Faith outside of Church

It’s not a simple question.  Where does my faith intersect with my discipline?  I mean, I grew up as a preacher’s kid going to Sunday school and church and camp and Bible drill and more church… even Wednesday night business meetings. I checked all the right boxes on my envelope and turned it into the offering plate. I memorized Scriptures to win a bicycle, sang in the youth choir, and went to vacation Bible school and mission trips. Born and raised Southern Baptist, but is that my faith?

I loved math and science.  I studied the earth, the sky, the outdoors, animals and the wonders of nature.  I wanted to be an astronaut or scientist.  And through high school struggled with how my faith fit with science.

I tried to merge the two areas of my life by going to a small Christian college, East Texas Baptist College (ETBC…I was here before U.) and majoring in biology.  As with most liberal arts colleges, ETBU was not known for its science education. You know, the science professors here probably couldn’t get a job at a real university so they settled for teaching at a liberal arts college.  Still I enjoyed my classes, and although the coursework was more challenging than high school, I made A’s and had plenty of time for extracurricular activities such as Christian ministries as well as pranks other social activities.

It was during these years that I discovered my so called faith was really more religion than relationship.  I spent the first two years of college as a bed-side Baptist playing the religion game. Then at one of the chapels I didn’t sleep in, or a BSU revival week, or a Bible study in the dorm, or somewhere it clicked that the relationship was more important than the religion. Even Jesus said that eternal life was getting to know God and His Son (John 17:3). The Bible became a fountain of knowledge about Jesus and God (even the Old Testament). My faith was flourishing. Obviously I needed to become a minister right? I added a minor in religion. That would take care of that faith and discipline problem.

Still had a love of science… Can a scientist be a minister?

I received my degree in biology and scored high enough to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University.  When I entered Texas A&M, I was directed to the large animal surgical ward in a neuroscience lab.  I found the professor in the middle of surgery in which he was inserting a probe into a cow’s brain.  As he operated, he described the various regions of the brain as the probe passed through them.  As he talked, I found myself totally ignorant of any of the anatomy he described.  I was embarrassed with my lack of knowledge and, in my mind, blamed the poor instruction I received in my undergraduate anatomy class.  I figured that the instructor had skipped those portions of the textbook because he did not know the material.  Of course, what should you expect from a small college where the science professors were probably second-rate or last-chance employees?

Sometime later, I was moving boxes of my old textbooks when a lab manual fell on the ground.  It was my human anatomy lab manual from ETBU. Remembering my embarrassment in the surgical ward, I took this opportunity to revisit my disgust of the former anatomy professor. I turned to the nervous system section and found a picture of the brain.  Instead of being skipped over, I found every blank filled in with proper terminology.  On top of that, it was in my own handwriting!

Not only had the professor gone over this material, he had covered it completely.  Apparently, my learning was not learning after all, but it was short-term memorizing.  I had crammed for the tests and made the grade, but did not learn the material.  My graduate work at Texas A&M took longer to finish than it should have.  I had to spend some of that time relearning the things I had not truly learned during my undergraduate years.

Intersection of faith and discipline? How about working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23)? Doing my best in all endeavors, including studying. Is that faith?

Faith intersects my Life… Not just at church. Now I look for those intersections in everyday life.  I hope to let you in on the larger intersections I find…

Ironically, I became a biology professor at ETBU, (insert God’s laughter here), where I try to encourage my students to learn it right the first time. And this job was not my last choice…It was my calling and my ministry!

My original thoughts in April of 2013

My thoughts
I thought I would post the grant proposal I wrote. As we go through the year let’s see how close I stick to the original intent.

Here is what I was thinking back in April 2013:

Being a Christian in Biology
The mission statement and vision statement of East Texas Baptist University center on the integration of faith and learning in the pursuit of truth. Biological science, by its very nature, is the pursuit of truth in the physical observable universe. Jesus is spiritual truth and the creator of the physical, observable universe. Studying the Bible, prayer and meditation are often times considered the only way to know Christ and to find the truth. Most Christians forget that we may come to know Christ better, more fully, by understanding that which He created. Humans have built barriers between faith and science. Christ has no such barriers. Reflection on Christ’s teachings in conjunction with studying His creation leads to a fuller understanding of the truth and the nature of Jesus as God and Creator.

Those who search for truth need to have the ability and skill to discern truth from propaganda, prejudice, and lies. They need to be able to think with clarity, accuracy, depth, and breadth to understand the significance of the information being presented and the fairness of the presentation. Most people live their lives with a lower order of thinking. They lack reflection and logic relying mainly on distorted, uninformed, self-serving, self-deceiving, and prejudicial thinking. Many Christians believe something is true simply because it’s what they have always believed. For example, many Southern Baptists believe that dancing is a sin. This is not a Biblical truth, it is a cultural construct. As Christian scholars it is our responsibility to teach/lead/model the pursuit of truth with Christ-like thinking. Jesus was a profound critical thinker. He demanded clarity and accuracy from those who were the interpreters of the Law. He challenged the relevance of the traditions of the religious leaders and required His followers to think deeply about complex issues. He taught His followers to broaden their preconceived ideas to include people who had been previously excluded from God’s teachings. He dared to ask questions about the way life was lived and whether or not that way made sense or was fair.

Christ demanded that we know the truth in order to be free. He demands that we be free from the Law, prejudice, hypocrisy, cowardice, arrogance, and conformity. These are all attributes of the sin-filled life. In order to be free we must be humble, have the courage to face the tough issues, persevere in integrity, fairness, and Christ-centered autonomy. To be free we need to think critically the way Christ demands. In my reflections I will discuss what it means to be a critical thinker and the attributes of a critical thinker. I will use biological/bioethical questions and issues to model integration of Biblical principles with scientific reasoning. I will model intrinsic motivation in order to inspire others to begin their search for the truth. By embracing Christ-centered faith, I will model engaging the mind of a critical thinker in order to empower leaders to be free to pursue truth where ever it may be found.

Why Biology?

Why Biology?

By our very nature all humans are born scientists.  Most of us get so beaten down by the public school systems that we lose our love for learning and exploring.

I never lost that first love.

As a toddler I was forever bringing bugs, lizards, snakes and small mammals into the house to show Mom.  She was terrified of critters but being the great mother that she was she kept an assortment of jars nearby in which to keep my latest critter.  The rule was that all critters had to be loosed at sunset so they could go home for supper.

The Christmas I was 12 I received a microscope and biology kit.  My brother received a chemistry kit.  I traded him my baton (a fantastic sword) for his chemistry kit and thus began my whole-hearted love affair with the natural sciences.  I looked at everything I could under that microscope.  Finally I went to Mom and asked to look at human blood.  She pricked herself with a sewing needle and we made several blood slides.  I was forever hooked on the biology aspect of science.  Many years later I learned that Mom was terrified of needles and her own blood.  What a LOVE!  Mom encouraged me to pursue my dreams.  Dad cheered me on toward my goals.  They were phenomenal in their encouragement and support.  My path was fraught with many obstacles but perseverance is one of my spiritual gifts.  God has blessed me with ETBU and the ability to pursue teaching biology in a Christ-centered atmosphere.  I pray that I am a model for young, Christian scientists.  I pray I give them a safe place to ask questions without being ridiculed for their faith.

There are two ways to know God…through His word and through His works.  Both are equally important.  God expects us to be thoughtful, as Christ was thoughtful, about every aspect of our lives.  We need to think critically about our beliefs, spiritual and scientific, and be able to defend them.  I want to explore critical thinking and how it applies to the various aspects of our live in this blog.  Please feel free to send feedback.

HERE WE GO!                      — jcc