Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society Through Christian Higher Education
By: David Dockery
Broadman & Holman, 2007
Review By: Mike Meiser
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Just as the Renaissance of the 14th to the 16th centuries drew society and education out of the doldrums of dogmatism and blind fideistic assent, Renewing Minds represents a call for a present day Renaissance with a renewed and redeemed vision of higher education through the lens of a distinctively Christian perspective. The world is changing at a rapid pace. David Dockery maintains that in this increasingly changing and face-paced world, the Christian must seek to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. The role of Christian higher education is to help prepare students to do this very thing. Dockery wants to show the steps that the organizations of higher learning must take in order to make this a possibility.
One of the first ways in which Dockery develops his thesis is by showing that Christian theological foundations are not contradictory to honest intellectual inquiry. In fact, Dockery argues that proper theology is not just in harmony with the intellectual life, but is necessary for complete fulfillment in our intellectual pursuits. Theology serves as the foundation upon which the rest of our worldview is built. Some would argue that it is possible to separate faith from other pursuits; however, when we separate the theological from the ethical or the scientific, we lose a dynamic to our scholarly life that ought to be there. Dockery uses the discipline of scientific inquiry as an example of this in his book. When we do science with the understanding that God created this universe, it changes the way that we view the world and the conclusions which we draw from the interpretation of the available data. Now, this isn’t to say that our conclusions are made a priori, or before we actually observe our findings, but they do have a guiding influence. The fact of the matter is, no matter what you believe, i.e. belief in a sovereign God or a belief in a flying spaghetti monster, your beliefs always have an a priori affect upon your findings. Thus the importance of a strong theological foundation when practicing science.
In fact, the discipline of science exists upon the foundation that there is order in the world that can be observed and measured. It is hard to argue for this order without an understanding or explanation of how that order either came to be or continues to exist. This is the realm of inquiry that theology finds its home and science dare not tread.
Another aspect of Dockery’s development of his thesis is his stress of the importance for those in Christian higher education to shape a Christian worldview for their students. Everyone has a worldview, i.e. a lens through which they make sense of the world. It is important as Christian educators that we are helping students to view the world through a Christian lens. This development of worldview will have lasting repercussions as the student interprets his or her world through a properly Christian grid.
One of the biggest things that Dockery hopes to accomplish, specifically within the academy, is to reestablish a greater sense of unity within the Christian “uni”versity. He attempts to accomplish this task through the use of Christian theological foundations and Christian spiritual disciplines. One of the challenges that the academy must overcome is the disjointedness amongst the faculty caused by heightened levels of specialization and complexes of “lone rangerism” that rise from our individualistic culture as well as the tendencies that doctoral training instills. Dockery promotes certain ways in which administration can combat some of the individualism that can plague certain campuses. Through practices that Dockery refers to as “building blocks,” a Christian academy can overcome this individualism in their faculty through campus community building. These “building blocks” include Christian virtues like authentic love, peace, generosity, and grace. It is an attempt to build a Christian community of learning that has one goal in mind; the renewing of the minds and lives of the students. The Christian academy needs men of both character and learnedness. It needs scholars who promote community and Christ-likeness while still maintaining academic prowess. If a man is an expert in the field of New Testament studies, but lacks good character, the Christian academy of higher education cannot and should not employ that person.
One of the truly positive things that Renewing Minds contributes is a strong apologetic for the importance of having a mature and reasoned faith. Most people are content with dogmatics, i.e. being told what to believe without thinking about it for oneself. Dockery’s emphasis on the pursuit of a reasoned faith is similar to another book written by J.P. Moreland called Love Your God with All Your Mind. A person with mature faith is able to not only tell you what they believe, but also give you the reasons why they believe it. They make it very clear that they have thought about the particular issue, whether it be theological, ethical, scientific, or political. Through learning and processing information, we are honoring God through the faculty of our intellect.
In light of the above positive aspect of this book, the most positive thing that Dockery contributes to our thinking about Christian higher education is his focus upon the importance of the renewal of minds. The goal of Christian higher education is much more than creating students who know a lot about random subjects. More importantly, it is about creating Christ followers who have been changed through interacting with the Bible and have been shown how to live lives that are pleasing and glorifying to God. It is about character formation rather than intellectual stimulation. It is a more holistic approach to higher education that most institutions sadly do not adopt. Only through this approach to education are we truly able to renew minds and “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” It is Dockery’s hope, and my hope, that we will hold out for better things from our schools of Christian learning.
I whole heartedly agree with this aspect of Dockery’s book. The most important aspect of Christian education is not the dissemination of information. As educators, we ought to be more concerned not with mere intellectual assent, but with renewed minds and developed character. My one critique of this book is that while Dockery casts a vision of Christian higher education, this book gives very little as far as a solid plan for how institutions of Christian learning can implement this vision to better enable themselves to train students not only for future vocations, but how to engage this world on behalf of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even with this deficiency, though, this book will serve all Christian educators, especially those in higher education, as a wonderful resource for casting vision on what needs to take place for schools to be in the business of renewing minds. It will be up to the individual school to come up with ways to implement this vision.
I cannot recommend the reading of this book high enough. For anyone who is interested in, or already involved in Christian higher education, this book is a must read. Really, it has much to say to any person who is interested more generally in Christian education. Our goal in teaching is to create people who love God and love their neighbors. This was the way that Christ taught, so it will hopefully be the way that we seek to teach as well.