Academicians have a commitment to the truth. After all, the point of being a member of the “academy” is having opinions and research validated through the work of similarly qualified and committed researchers and thinkers. The presumption is that the corporate conclusions of competitive and in some ways independent thinkers have a sort of objective authority an individual or a self-contained conclave of thinkers is unlikely to obtain.
Christians have a commitment to orthodoxy. After all, the point of being a Christian (evangelical, at least) is holding the faith “once delivered to the saints.” To hold a faith not endorsed by scripture as evidenced in its interpretation at the hands of believers similarly committed to scripture’s authority is to fall short of orthodoxy and prey to either heterodoxy or cult-vulnerability, or both.
So when a Christian academic runs into a conflict between his commitment to academic truth and his commitment to scriptural orthodoxy, which master does he serve?
Objectivity in academics
Non-Christian academics sometimes view Christians as incapable of maintaining the objectivity required for academic work. After all, if a professor in a conservative Christian school discovers reason to doubt the authenticity of a New Testament text, for example, is he really going to give up his income by reporting his findings, all for the sake of intellectual integrity? A negative answer to that question implies, in the mind of the one making the argument, that “Christian Academic” is an oxymoron.
But there are three things wrong about that line of reasoning—wrong indeed generally about there being a unique problem for scholars with creedal or confessional commitments.
First, the argument as posed above could be, and at least as far as anecdotal evidence supports, is, dependent on an errant presumption about the motive of a Christian academic who finds some reason to question the creed to which he is committed. The cynic presumes his reluctance to publish would come from the desire for job security (as an example). But job security may not be the cause of his reluctance at all. He could, for instance, hold back on his research because he actually values the faith he holds, and he is reluctant both to accept what undermines his own faith and potentially to undermine the faith of others.
Secular academicians may think the latter motive (creedal conservation) is as egregiously violent to the spirit of true scholarship as the former (job security). But they would be wrong, for no less than reasons in both of the last two points in this response.