This is the fifth in a series of posts looking at B J van der Walt’s Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind (ICCA: Potchesftroom, 2001)
In this chapter van der Walt attempts to ‘explain what Christian scholarship entails’. It is not an easy task – either explaining it or doing it. However, it is an essential task!
He starts by looking at the importance and character of education. He describes it thus:
Education ... always implies a deliberate and conscious attempt on the part of the educator to lead the child, student or adult to a particular goal according to certain norms. To educate means to exert real formative power and to give actual direction to the development of the individual. Education, therefore, is a normative task – even in the case of those who deny this fact in their propogation of so-called neutral education (p. 131)He then looks at the nature of higher (tertiary) education and the difference between everyday pre-theoretical thought and scientific thought. A simple but apposite illustration shows the difference:
Who knows more about the sick baby: the mother or the medical doctor? The answer of course that neither knows more: the mother and doctor have different forms of knowledge of the sick baby. Intuitively and pre-scientifically the mother suspects that her baby has chickenpox. The doctor’s scientific training, however, enables him to diagnose it definitely as chickenpox.(p 135)Before looking at how to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, van der Walt examines some common misconceptions in practising Christian scholarship: the dualistic, modernistic and postmodernistic approaches.
In the dualistic view the Christian is both a Christian and a scholar. It is not always easy to keep these together. In the moderistic approach science is viewed as being neutral, the application of the correct scientific method will guarantee neutrality. However, as van der Walt shows, this is false: religious presuppositions are part of every scientific process. The postmodernistic approach with its emphasis on a pluralism of stories is a far more subtle and dangerous than the previous two. Christianity is now merely one of the many different ‘acceptable’ approaches. This means sacrificing the word of God on the altar of postmodern relativism.
Dualistic approaches seek to unit Christianity and the sciences, a modernistic approach rejects Christianity for the sake of science and postmodernistic approaches accept Christianity as one of many equally valid approaches. Whereas, a Christian approach seeks to transform the sciences. Christianity is not an icing on the cake (to evoke the title of another book) but permeates the whole of the cake – like salt or yeast. Every science should be practised in the light of God.
He identifies five stages in Christian scholarship which are summarised in the diagram below.
Christian scholarship should be ‘marked by fidelity to God’s revelation’. This is the light that illuminates our ‘scientific filters’.
In the next section he looks at the role of the Bible and how it is authoritative and how it is a light. He concludes this chapter with a look at the place of theology in its relationship to philosophy. Theology is an ordinary scientific discipline with limited authority.