Whole-life wisdom

The next instalment of our look at the book ‘The whole of life for Christ’, by Antony Billington and Mark Greene, focuses on wisdom. I don’t know about you, but I am often all too aware of my need for wisdom. Whether it is a big life decision we need to make, or an immediate situation where we need to act or react, it is not always easy to know what to do. But where can wisdom be found?

The Bible contains several books that are known as ‘wisdom literature’. Of these, the book of Proverbs speaks most directly about wisdom. Right at the start we are told where wisdom can be found: ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 1:7). And right at the end, it gives an example of a life lived wisely (Prov. 31). In a passage sometimes seen as a description of ‘the perfect wife’, we see how the wisdom that is found in the fear of the Lord (31:30) works out in practice. And that for sure is of relevance to both men and women of all walks of life!

A closer look at the passage reveals the wide range of qualities and activities that are praiseworthy in this woman’s life:

  • she can be trusted (11) and provides for those who depend on her (15, 21, 28). Her husband in particular is proud of her and benefits from having her as his wife (11-12, 23)
  • she is diligent (13-14, 18, 27)
  • she is involved in trade
  • she makes beautiful clothes and other fabric items (13, 19, 22, 24)
  • she cooks (15)
  • she is involved in agriculture (16)
  • she is generous to the poor (20)
  • she is respected in the community (25-26, 31)

As Billington and Greene point out, some of her activities are even described in words that are often used for military heroes (10, 17, 25)! They also notice that there is no mention of any religious activities. And yet she is described as ‘a woman who fears the Lord’ (30), with the implication that this fear of the Lord is expressed in all of her activities.

To most of us, the woman of Proverbs 31 is quite an intimidating example. How could we ever live up to that? Well, there is hope! As New Testament believers, we know that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:3). In this season of Pentecost, we give thanks that God has given us a source of His wisdom within us: His Spirit. So, ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him’ (James 1:5). But notice also that God’s wisdom may not always be in line with what the world perceives to be wise: ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise’, and ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men’ (1 Cor. 1:27a, 25a).

So we have seen that our ordinary lives can be lived ‘heroically’ if they are lived in the fear of the Lord. And that includes our academic lives. By His Spirit, God helps us to live wisely. If there are any areas of your academic life where you need wisdom today, ask Him to help you. Be open to His leading, even if His wisdom may seem foolishness to those who do not know Him!

A Thinking Faith Network

Thinking Faith Network is the parent of Faith-in-Scholarship. The organisation that supports FiSch is a 30-year-old UK-based charity committed to helping people explore how imaginative Christian thinking can transform and enrich every area of life. For a multimedia introduction, the promotional video released on 9 April is now available on YouTube. For some background, read on!

I began working for Thinking Faith back in 2010, when it was called West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies (WYSOCS). Based in Leeds, the charity’s aim was to provide opportunities for education in a wide range of subjects from a Christian perspective. At that time the main activities were an ongoing series of occasional seminars and workshops called LifeMatters, and a ministry called RealityBites that went to schools and youth groups to present Christian faith by contrasting the biblical worldview story with other big stories that shape young people’s lives. Faith-in-Scholarship was born at that time out of a desire to help Christian postgraduate students think through their studies in the light of a Christian philosophy.

The aims and the Leeds base of the organisation remain the same, but its reach has grown. To be fair, the “West Yorkshire” bit of WYSOCS was never meant to restrict geographical reach; speakers and listeners alike regularly came from other parts of the country to LifeMatters events. But the “School” bit wasn’t doing justice to the growing diversity of initiatives and audiences. RealityBites was getting materials onto radio while FiSch was setting out to support campus-based postgraduates’ groups – and Christian thinkers everywhere through this blog. There was a growing awareness that the charity’s heart could be expressed more clearly.

