Intellectual Integrity Helps Prevent Problematic Polarities
“Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites by keeping them both and keeping them both furious.” ~ G.K. Chesterton
In dealing with theology, particularly evangelical theology in the Academic world, Clark maps out chapter six by dealing with the values of the academy, it’s tension with non-Christian thought, it’s ethical mishaps, issues with nomenclature, biased viewpoints, and what our theological responsibility entails. He is a proponent for scholarly excellence in Evangelical theology, in that, it must deal as honestly, extensively, and complexly with its data as possible. Evangelical theologians should evidence their intellectual virtues when seeking to accomplish the theological task of knowing and loving God more and helping others to do the same. Clark argues that “the evangelical task must hear the voices of the academic disciplines—including the voices of challenge from non-evangelicals” (Clark, 219). Evangelicals should not yield to the secular disciplines, but should use them to illuminate much that is important to theology, thus strengthening evangelical theology. The warning, however, is not to let secular disciplines nor the rules of modern secular Academic institutions become the control from which theology is done.
One of the underlying problems of doing theology in the academic world is the tendency to make overstatements which cause unnecessary either/or quandaries. This is not to say that a theologian should avoid making choices, however, those choices should be accompanied by intellectual integrity and intellectual humility as to avoid causing tertiary issues which derail the theologian from accomplishing the theological task. That task, again, is to learn of God by any means under his created order (general revelation, special revelation, secular academic disciplines, experience, etc.), to obtain the privilege of loving him more passionately with the mind and helping others to do the same. Theology in the academic world, one that chooses to avoid unnecessary either/or quandaries, is best done by providing 1) clear definitions, 2) precise distinctions, 3) careful analysis, and 4) modest conclusions. According to Clark, these tools are not flashy, but they belong in the tool kits of “good theologians” (Clark, xxv). Clark does well by pointing out how false dilemmas are often due to imprecision and overstatement, inferences that go beyond the evidence, and hasty generalizations. In other words, academic laziness shaded by the arrogance of immovable presuppositions.
George Marsden, a twentieth century historian, described universities to be bastions of “established nonbelief” (Clark, 195). The academy, whether a specialized “teaching body” or the university proper, has not failed to meet this description. Marsden used the term to describe academic theologians who adhere to the apologetic pole of theology yet reject the kerygmatic pole. The term “established nonbelief”, however, offers a double entendre when speaking to matters of theology. That is, it can be taken to mean nonbelief toward God and his revelation in scripture or nonbelief toward an institution’s particular method. The university proper often discredits “teaching bodies” (i.e. seminaries) for their methods of doing theology and vice versa. In 1988, an official at Bethel Seminary wrote, “religious special claims cannot be allowed in the University, even—or perhaps especially—in its Divinity School.” He stated that a “scholar who submits to the priority of the Christian faith cannot follow proper scholarly procedures” (195). This would be an example of an overstatement that causes an unnecessary polarity between secular institutions and Divinity schools.
