The Craft of Research: An Unwitting Exposition of the Cultural Mandate

Reading The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams, I came across this thought-provoking quote:

Teachers at all levels devote their lives to research.  Governments spend billions on it, businesses even more.  Research goes on in laboratories and libraries, in jungles and ocean depths, in caves and in outer space, in offices and, in the information age, even in our own homes.  Research is in fact the world’s biggest industry (The Craft of Research, 9).

Though perhaps overstated, these superlative statements unwittingly expose the cultural mandate at work in fields of research and discovery. Consider with me…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  He formed them (Days 1-3) and He filled them (Days 4-6).  On Day 6, the pinnacle of creation, he commissioned the man and the woman to be fruitful and multiply, to possess and subdue all creation, and to spread the blessing and glory of God all over the earth (Gen. 1:26-31).  In particular, he commanded the man to cultivate and keep the garden (2:15), to extend its borders, and to name all the animals (2:19).  These terse commands make-up the foundation of the cultural mandate.  From Adam and Eve and to us, we are to steward the world’s resources for the creative purpose of glorifying God.

Sadly, the Fall of man, made this cultural mandate immediately impossible.  Sin marrs each of us.  It clouds our minds, bends of our cooperative efforts, and perverts the products of our hands.  Though, great things have been accomplished by the human race, sadly the majority of these projects deny God his glory and his creative role in all life (i.e. Charles Darwin’s evolutionary biology, Watson and Crick’s atheistic DNA research, Craig Venter’s gene therapy, and John Dominic-Crossan’s “Jesus Seminar”).  Still, the arts and science of the world, in their best moments present something of the wisdom and goodness of God.  Perhaps, this is best seen in the life of King Solomon, whose Spirit-given wisdom is unparalleled.  1 Kings 4:29-34 reads:

Now God have Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore.  Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.  For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was known in all the surrounding nations.  he also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.  he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is Lebanon even to the hyssop that greows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish.  Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, froms all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.

In the fullness of time, a son of Solomon, Jesus of Nazareth, came to be recognized for who he really was–God incarnate, the Divine Logos, the eternal wisdom of God, and giver of the cultural mandatein the first place. As Matthew puts it, when Jesus came, “something greater than Solomon is here” (12:42).  As the second Adam, Jesus life, death, and resurrection redeemed humanity from its sin and set in motion the means for re-issuing the cultural mandate.  His resurrection, which prompted the coming of the Spirit along with the promise of his return, has established that he is going to restore creation, and in the age to come he will reinstate forever the cultural mandate.  

In this world, all efforts at art, science, commerce, technology, et cetera are corrupted by the brokeness invoked by our sin.  However, in the age to come all these things will be achieved with never before seen perfection.  Oh what a day that will be!

Sadly, The Craft of Research’s material is not all equally edifying.  While much of its advice is helpful and filled with practical wisdom, it becomes quickly apparent that the three professors writing this work have cut themselves off from the source of that wisdom.  In one poignant sentence, they reveal their God-denying foolishness (cf. Ps. 14:1).  As they discuss “warrants based on articles of faith,”  they write, “If you encounter them [statements of faith] as you gather your data, ignore them or treat them not as a subject for research but as an inquiry into the meaning of life” (167, emphasis mine).  Against the wisdom of Solomon and the purposes of God in creation, these academicians reject any kind of research that might lead them back to the God or stir cravings for the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.  Like their Enlightenment forebears, rationalistic thought and human reason trump God.

While the authors have been gifted with incredible minds to gather, grasp, and articulate information, sadly, they are blinded by their own fleshly erudition.  They delight in the gift of research, but they reject the giver.  In this they ironically commit the greatest sin of the academy: plagiarism, and this they do on a cosmic scale.  In truth, such academic unbelief and darkness will one day be brought into the light (cf. Isa. 60:1ff), and it will be judged as Satanic, wicked, and shoddy (cf. Heb. 3:13).  In the meantime, those who do research as Christians have the opportunity to witness to their God in way they hone their craft.

For those of us who do know the Wisdom of God, and who enjoy studying–whatever the subject may be– we must do so as professing believers.  Incorporating God into our equations, essays, and laboratory equipment is not optional, it is part of the cultural mandate, and even moreso, it is part of the Great Commission.  The academics who scoff at us may never hear and believe, but truly their is coming a day when all the works of our hands and our minds will be tested by fire, and only those that are from, by, and for Jesus Christ will stand as faithful research. 

So may we give thanks  to God for the glories of his creation, and may we look forward to the day when all creation will be restored to its glorified condition.  Until then, may we like the Psalmist sing:

“Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them” (111:2).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

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