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Fall 2017 · Vol. 46 No. 2 · pp. 206–217 

A Professor’s Pilgrimage

John H. Redekop

My vocational choice, my value system, and my worldview were significantly shaped by my experiences and observations during my early years. Born in Saskatchewan in the middle of the Great Depression, I am still impacted by memories of devastating drought, dark dust storms, and plagues of hail and grasshoppers. Very early I learned the centrality of three Christian truths: whatever happens, a Christian works hard to make the best of it; the important values in life do not change when one is beset by uncertainties and problems; and one does not doubt God just because one does not understand what is happening to those who believe in him. My godly parents and our evangelical-Anabaptist faith community modeled these and other virtues for me. During truly tough economic times I learned that hard work must continue when assumptions are challenged, that Christians do not easily change beliefs that give meaning to life, and that seeking the counsel of fellow believers can be very helpful.

As a student and also as a professor, especially in the early years, I struggled with the dilemma of developing an inquiring mind without setting aside all acquired religious beliefs and commitments. {207}


The youngest of six children, I was raised in a home where education and knowledge were highly valued. My father, who had emigrated from southern Russia as a young adult with his parental family in 1913, became an educator. First as a high school teacher and later as an instructor in post-secondary Bible Institutes, he pursued knowledge and bought books when funds permitted. He loved to teach what he had learned.

An anecdote may be worth noting. As a youngster I was not a difficult child but on occasion I did get sent to a room which was both my dad’s study and a parlor. What my parents never discovered is that I actually did not mind those “time outs.” In fact, I very quickly found dad’s books to be of considerable interest. In those disciplinary occasions I first delved into theology, ethics, and psychology. In fact, at times when my father was out of the house I quietly went into this special room to continue reading some article or book which I had discovered during my punishment. Decades later, after my father’s death, I managed to acquire some of those volumes.

While the university and university education were generally held in high regard, there was also more than a little suspicion and fear of what secular higher learning might do to a young Christian’s faith. Although I never heard anyone say that Christian faith required suspending the intellect, there was some anti-intellectualism in the air. In Niebuhrian terms, the dominant belief seemed to encompass notions of “Christ against Culture” rather than “Christ of Culture” or “Christ and Culture.” 1

It would have been helpful for me, especially when I took my first year at the University of British Columbia, if someone had pointed out that the university movement was created by the Christian church and that the knowledge of ancient times was preserved, propagated, and expanded by church clerics associated with advanced learning centers. Fortunately, I had several Christian high school teachers who had modeled and taught the rewards and benefits of higher education and instilled in me a desire to be as successful academically as they were. My father also, though more interested in theological verities than critical thought, encouraged all of his children to become educated. Although my mother had not had the opportunity to complete high school, she also strongly encouraged us to study hard and to become educated. It is surely not coincidental that of us six children, five became educators and the sixth married a teacher.

My answer to the question, “What made you become a scholar?” is that the example of my father and the role modeling of several high school teachers made me want to become a teacher. After four years of very enjoyable high school teaching my love of learning, my desire to write and publish and the benefits of much professional freedom in academia {208} motivated me to acquire first a master’s degree and then a doctorate and to teach, research, and publish for more than forty years at mainly three campuses. It goes without saying that the status of university lecturing and research, together with improved financial compensation, also played a role, although not a major part.


The question is asked, “Have there been ways in which you felt your faith to be in jeopardy as a result of your study?” Yes, there have been such times, mostly during my student years; some in my early years as a professor, almost none in later years. Some reflection is in order.

When I enrolled at the University of British Columbia, I found myself in another world socially, ethically, and intellectually. My traditional values were challenged, my worldview was questioned, and the dominant, almost uniform, attitude toward Christian faith was rejection. Given that my home community had given me more warnings than preparation, I often did not know how to process major challenges to childlike faith. Together with some friends, I struggled trying to integrate a deep faith with having an open mind. Can one make confident claims while also cultivating a critical mindset? Yes. I had to learn that “there can be no serious life of the mind,” as Richard Hughes puts it, unless there is an acknowledgment that a person can be wrong in his or her beliefs. 2 But how can a person simultaneously be fully convinced of Christian truths and at the same time consider those “truths” possibly to be false? I had to learn when to adopt such a stance and when, concerning essentials of the Christian faith, not to be reevaluating what is true. That was for me, at the time, a difficult distinction to make and process to learn.

