The Great Commission and
David 0. Moberg*
7120 W. Dove Court
Milwaukee, WI 53223
Moberg, David O., "The Great Commission and Research" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51.1:8-17 (3/1999)
Many Christians fail to realize that the Great Commission of Jesus Christ includes teaching believers to obey everything he commanded. They assume that only church related occupations are "full-time Christian service" and, as a result, deprecate scientific research. Yet research has a solid biblical basis. It helps us apply biblical teachings about being good stewards, loving God and neighbor as we love ourselves, filling our minds with praiseworthy things, and living as children of light. It is an important tool that is greatly needed for the improvement of Christian ministries and institutions. For believers, scientific research is a Christian calling.
Research is as ancient as human society, so pre-scientific applications of research methods are clearly evident in the Bible. For example, in the Old Testament, we read that "to search out a matter is the glory of kings" (Prov. 25:2)1 and "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed" (Prov. 15:22). Censuses were taken both with and against God's approval (Num. 1:1-54; 26:1-62; 2 Sam. 24:1-17; 1 Chron. 21:1-15; Luke 2:1-3). Caleb and other representatives of the twelve tribes were sent into the land of Canaan to explore and evaluate the land and its people (Num. 13:1-25). Jesus reminded his first hearers and us that no one successfully builds a tower or goes to war without planning based upon information-gathering research (Luke 14:28-33). Nonetheless, the systematic development of research methods as a scientific enterprise has emerged only in modern history, so there is no word directly equivalent to research in the original languages of the Bible. As a result, many Christians fail to recognize that modem scientific research methods are strongly supported by biblical exhortations and advice.
Research is firmly grounded in the "Great Commission," Jesus' concluding summary of what he wants Christians to do between his first advent and second coming:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).
Most Christian groups have more faithfully lowed the evangelistic commands, to go, to disciples (evangelize, save souls, produce co etc.), and to baptize them, than the ethical co to teach obedience to Jesus' commands (thou few groups have emphasized ethics more than evangelism). What Jesus commanded was not intended to destroy the Mosaic Law but to fulfill its essence Thus, the New Testament repeatedly shows how ethical precepts, as well as the soteriological emphesis of the Law, point always to Jesus as the Me (Christ), the Lamb of God who provided the and perfect sacrifice for the sins of all humans. Teaching all that Jesus commanded requires learning his words and following his example of what is right and wrong conduct. Simply knowing these commands intellectually is not enough. Christians act upon that knowledge.
Curtailing and Repressing Jesus' Commission
While most pastors, religious educator other church leaders accept the Great Corn as a synopsis of the "job description for all Christtians," they tend to interpret "going into world" as mainly a geographic concept that p to territories, nations, and people groups. Some assume that obedience to the will of Christ automatically follows conversion and baptism, while others act as if they believe that teaching how to live is not important because "saving souls" constitutes the entire work of the church. Far too few recognize that "all" includes pervading every nook and cranny of every society with the light of the Gospel. Still fewer appreciate the fact that scientific and scholarly research is included in the specifically Christian work of the body of Christ. Some, indeed, actively oppose the use of research in their organizations and ministries.
Ironically, even those Christians, who give no explicit attention to research as a part of obeying Christ's commands, sometimes do use research. They benefit from its applications as a tool for church growth or as a means by which to identify people groups, to analyze their cultural traditions, to reduce their languages to written symbols and translate the Bible into them, and to apply its message to the realities of their cultural contexts.