The shift to modernity that placed an emphasis on the independently thinking human individual and appeals to autonomous human reason has been on display in the academy since its inception in the 15th century. This was an attempt to harness scholarly values void of churchly commitments to scriptural texts and traditions. Scholars would be cut loose from any ecclesiastical tether that linked their work to the church (the goal of many seminaries). This would allow for academic freedom where the scholar could search for truth wherever it could be found. According to Clark, “the implicit assumption of this shift in the academy was that—the discovery of genuine knowledge demands that the knower be neutral and uncommitted to the object of investigation” (Clark, 195). This assumption presents a difficult task for evangelical theology because it’s not only committed to the object of study, evangelical theology is also submitted to it’s object of study. The work of Hans Georg Gadamer, a twentieth century German philosopher, is beneficial for discrediting this assumption. According to Gadamer, people are embedded in the particular history and culture that shaped them, thus one cannot simply approach something as a tabula rasa. There are things that happen to a person during the interpretive process that are “over and above their wanting and doing.” Simply put, everyone works with certain presuppositions and are committed to something when they interpret things (even if they do not realize it), thus no one can be completely neutral. The idea of being completely neutral, however, has been woven into the fabric of institutional practices in the modern university world. Clark describes this assumption as being the “DNA of public universities” (Clark, 195). This method requires the knower to lay aside any basis of authority (kerygmatic pole) to operate according to principles of critical reason. The effect of this assumption on evangelical theology, especially in Divinity schools, is enormous because it calls for evangelical scholars to discard the revelational basis of their claims (scripture). Essentially, for some scholars, this means an adoption of what Richard Hofstadter calls provisional atheism (Clark, 197). According to the practices of the modern university, provisional atheism is necessary if one wants to be a reputable scholar with a vibrant intellectual life. In the end, this is an unfair assumption because the ethos of secular universities is not neutral. Secular institutions begin their investigation from a tradition of nonbelief while Divinity schools begin with a Christian perspective, thus neither begin from a completely neutral but rather a relatively neutral standpoint. Clark points out that while it is possible to adopt a relatively neutral approach to the study of religion, evangelicals should never concede to the idea that religious studies departments are really neutral. Nicholas Wolterstorff points out the myth behind assuming theologians to be the only ones in academia with commitments and dismissing their viewpoints on that basis (Clark, 205) .
David Tracy makes some ethical claims regarding theology in the academic profession. He asserts that a theologian’s true colleagues are his academic associates, not fellow believers. Proper thinking cannot be confined to tradition nor the primacy of biblical revelation. Tracy claims this to be more than something that theologians may adopt on rational grounds. It is something that they must take on moral grounds (Clark, 199). Tracy’s point is not only an inaccurate assessment, it continues to display the quandaries that come with making either/or statements. If a theologian’s “true” colleagues are academic associates outside of his/her tradition, it should not necessarily follow that he must abandon the associates within his own tradition. Surely it’s not immoral to consider both, a colleague from within and outside of one’s tradition as an academic associate. If Tracy does stick to his moral claim, then the only “true” associates of secular academicians must be theologians. Tracy’s overstatement led him to an immoderate conclusion. There is some value to what he says, in that, a good theologian should not be bound nor imprisoned by his own academic tradition. The ethics of theology in the academic world extend to one’s personal motivations as well. Clark points to the corrupting effects of money and power and how it can reach not only the thinking of the televangelist, but also the integrity of good scholarship (Clark, 199). Personal motivations can be an issue for scholars, including evangelical theologians, so evangelicals would do well to keep themselves in check when they do theology in the Academy. In quoting Theological Germanica, C.S Lewis says “We may come to love knowledge—our knowing—more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even the reputation they bring us” (Clark, 211). Theologians should be constantly vigilant regarding their motives in academia. Clark offers a warning concerning the seductive nature that exists in the world of the university. If personal motive turns into the mark that one will leave in the academic world, theological commitments can easily be compromised. According to Clark, the accolades in the academy at this point in history go to those whose theology is nontraditional (i.e. those who have forsaken their evangelical theological commitments due to the pressures of the Academy). The dilemma for evangelical theology is whether it can maintain the intellectual integrity, as judged by the academic world, and still serve the needs of Christian believers. Many in the academy and in the church assume that it cannot happen both ways, yet both are needed to complete the theological task. This provides another reason why extreme polar distinctions and either/or quandaries are unhelpful and should be avoided.
