This is the third part of my discussion. As I have depicted the Christian student vocation, it is necessarily nested in a community of fellow students in which ideas are to be explored, tested and refined. It is actually this calling to be Christian students, that confirms and validates the forming Christian student clubs at universities. The efforts of the Sydney University Student Union to prevent the Evangelical Union, or any other club from restricting membership to those who assent to the club’s creed, runs blind to the inner complexity of the student vocation as it comes to expression in the university.
Our discussion affirms the contributions that all academic relationships contribute to the university. There are three central relationships without which one does not have a university: there is lecture-to-student relationships usually centred in course work devoted to training in science; there are academic-to-academic relationships that are manifest in curriculum development and the specialised research of scientific disciplines; and there are student-to-student relationships that come to expression in various institutional, organised, informal and inter-personal settings within the life of the academy.
The life of the academy is dependent upon healthy relationships in each of these three interdependent “spheres” that should be mutually reinforcing. (see here for a diagram). The VSU legislation of 1999 has effectively malformed university life by reducing student-to-student relationships to the level of an “optional extra”. When universities are run in this way, “business models” run riot and study takes on demeaning assembly-line characteristics.
Now, I look back and say quite confidently, as a thankful Christian, that what that Sociology of Education lecturer provoked, over the space of a few days, was a most important turning point in my own education. It was not just about seeing how sociology is dependent upon the world-view from out of which it must arise. It was also the point at which I gained a clearer and sharper understanding of the university itself, its purposes and the various responsibilities which come to expression in its programmes. It also helped me to develop a critical view of what my contribution involves as a Christian university graduate.
That was a moment in which I understood the Christian student vocation in bold relief. “Bringing every thought captive to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) took on fresh significance. The term “meaning”, despite philosophical disputation all the way from Plato to Heidegger, and the inevitable “rolling of eyes” of fellow Christians, could no longer be taken as a religiously neutral signifier! Language itself is integrally part of creation. It holds together along with all other things visible and invisible in Christ (Colossians 1:17). A new sense of what is given to us in the Bible began to emerge.
A little later on, in marking my essay for this Sociology of Education part of the course, the lecturer penned a comment that suggested that, by taking his comment so seriously, I was in danger of becoming “hung up” on philosophy. But, despite seeming to avoid the philosophical issue of how his own pre-scientific assumptions had guided his pedagogy, he had performed, for me at least, an act of profound social significance. By his pre- or non-scientific comment, he had not only “made room” for his own deeply held pre-scientific view, but opened up a social space within social scientific discourse which invited students to take seriously and communicate their own sense of personal responsibility by bringing that to formal expression in coursework. And that is what I proceeded to do. I wrote these essays as my attempt as a student to begin to think how a Christian sociology would develop its theoretical overview of human institutions, organisations and relationships.
So, I began to see university study differently. A BA qualifies a graduate to be a student. And a Christian BA is a student who is called to be actively and responsibly at work in the student vocation. University study is not just a student means to a non-student end (a job). The gaining of a degree (a BA or a BSc) is to become a qualified student. I had not hitherto grasped this as I now did, despite having immersed myself in the perspectives of Schaeffer and Stott and many others. From then on my vocational commitment has been to contribute as a student to developing a Christian sociology rather than to a humanistic sociology that, on every side, claims “religious neutrality”.
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