectualism is the sin of lazy people or of fearful people who content themselves with first simplicities and who resist the pain it takes to grow beyond them.” Calvin College certainly expects less on scholarly output. Unless my mind is tied to Christ, I may easily be relaxing in my scholarly endeavors. Thus, Plantinga’s definition of anti-intellectualism serves as an excellent admonishment to me.

Plantinga did not stop smashing my wrong ideas on intellectualism. He also used the terms “selfish intellectualism,” “worldly intellectualism,” and “idolatrous intellectualism.” When I read these words, I was able to label my past scholarship, and repent. Loving scholarship, he then said, is “the antidote to proud scholarship and to envious scholarship and to angry scholarship—and to all the other deadly sins of scholarship”. Through the Kuiper Seminar, I have experienced a crisis due to losing what I had before, but not yet obtaining new directions yet.

Questions to Explore

As we are ending the Kuiper Seminar, I will continue to explore the following questions alone and with others.

How am I going to use existing concepts and theories with my heart deeply dedicated to God?

How can I establish a filtering process that neither cuts off the essential things nor allows to pass any of the hidden anti-Biblical implications?

How does a Reformed worldview resonate with my own research area?

What are the tension points between a Christian worldview and my discipline?

What unique opportunities does my discipline present to the Christian scholars who practice it?

Walking and Working Together with Calvin Colleagues

To each of us God has given different gifts for building up His Kingdom. Within the scholarly organ of the Christ's body, I should realize that there is a diversity of gifts. As other Christian scholars noted, these gifts are not merely dissimilar, but complementary, and we need to work together to build up His Kingdom. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, used a metaphor of “grits” to explain the community: “Christian is a plural thing. To follow Jesus is to be part of a community”. I have met numerous colleagues at Calvin. I heard some important ideas from them. Among these words, two words/ideas stand vivid and never leave me: Humility and togetherness. I would like to walk with our colleagues to build God’s Kingdom and work together to see God’s grace in our work.

What’s Next?

Where would you like to be in two years? To be honest, I don't know exactly what my future holds. However, I do know the One who holds our future in His hands. And I know that He is good, and He is faithful. I just have to obey Him every day.