How do you balance academics with Christian identity?

by | Nov 28, 2015 | Blog | 0 comments

I love being a seminary student, and I am grateful for the Christian university that I had the opportunity to attend and earn my BA. However, as I have picked up momentum within my academic “career,” I have discovered just how hard it can be to separate Christian academics from Christian identity–especially in light of the fact that I am pursuing advanced degrees in biblical studies because of my Christian identity.

My first experience in Christian higher education was when I transferred to Johnson University in Knoxville, TN. I spent four years (some of the best years of my life) there immersed in three majors: biblical studies, preaching & church leadership, and intercultural/Chinese studies. When I went there, I had no clear intention of continuing my education beyond my BA. In fact, I didn’t take my education as seriously as I should have for the first 2 or 3 years. But, as I neared the completion of my degree, I became more serious about learning and I knew I would pursue graduate studies.

After one semester of graduate work at Johnson, I transferred to Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY. At Asbury, I began pursing a MA in biblical studies. As I became immersed in my graduate studies, I began to realize that I want a career in academics—I want to influence the church by teaching the Bible to future leaders of the church. I am now pursuing a MA and ThM, with high hopes of pursuing a PhD afterward.

So, that is the brief story of how I have ended up where I am now, and why I have encountered this topic in my own life recently.

Those of us in Christian academics—whether it is preaching, missions, biblical studies, church history, etc.—have to remember that our identity in Jesus Christ is not synonymous with our academic study of Jesus Christ. This is sometimes exceedingly difficult for me to keep in mind, especially considering my goals. (As I’ve mentioned, the reason I’m doing what I’m doing is because of my desire to serve the church.) I have particular PhD programs that I am interested in, and many of them have fairly selective admission requirements. That drives me to work hard, of course, BUT it also drives me to neglect the rest that I need, and increases the risk of me placing my identity in my academic study.

seminary-man-person-relaxation-stepsThe Hebrew word shabat (where we get our word Sabbath) means “to cease.” In Genesis 2:2, when God had completed his creation, he ceased. I think this is the first step in our pursuit of balancing our Christian academics with our Christian identity. At times, we need to cease. I know how hard that could be. I rarely cease completely. Even as I write this, I am sitting in a coffee shop in Lexington, KY “taking a morning for myself.” But, what did I bring with me? A monograph about Garden of Eden symbolism in the Hebrew Bible…just in case I decided I didn’t feel like actually ceasing.

If we are, in fact, pursing Christian academics because of our identity in Christ, then we need to be faithful to that identity. So, take a step back from concerns about that next paper. Take a step back from concerns about your GPA. Take a step back from the Christian academics and cease. Take a moment to realize that you are a child of God whose identity is found in Jesus Christ—regardless of whether or not you bomb that Hebrew or Greek final; regardless of whether or not you can list which Pauline letters have disputed authorship; regardless of your GPA.

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