A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By D. Keith Campbell
Rick Hove, Executive Director of Faculty Commons with Cru’s faculty and graduate student ministry, and Heather Holleman, English Instructor at The Pennsylvania State University, invite Christian professors in US universities to participate in “a grander story.” They explain this grander story in Part 1 as a “metanarrative” or a “metastory” (p. 8) that can be summarized as creation, fall, redemption, and restoration; it is the story, which is ultimately not about us (Chapter 1). Rather, this metanarrative is really about the greatness and majesty of Jesus (Chapter 2) and should shape the Christian scholar’s identity (Chapter 3) and vocation (Chapter 4). God, in turn, blesses the world through them. Hove’s and Holleman’s use of “grander story” as their guiding metaphor is incisive. I like it! Because it wisely sets their work theologically and pragmatically within the holistic framework of God’s interaction with creation and humanity.
In Part 2, six Christian scholars––each with impressive credentials, representing diverse disciplinary backgrounds that range from the humanities to the sciences––write encouraging, helpful, and convicting personal testimonies in six different chapters about how they live out their academic lives within Jesus’ grander story. Each scholar shares candidly both about life’s triumphs and defeats. Hove and Holleman say that these chapters form “the heart of [their] book” (p. xvi), and they let the reader “peek over the shoulders of men and women who––at different stages in their careers––became convinced that they should orient their lives as Christian faculty around a grander story” (p. xiii). Dr. Ken Elzinga, Robert C. Taylor Chair of Economics at the University of Virginia, encourages professors in Chapter 5 (“The Academy and Jesus,” an updated version of his Faith Economics article in 2001 by the same name) to model themselves after Jesus as a teacher. Dr. Susan Siaw, Professor of Psychology at California State Polytechnic University Pomona, in Chapter 6 (“Holding the Staff”) shares how she ministers to faculty and students while at the same time integrating her faith into her discipline. In Chapter 7, “The ‘Progress’ of a Faculty ‘Pilgrim,’” Dr. Walter Bradley, retired Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Baylor University, shares from his 40 years of experience in the academy how best to minister to students and colleagues and how God can work through both failures and successes in service to the academy.
In Chapter 8, “I Never Saw That Coming,” Dr. Phil Bishop, Paul W. Bryant Professor of Education at the University of Alabama, explores how “through mentorship, integration, a ministry of presence, and … opportunities for global missions work” God can use scholars to bless the world. Dr. John Walkup, who retired early as Professor of Electrical Engineering and director of the Optical Systems Laboratory at Texas Tech University in order to serve full time with Cru’s Faculty Commons, shares in Chapter 9, “An Enduring Legacy,” what he learned about trusting God, partnering with others, and leaving a legacy. Part 2 concludes in Chapter 10 (“Go Early”) with Dr. Heather Holleman writing of her holistic and authentic love for students and teaching, often telling her students that “the secret to being a great professor is…love of subject [and] love of student” (p. 147, emphasis original). Teaching for Holleman is a “sacred vocation that’s become a holy place” (p. 148).
In Part 3, “Toward a Grander Future,” Hove and Holleman extrapolate, summarize, and explore the best practices gleaned from the six scholars in Part 2 and discuss how their readers can use these practices to “bless and change the world” (p. xvi). Hove and Holleman, in Chapter 11, extrapolate four best practices from the discussions in Part 2: “1. Grow in Christ. 2. Find others to help you. 3. Come forward as a Christian academic. 4. Use trial and error to discover ways God can use you in your unique discipline, personality, and university” (p. 159). To these, Hove and Holleman add one more best practice: “love and forgive well.” In Chapter 12, they ask “What might God do if a generation of Christ-following academics across the country came together to follow Christ into the academy, living out their academic calling in light of the grander story?” (p. 177).