Moreover, some members of the "anti-research" camp preach sermons that include references to selected research findings to illustrate or drive home a particular point. Typically they do this to bolster a predetermined conclusion about the realities of people or society, not to test whether a tentative conclusion is, or is not, true. If ever they do use research methods, they tend to do so only to prove that their foregone conclusions are correct. They gather all the supportive evidence they can find, overlook contrary data, and conduct tests that do not seek all pertinent data, whether pro or con. Thus they violate their own integrity and that of true scientific methodology by card-stacking techniques, not realizing that the biblical admonition to "prove all things" (1 Thess. 5:21, KJV) actually means to "test all things," even as automobiles still are tested on "proving grounds." Genuine evaluative research does just that-it tests to discover observable evidence about realities in the world God created.apart from the occasional use of "research illustrations" drawn from a preacher's general reading or television viewing and the use of research as a tool for evangelism and missions, one seldom hears the clergy treat scientific and scholarly research as a legitimate, honorable, and important vocation or calling from God. There still is a tendency to believe that only a few select people are "called into full-time Christian service" (as if anyone can be Christian less than full-time!) and that "serving the Lord" occurs mainly, if not exclusively, through "church work" careers, such as pastors, missionaries, church musicians, religious educators, or, among Catholics, in a "vocation" as a priest, monk, or nun. People with such views do not look upon research as an aspect of fulfilling Christ's commission, nor do they view scientific occupations as a Christian calling.
Negative Views of Research Among Christians
When research directly pertains to the lives or work of Christians, their reactions and comments typically are much more derogatory and censorious than supportive. Negative criticism is especially harsh against any evaluative studies suggesting that change in Christian institutions or ministries is desirable. Anti-change spokespersons implicitly fail to acknowledge that there has been absolute perfection in only one person, Jesus Christ; that if we who are Christians claim to be without sin, "we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8); and that therefore no church or other Christian institution or agency can be perfect. Unless their flaws are discovered and diagnosed-as research can help us do, we are not likely to correct them. So, the institutional diseases are likely to fester and spread. Negative criticism also is expressed against the real, contrived, or imagined flaws of "the university" in which scientific and scholarly work is done, for its research often contributes to changes that disturb old customs, folklore, and traditions.
Those who resist constructive changes of personal and institutional behavior, whether inspired by research or not, usually are unaware that their rigid attempt to remain without change, while the surrounding society is changing, actually results in a changed relationship to that world. "To oppose social change categorically is the equivalent of idolatrous worldliness, the features of which are outlined in a non-religious context by the social sciences."2
Negative criticism is
against any evaluative
studies suggesting that change in Christian institutions or ministries is desirable.
Change is inevitable, for people change as long as they live. Society likewise is continually changing. Thus, applications of the Gospel to it (but not the Gospel itself) must also change. Only the Creator is unchanged from age to age and generation to generation. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8).
Even some scientists and scholars are tempted to believe that research is of little or no value in God's kingdom, except for the mild concession that they earn a living by it and hence can tithe their incomes and make other contributions to the financial needs of their churches. Often this negative belief is created and reinforced by active participation in those fundamentalist and conservative-evangelical fellowships that emphasize a narrow interpretation of God's call to Christian service, limiting it to directly church-related pastoral, evangelistic, and missionary vocations.
The truly biblical teaching is that all believers in Christ have been gifted by the Holy Spirit and are called to exercise those gifts for the common good (I Cor. 12:1-31). The church is the body of Christ. Whatever its members do to serve that body and to reveal the love of God in the world-not only within the institutional church-is the work of Christ. The narrow, dogmatically limited version of what constitutes a "call to Christian service" has been the source of many misfits in Christian ministries. Instead of thinking of themselves as first-class servants of God, many people negate themselves as inferior third-class professionals just because they are not ordained and are "only" in research-related or other secular" vocations. Therefore, this limited view has caused misery and guilt feelings among many and has impeded the impact and effectiveness of Christianity in society.
Truncated beliefs and actions of Christians devalue research and inoculate believers against its beneficial contributions to the work of Christ today. The antagonism of many Christians toward "secular science" and their suspicion of all applications of 11 worldly investigations" greatly reduces the effectiveness of Christianity. Repulsing scientists and "the intelligentsia" from churches and from hearing the Gospel is anti-evangelistic. It also contributes to the failure of Christians to benefit from many rich findings from research done in non-Christian settings. We must always remember that God can use the work of skeptics and atheists to praise himself, even as the pagan King Cyrus was God's "anointed," his "shepherd" whom he used to fulfill his word and accomplish his purposes (Isa. 44:28; 45:1; 2 Chron. 36:22-23).
