We’re on the verge of a new term at Regent College. (Have you made your plans to join us this summer or in September? Good for you!)
More than a hundred years ago, a Baptist missionary spoke at a British conference about what was most needed on the mission field. What he prioritized, and how he put it, is worth taking to heart in this new term, and new year.
Yes, some of his language is quaint, the metaphors of the laboratory can easily be disputed in regard to theology, and we all know that intellection is not next to godliness. Even so, however, as we professors and students prepare to re-engage each other in theological study, this exhortation comes as a helpful whipcrack over the head of all drowsy spirituality, hypocritical laziness lurking within “the importance of relationships,” and petulant resistance to any academic experience that fails to provoke in me immediate happiness. This stuff matters, and this missionary says so:
We need students—people who will work upon the facts of religion as Richard Owen among fossils and Sir Joseph Hooker on plants; scientific students, exact, severe, painstaking, hating inaccuracy as they hate a lie, as devoted to truth as to God; rigid in their scrutiny and flawless in their reasoning…eliminating the possibility of error by the repetition of experiments and the accumulation of observations, and so furnishing the churches and their workers with that knowledge of the realities of life without which energy is wasted, mistakes are made, and work is marred.
(Thanks to R. H. Glover, speaking at the 1900 London conference of the Student Volunteer Missionary Union; quoted by Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996], 207.)