Jesus and Academic Culture Part 1

     Being effective in our conversations with our colleagues about Christ is not always easy to do.  Indeed, typically it is a great challenge to be effective.  We run with a sophisticated group of folks that are immersed in an increasingly secular institution and academic culture—a process that has been on going for as long as universities have been around.  In our nation, secularization in academe began to take off in the 19th century.

     There are reasons for that—intellectually motivated reasons—and there are sociological and political reasons, too.  In the 21st century, these latter reasons are playing a bigger role than ever and we cannot indulge ourselves by ignoring that impact when our community is proclaiming and defending Christian truth claims. 

     To the contrary, it is in the Lord’s interests that we understand all the features of this influence at least as well as our secular colleagues, and how this affects their reception to the great things of the gospel.  It would also do us well to consider ways these factors play a role in closing minds to the gospel.  That is where we have a dog in the fight. 

     We wish to narrow what we have to say to focus on current political thought in academe that influences people’s openness to truth (generally) and willingness to hear the gospel.  Cultural forces are complicated and hard to tease out, but we wish to highlight a sociological development—a political development—that has evolved in academic orthodox ideology.  Space will not allow us to dissect and develop its roots and shoots.

     It is counterintuitive to widely held perceptions, but we think that a large part of the “generic academic mind” is not as much interested in truth as one might think.  The liberal democratic and especially the strong leftist political mind that are dominant characteristics in academe are focused on matters that are more pragmatic; that pragmatism by its nature wishes to exclude parochial claims to truth.  That is because it is widely held that parochial claims to truth create division in the public square and at the same time, it is thought the justification for any of these claims lacks compelling evidence.  Public intellectuals, especially John Rawls, say we would be better off focusing on justice—political and social justice—in ways that overlap between diverse cultural worldviews, which sidesteps the epistemic and metaphysical disagreements. 

     This tendency to reject capital “T” truth on the basis of political pragmatism is not just because of Rawls’ thinking.  You can also “blame" it on the ubiquitous influence of Marxist political analysis and shades of postmodern political thought and their influence in academe.  Both have an implicit disdain for claims of big “T” truth and thus a bent toward pragmaticism.  For instance, take Marx’s famous quote, “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”  Alternatively, take the essential postmodern critique in its most virulent form; it argues that even reality (not just language and symbols by which we try to grasp or describe reality) is merely a human construction—though a construction that is imbued with tremendous cultural power.

     Further, both think that those who disagree with their analysis have an agenda for doing so that is discrediting.  Take your choice; your objections are motivated by economic ambition in the case of Marxism, or motivated for getting or keeping power in the case of virulent postmodernism.  

     Those views have inherent explosive ammunition that can often be “downloaded" in polemic conversations: Truth is out (except their political analysis), and they take it as fact that political “enemies” object to their analysis because they have an immoral agenda—they hold that their interlocutors are after an unfair distribution of wealth or after a morally repugnant grab for power. 

    Now, we do not offer this analysis in order to promote alternative political ideologies.  We are just trying to describe the landscape as we see it and what that landscape means to the hearing of the gospel—something of immense importance to followers of Christ.

     If our analysis were anywhere near close to being accurate, you would expect the academic mind—at least unconsciously—to be skeptical of truth claims even before examining them.  They may not even want to examine them.  Truth claims create division and create intolerable governmental chaos that provides an opening for fascism to raise its ugly head.

     We think what we have had to say sets the table for saying what comes next.  How do we carry on the proclamation and defense of the gospel in such an environment?  Do we fold the tent and strike the flag?  Do we as a first order of business deconstruct the epistemic and metaphysical skepticism they have about truth, or can we sidestep this in some credible way?  Will they engage with us if they really think we are closet or crypto-fascists wanting to impose our views (and create a theocracy) on them?  

      We think that evangelical Christians—especially Christians in academe—need to have a serious conversation about what to do.  How can we successfully deal with this barrier to getting into serious conversations about the gospel?  Now is the time for the conversation; next issue we will make some suggestions.

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