Many problems in churches, society, and even our own psyches can be overcome, at least in part, by recognizing that there is a solid biblical basis for good scientific research, whether applied or theoretical, in all of the biological, physical, and social sciences. If Jesus walked among us today, his comment about the low status assigned to the sciences and scientists in his kingdom on earth might be similar to his teaching on so many other subjects: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Matt. 22:29). The Bible is our fundamental guide to faith and conduct in the realm of research, as well as in all of the rest of life. Although research is always limited, sometimes biased, and open to abuse, its practical and theoretical applications can make Christians much more effective disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Biblical Mandate for Research
Those who are uninitiated to the nature and importance of research in God's kingdom do not recognize most biblical passages related to the nature and importance of research as relevant to research. They are as blind to that reality as the countless people who do not realize that ordinary words like many, more, some, few, several, less, often, numerous, plentiful, least, and plurality are imprecise statistical concepts.
No specialized fields of investigation and study, such as anthropology, astrophysics, biochemistry, criminology, demography, economics, geology, linguistics, microbiology, physiology, psychology, sociology, and the myriad other sciences and areas of specialization as we know them, were known when the Bible was written, so why they are not mentioned in the Bible is no mystery. Nevertheless, there is much in Scripture that is directly pertinent to modem methods, manifestations, and styles of research activity. Insufficient attention has been given to the core elements of just what it means in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to apply the gs of Jesus in order to d. Here is a brief I teachings that are especially relevant to research.
Humanity has a stewardship responsibility. "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it; the world and all who live in it" (Ps. 24:1; see also Gen. 2:15; Ps. 50:10, etc.). This fact contributes to many New Testament admonitions to dedicate our possessions, abilities, time, energy, opportunities, and our very selves to Jesus Christ, for all these belong to God who created and redeemed us. People are not owners, but merely stewards of them. "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (I Pet. 4:10). We can do this much more effectively with the help of systematic observation, evaluation, and other research methods and tools.
There is much in Scripture that is directly pertinent
to modern methods, manifestations, and styles of research activity.
Sometimes we find it difficult to know precisely how to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27; Deut. 6:5) in the midst of today's circumstances, technology, and institutions. Research to discover the environmental, psychological, social, and spiritual motivations, causes, and consequences of personal and collective actions can help us to love God more sincerely and completely.
Often we find it even more puzzling to know how to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27; Lev. 19:18). Social and behavioral research can help to teach us how to prove ourselves to be neighbors to those who are in need (Luke 10:36). "Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Research sometimes demonstrates that "good" actions have harmful results. Whenever that occurs, the acts must not represent perfect love, no matter how affectionate our interpersonal relationships with others or how fervent our internal sentiments.
Christians should "do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal. 6:10). Most major political battles of our society pertain to opinions about the ways in which Christians or the body politic at large can and ought to do good. Research can disclose the extent to which doing good to some people harms others. It can reveal whether what seems to be good on the surface actually has more short- or long-range negative consequences when seen in its larger context.
Believers in Christ are told to "fill your minds with those things that are good and deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable" (Phil. 4:8, TEV), as well as to take pains "to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men" (2 Cor. 8:21). Often research is necessary to determine whether certain kinds of attitudes, thoughts, and actions have scripturally wholesome consequences or result in more harm than good, as well as to determine people's opinions about what is considered right "in the eyes of men."
The Scriptures often warn us about the wiles of Satan, the Evil Tempter who is "the father of lies" but comes disguised as an 'angel of light" (John 8:44; 2 Cor. 11:13-15) to deceive even God's elect children (2 Cor. 11:3-4, 14; 2 Thess. 2:9; 2 John 7-S). Countless groups and movements today, especially those connected with ancient paganisms that deceitfully pose as "New Age," use words and symbols associated with holiness, happiness, spirituality, health, wealth, and light. Many scoffers against Christianity play the "Gotcha" game of identifying moral and behavioral flaws among God's people in an erroneous assumption that even one peccadillo or hypocrisy of a believer invalidates the entire Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ (see Jude 17-19; 1 John 2:21-23; 2 Pet. 2:1-3). Various enemies of Christ use Scripture, but twist or misinterpret it even as Satan did in his temptation of Jesus (Matt. 4:6). They lift biblical words and phrases out of context and (usually for a fee) disclose "new revelations" of "the Bible's secret meanings." Careful theological, philosophical, semantic, psychological, and sociological research can help to prevent seduction by their glittering words and enticing ideas.