Very quickly I discovered that on a secular campus the spiritual dimension is trumped by the intellectual, or totally ignored. The categories and fixed boundaries that I had acquired as a child and as a youth and that had been carefully nurtured now became less self-evidently true. Learning to think critically and focusing more on questions than on answers was unsettling. Observing that for many of my new intellectual heroes, any ethical affirmations they expressed actually seemed not to influence actual behavior was also a startling experience for me. I must add, though, that during all nine of my years as a student, on four campuses, I experienced no personal ridicule and from a few professors even grudging respect.

As a young Christian student I was determined to live an integrated life. I had also decided that while always being tactful I would not hide my Christian faith. I recall that one day, having established a new friendship with a fellow student, I inquired whether he considered the Bible to be inspired. I had decided this would be a good opening foray. To my {209} surprise my new-found friend said, “Yes.” I was pleased. But then he added, “Just like Shakespeare.” My preparation had not allowed for such a response. I had no rejoinder.

Various other recollections come to mind. It was painful to hear, in barely camouflaged words, the assumption that smart people outgrow God. At the time I had neither the knowledge nor the courage to reply with Charles Malik’s candid assertion that “The universities would not have come into being in the first place without Christ.” 3 Unfortunately, more than a few professors illustrated a trend that I encountered as a student and also in many academic situations in later years, namely, that anti-evangelicalism has become the modern anti-Semitism embraced by many intellectuals. In this regard I am reminded of Iain Benson’s reference that “A blinkered secularism is no better than theological dogmatism.” 4

As a student and also as a professor, especially in the early years, I struggled with the dilemma of developing an inquiring mind without setting aside all acquired religious beliefs and commitments. Had it become necessary to set aside much of a valued theological inheritance? Was it necessary to reject the type of God I had learned to love in Sunday school and youth group? More than a few of my student and later my faculty colleagues, erstwhile Christians, did set aside their partly inherited and partly chosen beliefs. Fortunately, I had learned to be very reluctant to set aside anything without having something better to put in its place. The big challenge was to decide what, if anything, should be rejected and what must be retained. My difficulty would have been less frustrating, both as a student and as a young professor, if I had at that time already encountered James Russell Lowell’s maxim that “only the foolish and the dead never change their opinions.” 5

In later years the challenges to my faith were more subtle and, in a sense, more basic. As a political scientist I encountered the following realities. How could the masses of supposedly God-fearing Germans support Hitler’s “Final Solution”? How could a righteous God allow Stalin and his henchmen, as well as Mao and his brutal warriors, to massacre tens of millions? Also, how could the majority of American Southerners, including millions of church members in denominations similar to my own, justify and perpetrate the enslavement of millions simply because of their color? How could the essentials of my own faith become so misused? How could God countenance such terrible abuse of human freedom? And how can one explain or rationalize mass deaths caused by natural disasters? Does God not control them? These and other related questions caused me to rethink my faith.

At another level, my Christian faith came into play in my interaction with some colleagues. My perception that some fellow academics were not well-disposed to my faith commitment was fully validated when one {210} of my colleagues, otherwise actually a friend, told me, “We will not again make the mistake of hiring an evangelical.” Apparently one of my ethical stances was not well received.

I might add here that I believe there were some occasions when my Christian stance was held against me in some departmental decisions. Given this situation, I made a conscious decision to respond by being the most helpful colleague, the most accessible professor for students, and the best possible instructor that I could be. There were positive results. After I won several merit awards for research and teaching, and later several major teaching awards, my perception of being academically marginalized dissipated.


There were, however, a few times when, with the Psalmist, I asked myself and God, how is it that the arrogant and the anti-God operatives prosper and succeed? (Ps 73:1-14). What particularly troubled me was that virtually all of my colleagues who delighted in rejecting Christianity were woefully uninformed about that which they so confidently rejected! Time and again I encountered colleagues who, in the name of liberal enlightenment, were actually not explaining alternative perspectives and understandings but were blatantly trying to get students to accept their own anti-Christian convictions and prejudices. In a totally non-academic manner they dismissed Christianity as unworthy of investigation.

