How Christian Scholars Seek Truth in a “Post-Truth” World

Fake news. Alternative facts. Post-truth.

When those are the catch phrases of the moment, this portion of my employer’s statement of core values can seem both quaint and urgently needed:

As learners, we are critical thinkers and problem-solvers committed to academic excellence and intellectual rigor. At the same time, we are truth-seekers, recognizing that all truth-scientific, artistic, philosophical, or theological-has its source in God.

That language may be all the more important — and perhaps surprising — because it comes from an evangelical university. “The scandal of the evangelical mind,” Mark Noll famously observed, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” That was 1993, and we’ll see whether that great evangelical historian still feels that way when he speaks this September at a conference on “The State of the Evangelical Mind.” But I fear that most non-Christians, many non-evangelical Christians, and no small number of evangelicals themselves would still find it astonishing or laughable that evangelicals seek truth in science, art, philosophy, or other sources other than the Bible.

So I was thrilled this past spring to be asked to join five of my Bethel colleagues for a roundtable discussion on “Seeking Truth in a ‘Post-Truth’ World.” It was instructive and encouraging to listen to Joy Doan (Biology), Ray VanArragon (Philosophy), Scott Winter (Journalism), David Clark (recently retired as vice president and dean of Bethel Seminary), and my colleague AnneMarie Kooistra (History) reflect on truth-seeking in their disciplines and as Christians.

AnneMarie Kooistra, 2016
AnneMarie speaking on academic freedom, Christian higher education, and the history of sexuality in 2016 – Bethel University History Department

Touching on complexity, humility, mystery, conviction, and skepticism, the conversation was just remarkably rich. Excerpts will be published as an article in the next issue of Bethel Magazine, but you can watch the entire discussion on Vimeo:

My primary role was to moderate that conversation, but I did get the chance to weigh in a few times. To absolutely no one’s surprise, I made sure to work in this quotation from one of the most important Pietists in the history of Christian higher education, former Bethel president Carl Lundquist: (I’ve previously reflected on this statement in a three-part post on how Pietists engage in scholarship)

It is not enough to know that truth is. It must be manifested in its seeker. Truth can never remain an abstract, intellectual proposition but must become a personal, spiritual incarnation. It is at this point that a characteristic such as truthfulness is wedded to the pursuit of truth and that a school’s emphasis upon the spiritual contributes to its emphasis upon the intellectual.

But I’ll save further reflection for a follow-up post that’s been brewing for a couple weeks now, on how “truth-seeking” Christian scholars can communicate persuasively with evangelicals.