Research under the aforementioned and other ethical precepts can help us to "Live as children of light ... and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 5:8-11). Research can help us establish and retain our qualities as "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" so that people who see our good deeds will praise our heavenly Father (Matt. 5:13-16).
This, in turn, overlaps with the evaluation or 'fruit testing" encouraged in passages like Gal. 5:19-24 and by Jesus' words, "By their fruit you will recognize them [those who are false prophets, as well as the good trees]," for "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven..." (Matt. 7:15-23). To be sure, this type of research can be dangerous, for we all are tempted to do it censoriously, with a haughty spirit, or with preconceived criteria based on personal interests or worldly identities rather than on biblical standards.
In all evaluations, we must heed the Lord's waming to judge not lest we ourselves be judged (Matt. 7:1). Our objective should be that of redirecting ourselves in humility and restoring those who have fallen, instead of arbitrarily and summarily excluding them from our fellowships (Gal. 5:26; 6:1-3) without giving them a second (or seventh, Luke 17:3-4; or seventy-seventh, Matt. 18:21-22) chance.
Possibly the most direct
biblical instruction to do
research is found
in I Thess. 5.21-22, 'Test everything. Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil."
It is not always our privilege to know those who belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ, for as mere humans we never can see the whole picture known to God alone. Therefore research that classifies people into categories of Christians and non-Christians must always be interpreted with great care. The Christian life is one of growth and development from spiritual infancy at the "second birth" of regeneration. It advances toward the spiritual maturity of "the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13) that arguably is not perfectly attainable in this life. We must remember the two-sided seal of 2 Tim. 2:19-the Lord knows who are his, and all who confess his name must turn away from sin.
Possibly the most direct biblical instruction to do research is found in I Thess. 5:21-22, "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." We must test even our traditional interpretations of the Christian lifestyle and ethics, lest they have different meanings and consequences in today's rapidly changing society than they did in the past. Our old sinful nature clings to us long after we become Christians (Rom. 7:14-25). Our knowledge and wisdom are very finite, truncated by human limitations, by the vastness of the universe, and by the complexity of society. No matter how much we know, there is ever more that we know we do not know. We need the humility to recognize that we may be wrong and others right and that there always will be secrets known only God, no matter how many have been revealed to us through Scripture and research (Deut. 29:29; 1 Cor. 13:8-12).
The Bible and Contemporary Research Methods
Every profession, scholarly discipline, and scientific specialty has its own methodologies and techniques for conducting research. Each has methods that are appropriate for conducting various types of research. All of them together "test [almost] everything" to make us better stewards of the gifts and opportunities God has entrusted to us. Here are a few examples.
Mal. 3:10, which tells God's people to bring all their tithes and offerings to him and then to observe the results, and Rom. 12:2, which tells us to test and approve God's will by not conforming to the pattern of this world, imply prospective experimentation. Other forms of experimentation and pseudo-experiments can be very helpful, provided one carefully considers all of the assumptive, methodological, observational, and statistical limitations when conducting the studies and applying the implications.
Evaluation research is implicit in the Lord's making Jeremiah "a tester of metals and people the ore, that you may observe and test their ways" (Jer. 6:27). Jeremiah is moved to plead: "Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord" (Lam. 3:40). Other Bible passages cited above also encourage evaluation.
This overlaps with comparison research. The sincerity of love among the Christians in Corinth was tested by comparing their generosity in giving with the model or example provided by believers at other locations, but most of all with that of Jesus who was rich, yet became poor, so that they through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:8-9). Using Christ as a criterion for comparisons regarding hardships, trials, and persecution is the theme also of Heb. 12:2-3 and, by implication, "the heroes of the faith" in Hebrews 11.
