Seeking the Mind of Christ for the Academy

By Mary Poplin
Dean, School of Educational Studies
Claremont Graduate University



In the fall of 1996 I was in a full-blown intellectual crisis. I knew that there was truth, I knew some of it, and I knew I was not teaching it at my university. I concluded that I was in essence a liar.

I had become a Christian three years earlier, and my spiritual input was somewhat eclectic: discipled by a friend and fellow academic; two months with Mother Teresa helping to tend poor babies in Calcutta; a month in solitude at a monastery in New Mexico; and attendance at a Bill Gothard conference.

Above all, I learned to love the Scriptures. I copied the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs by hand. I read them over and over. I listened to them while driving and walking and while falling asleep (practices that are still important to me). Clearly this was a way the Lord would begin to cleanse my mind-a mind that had grown dark and foolish from years of rebelling against Him. He also introduced me to a great many of His people who loved and believed in His Scriptures, and through them He began to show me how far I was from His thoughts in my own life.

The Lord began to cleanse my mind that had grown dark and foolish from years of rebelling against Him.

As I considered my academic world, my first impulse was to believe that all principles and impetuses of secular theories and philosophies were false; in this analysis lay only depression and desperation for I knew I could not teach only Christianity at my university.

Gradually the Lord revealed to me (primarily through a struggle with "multiculturalism") that no theory or philosophy or movement could be completely false, else it could not stand. Evil cannot create, it can only distort. My job would be to sort the wheat from the chaff one principle or assumption at a time in my own field. I was not being called to avoid all knowledge produced in the secular academy.

Daniel became the model; he studied all the knowledge of the Chaldeans and after three years we are told that "in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom" (1:20). So how shall we accomplish such a purpose? .

I begin now with an exhortation of Dr. Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy, University of Southern California. Willard declares that Jesus is the smartest person in every academic field (John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:5-17). Jesus is not only the author of all fields since all things we study were created by, for and through Him, but He is the very substance through which all things can be understood and held together. He is the essence of the hope John Henry Newman had for a university in which the fields would be united (primarily through theology) rather than functioning as distinct, reductionistic pursuits overstating their own knowledge to their peril ( The Idea of the University , Regnery Publishing, September, 1999).

Jesus is the author of all fields since all things we study were created by, for and through Him

We are given "the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). Imagine pursuing our various fields and research with His mind, the mind through which all is created and all is held together. Imagine a social scientist being able to see the social problems of our current society through His eyes and not our own, or a scientist discovering new phenomena or processes from the mind of Christ. To see an issue from this altitude would surely provide us better solutions.

This requires an adjustment in the fundamental definition of our work as Christian academics. We are not just to demonstrate Christian behavior on campus, pray for and serve students and colleagues; we are to study and to develop explanations and solutions to scientific, artistic, philosophic, social and economic issues based on Christ's mind in community with others inside and outside our fields who are doing the same.

We are to pursue His thoughts, His mind while keeping our own mind under His Spirit. Neither man's rationalism nor his emotionalism will reveal the wisdom and understanding of God's Word and Spirit. While we are challenged in Isaiah that His thoughts are not our thoughts, we are also told we have His laws written on our hearts and we have been given the mind of Christ and His Holy Spirit.

Primary among the tools we have to pursue His mind is Scripture, which reveals Christ's thoughts through His actions, teachings and His answers to questions posed to Him. All these reveal deeper underlying principles upon which his actions, teachings and answers are constructed. We must develop a kind of field-based lectio divina and a prayerful pursuit of revelation regarding the troubling issues of our times that each of our fields is attempting to address.

It requires an adjustment in the fundamental definition of our work as Christian academics

For me that has involved seeking His mind regarding what the academy calls "diversity" and "multiculturalism," as well as understanding how to simultaneously promote equity and excellence in the schools. We are not called to simply add a layer of Christianity to the academy but to transform the very foundations, thoughts, theories, and research of our times by pursuing His mind and His desires and thus our very destinies.

Mary Poplin is the Dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. She will be one of the featured speakers at the National Faculty Leadership Conference.

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