More than a few consigned Christianity to the realm of the eccentric. They were being guided by personal beliefs, not by responsible intellectual inquiry. I had to learn to forgive them. With the Psalmist I reminded myself that those who stand for righteousness will ultimately prevail (Ps 34:17). On a few occasions, when the rejection of God was loudly pronounced, I was reminded of another assertion, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps 14:1 NIV, passim). At such times, which were not numerous, I found solace and strength in two additional texts: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7), and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10). Significantly, I never sensed any student rejection because of my faith; instead, my open support of Christian clubs and causes on the secular campus seemed generally to be seen positively by students. The relational realities among my colleagues caused me to rethink not my faith but my witness; some aspects needed to be affirmed, some revised, and some perhaps replaced. Throughout my professorial career I had to remind myself that challenges and tensions can make one a better student, a better professor, a better colleague, and, most importantly, a better Christian. {211}

Over the decades of campus lecturing I have often been troubled by the failure of many faculty members to present balanced views or alternate interpretations. In many situations the students heard only the professor’s personal interpretation. I have never understood why a person, trained in the virtue of diversity in the search for truth, finds it so hard to articulate a view with which that person disagrees. It has always seemed to me, probably because of my strong Christian commitment to be fair, especially concerning matters about which the professor has strong views, that students should hear an alternate view. Often the professors can themselves spell out alternate views. Certainly all can direct students to such reading. Concerning many issues I would have liked to have seen professors bring in guest lecturers who could spell out a Christian view. I did not see that happen.


For many years I taught a course dealing with political ideologies. As is generally the case with professors, I could choose which ideologies to include. I have always devoted several lectures to Marxism and Communism because of their significance. Precisely because I was not and am not supportive of these ideologies, I made a special effort to present a full and balanced introduction to these worldviews. This included assigning key Marxist and communist readings. Most importantly, when possible, I brought in either Marxist or Communist speakers, either from political parties or a Marxist-oriented colleague. I took this approach because I knew that the ideologies were important. It would be praiseworthy if professors who do not subscribe to Christian values would treat Christianity that way. Christianity, after all, as every truly educated person knows, is a crucial factor, perhaps the key factor, in understanding Western civilization. Surely the guiding principle should be to teach what is important; it should not be to promote personal beliefs.

One other area of departmental and campus emphasis created some tension, not only for me but also for some other evangelical faculty colleagues. It is standard practice on university campuses, both Christian and secular, to coach students to think critically, to train them to ask tough questions. So far, so good. But in teaching students to think critically, to train them to question what they hear or read, two problems can arise. In my experience they did arise rather frequently. The first problem is that non-Christian faculty members tend to object when the questioning they have stressed leads students to answers and motivates them to make commitments and to undertake actions based on those answers. To state the point succinctly, such colleagues want students to ask questions but not to accept answers. The questioning is the resting stage. For Christians, {212} of course, questioning is essential basically because it enables us to find answers. The answers, not the questions, are the resting rung on the ladder to more knowledge.

The second problem I frequently encountered was that some of my non-Christian colleagues failed to understand, or perhaps to acknowledge, that the scientific method is incapable of providing answers to the truly important questions in life. Because the issues involved are not quantifiable, scientific inquiry cannot generate a good moral code, identify a purpose for living, analyze the validity of supernatural deity, or deal with questions about eternal destiny. Such major matters are not subject to scientific investigation. I had to settle this realization for myself and also found it necessary to challenge colleagues when they either dismissed as irrelevant issues not subject to scientific inquiry or sought to convince students not to believe anything that cannot be confirmed scientifically.


The question has been raised whether the Christian church, or more specifically involvement in the church, has affected my research and teaching and also whether my research and teaching have had an impact on the church. Let me begin by addressing the first question. I would say that the church has affected my research and teaching in several ways. First, being a member of a church reinforced the Christian imperative to be the best possible researcher and professor that one can be. Precisely because one is a Christian and a part of a believing community, it is required that one settle for nothing less than the best. That which is presented as Christian must be excellent because it is Christian.

Second, being part of a church community both required and enabled me to see my work as a calling, a Christian ministry, and not only as a job. I therefore tried to relate to students in a personal manner which went beyond the usual professor/student relationship. In large classes this was rarely possible unless the student took the initiative. In smaller classes, especially senior and graduate seminars, this certainly was possible. In numerous instances I was able to relate to students and give assistance to some which went beyond the usual expectation. For example, when I noticed that a young lady had stopped attending an 8:00 a.m. lecture course, I investigated. It turned out that she was pregnant and could not come to class because of her serious morning sickness. She had not informed her parents who lived elsewhere and was in real difficulty. I therefore offered to repeat the 8:00 a.m. lecture for her in the later afternoon and did so until she was again able to attend. This was no great sacrifice for me, but it did save the course for her. {213}

