Why Invest in the Work of Christian Professors? A Strategic Approach to Changing the World for Good

Today is World Teacher Day according to UNESCO, and my mother sent me this quote from Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where influence stops.” It’s an appropriate moment to stop and think about why education matters, and since Thanksgiving (Canada) is coming up this weekend, to give thanks for teachers, and even give some encouragement and support if you’re able. The Globe and Mail tells us, giving to charities ismore important now than ever.”

It is October now and we at Global Scholars Canada are heading into fundraising season, COVID or not. As it stands, it’s COVID turned up a notch in Ontario right now.

Humanitarian causes have an immediate and obvious connection with the hearts of donors. The direct and visible alleviation of suffering and poverty are intuitively right and good things to do. The images of stricken populations seem to speak for themselves, and sending money, food, and medical supplies are the proper human response to such need. So why donate to the work of Christian professors, who typically teach young, healthy students in classrooms, and could be removed from the places of greatest need?

You have heard it said, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed his family for a lifetime.” In other words, the basic principle might be: “Give charity to people and you make them dependent on an outside source. Give people an education, and you empower a whole indigenous population.”

Education is a key factor in development and social change. Indigenous leadership and sustainable development are our educational goals as a non-profit agency. But there is still much more to consider that is vitally important for human flourishing on our planet.

You see, we at Global Scholars Canada want to add a third part to the proverb, and it goes something like this: “Give a person a fish, and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, and you feed their family for a lifetime. Equip a Christian professor to offer a world-and-life view on fishing, business, and ecology, and you can sustainably feed the body and soul of a region for decades to come.”

My son, being taught by his naturalist uncle, how to fish for a day.

Development and sustainability are vitally important, and when given the foundation of Christian purpose, virtue and worship, everyone is doubly blessed. The layers of physical, cultural, and spiritual life—all interweave harmoniously for the common good and as a sign of God’s kingdom in our midst. People need to eat, but they do not live by bread alone.

So to be specific: Dr. Stephen Ney mentors African graduate students in the sciences about the light that faith brings to their research and teaching. Dr. Manhee Yoon empowers Christian pastors and teachers in the 98 percent Muslim country of The Gambia to have confidence in their faith in Christ and to articulate the gospel more clearly and respectfully. Dr. David Koyzis inspires professors and students in Finland, Brazil, and Berlin in the ways that Christian faith can bring more robust justice, peace and hope to government policies and principles.

I could list more, but this is my point about supporting professors’ work: it is a strategic approach to Christian ministry around the world. Let me unpack some dimensions of its long-term and institutionally significant impact, what we call a “redemptive influence.”

  1. Christian Professors Awaken Leaders to the World of Spirits and Souls

    Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has said that the “intellectual world is a battleground or arena in which rages a battle for people’s souls.” The university is where the crossroads of intellect and spirituality meet, where people don’t just hold ideas, they passionately pursue paradigms and wide-sweeping social programs. David Koyzis’ seminal book on Visions and Illusions unpacks the ideologies and idols that swirl not just around our political institutions, but which also fill the air of our academic hallways. These worldviews ask not just for the allegiance of students’ minds, but for their hearts and for their very lives.

    Whether it’s postmodern subjectivism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, or secular atheism, they offer not only a theory, they are community values and lifestyles, and in a way, even function as a religious orientation to the world. Light and darkness, gods and demons, vie for the bodies and souls of students at university, leaning closer to heaven or hell. Christian professors ground everything they do in God’s personal presence and creation-based principles, and that gives a moral and spiritual direction to all the cultural endeavours entrusted to the university. When a materialistic naturalism is the default orientation (what Charles Taylor called “the immanent frame”), this whole spiritual dimension of life is dismissed and thus operating unawares. But we have souls, and such spirit matters, now and into eternity.

    Read more about our Global Scholars Canada public lecture on the “spirit world” in Africa and the West here, with Dr. Esther Acolatse.

  2. Young People are Our Best Resource: Professors Grow Them Up

    Young people are more than a resource, and they should not be objectified as such, but I use this phrase to highlight precisely that point: people are more significant than any list of “resources.” Academic ministries are founded on the very idea that the university years are the critical years, and shaping their hearts and minds often means giving direction to an entire society.

    Students have a vocation given them by God. They are the future cultural leaders, and as the university goes, so goes the country. Here is the strategy: leaders formed in classrooms to put God’s mission and stewardship of his planet first in their lives will lead to the flourishing of life—abundant life for all. If you want to see the future, don’t count your gold, measure your GNP, or even assess your natural resources: look at the depth, quality and scope of the hopes and dreams of your emerging adults. And let’s be clear: those dreams are often sparked and shaped by their professors.

  3. Town, Gown and Terra Firma Together: Christian Professors See the Big Picture

    Christian professors come with a contextualized understanding of the role of the university. They are members of parishes, and thus they are in constant contact with a community outside the academy and its environs. They are not lost in the ivory tower, running only in academic circles. In church, they hear about the experience of the day labourer, they pray for political leaders, they learn fundraising and pastoral care, and they help in the nursery with the babies. The church orients the professor to the whole of life, as all is God’s territory and comes with God’s gifts and God’s call. This is the bigger picture: church, family, farm, forest, federal politics, finance, fine arts—the Christian professor knows experientially as well as intellectually that the university exists in the midst of these other important cultural sectors and its research and teaching should be for the flourishing of these other spheres of life.

  4. Vice-Versa: Bad Worldviews Drain Life

    Everything I have said about the way a healthy Christian professor can redemptively influence spiritual awareness, emerging adults’ vocation, and the flourishing of the wider community can also be said in reverse: unhealthy professors and their distorted religious orientation can warp and wound the spiritual vitality of campus, emerging adults’ decision-making, and the welfare of the wider community. False prophets have always dealt in lies and self-interest, and that continues, albeit in more sophisticated and often culturally acceptable ways today. To teach that business is just for profits, or that politics is about power, or that sexuality is for self, or learning is for a private career—these are all instructions for life that twist the Creator’s design for human flourishing and planetary peace. A good Christian professor unmasks the worldview that often lie hidden beneath popular cultural practises, trendy political movements, and common turns of phrase, and shows how such orientations to life lead to emptiness, distorted relationships, or ruin.

    Materialism, for example (also known as naturalism) has been described by philosopher Charles Taylor as a subtraction, a system that has closed itself off to a whole colourful dimension of human life. Ignoring and even denigrating belief in the reality of the soul, the power of religious experience, and especially the presence and passion of God in the world can make us all poor. Faith has been an inspiration for the arts, humanism, scientific innovation, and solidarity in social justice. To only teach the failures of religion, for example, is to steer students away from a holistic and healthy approach to life.

Giving to a faith-based academic mission can be like giving to the arts: it’s investing in what inspires the good life.

So consider a donation to an academic mission today. Invest in future leaders and the transformation of culture and you will be contributing to great long-term humanitarian aid. We believe Jesus did not come only to win hearts—although he certainly does that—he came to usher in a divine kingdom, and kingdoms by definition permeate every dimension of human cultural activity. Jesus cared about marriages, medicine, military men, and math, and as leaven makes the whole dough rise, so should the gospel of his life, death, and resurrection cause every sector of society to rise to new and better life. God’s goodness is for the common good.

PS. If you want to see how this strategy might actually look like in the mess of real-life universities, see our scholars’ stories in full colour at www.globalscholarscanada.ca!

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