By Philip Eaton,

The Christian Intellectual and Cultural Renewal, Part II

"I believe we live in a critical moment of time when we need to step back from the rush
that crowds our days and read good books, cultivate the life of the mind, and learn
again the art of thoughtful discourse," says SPU President Eaton.

The pace of our lives seems to accelerate day by day. The high-tech marvels we have welcomed into our offices, homes, cars and pockets -- intended to make us more productive -- have ironically contributed to our burden of too much work, too little time for family and leisure, too little balance in our lives. And I sometimes think the most precious thing we have lost is time to think.

Who can keep up with their e-mail? Who can digest all of the information to which we have such easy access? And then there is a new shape to much of that information. In the language of a provocative new book called the rise of the image the fall of the word, we are in the midst of a phenomenal "transition from a culture dominated by the printed word to one dominated by moving images." In this fast-paced, information-flooded, image-dominated new world, who is going to sort out all of the information and turn it into relevant knowledge? Dare we ask about the status of wisdom in such a world?

We used to talk about "the life of the mind." That sounds so leisurely these days, doesn't it? "The life of the mind" implies time and space to think about big things, to read and reflect, to focus on something beyond the lengthening to-do lists for our next day. When we finally do carve out a moment for some of that kind of thinking, what difference does it make to anyone? Who has the time to listen to big thoughts?

As I think about these sweeping patterns in our world, I come to the conclusion that we must save room for the thoughtful life. And with renewed passion, I lift up a group of people who do take the time to be thoughtful. We call them intellectuals or scholars. We must be reminded that civilization cannot continue without such thinking people, people who preserve the best wisdom from the past, teach that wisdom to emerging generations, and break new ground with new knowledge.

I believe we live in a critical moment of time when we need to step back from the rush that crowds our days and read good books, cultivate the life of the mind, and learn again the art of thoughtful discourse. But most of all, as a society we must reclaim for our intellectuals the role of culture-shapers and world-changers, and just as importantly they too must earn new credibility for work that is relevant, helpful and accessible.

If we are asking our intellectuals and scholars to be world-changers, we must also ask this fundamental question: Change the world into what? How will we know, with no time to think, with all sources of wisdom under suspicion, what direction is good? And who will show us the way toward what is good?

This is where our work at Seattle Pacific University becomes vitally important. One of the pivotal pieces of our vision for the future is just this commitment to the life of the mind. We want to reclaim a platform of influence for our scholars and intellectuals; we want to encourage, support and empower them to be culture-shapers. These are Christian intellectuals. They are the ones who take time to think about what direction is good. Their work is profoundly shaped by their encounter with Jesus Christ, the contours of biblical wisdom, and the ancient teachings of the Christian church.

Think about the issues of our day: global, intractable, bloody conflict; civil war, ethnic cleansing and horrifying hunger; the collapse of moral vision among leaders, the crisis of meaning in postmodern culture, and the absence of moral discourse in the public square; the disintegration of the family, the lack of community, and pervasive loneliness; the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, and the daunting challenge of health care for all. These issues can numb us into despair and hopelessness -- unless there is fresh thinking.

Of course our hearts are wounded by what we see in the world, but we must make sure as well that our heads are clear. We need to empower, encourage and listen to those who take time to think about these things.

And which of these problems does not need the light of the Christian gospel and the enduring power of biblical wisdom? In this fast-paced, image-oriented world, I believe we need to make new room for the life of the mind and for our Christian intellectuals as culture-shapers and world-changers.

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