Crossway, 2007. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books)
In September 1980 Charles Malik gave a powerful talk on the need for evangelicals to reclaim the mind, and to reclaim the universities. It was published that year in a brief book called The Two Tasks. A century after his birth, a number of Christian scholars, including his son, commemorates Malik and his stirring address. Thus this book.
Seven Christian thinkers, including Peter Kreeft and William Lane Craig, remind us of the crucial importance of what Charles Malik said on that September day. And it was indeed a vital message. I have pulled from my shelves that quite thin volume (a mere 37 pages) and reread that incisive message.
Malik rightly said that the “greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism.” He also said that the most urgent need is “not only to win souls but to save minds”. He correctly noted that the universities are the real battle ground today, and we need to see Christ exalted there as much as anywhere else.
He gave his speech at a leading evangelical university, Wheaton College. In his impassioned address, he said he craved to see “an institution that will produce as many Nobel Prize winners as saints”. The authors of this new book fully agree, and urge us to take seriously the challenges made by Malik.
Paul Gould reminds us that our universities and professors are the gatekeepers of ideas, and that they have a tremendous influence on every other aspect of life. If bad ideas come forth from our universities, then we will all be on the receiving end, because bad ideas have bad consequences.
Indeed, Malik warned decades ago that the ideas mainly emanating from our universities are not exactly faith-friendly. Worldviews and ideas such as naturalism, humanism, materialism, hedonism, relativism, nihilism, atheism and cynicism are rife in our institutions of higher learning. “All of which are essentially so many modes of self-worship” said Malik. “Any wonder there is so much disorder in the world?”
And the truth that ideas have consequences applies on the individual level as well as the social level. Gould says “there is a two-way causal connection between moral character and intellectual virtue”. Indeed, Paul makes the connection when he speaks of “the knowledge of truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1:1); and being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).
William Lane Craig offers many great insights in his essay. He too acknowledges that “the single most important institution shaping Western culture is the university”. Thus the importance of the Christian mind: “If we change the university, we change our culture”.
Craig cites J. Gresham Machen who wrote in 1912: “False ideas are the greatest obstacle to the reception of the gospel”. Although the battle for truth and ideas is so crucial, most believers have shirked their duties in this regard. Evangelicals especially have “for the most part been living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence”.
But Craig says there have been some signs of hope. He refers to the impact of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s 1967 book, God and Other Minds, for example. He also notes how one atheist philosopher bewailed the fact that perhaps one-quarter to one-third of all American philosophers are now theists.
He reminds us that Christian academics stand on the church’s frontline “in one of the most important theatres in the culture war, that of the university”. He reminds them to carefully integrate their Christian faith with their academic calling.
The various essays contained in this much-needed volume remind us of some central truths – truths which Malik sought to hammer home back in 1980. They remind us, as Malik put it, that at the “heart of all the problems facing Western civilization … lies the state of the mind and the spirit in the universities”.
Malik was right to argue that all our ills stem primarily from the “false philosophies that have been let loose in the world and that are now being taught in the universities”. And the consequences have been profound. “No civilization can endure with its mind being as confused and disordered as ours is today”.
Fortunately, Malik’s original address is included in this volume. The writers of these essays urge us to take seriously this most urgent of challenges. They, like Malik, have sounded the trumpet. The question is, who will respond?