Doing scholarship as a Christian: some good advice from Alvin Plantinga

I came across an article today written by Alvin Plantinga (the eminent Christian philosopher), in which he offers advise for Christians who want to study philsophy. I found his exortation to be refreshly freeing (and challenging too!).

plantingaI want to commend this piece to young theologians. Consider carefully what Plantinga has to say and reflect on how his words apply to the discipline of theology. Bottom line: It’s OK (i.e., philosohpically warranted) for one to be unreservedly Christian in one’s approach to scholarship (including theological scholarship!). And, by extension, it’s OK to proceed from deeply held theological commitments as one engages contemporary questions and issues in ethics, politics, faith-science dialogue, and so forth. One cannot but proceed from basic beliefs, and the constant attempt to justify those basic beliefs (in a defensive posture) too often leads us into compromise or paralysis. This does not mean that we should dispense with careful apologetics, but it does lead us to consider the nature, purpose, and limits of genuinely helpful apologetics.

A great example of someone who exemplifies what Plantinga  promotes in the social sciences is Christian Smith (the Harvard-trained, Christian sociologist at Notre Dame). His book What is a Person? is outstanding in this regard: rigorous in its research and argumentation, serious in its engagement with its academic field, and deeply Christian in its basic beliefs. For other examples of Christians in various fields thinking through these issues, see my review article Teaching, Scholarship, and Christian Worldview.

Here is the link to Plantinga’s article:


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