Learning for the Love of God, Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014.
Summary: Written for undergraduate college students who are Christians, this book explores the idea of academic faithfulness as an integral part of the student’s discipleship and how this is cultivated.
In the next week, many young men and women will head off to college, some for the first time. This will include many who have grown up within the Christian faith. Much attention is focused on the more obvious perils of campus life–the sexualized, alcohol-driven culture. What gets far less focus is the primary, at least formal, pursuit of college life–academic studies. If there is any attention placed on this, the focus tends to be on studying enough to get the grades one needs for grad school or job while not making an idol of one’s studies or allowing the intellectual life of the campus to corrupt your faith.
The authors of this book propose that what gets overlooked in all of this is a great discipleship opportunity, what they called in the first edition of this book “the outrageous idea of academic faithfulness.” Basically, they contend that if we call Jesus Lord, then he is Lord of what one does in the classroom, and that the call to be faithful to Christ includes loving him with one’s mind and seeking to bring a Christ-shaped mind to whatever one is studying. After considering this basic idea, they look at the example of Daniel and his friends at “Babylon U” as models of what this faithfulness might entail.
The question they explore through most of the remainder of the book is “how does one develop a Christian mind?” The authors, coming from a Reformed perspective, approach this primarily through the lens of learning to think in terms of “worldview”, and particularly, the classic Christian framework of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. They set this alongside modern and post-modern worldviews and then go deeper and elaborating the four aspects of this framework, both in the traditional terms and in what they called a “four-i-ed learning” framework: integration, idolatry, investment, and imagination. I found this latter approach a fresh take, and one of the highlights of the book, helping me think of familiar territory in fresh terms.
The final two chapters look at how one lives out this idea of academic faithfulness. They call for a life that is both connected to God and connected to the world in real acts of service and not mere intellectualizing. They challenge students to the patient work of digging deeply into an academic field, listening carefully and responding thoughtfully after one has done the hard work rather than parroting glib answers. This includes the hard work of “double reading”, considering both course material and outside reading of Christian sources on that material. They encourage students both to cultivate big dreams, and consider everyday acts of faithfulness as steps toward those dreams. And they conclude that the fruit of this hard work is that work becomes in one sense, play, in that there is always joy in knowing one’s work enjoys the pleasure of God.
Having worked in the collegiate ministry world for many years, I welcome this book. It is too easy for our ministries to overlook the academic aspect of the discipleship of our students. And yet, to think Christianly about one’s studies is crucial preparation for thinking Christianly about whatever work one does after college, and whatever one is thinking about.
If I were to quibble with anything, it would be that most of the emphasis is on worldview and the creation, fall, redemption, and consummation framework. While I use this approach, I also want to complement it with cultivating spiritual attentiveness through prayer as one studies, by cultivating communities of intellectual formation, by fostering what one friend calls “doxological fascination” with what one studies, and by thinking about our witness in the classroom as well as the residence hall. None of these are absent in the authors’ discussion, and may have been limited by the length of the book (127 pages).
The book includes appendices of sources, a kind of liturgy of academic faithfulness, and quotes from student interviews. Each chapter concludes with well-written questions for reflection and the material is presented conversationally and includes student testimony throughout. For that reason it makes a great gift to students headed off to college, or a welcome gift to students from a campus ministry on campus.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher as an ebook via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”