Being a Christian Scholar in a Secular Academic World

I teach at a Christian-based Liberal Arts college in Oklahoma. I went to universities for my undergraduate and graduate education, and witnessed firsthand the growing secularism in the academic world.

My philosophy of teaching at a Christian liberal arts college is based on my faith that God’s will, Providence, is constantly present in human events. The temptations in our materialistic, secular world not to believe in the presence of God’s will are great. In higher education, a belief in the presence of God’s will is considered foolhardy and simplistic. And yet my understanding of human history, as well as my own personal experience, tell me it is true. One thinks of St. Paul’s statement that he is a fool for Christ. Indeed, Paul faced criticism and derision for his simple belief in God’s will. Such a belief contradicted Greek and Roman philosophy of the first century just as it contradicts science and philosophy today.

In bringing my belief in Providence to students I don’t browbeat nor proselytize, or ever state it specifically; many students would be surprised to know this is what I believe. Indeed, I  encourage questioning and doubt. If God’s will is present, which I believe it is, awareness of His will in our lives will shine clearly through doubt and confusion. This happened in my own life, and I believe it will happen in the lives of students as well.

I bring my philosophy of Christian liberal arts education to bear not only in the classroom but in the conference room and world of scholarship as well. I teach courses in religion from a historical perspective and courses in history from a subtle religious perspective. Even at Bacone, an ostensibly Christian school, it has not always been easy to promote Christian learning in the academy. As Chair of the Task Force on General Education at Bacone I worked (against much opposition) to institute a required Christianity course in the core curriculum. In writing a history of the college (Marking the Jesus Road: Bacone College through the Years, Indian University Press, 2015), I went out on a limb to identify clearly that this college, in accord with my understanding of God’s role in human affairs, is “Marking the Jesus Road” for American Indians, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, and many others. In my many books on explorers and scientists, I recognize, though never state explicitly, the role of Providence in their lives.

Thoreau advised people to march to a different drummer. The standards and philosophy of leading centers of higher education, and in academic journals and conferences and publishing, is secular. Christianity has long been removed from the halls of academe. Yet if the tradition of the liberal arts has long been associated with Christian learning, if American education was overwhelmingly Christian for centuries, why should we abandon it based on the spur of the moment, which, in terms of the history of humankind, is marked in decades and centuries, not seconds, minutes, and hours. What is popular and accepted today will not be tomorrow. One must be true to oneself, and not follow along in the arbitrary directions of the winds of change. There is an anchor to truth in the world. And, in my opinion, a person who is supposed to be involved in pursing the truth, and helping others to do so as well—a professor in a liberal arts college—should not abandon this responsibility. For as Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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