Authority and Reason

Many people pose faith and reason as opposites. You can have one or the other, but not both. They think like this: faith is non-rational and sets limits on the terrain that reason can explore, stifling it. Reason, on the other hand, promotes a blanket skepticism that is inherently hostile to (unthinking) faith.

I think that the real problem for proponents of reason is not faith, but authority. People who love reason do not want to be told what to think or to have parameters inhibiting the exploratory power of their intellect. It is not faith, but authority that sets these hindrances (some of which are absolutely necessary).

If this is true, then it is fascinating to me that people so readily reject faith as being the source of reason-constriction, given that they do so on the authority of the general academic climate. This authority has then truly narrowed the horizons of what the intellect may explore, because standard academic orthodoxy has dictated that faith is out of bounds.

Academics: An Obstruction to the Church?

The Forgotten WaysJaclyn and I are currently reading through Alan Hirsch‘s “The Forgotten Ways” together. What I love about this book is that it lays out what many have been saying and feeling for some time now: the church in the West must relate to the culture it finds itself in as cross-cultural ministries; no different than going to Africa or Asia where nobody has heard the Gospel. The basic thesis of the book is that there is a latent, primal force within every believer and church (Hirsch dubs this “Apostolic Genius”) that is ready to burst into missional engagement with the world, provoking a Jesus movement of evangelism and service much like the early church and the contemporary Chinese church.

He makes the point that the churches were forced to get down to the nitty gritty of what they were all about by the external pressure of persecution (but not just persecution). This simple core is then easily reproducible by anyone/any group, so the church thrives and multiplies with great speed and power.

It sounds all well and good, but the implication is this: complex and/or academic thinking has no place in the life of the church. This is not easily reproducible, and is more of a hindrance than a help to the mission of the church in the world. (Although Hirsch doesn’t say this, it surely is the implication.) As one currently engaged in academics towards future service within God’s church, this troubles me. I want to dismiss, but I can’t. It might be right.

I have some thoughts, but I’m going to hold off for a bit in the hopes of generating some discussion first. So, do academics get in the way of the mission of the church?

Academic Blogging Redux

I posted on academic blogging recently, and the conversation enlarged at a post on Scot McKnight’s blog. This discussion then spilled into a discussion in my history class today, which had some good thoughts raised. Here’s some thoughts that I’d like to collect from those sources and from my own thoughts as to the current state of academic blogging.

  1. Blogging is not currently regarded as a reliable source within academia (generally speaking)
  2. Blogging is one of the best sources for recent history (quick, highly responsive publishing)
  3. Blogging can be looked at as a primary source, much like other diaries, memos, etc.
  4. Blogging currently lacks conventions that would allow for us to easily ascertain reliability
  5. Blogging is not distinguishable from other Internet sources according to the major citation standards.

So, that’s things as they stand right now. What I’m interested in is the following question: what can blogging do to become more recognized as a reliable source? Many answers to the question will involve similar mechanisms to the print world (ie. editorial oversight, peer reviewing), but I’m not particularly interested in those, as they erode the unique characteristics of blogging.

So, I’ll venture a few answers to my own question and hopefully get some discussion happening. I’ll ask it again: what can blogging do to become more recognized as a reliable source?

  1. Include biographical details (preferably an “About” page). This helps to communicate to your readership the authority that you have on a given topic. This could include qualifications, credentials, experience, and other things pertinent to you knowing what the heck you’re talking about.
  2. Cite your sources. There’s simply no way around this. Contextualizing what you have to say within a larger body of knowledge is one of the fundamental laws of respectable scholarship. I would also suggest that bloggers try to cite as much print material as possible. This might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but print sources are at this point held to be more authoritative.
  3. Have a comment area. Not only that, but build a lively comment area where respectful dialogue, dispute and argument takes place over the content of the post. This type of commenting can be a way to expose your ideas to the (hopefully) the same kind of criticism that editorial oversight and peer-review systems accomplish.

So, once more, what can blogging do to become more recognized as a reliable source? (Feel free to disagree with me too!)

Blogging: A Reliable Academic Source?

I had a great conversation with one of my professors after class today. (Of course, I have to say that because he might be reading this!) We talked about topics far and wide pertaining to the life of the Christian who wants to be a faithful intellectual.

As exciting a topic as that is, it’s not what I am particularly aiming at for this post. As our conversation meandered around (as good conversations do), we started talking about the issue of academics and blogging. There’s a ton of useful, relevant writing occurring on blogs, much of it by academics with excellent credentials. However, this is a new medium for the academic world (and really, the whole world), so how to handle blogs as valid sources—if indeed they can be valid sources—is a pressing topic in today’s world.

While I am certainly interested in what my readers think about this, I’m especially curious to know if anyone here knows of any useful articles, blogs, etc. that describe the issues here and the criteria for judging blogs to be useful. We’re actually going to talk about this in class next week, so any sources that can be used as a basis for this discussion would be greatly appreciated!

EDIT: I emailed Scot McKnight about this as I posted it, and he decided that it was a good enough topic to dedicate a post at his site to. There’s some good discussion happening there.

Faith and Reason

I had to write a number of reflections on history readings this term, where I would basically write about what thoughts and feelings were provoked in me as I read about Medieval European History. When I read about Descartes and his method of radical doubt, I realized that his method is still fundamental to all engagement in learning in today’s universities and colleges, whether they are Christian or secular. In my reflection, I ruminated:

Descartes’ fundamental tenet of beginning with doubt sounds eerily familiar: it is foundational to just about everything we do and learn at SSU. We assume that everything we know is—or at least might be—wrong, and we proceed from there, doubting everything and trying to hold it up against reason alone. Even postmodernity in its deconstructions has this fundamental doubt in common with modernity before it; only intensified. I sometimes wonder if doubt is this best way to live and learn.

The last sentence especially piqued the interest of my prof (who also happens to be the dean) and he suggested we sit down and talk about it. What came out of this discussion is that I have an idea to toy with in terms of a subject for my graduating thesis next year. I may explore the idea of the pursuit of academic excellence and respectability in Christian higher education. Can fidelity to the gospel and Christ be maintained in parallel with academic excellence? And of course, issues of the nature of truth, the relationship between faith and reason and a host of other unresolved intellectual dilemmas will get dragged into this.

Where the rubber really hits the road is particularly in the current theologizing being done in the emerging church. Much of the EC’s theology is being done in conversation with the postmodern critique, and is therefore highly (and perhaps unduly) influenced by academia. Will theology lose its soul in this? I think that this is a real danger, but one that can be avoided. In light of this, the question that I am particularly concerned about is this: how can Christians negotiate the tension between faithfulness to Christ and the pursuit of academic excellence?