In the Throne Room
I fell in love with academia by accident. In fact I would not have even stumbled upon my love of learning without the requirements of the church for ministry. While I grew up in a mainline denomination that fully affirmed academia, I have always been drawn to the inclusive nature of Jesus. The incarnation points to a God who first shows up amongst the poor, the vulnerable, the uneducated but then reaches out to the rich, the powerful and learned. As a pastor I’m constantly held in check that my approach must be accessible to the least educated and still be of value to the most educated. In the Kingdom, each hold an equally privileged access to revelation.
Reading Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was enlightening in that he addressed a context that has always greatly perplexed me. Noll summarizes that “the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.” This fixation on immediate threats is important insight into how understanding some of my southern brothers and sisters has sometimes eluded me.
It was also useful that he was careful to delineate that “Canadian evangelicals have escaped some of the intellectual perils found in the United States”. Here in Canada, the majority of our oldest and most established Universities were built around and as an overflow of the seminaries. The few distinctly Christian Universities are considerably new establishments and are often still in the process of having their degree status’s recognized. As many denominations (including every one of the many I’ve been a part of) require a Masters level degree to go into ordained ministry, the vast majority of clergy have an undergraduate degree in another field. It is precisely these necessary requirements that drew me from my relative indifference to deep study to discover a love affair with thinking and exploring the complex webs of study that academic institutions offer. Certainly Noll’s identity as a Reformed Evangelical might predisposition him to pursue study. Article 2 of the Belgic Confession asserts that we know God “First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God”, thus to explore the intricacies of this world ought only lead us to know God more deeply. While the Belgic Confession is relatively new, this conviction has long shaped my hopeful and fearless engagement with ideas—though I avoided science, not for fear that it would oppose faith but that it eluded my capacity for understanding. As such, I humbly default to my Christian brothers and sisters in such fields.
James Davison Hunter offers a picture of why it is so crucial to have Christians in all fields of academia. “The practice of faithful presence,  generates relationships and institutions that are fundamentally covenantal in character, the ends of which are the fostering of meaning, purpose, truth, beauty, belonging, and fairness—not just for Christians but for everyone.” To neglect a particular field or institution is to fail to head the call of Christ into the ends of the earth.Academia is necessary for the body of Christ to bear authentic witness in the world, but not for the believer to have authentic faith or themselves bear witness to the gospel of Christ. Christian academic endeavours ought to be undertaken for both building up support of the body of Christ and for extending the grace of God into all corners of the world including research and instructional institutions. “It represents a quality of commitment oriented to the faithfulness, wholeness, and well-being of all. It is, therefore, the opposite of elitism and the domination it implies.” If Charles Taylor is correct in his understanding of the current secular age as a pluralism where God is now one choice amongst many and thus debatable  then“(t)he viability of Christian faith and the possibility of sharing that faith depend on a social environment in which faith—any faith—is plausible.” For the body of Christ to neglect an area of study is to accept that there are spaces in our world in which faith is not plausible. But “if what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most openminded advocates of general human learning. Evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learning wholeheartedly is, in other words, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith.” Study can thus be offered as worship as it invites us to explore more deeply what God has created and create more faithfully narratives and arts that reflect our complex God “Because Jesus Christ is the Logos incarnate and not simply another interesting religious figure among many-signs of his presence and style are found everywhere, and he can relate non-competitively to them.”
One final image. God long ago invited me to study in His throne room. To picture myself reading and writing in a place set apart for His glory, surrounded by the cloud of witnesses and making an offering of my work. Whatever we undertake, may it all be to His glory.
 Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), Kindle p.54.
 Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), Kindle p.6.
 “Belgic Confession,” Christian Reformed Church, September 5, 2019, accessed January 23, 2020. https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/belgic-confession)
 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 263.
 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 260.
 James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007). ePub 26-27.
 Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), Kindle loc 27.
 Robert Barron as quoted by Mark A. Noll in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), Kindle loc 343.
7 responses to “In the Throne Room”
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YES! So good, Jenn. Such an inclusive perspective of the poor and needy, the rich and elite, the intellectual and the simple. All receive God’s revelation. All have equal access to the Throne Room. This is the love Paul talked about. Thank you.
I love you quote, “As a pastor, I’m constantly held in check that my approach must be accessible to the least educated and still be of value to the most educated.” An awesome, insightful, and balanced view of pastoral ministry. Wow, anyone would love to have a pastor like you! And thank you for reminding me that we always offer our work to HIs glory.
Jenn, I love the idea of studying in the “Throne Room”. I think that is an awesome practice that would help me with my studies. Thank you for your faithfulness both to scholarship and worship. You are helping us all.
Thank you for the nugget about how some of the earliest higher education institutions of Canada came to be. An amazing fact that they were created due to overflowing seminaries. Wow.
Yes Jenn, Our God is sovereign, ruling over all the affairs of men and requires that we acknowledge Him in all our ways and, He will make our path straight. I really like your statement, “For the body of Christ to neglect an area of study is to accept that there are spaces in our world in which faith is not plausible”. I believe that the Church is the answer to the world and the only way to spread our influence through Academia in every sphere of life, as the Witnesses of christ in those spaces. You have brought this point very well in anyalysing the work of Mark Noll.
Jenn – such good stuff! And I loved that you brought in Hunter, who was easily one of my favorite reads last year. The connect with study and how it kills elitism is going to sit with me for awhile. Much appreciation friend.
This was really good. I love the idea that we really can bring the fullness of our intersectional identity with us into the throne room. It’s a freeing and liberating thought. As the Gospel is equally freeing and liberating for the rich and poor alike. Well done, friend!