Dr. Joseph McRae Mellichamp is Emeritus Professor of Management Science in the Manderson Graduate School of Business at the University of Alabama and National Faculty Representative for Christian Leadership Ministries. For 25 years, Dr. Mellichamp combined successful academic pursuits with effective Christian ministry activities.
Every Christian professor should consider how to integrate the Christian worldview with his or her academic discipline. How does the Christian worldview resonate with my discipline? What are the tension points between the Christian worldview and my discipline? How does Christianity influence my academic discipline and/or how does my academic discipline influence Christianity? How does my field of study impact the culture? How does Christianity affect scholars of my discipline? What unique opportunities does my discipline present Christian scholars who practice it?
As Christian professors, we should carefully think through and answer these and a host of similar questions. The difference between the Christian who happens to be a professor and the professor who happens to be a Christian can be measured by how well one has thought through these issues and come up with meaningful answers.
Professors who have faced the task of integrating their faith with their disciplines will understand how they can impact students, colleagues and their institutions through the practice of their disciplines.
Most of us who teach and do research in the university do so in disciplines that are relatively sterile with respect to spiritual content. Few of us teach in disciplines where spiritual issues arise frequently and naturally in the content of the subject, such as in philosophy or history. Likewise, only a few of us would be able to write and publish pieces that have any appreciable spiritual content. Not many of us have the opportunity to publish a work like Phillip Johnson's Reason in the Balance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995) in the course of our normal research inquiries.
The words naturally and normal are significant here. In the normal course of our inquiries and in the natural pursuit of our teaching, we might not have opportunities to address spiritual concerns. But we need to be much more intentional in our teaching and research than we are. We need to seek appropriate venues in teaching and research for engaging in a Christian way in this regard.
Often, with a bit of creativity, we can find an area within our discipline that is more amenable to spiritual issues than the area we usually target. The area of ethics immediately comes to mind although there are many other examples. Many academic departments and, indeed, colleges are attempting to increase the coverage of ethics in individual courses and in programs. Many accrediting agencies are pushing for increased coverage of ethical issues in programs. These trends offer many of us a unique opportunity to develop courses to meet the demands. As Christians, we are often uniquely qualified to develop and present such offerings to students.
Dr. Bill Jordan, professor of mechanical engineering at Louisiana Tech, made a decision to "tithe" his research in the this context several years ago. He decided to target approximately 10 percent of his research effort to issues within the field of engineering ethics. As a result, he regularly publishes his findings in mainline engineering journals. What an effective approach. This is another of those double-duty ideas that allows us to accomplish several objectives at one time. What about your discipline? Are there similar opportunities? Have you ever considered tithing your research?
Also, many of us work in disciplines or at least have interests in areas that qualify us to write for Christian media. For some, these opportunities will "count" from an academic perspective, but for others there may be no direct academic spinoff. If you have an interest along these lines, I urge you to develop it for publication in appropriate Christian media. This is important if we are to win the battle of ideas.
As you begin to reach out, ask God to honor your efforts and then step out in faith. We need to be more intentional in terms of seeing our teaching and research as potential means for communicating a Christian witness.