Theology in the Academy has also seen issues with nomenclature. Several institutions have moved away from identifying theology as an academic discipline and have chosen instead to adopt the more general term “religion.” This shift, however, not only changes the name of the discipline, but also the object of it’s study. Theology moves from being the study of God to an investigation of the religious nature and experience of human persons and societies. Clark makes a very important distinction when he says, “In theology, properly conceived, God must exist as the object of reflection. In religious studies, even if there were no God, the study of religions as human experience still remains.” In 1964, the National Association of Biblical Instructors (NABI) changed it’s name to the American Academy of Religion (AAR) (Clark, 200). Several theoretical problems arise with this shift in nomenclature. An important tool of the good theologian is the ability to make clear distinctions and religion removes such distinctions because of it’s inclusivity. Religion’s inclusivity make it hard to demarcate what is religious (sacred) and what is nonreligious (secular). Auguste Compte and Herbert Spencer have attempted to remedy this shift by applying a Darwinian model. Their claim states that religion is a single entity that grew though various phases (like a caterpillar/chrysalis/butterfly) (Clark, 201). This is problematic in that it continues to obscure the distinctives of various faiths which directly affects academic integrity. Another problem lies with classing all of the world faiths under the concept of religion. Clark describes this as a strategy that attempts to “wedge the round pegs of actual faiths into the square academic holes of religious studies” (Clark, 202). Historically, Christian theology has made a distinction between relationship and religion, that is, relationship entails God seeking out human persons for himself while religion entails human persons seeking out God. This twentieth century shift has not been conducive for theology in the Western academy because institutions become quick to exchange academic integrity for academic acceptance.
German scholar, Wolfhart Pannenberg, argues for connecting religious studies to theology. He re-defines theology in a broader sense so that not all theology is Christian theology. Christian theology, particularly evangelical theology, is only one type of theology that can be evaluated against the backdrop of all religious history in general. Clark concurs with Pannenberg’s re-definition and believes it to be a way of preventing theologians from “huddling in—or from being herded into—their own theological ghetto” (Clark, 203). According to Clark, the way forward for theology in the academic world has to involve an open and honest exchange of views between the cultures of two disciplines. The two disciplines can learn from each other through dialogue which can lead to further clarification, enrichment, and expansion of disciplinary horizons through the interchange of beliefs and perspectives. This sort of dialogue fuses the horizons of different disciplines while preserving the distinctives of each partner involved. Clark calls theologians into a sense of academic and intellectual humility. For evangelical theology, intellectual integrity should involve moving outward in various directions to observe the evidences emerging from different disciplines. Theologians should then check whether those disciplines clearly demonstrate, circumstantially confirm, or in some way falsify the Christian worldview. If a tenet of the Christian worldview does not fit what is actually found in the world, the facts theologians find will disconfirm such tenets. In such cases, theologians in the academic world now face their toughest challenge, which is intellectual humility. Intellectual humility means for the theologian that he/she can accept certain facts that challenge their presuppositions and make major or minor reformulations accordingly. This also helps avoid fideism.
For the evangelical theologian, intellectual integrity and humility ought to be accompanied by certain theological responsibilities. If the theological task is to love God more passionately with the mind and to teach others to do the same, the theological responsibility is actually showing that there is rational ground to believe that the Christian worldview is superior. The theological task can be accomplished apart from secular disciplines, however, the evangelical theologian should engage secular disciplines if he/she wants to maintain intellectual integrity in carrying out their theological responsibilities (note the distinction between theological task and theological responsibility). Clark draws out the importance of making use of the evidences from research programs of scholars who represent many different perspectives. If the purpose of theology is to describe what is true about God and God’s world from the largest possible perspective, it is unwise to pass over the results of other disciplines (Clark, 207). Theologians can be too quick to discredit other methods and beliefs on the grounds that it disagrees with their personal preference. Again, such assumptions cause polarities in academic disciplines that hinder responsible communication to non-Christians (i.e. the recent Ham/Nye debate or lack thereof). Evangelical theology done correctly can communicate adequate reasoning by appealing to the sorts of evidences that non-Christians can understand. A move toward the secular scholarly world does not mean that the academy will concede to distinctive evangelical ideas, however, it will cultivate in evangelical theology an academic rigor that will be difficult to confine to the evangelical subculture. Evangelical theology serves the evangelical community, but there is great need for the evangelical world to be served in the secular academic world as well. Clark acknowledges the dangers that come with serving the evangelical world in a secular academic setting, in that, “it can be a joyful but potentially costly calling” (Clark, 203).
