Does Academia Lead to Losing Your Faith?
by Dr David Bowen
“Why is it that, from what I’ve seen and heard in general, otherwise conservative and/or reformed students and scholars who delve deep into the biblical languages and biblical studies tend to end up with a more liberal view of the inerrancy/infallibility of scripture? Is it inevitable that, with a high knowledge of the languages and ‘issues’ within the text and amongst the manuscript criticism, etc., one ends up with a weaker view?”
My favorite T-shirt from the University of Virginia contains the following quotation from its founder, Mr. Jefferson. “Here we are not afraid to pursue truth wherever it may lead nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” Certainly Thomas Jefferson was no staunch defender of orthodox Christian faith, but I agree with him in this viewpoint. Far from needing to fear the very best of scholarship, Christianity benefits from it.
Although it is certainly possible for one to lose one’s faith through a rigorous academic program, and you are correct in noting anecdotal evidence for such a thing to happen, it is by no means inevitable. I know of more evangelical students, who have moved from solid seminaries and graduate schools to pursue doctoral studies in the mainstream of respected academia, who have kept their faith than who have lost it. From my observation over the years there seem to be three conditions that need to be present for someone to profit from higher education rather than to be harmed by it.
The first of these conditions is a strong foundation in God. Those scholars who have laid the groundwork for commitment to Christ and his Word under the tutelage of evangelical mentors seem not to get rocked off their moorings when the storms and stresses of doctoral work come crashing down on them. As in the parable Jesus told in Matthew 7, these students are committed both to hearing AND to doing God’s word. Theirs is a faith of the heart as well as of the head…
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