Complementing a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, sociopsychological methods similarly contribute to the goal of personal and collective self-examination. Their use is supported by passages like 2 Cor. 13:5-7, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves and Gal. 6:4, "Each should test his own actions ... without comparing himself to somebody else." Continual comparisons of oneself to Jesus Christ vanquish the spirit of pride that crops up whenever we yield to the temptation to compare ourselves with other people. Invariably we can find someone whom we judge to be inferior to ourselves in abilities, service, faith, motivation, or character. Jesus is the only perfect model by which to judge our character and personality John 13:15; Phil. 2:5-8; 1 Pet. 2:21).
Above all else, the sciences are descriptive. We seldom use the words of early scientists who tried to "think God's thoughts after him." Yet in deciphering ever more of God's awesome work, we in effect are trying to do the same. Describing the beautiful and intricate universe that declares his glory and analyzing the wonders of living organisms and mysteries of human life, we see ever more of the majesty and providence of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Although we now can only imperfectly and incompletely "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8), eventually in the fullness of time we and all of creation will receive our final deliverance from "the bondage of corruption and decay" (see Rom. 8:18-23).
Many types of research on religion, such as the sociology and psychology of religion, can be of direct help to Christian agencies and ministries. Not the least important among those requiring cooperation with theological investigation is "testing the spirits," to determine whether they are from God. There is a plethora of spirits in countless ancient cults and "new religious movements," for there still are many false prophets in the world (1 John 4:1-3).
Abuses of Research
If ever there has been any perfect research, it has not come to my attention. The Great Deceiver who is the "father of lies" eagerly stands ever ready to lead even God's own children astray. Among other things, he declares that only perfection can please God. However, imperfect people with their actions and products can be used to serve and glorify God. In our scientific work, we must guard against the temptation not to report imperfect investigations, while we also work hard to overcome the abuses of investigative methods and techniques that crop up so easily, even in research conducted by and for Christians.
Much of the training in every scientific and scholarly discipline aims to correct methodological fallacies, whether of domain assumptions; conceptual definitions; operational specifications; inappropriate choice of methods for a given research problem; theoretical orientations; observation techniques; sampling, collecting and analyzing data; biased reporting, or other issues. Not only in handling money, but in all else we should be "taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord, but also in the eyes of men" (2 Cor. 8:21). Christians above all others doing research should "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody" (Rom. 12:17). The best way to be fully honest and above board in such work is to be thoroughly grounded in the theories and methodologies of our fields of research and in the awareness of the abuses and flaws that so easily penetrate them.
Sometimes Christians are
even more inclined to be dishonest
in research that pertains to themselves than are nonbelievers,
for they know from Scripture what the findings ought to be.
Sometimes Christians are even more inclined to be dishonest in research that pertains to themselves than are nonbelievers, for they know from Scripture what the findings ought to be. They especially do not want "the world" to discover moral discrepancies within Christian circles. Thus, they are pressured into stacking up proofs for foregone conclusions, especially when those prejudgments seem to be based on the Bible. Rather than testing generalizations to discover what all of "the facts" really are, they are consciously or unconsciously beguiled into using methods for collecting and analyzing data, then reporting results, that provide self-justification, good publicity," or "positive feedback" instead of the more honestly balanced approach of "letting the chips fall where they may."
Partly because of the biblical contrasts between polarities, such as good and evil, God and Satan, light and darkness, and the old and new nature, Christians are strongly inclined toward believing that there are only two positions or sides to nearly every pragmatic issue that confronts science, society, and the church. Seldom are modern social, political, and economic issues that simple. Mixtures of good and evil elements make life in a democracy very complex and research difficult.
