Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Book Review: “Beautiful Minds in the Eyes of God” (Mar-Apr 2002)

Filed under: — @ 12:19 am and

Bio: Gary Holloway is Dean of the Collge of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University and preaches at the Natchez Trace Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He has recently authored or co-authored Radical Answers from Hillcrest Publishing, Renewing God’s People from ACU Press, and Praying Like Jesus from Covenant Publishing. Gary’s wife, Deb, teaches theatre at Lipscomb University.


                “A humble scholar.” The phrase seems like a contradiction. To many, “scholars” are by definition superior, certain, and haughty. However, in this deeply personal book, Richard Hughes embodies the genuinely humble Christian scholar who surrenders his ego to admit that his judgments are fragmentary, partial, and perhaps even wrong.

                Among those who generally pride themselves on being right on all issues, such an admission by an evangelical scholar is a breath of fresh air. Hughes bases his admission of finitude not merely on his own experience, but on the nature of God himself. “If I confess the sovereignty of God and the finitude of humankind, I confess as well that my reason is inevitably impaired and my knowledge is always incomplete” (p. 39).

                Admitting our finitude, also means paradoxically affirming and breaking through the particularities of our faith. Breaking through particularities does not mean abandoning the truths of Christianity or even soft-pedaling them. It does mean acknowledging that the Bible is not a rule book we can master, but the book that “points us not to itself, but rather to the infinite God whose understanding no human being can fathom and who stands in judgment on all our claims that we have captured ultimate truth” (p. 34).

                By acknowledging our limitations, has Hughes become a radical postmodern relativist? No. As one of the premier religious historians in the country, he sets his efforts as a teacher in the historical context of higher education in America. He concludes that we live in the gap between Enlightenment optimism and postmodern pessimism about human ability to know. This is another paradox Hughes gladly embraces.

                If all of this sounds too theoretical, Hughes gives specific suggestions for teaching in the heart of the book. Chapter 4 looks at four models of Christian traditions in education—Roman Catholic, Reformed, Mennonite, and Lutheran. Chapter 5, “What might it mean to teach from a Christian perspective?” speaks of paradox, wonder, ambiguity, the raising of ultimate questions, and passion as integral to genuine Christian teaching.

                Most of all, genuine Christian teaching must be intentional. It is not enough to be a good Christian and a good teacher. There must be integration of the two. “The real question I must ask is whether my work is grounded in Christian presuppositions, a Christian frame of reference, or—as reformed thinkers might put it—a Christian worldview” (p. 138). All who claim to be Christian teachers must constantly face that question.

                In short, Richard Hughes reflects a change in teaching style seen in most religious colleges. Instead of the teacher being the objective expert who imparts information, he or she becomes a fellow learner, who is transparent before students, admitting personal limitations, faults, and struggles. What Richard calls “teaching with passion” means capturing students’ hearts before filling their heads. It means we are concerned with students as “neighbors,” not as impersonal learners.

                Richard models this teaching method himself by talking about his own encounters with death. Such experiences have reshaped him as a Christian scholar, raising questions such as, Can I translate my heightened sense of finitude into a more determined view of truth? Can I translate my newfound sense of radical limitations into genuine intellectual humility? (p. 169).

                All Christian scholars and teachers wrestle with such questions. In this book and in his life, Richard Hughes mentors all of us who want to be both Christians and scholars. But even for those who do not teach and would not wear the name “scholar,” this book is a valuable model of what it means to serve God humbly in one’s chosen vocation. Scholars are not the only ones who need humility in the face of their limitations and in the presence of the Almighty God.


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