A third way in which my church relationships were significant was that frequently I would test ideas and interests with my faith community. During my student days, especially as an undergraduate, the pastors of the day were of lesser help. Their education, for the most part, involved learning the truth and proclaiming the truth rather than analyzing the truth. They were ready to help me defend the truth and to refine a set of values to defend, which was helpful as far as that went, but I needed to go beyond that. I needed to learn how to grapple with problems, how to evaluate assertions, and how to deal with doubts. As the years passed, and with insights gained from reading, experience, and the wise words of others, especially in the faith community, I might say that I developed both more competence and more confidence in dealing with such matters. My faith and my church helped me to become a more integrated academic, a better professor, and a more caring person.

One thing more. My heavy involvement in church and denominational activity played a significant role in guiding me as I decided in what areas to do research and what to publish. While not all of my research and publishing was related to the Christian faith or to the church, broadly defined, as the years passed, more and more of both research and publishing grew out of these connections.


Now I turn to the other side of the coin, how my research and teaching have had an impact on the church. Over the years, I have had hundreds of opportunities to analyze relevant political issues in study sessions, conferences, colloquia, retreats, one-hour classes, and similar settings. These have addressed church and state, elections, party policies, court decisions, foreign crises, Christian responsibility, citizen involvement, a wide spectrum of social issues, and numerous government policies. Such sessions continue.

At the provincial and national level it has been my privilege to assist numerous times in developing strategies, policies, briefs, and position papers, for my own denomination and for the denomination’s agencies, as well as for various interchurch and interagency ministries. It has also been my privilege to write numerous pamphlets, scores of magazine articles, a goodly number of editorials, numerous chapters in books, and hundreds of columns in three national magazines in which I addressed political issues from a Christian perspective. Perhaps most significantly, I have written or edited nine books which all incorporate my Christian worldview, some explicitly and substantially, others more subtly. Perhaps the most influential book has been Politics under God (Herald Press, 2007). This volume, also published in French and Spanish, has had a {214} significant readership and impact on at least three continents. Research and writing continue.

In addition, because of my discipline, knowledge, and expertise, I have served on various task forces, many panels, done many media interviews and have lectured on about fifty university campuses, both secular and religious. It has also been my privilege to deliver a series of lectures dealing with various aspects of Christianity and politics, or church and government, not only in numerous Canadian locations but also in Paraguay, the United States, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In these ways, and also in the numerous congregational, denominational, and transdenominational offices I have held, including the presidency of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and several international appointments, I have tried to integrate my discipline training, my teaching, and my research into denominational and wider Christian service. In these ways I have tried to give back to the church (broadly defined) expressions of gratitude. The church, with all its praiseworthy emphases, its invaluable inculcation of Christian values, and nurturing of faith and Christian character, deserves nothing less.

I have pondered the extent to which I, a Christian professor, have been successful in integrating Christian faith and public service. No one can give a definitive answer to such questions. In my case I have found it both humbling and encouraging to read part of the citation issued by Trinity Western University when it awarded me an honorary doctorate in 1994:

Professor Redekop is being given this honour in recognition of his contribution to higher education and society in Canada through his excellence in teaching, his widely recognized scholarship, his outstanding service to the faith communities of Canada and beyond, and his leadership in presenting a Christian worldview on issues facing contemporary Canadian society.

We also honour him for his warm and compassionate heart, a champion of Christian higher education, and Canada’s foremost Christian leader in expounding a Christian worldview on contemporary society and politics.

I might add that a few years later I was also humbled and delightfully surprised by the following turn of events. On August 25, 2000, the front-page lead story in the Vancouver Sun was entitled, “Who are BC’s Biggest Thinkers? Meet the Top 50.” Early that day a reader phoned me to say I was in the list. Checking the paper, I found myself listed as #23. I stared at the page. As a somewhat bewildered and insecure freshman at UBC in 1951, I would most assuredly have considered absurd any prediction that forty-nine years later a senior Sun writer, whom I had never met, would {215} rank me ahead of fifteen UBC professors, including the president herself! (Eight UBC professors were ranked ahead of me.)


In conclusion, I offer some practical words of advice to those at the beginning of their academic career or who might be considering whether or not to pursue an academic career. I shall list various observations, suggestions, and items of counsel. Some apply to students, some to faculty members, some to both.