In continuing the discussion on the theological responsibilities of the theologian, Augustine raised an important distinction between theology as sapientia and theology as scientia. His distinction draws on sapientia as being knowledge of the eternal while scientia is earthly knowledge (Clark, 208). Augustine’s distinction does not disconnect the two, rather, it shows how they properly relate in theology (as could be seen in medieval universities). In his work De Trinitate Augustine says, “Earthly knowledge is truly virtuous only when it leads to the eternal wisdom which is true faith in God.” Clark’s purpose for drawing out Augustine’s distinctions rests in the observation that evangelical theology has and is slowly becoming alienated from the academy, society, and the church. According to Clark, “evangelicals today replace dead orthodoxy with anti-intellectual activism or moralism rather than with theologically vital spirituality.” In the same vein as Augustine, Jonathan Edwards makes a helpful distinction between speculative knowledge and spiritual understanding (Clark, 209).That is, the former is entirely intellectual while the latter includes the heart. In this sense, Edwards “speculative knowledge” can be compared to Augustine’s “scientia” while “spiritual understanding” is likened to “sapientia.” Edwards sees spiritual understanding as being the more important of the two, however, speculative knowledge is “infinitely important” because it would be difficult to arrive at a spiritual knowledge of God without the means of intellectual knowledge.
Clark uses the distinctions of Augustine and Edwards to draw three levels on which knowing God happens. The first level of knowing God involves the formation of Christian character (individually), the second level involves the shaping of Christian community (corporately), and the final level facilitates how to communicate this knowledge to the world (globally) (Clark, 210). Essentially, Clark’s three levels of knowing God are presented to help bridge the gap between the Academy and the local church. The polarity that exists between the Academy and the church are due to the model of piety that is valued by many evangelicals. That is, inward moral holiness and outward Christian service are set in opposition to reflective thought. Clark does point out a positive for this polarity, in that, it did help preserve several values: the primacy of the bible and a respect for the supernatural (Clark, 209). Unfortunately, this polarity also caused the secular academy to be disenchanted with evangelical theology and these values ended up only surviving in a conservationist subculture. The overprotection of these values led to a fundamentalist and later evangelical mentality that sought to exclude the world, which includes the academy, from theological involvement. Even with his positive note, Clark’s final consensus still points to the problems that exist when theology is polarized from the secular academy. Relating to his third level of knowing God (communicating globally), Clark expounds on the negatives of this polarity by saying, “the church will not persuade others outside the faith of the life-transforming potential of the gospel and will not be a force for the justice and peace in the world unless it can express that message clearly in contextually relevant terms” (Clark, 210). Clark rightly asserts that a theology written only in terms that those already in the church can understand will fail to accomplish the church’s principal task in this world. A distinction needs to be made between being contextually relevant and culturally relevant. Contextually relevant refers to the vernacular used to communicate knowledge of God to a particular people group, whereas culturally relevant refers to the adaption of that knowledge to the modern world in an attempt to reach a particular people group. The former does not forsake the message of scripture while the latter can gut Scripture of its message in a reckless attempt to instill some meaning for a modern world.
To this point, Clark has primarily focused on the benefits of Academy as it relates to theology and theology as it relates to the Academy. In maintaining an appropriate balance, Clark does note some of the negative influences of the Academy on theology and the church. In his work Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education, Edward Farley traces the shift that happened in theological education. In noting how theological educators ceased to call theology a habitus, he shows how theological education shifted from divinity (personal knowledge of God and the things of God) to scholarship (academic values and objective research of God) to profession (skill development for practical ministry). These shifts pushed theology as habitus and as sapientia into the background of the church and the academy (Clark, 211). Scholarship started becoming the primary influence of the academy over personal development and practical training for the local church. This started and continues to aid the polarity that exists between the church and academy. Clark states, “Scholars in seminaries came to feel more affinity with their colleagues in the academy than with fellow believers in the church” (Ibid.). An even greater charge against the academy comes from Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon in their work “Resident Aliens.” They speak against this polarity by saying, “clever new theologies may keep seminary professors from being bored, but they will also distract them from their central mission as seminary professors and they will certainly not renew the church” (Ibid.). The academy found itself struggling with the tension of providing the necessary skills to serve a scholar in doing reputable research along with skills that would aid a pastor in his service to the church.