Yet there is no such thing as genuine neutrality regarding such issues. In a democracy, inaction is itself a form of action, usually for the most powerful and wealthiest side of any contested issue. Neutrality often results in greater harm than taking sides with and working for "the lesser of two evils" when there are no other viable alternatives. The refusal to work actively for righteousness and justice, not realizing how such efforts complement and supplement "winning souls to Christ," ironically often sustains the very evils that Christians condemn. In research choices, as in the rest of life, we must actively struggle against all sin and especially against the 11 spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12) that usually are disguised by cloaks of righteousness. Only by being "strong in the Lord and his mighty power" (Eph. 6:10) will we prevail.
The refusal to work actively
for righteousness and
justice ...ironically often
sustains the very evils that Christians condemn.
Even the best planned Christian ministries sometimes have indirect negative results and undesirable side effects of the kind sociologists call "latent dysfunctional consequences." Research can uncover many of them, though powerful persons and groups will try to keep them hidden. Those who have vested interests in the religious establishment scoff at any research that reveals errors, deficiencies, misleading advertising and propaganda, falsehoods, hypocrisies, and pretentious claims. Most of all, they scoff at any research that exposes them and often divert attention by calling it groundless "debunking," character assassination, or even doctrinal heresy.
Researchers employed to evaluate religious agencies and programs often attract the suspicion and opposition of leaders in local, regional, or national ecclesiastical power structures. Sometimes the enemies of such research are right. Many scientists and other researchers do tend to assume an arrogant, holier-than-thou pose, almost as if they are an incarnation of our perfect, righteous, omniscient, omnipotent God. They dogmatically imply about their own work what Jesus often said about his, "You have heard it said ..., but I say unto you
Alternatively, just as bad money squeezes out the good, those who conduct evaluation research projects may be enticed into using defective methods to obtain results that please their clients and win their praise and other rewards. Distorting or covering up reality violates the commandment not to give false witness. In other words, it is a form of lying even if the intended result is good. The end does not justify the means.
In contrast, good research methods help us to be honest in all our work, to love the Lord with our minds (Luke 10:27), and to humbly use our findings to please him, even if they may not please ecclesiastical bureaucrats and others.
Limitations of Research
Even when we conduct research of the highest quality, we discover many limitations to our findings. Each significant exploration results in new questions, so in one sense the more we know we know, the more we know we do not know. Despite the vast increase in human knowledge, there still are unimaginable secret things that "belong" only to the Lord our God (Deut. 29:29). It is not possible to observe him directly, or even to interview him. However, we can see indicators and reflections of him, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities ... have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made ... " (Rom. 1: 10).
Yet these "clearly seen" manifestations of God and his creations are easily distorted and misinterpreted because of sinful ignorance, misleading preconceptions, and the finitude of human mentalities. For example, the amazing developments from astronomical probes into outer space thousands of light years away, on the one hand, and the knowledge of the intricacies of minuscule particles and cells through new techniques and tools developed in microphysics and microbiology, on the other, are vastly expanding our recognition of the size and complexity of the universe God created. They are convincing both six-day creationists and theistic evolutionists that their conceptions of God have been too small. We all will be surprised and amazed when, in the presence of our Almighty Creator, we learn how the universe actually was created by God's word.
That which is verifiable "scientific truth" today may be as incomplete and erroneous as the lesson taught my generation in high school and college to the effect that an atom is the absolutely smallest particle of matter. Not only was nuclear fission subsequently used during World War 11, but many new subatomic particles have been discovered as well.
All human observations, even when fully accurate, occur within the limited scope of then-current methods, concepts, theories, sampling techniques, and other methodological and observational variables. We humans are so finite that we can spend an entire lifelong career studying but one tiny detail of God's creation. Together all human discoveries fall far short of fully understanding the products of God's infinite wisdom and power. The tiny "truths" of humanity pale in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is THE TRUTH, as well as the Life and the Way to our eternal home with God (John 14:6). Humility must accompany even the greatest discoveries of knowledge and understanding that emerge from sound research.
Is there knowledge? It will vanish away; for our knowledge and our prophecy alike are partial, and the partial vanishes when wholeness comes. ... Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. My knowledge now is partial; then it will be whole, like God's knowledge of me (1 Cor. 13:9-12, NEB).
