February 6, 2012

The Apologetic Value of Excelling in Your Field

In my last book review, I referred to this quote by C.S. Lewis on the importance of Christians mastering their field of work and the impact that this would have:
"What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent. You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian" (God in the Dock, 93).
I thought I would provide some examples of Christians who have done this very thing and because of their demonstrated expertise have earned the respect of colleagues in their field. It's important to note that they do this in a way that is consistent with the Christian worldview they hold and is not simply a respect earned from compromising their beliefs to be in line with the current scholarly consensus. These are some notable examples, and there are many others who could be mentioned. May their tribe increase.

Philosophy
A generation ago, the consensus in the world of analytic philosophy was that theism had long ago been placed in the dustbin of philosophy. That attitude has changed and one of the big reasons is the contribution of Alvin Plantinga and his revived form of Common Sense Realism. His works on epistemology and the problem of evil have been hugely influential. In her book Saving Leonardo, Nancey Pearcey writes that thanks to Plantinga's influence,
"Christians now fill graduate programs, occupy key teaching positions, and write important books in the field of analytic philosophy...As Quentin Smith observes, in other fields, Christians typically compartmentalize their religious convictions from their scholarly work out of fear of committing academic suicide. But 'in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, academically respectable to argue for theism'"
Literature
C.S. Lewis himself serves as a great example in this field. His Chronicles of Narnia fantasy books have garnered appeal and acclaim across generations. The same can be said of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. In the area of fantasy books, you might also add Nate Wilson, whose 100 Cupboards and Ashtown Burials series of books are garnering quite a following. Examples abound in novels, two of my favorites being Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, etc.) and Fyodor Dostoevsky (Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, etc).

Natural Sciences
The current director of the National Institutes of Health is Francis Collins. He was the head of the Human Genome Project and director of the National Center for Human Genome Research for 15 years. He is a protestant evangelical Christian and has been a strong advocate of ethics in genetic research. His most well-known book was The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Another active and influential Christian in the natural sciences is Henry Schaeffer III, who is widely published and cited in the field of Chemistry. He is also an active proponent for Intelligent Design.

Computer Science
Donald Knuth, whose 3-volume book The Art of Computer Programming is a classic in the field of computer programming, is a well-respected computer scientist and a devout Lutheran.

Business
Hobby Lobby was founded in 1972 and has grown to 450 stores across the country and internationally, making them the #3 craft and fabric retailer. David Green founded the company and attempts to operate it on biblical principles. In the stores statement of purpose, he says, "We believe that it is by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured. He has been faithful in the past, we trust Him for our future."

There are many other fields and many other hard working Christians that could be named, but this will suffice. Churches ought to encourage their members to strive for excellence in their calling and to be salt and light in the world.

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