10 Commandments of Christian Scholarship, Part 1
How Christian apologists present evidence for the faith and respond to criticisms is as vital a component of apologetics as the way they think through issues surrounding the truth of Christianity. There are things believers can do both in private study and in public practice that will prepare them to discuss and debate theological topics in a God-glorifying manner. I call these the 10 commandments of Christian scholarship. Like the Decalogue of Exodus 20, the first four (or, at least, 31/2) commandments concern our relationship with God and the last six, our relationships with others.
1. Make Christ the Lord of your heart and mind
The charter verse of Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which commands us to sanctify or set Christ apart as Lord in our hearts. Another apologetic text, 2 Corinthians 10:5, commands us to bring every thought captive to Christ’s Lordship.
Many young apologists set out to win the world for Jesus through evidence, which is a noble goal, but I’ve observed that, somewhere along the way, many of these young people begin worrying more about what other scholars think of them instead of what Christ thinks of them. We need to remember that Christian scholarship is chiefly about honoring Jesus in our thinking. Integrating our theology with some new idea or even winning a person over to our side take a lower priority. Making these latter two goals central is a recipe for compromise; but setting Christ apart as Lord of our hearts and minds is the key to a lifetime of faithful service in the academy.
2. Have no other gods
As a corollary to the first commandment, the second reminds believers that we are to have no other gods—including in the apologetics arena. Notoriety, respect, and even the life of the mind itself can easily entrap Christian scholars and distract them from the real focus. Again, believers are to concern themselves primarily with what Christ will say to them on the Day of Judgment rather than with getting a publisher to pick up their book manuscript, what other scholars say about them at academic conferences, or whether they’ve been reading enough scholarly books.
3. Do not feign or forgo Christian piety
Philosophy, the handmaiden of theology, is defined as “the love of wisdom.” And, as Thomas Aquinas once noted, the pursuit of wisdom is the most noble of all pursuits, not because it makes us wise in and of ourselves, but because “the pursuit of wisdom especially joins man to God in friendship.”1
Friendship with God, then, should be any Christian scholar’s ultimate goal. And such friendship can be accomplished only by communion with the Great I AM, covenantal faithfulness to the Lord of Truth, and becoming morally pure, just as our heavenly Father is morally pure (Matthew 5:48). Indeed, apologists’ moral character should stand out as their chief attribute.
I know a story of a famous liberal theologian who was known for his womanizing, especially at various theological conferences. One of his teaching assistants finally confronted him on this issue, asking how he could engage in this sort of behavior and call himself a Christian. The theologian answered that what he does when he steps down from the pulpit or out of the classroom has nothing to do with the truth of what he’s saying. In one sense he is correct. Truth is truth no matter how we apply it, or even if we disobey it. But let it never be said of Christian scholars, “Do as they say, not as they do!” When we sin, we should confess it to our Father and repent. Heinous sins have destroyed the ministries of countless pastors, and rightly so. The same applies, or at least should apply, to apologists.
4. Honor your prayer, devotional, and family times
All Christians should give priority to nourishing their own spirit, mind, and body, as well as to familial relationships. It’s more important that believers spend time in the Word than in reading their favorite theologian’s latest blog entry. It’s more important to pray consistently to the heavenly Father than to provide erudite philosophical arguments for His existence. And it’s more important to spend time with spouse and children—and other family members—than to attend the latest apologetics conference.
All apologetics activities have their place; but priorities must be set. God wants us to fellowship with Him more than He wants us to defend Him; and sometimes the godliest thing a Christian scholar can ever do is play catch with the kids!
5. Honor your fathers and mothers in the faith
Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate more and more the fact that nearly every objection to the Christian faith that we hear today has already been answered somewhere in the Christian tradition. For the most part, an apologist’s job it is not to reinvent the wheel, but to hold fast to the faith, and even the interpretation of the faith, handed down to us by our spiritual fathers and mothers.
Good apologists will familiarize themselves with the great theologians of the past (e.g., Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, etc.). When we come across a philosophical conundrum or Bible difficulty not easily answered, the first thing we should do is consult the great minds of the church to see how they answered the issue. My prediction is that 99 percent of the time apologists will find a thorough and intellectually satisfying answer somewhere in our faith tradition.
Another way to honor the legacy of the fathers is to place truth above all else—including a favorite theologian. The heroes of the faith I have already mentioned would be very upset if we were unwilling to change our perspective, even in the face of undeniable evidence, for their sakes.
Though true conviction requires us to stand on the shoulders of the giants of the past, new discoveries require that we correct any teaching that contradicts the clear words of the Bible or the irrefutable evidences of nature. Hence, our worldview must be stable enough to withstand the assaults of the nonChristian world, but fluid enough to accommodate newly discovered facts and evidence.
Next week, part 2 of this series will cover commandments 6 through 10.
- Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, trans. Anton C. Pegis, vol. 1 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), 61.
Dr. Travis Campbell
Dr. Travis James Campbell received his PhD in philosophical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) in 2004, and currently serves as a history teacher at Deerfield-Windsor School in Albany, GA.