We need more books like these. Christian scholars often feel isolated and sometimes inferior to their colleagues. In addition, it is no secret that US evangelical scholars serving in “secular” universities experience occasional (frequent?) religious discrimination. Hove, Holleman, and contributors give a refreshingly urgent voice to Christian scholars––and, in Part 2, they present an impressively credentialed array of such voices––encouraging believing professors to humble, wise, and articulate boldness in their faith. And they do this in beautifully accessible prose. This is the first book that I have read published by Cru Press and copyedited by Scribe Inc., which instinctively inclined me toward a more critical eye for formatting, content, readability, etc. Kudos to Hove, Holleman, Cru Press, Scribe Inc., and all contributors for writing a pleasantly readable book. Job well done!
While I genuinely endorse Grander Story, while I contend that such a book needed to be written––which I am glad they did––and while I believe God will use it in strategic ways to advance his kingdom among believing scholars, Grander Story is missiologically deficient in at least two ways. These two deficiencies are especially important because mission plays such an important role throughout the book.
Hove, Holleman, and most of the contributors admirably and rightfully encourage North American Christian scholars to use their gifts globally. This needs to be shouted from atop every ivory tower in the US. And, given my particular calling in the world, I am glad that they encourage it. However, while they encourage scholars to serve in short-term missions, they do not encourage long-term missions. It is not on the radar in Grander for Christian professors to live and serve long term overseas, a needed emphasis within a book so admirably committed to missions. In many academic disciplines, especially in the humanities, the US job market is flooded, with applicants sometimes lining up dozens, if not hundreds, deep for just one open position. Evangelical Christian scholars, as I have argued elsewhere, should consider, especially when the job market is flooded and in obedience to Jesus’s Great Commission, practicing their disciplines long term more globally (see my article, “The American Evangelical Academy and the World: A Challenge to Practice More Globally,” JETS 56 : 337–53; see also www.global-scholars.org).
A related, and much more important, missiological deficiency in Grander is that, though admirably encouraging US Christian scholars to serve beyond North American borders, Hove, Holleman, and their contributors overlook the need for US professors to listen and to learn from professors in the broader global community. In Grander Story, missions is a one-way street, from the “west to the rest”––a flawed missional perspective that, fortunately, is dying a much deserved death. Grander Story would be a better book had it encouraged North American scholars, when serving abroad, to spend as much, or perhaps more, time listening and dialoguing with local Christian scholars. Grander’s consistent missiological mantra is that North American scholars are the ones responsible for bringing hope to the world and changing it for Christ (pp. 11, 21, 42, 50, 56, 63, 186, 188, 189). Hove, Holleman, and contributors do not entertain the possibility that global eastern/southern Christian scholars may likely be the ones who actually change the world. The resulting, inaccurate conclusion, in direct opposition to current missiology, is that North Americans are the world’s only, or best, missionaries while the rest of the world awaits our missional arrival. We are the missionaries; the rest of the world are the recipients.
A more accurate conclusion is that missions throughout history has always been “from everywhere to everywhere,” though until recently this has been less emphasized in Western church history; and, in my experience, it has been largely overlooked by most US believers. In my current role with Global Scholars, I frequently travel the world serving with national scholars; and prior to this role I was a lecturer in an Asian university. These positions have taught me that, most often, Christian scholars from other countries have more to teach me than I have to teach them. Hove, Holleman, and the other contributors could have reflected this sentiment not only in their general missiology but also by having several foreign professors––instead of only US citizens who live and serve in North America––contribute to the conversation by writing chapters in Part 2.
Had such international contributions occurred, North American scholars would, to cite but one example, have been delightfully introduced to the likes of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) group of Christian scholars in Francophone Africa (led by Dr. Augustin Ahoga and Prof. Ahmed Dooguy KORA) who, by my estimation, are among the world’s leaders in thinking about how to integrate their faith and scholarship within their local and global settings and who are well poised to teach US Christian scholars about such things.
These two missiological deficiencies notwithstanding, Hove and Holleman offer a valuable resource that every US Christian professor should read and use for their own personal development and in their small groups. So that even more scholars will faithfully participate in God’s grander story!
Keith Campbell, Ph.D., is Global Partnerships Vice President at Global Scholars.
Buy the books
A Grander Story: An Invitation to Christian Professors