|Keble College Chapel, Oxford|
Do you ever think about how much authority you’ve been given when someone asks you what you thought about a book or a work of art? Some artist or author has placed the fruit of his God-given creativity in your hands, and you are now being asked to pass judgment on it. I pray we never take that opportunity lightly.
One of the pitfalls of academia that I find most troubling is the tendency to hold oneself superior to the artists, thinkers, and authors one studies. Certain academics seem to take pleasure (whether consciously or not) in deriding their predecessors and their subjects of study: “he really was quite stupid,” and “just too naive,” are comments I have heard more than once in lectures at this University. I wouldn’t say this tendency is overly widespread—or at least not in such a blatant form. But whenever I catch that note of derision in the voice of a lecturer, I find it deeply troubling. Sometimes, I just want to raise my hand and ask why the person has chosen to “waste his time” studying such “stupid” and “naive” subjects. But then, I suppose, that could very easily come out rather derisively itself.
As a young Christian academic, I want to treat the authors whose works I study with the utmost respect and charity. By leaving behind their own thoughts and artistic creations, they have made themselves supremely vulnerable to me and to countless others, in order that we might share a conversation with them that crosses the boundaries of history and culture. By entering into that timeless dialogue, I certainly don’t expect to agree with them in every respect. But I must remember that they themselves are long gone, and that they can no longer defend or explain the words they have left behind. They have done the hard work of crafting something enduring for future generations. I pray that I may always treat their works with the same charity I hope others will one day offer me.