The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (Book Review)

oiafFor some time now I’ve been looking for resources to prepare the average college-bound high school graduate for the life that awaits them in college.  There are many good books written from a Christian perspective that aim to demystify the college experience for those about to take the plunge.  Typically they discuss social pressures, making friends, how to do laundry, keeping out of trouble, and how to keep the faith when away from home.  Most of them are how-to books that spend little time on discussing the number one reason why people should go to college: academics.  Perhaps that is because the topic of a student’s studies are taken for granted.  What do you do at college?  Study, duh?  But that is a problem.  Most students take their academic career about as seriously as they did their high school work, looking to score the highest grades attainable to get into a good school to have a good time and eventually get a good job to increase the chance of having a good life.  And so goes the American Dream.  But is there more?  Christian students should expect that there is.

Authors Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby teamed to write a short book called The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (OIAF).  It is part manifesto, calling for Christian college students to take their academic studies so seriously that they can with good conscience sign their work “S.D.G.” (Soli Deo Gloria / To God’s Glory Alone).  It is part roadmap, opening their eyes to the wonderful blessings and fruits that await faithfulness in pursuing their calling in a well-rounded, wholistic, academically rigorous way.  It is part worldview training, showing the reader that the world belongs to God, all truth is His Truth, and therefore academic faithfulness can make a profound difference in those who commit and on those in the world around them.

This is a book specifically aimed at the 85% of regular college-bound young people.  The 15% who are committed followers of Christ, who are in the habit of taking their studies seriously and viewing them as a calling to serve God in their chosen field of study, and who are naturally academically inclined, will benefit from the book’s message.  But those who consider themselves in the 85% just might be redirected and reinvigorated by the prospect of an amazing, positive, life-altering college experience.  And if you are not going to college, or if college is in your rear-view mirror, I venture that you will still profit immensely from reading OIAC because it is directly applicable to faithfulness in vocation and life-learning.

One of the strengths of the authors’ approach is appealing to the narrative sensibilities of many people in this post-modern age.  The modern era (and those who sympathize with its presuppositions) emphasized propositional truth, and deemphasized the impact of stories and their power to shape individuals, cultures, and subcultures (like college campuses).  Postmodern people reverse these emphases and thus are suspicious of truth claims.  As Christians, the authors choose to emphasize the importance of both truth and story, arguing that the Bible (God’s revealed truth) is told in a metanarrative format.  In other words, the Bible is not written as a textbook on theology, but as a story moving from creation, fall, redemption, and finally consummation/re-creation.  OIAF invites Christian students to view their life story through the lens of the Bible’s grand story, and asserts that this is the only way to make sense of life as it corresponds to reality as God as created it.

Here are the 8 chapter titles:

  1. Wide-Eyed
    1. Beer and Circus
    2. Grades and Accolades
  2. Babylon U
    1. Daniel and Friends
    2. Faithful under Fire
    3. Panning for Gold
  3. Believing is Seeing
    1. A Whirlwind Intro to Worldviews
    2. Like Gestalt
    3. C-F-R-C
    4. The Re-sighting of Saul/Paul
  4. A Story-Framed Life
    1. Life in the Shire
    2. Stories in Conflict
    3. Hearing and Telling the Story
  5. Fish-Eyed Learning
    1. The Disembodied Mind
    2. Thinking Scripturally
    3. Creation
    4. Fall
    5. Redemption
    6. Consummation
  6. Foud-i-ed Learning
    1. Integration
    2. Idolatry
    3. Investment
    4. Imagination
    5. Herbie’s Bible
  7. Embodying the Outrageous Idea
    1. Connect Up, Connect Out
    2. Dig Deep, Dig Slow
  8. Chutes and Ladders
    1. Read Twice, Write Thrice
    2. Dream Big, Act Small
    3. Work Hard, Play Hard

This is a book that may be profitably read alone, but better read with one or more Christian brothers/sisters who are interested in the “outrageous idea” of academic faithfulness.  To this end the group discussion guide will prove useful.  Each chapter includes several thoughtful questions to consider, along with a couple of suggested books for deeper study on a particular topic.

There is only one passage that Christian students may find objectionable, but I find does not detract from the overall message of the book.  On pages 41-42, the author(s) make the point that sometimes our worldviews don’t have all their loose ends tied up (i.e., there are inconsistencies in our worldviews that we might not be able to reconcile—at least yet).

In my own muddled mind, I hold things to be true that don’t necessarily dovetail nicely.

  • I believe in a real, historical Adam and Eve.
  • I believe in an ancient creation with numerous signs of development, including adaptation of various species.
  • In believe in primitive humanoids.

I can and do believe these things, even though I do not have an eloquent theory that unifies these beliefs or that others might find persuasive.  Unfortunately, the recent work on intelligent design doesn’t help much with this sticky question about the relationship between Eve and the cave man.

Barring this example that could convince some creationists to disqualify this book as profitable reading, I find nothing in the rest of the book that is influenced by the author(s) admissions.  So please keep reading past this point.  You’ll thank me later.  Don’t trust me?  Read an excerpt for yourself.  And commit to serving Christ afresh with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

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