Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Letter

Excellence and Mediocrity
Philip F. Rust
Assoc. Prof. of Biometry
Med. Univ. of South Carolina
Charleston, SC 29425

From PSCF 39 (December 1987): 149-250.

I was quite pleased to read in the June 1987 issue Dr. Bube's article, "On the Pursuit of Excellence," especially since this is the first time I have seen this topic addressed from a Christian viewpoint. Of course, one shouldn't expect to cover all aspects of a broad issue in a single paper; nevertheless, I would like to mention some related points.

The pitfalls seen by Dr. Bube in striving to be No. I are real, yet mediocrity brings its own pitfalls (I Tim. 3:7). If faculty excellence is loosely defined as high reputation and visibility in one's profession, then consider that fame brings greater opportunities to interact with other "tentmakers" (Acts 18:1-2). It opens doors to present the Gospel to those who would not listen to the testimony of an "ordinary" person (Acts 21:37-39, 28:22).

Such opportunities would be even more potent if Christ could be glorified in the renowned achievement itself. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear of a Nobel laureate giving God any credit in scientific discovery. Thus the lie is perpetuated, that faith in God and intellectual prowess are antithetical. One remedy is that Christian faculty begin to believe God to provide inspiration for scientific breakthroughs.

There are a few academic institutions, such as Stanford, which are in the running for first place recognition. However, these are far outnumbered by colleges which rate noticeably below No. I status. Many such universities face a squeeze due to declining availability of federal and other funds, simultaneously bringing tightening criteria for appointments, promotion, and tenure. "Negative excellence" in nonprofessional areas of life may occur, not because of ambition to become No. I academically, but due to attempts to maintain an average position. If reductions in force are mandated, remaining faculty may feel they are being asked to make bricks without straw (Ex. 5:7-19).

One of my Christian colleagues has proposed that the professorial job description is like the Mosaic law: one cannot possibly fulfill it all within the typical work week (Acts 15:10). He has decided tocope by rather brazenly neglecting certain duties and concentrating on what God is leading him to do.

Again, I thank the author for addressing the topic of excellence. He has made many valid points which hopefully will generate continuing discussion and corresponding actions.