To conclude, maintaing intellectual integrity while doing theology in the academy should not strain the theologian’s focus on the local church. Polarization between the church and the academy begins when the local church moves into the peripherals of the academic theologian. Clark points out the church’s desperate need for theology, thus theology should find its home in the local church. That is to say, the genesis of evangelical theology is the church. Evangelical theology may find itself engaging other disciplines through the academy, however, its resting place should be traced back its genesis. Methodological constructs that are central to evangelical theology, then, are an activity of the church first, then the academy. For the theologian, avoiding polarization between the church and the academy also means avoiding polarization between teaching bodies (i.e. seminaries) and the university proper. For theology to have a public character so it can reach the widest audience, it must connect with other academic disciplines. This will release theology from Pannenberg’s “theological ghetto.” Clark rightly asserts that “theology at its best is scientia that serves sapientia.” Even though evangelical theologians place a high priority on the authority of scripture, that priority should not deter them from engaging in other academic disciplines. The evangelical theologian should adhere to a modest objectivity as to not become closed off to new information from any academic discipline. One of Clark’s best contributions in this chapter, though not outrightly stated, is the charge for theologians to be self-critical. Polarization happens between disciplines within theological institutions, it happens between secular and theological disciplines, it happens between the church and the academy, and much more. More often than not it’s due to over criticizing the views of others while under criticizing one’s personal biases. Intellectual integrity, moreover, intellectual humility will serve theologians well in reducing these problematic polarities. On secular disciplines, Feinberg adds, “So-called secular disciplines need to be thought of in a theological context, because they are reflecting on the universe God created, just as is the theologian” (Clark, xvii). After all, as evangelical theologians, we acknowledge God as Lord and if he is not Lord OF all (even secular disciplines), then He’s not Lord AT all.
These terms and their respective glosses help to identify how the author is appropriates them in this section (ch. 4) of his text.
Contextual/Apologetic Pole – every theology is rightly judged by the criterion of relevance to culture. This pole is academically responsible to other sources for it’s defense.
Kerygmatic Pole- every theology must be judged by the criterion of faithfulness to scripture. This pole is responsible only to its own source, namely God.
Genuine Knowledge (as defined by Clark) – knowledge that is more faithful to the object of our inquiry, one that strikes a balance between perspectivalism and objectivism. It is knowledge that is developed from a holistic “middle way” which combines contradictory viewpoints and is systemic.
Systems Theory – all things in a system relate to all other things in a system. The members in this system mutually affect and reinforce each other.
“Teaching Bodies” – a term used by John Dewey in 1902 to distinguish a specialized institution (like seminaries) from the classical university education.
University Proper – institutions that adhere more closely to the seven liberal arts of classical study, that is, they place high value in the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music). In other words, these institutions are less specialized than seminaries because the promote autonomous human reason which remain untethered from any external authorities (scripture, church tradition, creeds, etc.).
Tabula Rasa – (Latin) A blank slate. The mind in a hypothetically empty or blank state before receiving outside impressions.
Provisional Atheism – adhering to rationality from a neutral standpoint when doing Christian theology
Fideism – reliance on faith rather than reason in pursuit of religious truth.
Theological Task – to love God more passionately with the mind and to teach others to do the same.
Theological Responsibility – showing that there is rational ground to believe that the Christian worldview is superior.
Theology as Sapientia – (wisdom) a contemplative discerning of eternal and diving things.
Theology as Scientia – (knowledge) denotes and active understanding of temporal and mundane things.
Clark, David K., and John S. Feinberg. To Know and Love God: Method for Theology. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2003.