So this spring we became Thinking Faith Network – for “faith in all of life”. That is, biblically-founded Christian faith applied to every area of life. We also profess the faith that all of life matters – to God, eternally, and so to us too. It emphasises that faith can be very fruitfully coupled with thinking, and vice versa.  And it calls for community: networking among thinking Christians for mutual support.

We were delighted when people we approached who’d been involved with WYSOCS in the past agreed to appear on camera endorsing it and its new name. Among them were two prominent writers and speakers called Tom… Prof. Tom McLeish had spoken for LifeMatters last year on Faith and Wisdom in Science; he expressed gratitude for the role WYSOCS had played at an earlier stage of his intellectual development and reminded us of Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12 that God’s people be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Then Prof. Tom Wright, who had spoken at two previous LifeMatters events, generously spent over an hour and a half with the three of us who went to film him, giving us much food for thought. He reminded us of 1 Corinthians 14 (in his impromptu paraphrase): “I want you to be babies when it comes to evil, but when it comes to thinking – you’ve got to be grown-ups!”

We believe that faithful thinking can’t be overvalued, because “ideas have legs”: the most godly and the most evil human actions alike arise through people’s thoughts. Tom McLeish emphasised this at the end of his video clip with a call to potential supporters of Thinking Faith Network: “I would urge you to think about supporting TFN for the long game, because that’s the one that counts.”

Whole-life gospel

Brainstorm about Jesus from Colossians 1:15-23

Jesus: supreme over all creation (including our academic lives).

Following on from last week’s introductory post, we begin our look at Mark Greene and Antony Billington’s brilliant little book with the idea of a ‘whole-life gospel’ – the subject of their first study. The starting-point here is Colossians 1:15–23, which paints a breathtaking picture of Jesus as supreme above all, the source, sustainer and Lord of all creation and the centre of our existence as Christians. The multiple views of Jesus we are given here (following a suggestion in the book, I’ve tried to summarise these in the image for this post) highlight his central role in every aspect of the universe, from creation, through redemption, and into the eternal future. It’s through and for Jesus that everything, visible and invisible, is created; it’s through him that all things are reconciled to God, through his blood; it’s because of this reconciliation that we have the hope of appearing before God pure and holy, as part of his body, the church.

Greene and Billington highlight verses 19–20 as a summary of God’s saving work through Jesus:

For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (NIV)

As they rightly point out, this passage presents quite a challenge to anyone who views the truth of the gospel purely in terms of forgiveness from our sins and access to heaven when we die. In fact, there’s much more than this at stake. Paul presents here an act of total reconciliation that involves the whole of the universe, and starts now, not just in the hope of heaven ahead (in verse 22 he says ‘now he has reconciled you’). This affects every aspect of our lives, then – we benefit from this total forgiveness and reconciliation, and in Christ we are called as servants of this process. As Paul says, ’This is the gospel that you heard’ (v23).

What might this mean for those of us who work in academia? A few ideas:

  • Jesus is still Lord over all. I was particularly struck by Paul’s comment that both ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ things were created in Jesus. Ideas, streams of thought, academic trends and cross-currents – these are often vague and intangible, yet Jesus asserts his right to lordship over them as much as anything else in creation. Even if our daily work involves ‘invisible’ things, we are just as capable of offering them to Jesus as someone who deals in ‘visible’ objects or actions.
  • All things are to be reconciled. Our call is not just to maintain the status quo in our environment whilst inwardly acknowledging our Lord. We are agents of the reconciliation God is working through Jesus. What might it mean for you to bring Christ’s reconciliation within your own field? Within your university or department? Or between your academic work and the other dimensions of your life?
  • In him all things hold together. With the above in mind, I find it a real encouragement that it is Jesus, not us, who has taken on the responsibility of sustaining everything. If we forget this, our glorious calling to serve him becomes a crushing burden, just another way in which we can feel inadequate. We are called to follow him in our lives, wherever they might lead. If he’s called us into academia, we can be assured that he is going ahead of us, and our sole responsibility is to keep close to him and act in vigilant responsiveness to what we see him doing.