Monday, April 29, 2013

Scholarship to the Glory of God - From John Piper and Jonathan Edwards

I was reflecting earlier on my first season of PhD work, and here is unfortunately what I came up with:  I realized over the past six months, or so, I had been trusting in my own intellect when researching, and exploring the Scriptures as if they were not inspired by God. Both are blinders to actual progress and revelation. My prayer is that I will learn the Scriptures from the Lord in this process. I am recommitting.
 
So, I read Piper's thoughts on Jonathan Edwards' view of scholarship and the glory of God.  I quote this portion of Piper's God's Passion for His Glory, because it was encouraging and reorienting.  

 
Scholarship: Seeing and Savoring God
in Every Branch of Learning

Implication #13. The task of Christian scholarship is to study reality
as a manifestation of God’s glory, to speak about it with accuracy,
and to savor the beauty of God in it.
I think Edwards would
regard it as a massive abdication of scholarship that so many
Christians do academic work with so little reference to God. If all
the universe and everything in it exists by the design of an infinite,
personal God, to make his manifold glory known and loved, then
to treat any subject without reference to God’s glory is not scholarship
but insurrection.
Moreover, the demand is even higher: Christian scholarship
must be permeated by spiritual affections for the glory of God in
all things. Most scholars know that without the support of truth,
affections degenerate into groundless emotionalism. But not as many scholars recognize the converse: that without the awakening
of true spiritual affections, seeing the fullness of truth in all
things is impossible. Thus Edwards says, “Where there is a kind
of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations,
with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in
that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine
things.” 

One might object that the subject matter of psychology or sociology
or anthropology or history or physics or chemistry or
English or computer science is not “divine things” but “natural
things.” But that would miss the first point: to see reality in truth
we must see it in relation to God, who created it, and sustains it,
and gives it all the properties it has and all its relations and designs.
To see all these things in each discipline is to see the “divine
things”—and in the end, they are the main things. Therefore,
Edwards says, we cannot see them, and therefore we cannot do
Christian scholarship, if we have no spiritual sense or taste for
God—no capacity to apprehend his beauty in the things he has
made.
This sense, Edwards says, is given by God through supernatural
new birth, effected by the Word of God. “The first effect of
the power of God in the heart in regeneration, is to give the heart
a divine taste or sense; to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness
and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the divine nature.”52
Therefore, to do Christian scholarship, a person must be born
again; that is, a person must not only see the effects of God’s work,
but also savor the beauty of God’s nature.
It is not in vain to do rational work, Edwards says, even
though everything hangs on God’s free gift of spiritual life and
sight. The reason is that “the more you have of a rational knowledge
of divine things, the more opportunity will there be, when the
Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of
these things, and to taste the sweetness of them.”

It is evident here that what Edwards means by “rational
knowledge” is not to be confused with modern rationalism that
philosophically excludes “divine things.” Even more relevant for
the present issue of Christian scholarship is the fact that “rational
knowledge” for Edwards would also exclude a Christian methodological
imitation of rationalism in scholarly work. Edwards
would, I think, find some contemporary Christian scholarship
methodologically unintelligible because of the de facto exclusion
of God and his word from the thought processes. The motive of
such scholarship seems to be the obtaining of respect and acceptance
in the relevant guild. But the price is high. And Edwards
would, I think, question whether, in the long run, compromise will
weaken God-exalting, Christian influence, because the concession
to naturalism speaks more loudly than the goal of God’s
supremacy in all things. Not only that, the very nature of reality
will be distorted by a scholarship that adopts a methodology that
does not put a premium on the ground, the staying power, and the
goal of reality, namely, God. Where God is methodologically
neglected, faithful renderings of reality will be impossible.
How then is this view of Christian scholarship an outworking
of the truth that the exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy
of human souls are one thing? God exhibits his glory in the created
reality being studied by the scholar (Ps. 19:1; 104:31; Col.
1:16-17). Yet God’s end in this exhibition is not realized if the
scholar does not see it and savor it. Thus the savoring, relishing,
and delighting of the scholar in the beauty of God’s glory is an
occasion when the exhibition of the glory is completed. In that
moment, the two become one: the magnifying of God’s glory is in
and through the seeing and savoring of the scholar’s mind and
heart. When the echo of God’s glory echoes in the affections of
God’s scholar and resounds through his speaking and writing,
God’s aim for Christian scholarship is achieved.

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