Why Christian research matters
Let’s face it. Research is biased.
To contemporary ears, this may sound like blasphemy. In our postmodern age, we’ve been trained to question truth, but never—never!—the scientific process.
“When you think about research, you think about it being objective,” acknowledges Michael Van Pelt, president of Canadian think tank Cardus. “But the reality is that there is a subjective kind of commitment that runs as a current underneath the water behind most research.”
If this is true, then research from a Christian perspective is more important than ever. “We are in desperate need of Gospel-centred scholarship,” says Dr. Robert Joustra, director of Redeemer University College’s Centre for Christian Scholarship. “We need to discern the idols of our times, the currents that sweep the unsuspecting and unaware along in a society that’s losing touch with the deep moral and spiritual truths of our lives.”
It’s not only moral and spiritual truths that are lost when Christian voices are drowned out in the hubbub of the secular cultural conversation. Sometimes we lose historical fact, too.
For example, “if researchers with little interest in religious concerns have long dominated art history,” says Wheaton College professor of art history Dr. Matthew Milliner, “then the idea that art history is ‘secular’ after the sixteenth century may be less a settled fact than a reflection of the interest of those researchers.”
A researcher who’s interested in theology, on the other hand, is more likely to notice sacred themes that others have ignored. “It is important to rediscover the Christian culture that has already been made,” continues Milliner, winner of Redeemer’s Emerging Public Intellectual Award for his contributions to Christian scholarship. Culture making may seem like a trendy byword in Christian evangelical circles, but, as Milliner points out, it helps to remember that we’re actually participating in a two-thousand-year-old project.
Redeemer is part of today’s revitalized movement to create culture, care for creation and seek the flourishing of our communities. From monitoring pollution in Hamilton watersheds to investigating the under-researched issue of relationship violence on Christian campuses, Redeemer fosters original scholarship, directly related to issues of major public concern.
The big ideas and deep scholarship generated at universities and research institutes happen at the top, so to speak, of the cultural watershed. The results trickle down, shaping the work of think tanks, government agencies and activist organizations. These groups, in turn, influence public policy, trade decisions and media coverage, which ultimately affect our communities and neighbours.
Culturally, Christians are well-positioned to be agents of discernment for our society. Joustra points to the persuasive argument made in Michael Lindsay’s book, Faith in the Halls of Power. Lindsay suggests that people of faith—especially Christians—are now, more than ever, holding key spots in North American politics, businesses and other cultural houses of power. The problem is that once the faithful enter these gilded halls, they discover that they don’t really have anything different to offer from that of their secular colleagues.
In other words, these leaders need the information and wisdom that comes from deep Christian scholarship so they can offer faithful solutions to social ills.
“Redeemer is part of a movement in Christian higher education, theologically rooted and philosophically serious, to tackle these challenges from within the life of the Gospel,” asserts Joustra. “This is deadly serious work, because without the kind of faithful research we are a part of, we will continue to put ‘our people’ in places of power, but they won’t be the image-bearers the world needs.”
Christian universities are crucial for the cultural growth and reclamation required as we seek God’s shalom. Our researchers tackle the big ideas, and our students become the cultural, political and business leaders who use and build on those big ideas to renew and reclaim God’s kingdom.
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