The Lipscomb University Center for Christianity and Scholarship seeks to create and nurture networks of scholarly dialogue and collaboration rooted in the paradox of Christian faith and academic inquiry.
Our objective to embrace academic calling as Christian vocation is essential for understanding the Center’s mission. At the heart of the Center’s work is the question, “What might it mean to unite scholarship and Christian faith?” This question is rooted in paradox because of the dual commitments that frame our work—commitments that led Tertullian some eighteen centuries ago to ask, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
On the one hand, we practice our craft in the academy, not in the church, since Lipscomb is first and foremost a university. Even though we know that perspectival teaching is inevitable, we dare not transform our lecterns into pulpits. We must honor the right of our students to search for truth, and we must embrace that search along with them. This side of the equation calls for a mode of inquiry that refuses to shut down thought and conversation and lives comfortably with wonder, ambiguity, partial answers, and disagreement.
At the same time, commitment to the Christian faith lends shape and texture to all that Christians do.
The problem for Christian professors is therefore obvious: How can we work from a Christian perspective while honoring, at the very same time, the values and the integrity of the academy?
The answer begins to emerge when we recognize that Christian scholars inevitably live in the midst of paradox. We can repress that paradoxical dimension of our lives and hope it might go away, or we can take the reality of paradox upon ourselves and forthrightly embrace a paradoxical way of living, a paradoxical way of teaching, and a paradoxical way of engaging in scholarship.
Thankfully, the model we need for paradoxical living, teaching, and researching belongs to the essence of the Christian gospel, for the Christian faith is built on a paradoxical framework at every crucial turn. The sovereign lord of the universe was born in a lowly manger and crucified on a Roman cross. God accepts us even though we are unacceptable. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. We must die in order to live. And the list goes on and on.
If we wish, therefore, to practice our craft from a Christian perspective—if we wish to honor the integrity of the academy and the integrity of the Christian gospel, and to honor them both simultaneously—then we must embrace and foster the paradoxical vison that stands at the heart of the Christian gospel.
When we embrace that vision, we equip ourselves to honor competing perspectives simultaneously, for one who is comfortable with paradox can be comfortable with competing points of view. If we are comfortable with paradox, we no longer feel compelled to resolve a dilemma, to foreclose on a student’s question, to eliminate ambiguity, to transform shades of gray into black or white, or to tie up every loose end before the class concludes. If we are comfortable with paradox, we can be comfortable with nuance, correction, and new knowledge from other scholars who work in our disciplines. Indeed, we are comfortable with admitting that we might be wrong—a stance that prompts us to embrace further research. And if we are comfortable with paradox, we can be comfortable with creativity, imagination, and wonder on the part of our students and other scholars, even when their questions force us to occupy unfamiliar ground.
In a word, the paradox of the Christian gospel offers an incredibly strong foundation for Christian scholars to practice their craft, and it is that vision that the Lipscomb University Center for Christianity and Scholarship seeks to promote through the primary components of its work.
- The Christian Scholars Conference seeks to create and nurture an intellectual and Christian community that joins individuals and institutions to stimulate networks of scholarly dialogue and collaboration. As the Center’s signature event, the CSC attracts more than 500 scholars, representing over 100 colleges and universities ranging from large state schools to private faith-based colleges. This interdisciplinary conference calls together scholars to develop their own academic research and to reflect on the integration of scholarship and faith. Five plenary events frame more than 85 paper, panel, poster, or performance sessions across a variety of disciplines. The academic rigor that is a hallmark of the CSC meets or exceeds national conference standards.
- The Robert M. and Jan Randolph Mentoring Program sponsors senior scholars who mentor doctoral students, seeking to form scholars in the tradition of the Churches of Christ for service to church, academy and the greater good. The Randolph Mentoring Program implements the practices of mentoring and hospitality that shaped generations of scholars reared in the Churches of Christ, and cultivates those practices so that their positive influence endures for future generations. The long-term institutional health of universities is dependent upon future generations of faculty. Those faculty need nourishment through intentional and sustained relationships between early career scholars and senior faculty. Yet, since institutional reward systems often emphasize personal productivity over investment in students and colleagues, the pressure to productivity leaves critics like American poet John Ciardi to observe, “A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students.” The Randolph Mentoring Program moves into this responsibility absconded when productivity eclipses service. In so doing, it provides a supplemental system to cultivate and advance commitment to students and colleagues, helping doctoral students imagine themselves contributing to liberal arts colleges and universities.
- The Center’s academic digital journal publishes double-blind reviewed articles, timely forum discussions, and other scholarly works that focus on religion as it intersects with other disciplines. We envision the journal on the vanguard of Christian higher education, where scholars send their best research and finest writing. Traditional written components, which count toward standard academic promotions of rank and tenure, are accompanied by corresponding audio/visual elements, utilizing current and emerging technology conducive to incorporation in classroom settings. In this way, the journal serves as a resource for scholars at their desks and in the classroom. The journal expands the Center’s scope to a broader constituency and extends its impact for a longer duration
- The Center’s Faith, Learning, and Vocation initiative sponsors work with Lipscomb’s own faculty—work that explores the connections between Christian faith, learning, and the meaning of Christian vocation. Since its founding in 1891, Lipscomb University has encouraged students to place calling above career, vocation above monetary success, and a life of service above any consideration of personal gain. As these commitments define a Lipscomb education, the Center’s Faith, Learning, and Vocation initiative seeks to embed an exploration of vocation into the fabric of this institution by working especially with (a) new faculty, (b) the student life staff, and (c) faculty who teach Lipscomb’s first-year seminars, required of all students. We encourage faculty to explore vocation as it relates to themselves, the biblical narrative, the Churches of Christ, and Lipscomb University. In turn, student life staff and faculty leaders help students discern these connections by embedding them in the general education curriculum and opening space for vocational reflection within student spiritual life.
- Additional initiatives flow out of the Center’s mission as we seek funding from a variety of sources including foundations and other organizations in sync with the Center’s mission.