  1. Be sure to become part of a Christian community. The Christian life should always be lived in community. Don’t deal with doubts by yourself. For academics grappling with faith issues or wondering how to integrate faith commitment and professional pursuits, community life is essential.
  2. Learn how to question some things without questioning all things or making the art of questioning the highest intellectual virtue. The questioning mode is quickly learned and easily applied. Develop an inquiring mind without setting aside all acquired beliefs.
  3. Acknowledge, as student and as professor, that the truly important issues of life involving relationships, love, conscience, moral codes, accountability to a deity, eternal destiny, and much more cannot be measured or evaluated by the scientific method.
  4. Do not consider Christian truth and scientific knowledge as intrinsically opposites. Rather, as Gene Veith puts it, see “knowledge in terms of ever larger circles of meaning, related finally to the revealed truths of Scripture.” 6
  5. Evaluate your professors and your professorial colleagues who influence your thoughts and values more by how they live than by what they say.
  6. Allow for the reality that there is no inherent contradiction between Christian faith and scientific reasoning if both are fully understood. Accept the obvious validity of the scientific method of analysis without accepting it as the only route to truth.
  7. Remember that numerous outstanding Christian academics have demonstrated that it is possible to have both a deep and personal Christian faith and an open mind. Many brilliant women and men have combined two realities, namely, cultivating a critical mind while confidently making claims about ultimate Christian truth. {216} <:O>Be tolerant of other people’s views but without agreeing, let alone insisting, that a commitment to authentic toleration means affirming competing views as equally valid. To espouse the latter mindset, while widespread, is inherently illogical. As R. C. Sproul puts it, we should never draw “the implication that equal toleration means equal validity.” 7
  8. There is great value in understanding other religions and other political ideologies and even learning from them. Exposure to other faiths, other political values, and other ethical codes is part of a liberating educational experience and brings with it a broadening of understanding.
  9. Do not readily reject the values, often time-tested, by which you were raised. They helped you to become the enlightened and inquiring scholar you have become. Do not reject a religious conviction unless you have something better to put in its place. Remember that a secular university is not a good place to develop a high code of ethics.
  10. Avoiding intellectual or ethical compartmentalization. Striving to function in two competing faith or ethical mindsets is a recipe for frustration, poor mental health, or worse.
  11. Intellectual tension is desirable and can be very beneficial in one’s intellectual and also spiritual growth. It can make a person a better student and a better professor.
  12. Read books written by saints who sojourned in academia. If you have not already read it, begin with Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Read widely.
  13. Do not neglect the key Christian disciplines: Bible reading, prayer, and Christian fellowship.
  14. Commitment by Christians to a career in academia need not involve a Faustian bargain of selling one’s soul for academic success. Nurturing the soul and the pursuit of intellectual excellence can progress simultaneously.

In The Idea of the University, Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan states that “within Western culture . . . [the university and church] have been and still are in a special way the custodians of the common memory for everyone. . . . This vocation of preserving the common memory represents a moral obligation for the ethos and the curriculum of every school and department of the university.” 8 To this I would add that Christian congregations and conferences, including those of my own evangelical-Anabaptist {217} fellowship, and particularly individual professors, have a God-given obligation to take the academic realm seriously. All Christians have a great opportunity to do good to all in preserving the common memory, expanding knowledge, integrating scientific and revealed truth, and generally promoting the pursuit of higher learning.


  1. H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951).
  2. Richard T. Hughes, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 62.
  3. Charles Malik, “The Other Side of Evangelism,” Christianity Today, 7 November 1980, 39.
  4. “Religion on Campus,” The Times, 18 November 2006. Quoted by Iain Benson in “University Free Speech, Ivory Towers and the New Sectarianism,” Christian Week, 15 January 2007.
  5. James Russell Lowell, My Study Windows (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1871), 166.
  6. Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Loving God with All Your Mind: Thinking as a Christian in the Postmodern World (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1987), 138.
  7. R. C. Sproul, Reason to Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978), 36.
  8. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Idea of the University: A Reexamination (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992), 112.
John H. Redekop has lectured in Washington, California, and then at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario for twenty-six years. Most recently he has lectured part-time at Trinity Western University (Langley, British Columbia) for thirteen years. His PhD in Political Science, 1966, was given by the University of Washington (Seattle). Trinity Western awarded him a DHum (hon.) in 1994. He has served as national moderator of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference and as president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He lives with his wife, Doris, in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and is a member of Bakerview Mennonite Brethren Church.

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