Despite the vast increase
in human knowledge, there still
are unimaginable secret things that 'belong" only to the
Lord our God (Deut. 29:29).
Implications for Action
When we who are Christians recognize that research is among the Holy Spirit's gifts and that serving God through a research career is one way to help fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord, several implications for blending faith and conduct emerge.
First, we will be fully persuaded of the value of research as a Christian calling or vocation. Whether others acknowledge it or not, each of us serves God within the context of our respective professions and job assignments-not only when we serve on a church committee, hold a church office, or teach a Bible class.
Second, we will sincerely and repeatedly communicate to Christian friends, church groups, and parachurch associations the need for, benefits of, and findings from good research that pertain to their particular interests and needs. They eventually will hear and heed our message about the relevance and importance of research to God's kingdom. Then they will be less inclined to interpret the work of research as subordinate, if not antithetical, to their evangelistic, educational, social service, and mission-related Christian activities.
Third, we will demonstrate that research-gleaned information is helpful to the ministries and pet projects of our own and other Christian groups by small, as well as large, projects conducted by ourselves, students, or volunteer helpers. An ounce of demonstration is worth a pound of proclamation.
Fourth, we will emphasize the numerous biblical instructions that are best applied today by systematic research rather than by easier, more convenient, cheaper, but often deceptive forms of haphazard and biased information gathering. Explicit references to Bible passages are absolutely essential to win the favor and support of fundamentalist and evangelical constituencies. When they are appropriately cited, Christians who honor the Bible as a guide to both faith and conduct will listen.
Fifth, we who are on the faculties of educational institutions will teach students about the Christian value of research more effectively than we have in the past. Ideally our students will do actual research, not just read about it. Some will produce such well-designed, even if small-scale, research projects that, with appropriate adaptation and guidance, their reports will be publishable in scholarly or semi-popular periodicals, either with or without the faculty mentor as a coauthor.
Sixth, we will identify and work on some of the countless topics for research that are crucial to improved ministries, institutions, agencies, projects, and programs that serve Jesus Christ.3 Much of this work will never be done by people who are not Christians, but if it is, it may be done under anti-Christian presuppositions and biases. Politicians and others who shape society need factual "scientific" data about "the other side" of issues they confront, so research on them is a part of being "the salt of the earth." The findings of good research will make some sincere people see things "our way," motivate them to be more open to positions consistent with Christian ethics, and bring about their cooperation with believers in civic, educational, political, social service, and other ventures for the common good.
Seventh, we will recognize that conducting well-designed research and reporting its findings in the language, styles, and publication outlets of the scholarly and scientific world is itself a form of witnessing. "Scientific" research is in many ways a major "global language" of the modern world. Sharing the findings of our work in professional meetings, journals, and books gains the attention of educated non-Christians. They will benefit from our discoveries but also will recognize that Christians are among the respectable contributors to their disciplines. This type of "pre-evangelism" will make some nonbelievers less antagonistic toward Christianity, more open to hearing about their colleagues' faith in Jesus Christ, and more curious about how that faith influences personal experiences and helps believers cope with the crises that invade most people's lives. Their curiosity eventually will draw some to become disciples of our Lord.
Research is an important tool for helping believers learn and obey all that Christ commanded, thus fulfilling his Great Commission. A career in research is a Christian vocation to which some people are called and gifted by the Holy Spirit. Research is a valuable spiritual resource for the warfare of God's people against the forces of evil and powers of darkness in the high places of society. It provides both defensive armor and offensive weapons for obedience to the will of our Lord (Eph. 6:10-18). While using it in God's service, "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him"
1Unless otherwise indicated, quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible. (KJV refers to the King James Version, NEB to the New English Bible, and TEV to Today's English Version, which is also known as the Good News Bible.)
2David 0. Moberg, "The Social Sciences," in Robert W. Smith, ed., Christ and the Modern Mind (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972),119.
3For examples, see David 0. Moberg, "Overcoming the Intellectual Inferiority Complex and False Guilt of Evangelical Educators," Faculty Dialogue 20 (Winter 1993-94),45-58.