Monday, December 15, 2014

BookPastor >> "Excellence" (Andreas J. Köstenberger)

TITLE: Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue
AUTHOR: Andreas J. Köstenberger
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2011, (272 pages).

Christians are not simply called to do good. They are to embark upon the pursuit of excellence. There is no better way than to begin with God. By reflecting on the character of God and the works that would honour Him, we will pursue excellence in whatever we do, based on a biblical and theological foundation that is integral to our Christian faith. This is what the author and professor had done. In this book about Christian scholarship, Köstenberger urges us to pursue excellence according to God's way. At the same time, he cautions Christians from becoming too "critical, unbelieving, or supposedly objective" in their academic pursuits, which may waylay their own faith and integrity in their scholarly work. Excellence in God must be in line with a scholarship of integrity. Christian scholars need to put on the mind of Christ. Let me review this book by summarising based on a series of Vs: Vision, Vocation, Virtue, and Vessels. The biblical basis for this book is based on the beautiful passage from 2 Peter 1:5-8.

A) Vision

According to the author, the vision is always about the character of God. For everything God does is excellent and perfect. This means we adopt God's pattern of work and rest in our pursuit of excellence. It means being must come first, and not doing.  This also means continuing to add on to the excellent work, and not presume we sit back like couch potatoes. For the notion of holiness is to become who we are originally created by God to be. As a scholar, we are called to pursue scholarship as "excellence in pursuit of truth on mission for God in the world." This means learning to let the Holy Spirit guide us, to actively apply the Word, to look for ways to share love, and to link scholarship to world mission. As far as the author is concerned, "genuine spirituality will result in academic excellence." (84)

B) Vocation

Whatever work we are called to do, we need to add diligence to our faith. This means obeying authorities, just like the Old Testament stories of obedience to God and kings. There are no short cuts. Track down sources. Be accurate in citations. Use proper styles and careful writing. Observe deadlines. Cultivate diligence for life. Adding to it is courage, which is the key motivation for the author's decision to write this book. Courage means learning to speak and work with conviction in spite of worldly opposition. Especially when students seek professors' approval in many areas, one needs to constantly ask: "Whose approval is key? God's or man's?" With courage, add passion. This calls for frequent self-examination that we are in pursuit of truth more than anything else. Then there is restraint, which is about learning to love and to be able to speak the truth in love. Being a Christian scholar also means being creative. Strive for eloquence too.

C) Virtues

For Köstenberger, moral excellence means exercising the virtues of integrity, fidelity, and wisdom. These three are added upon the earlier attributes of excellence. Integrity means learning to be our truth selves even when no one is watching. It means being faithful even to the little things. Fidelity means being truthful to God, to the Word, to the institution we serve in, and the ourselves.Interpret Scripture humbly and faithfully and teach the Word. By adding to it wisdom, we are compelled to come back to God once again, the Source of all wisdom.

D) Vessels

Continuing the ladder of excellence, Köstenberger encourages us to adopt relational excellence by becoming vessels of grace, humility, interdependence, and love. Grace can be expressed in thought, word, and deed. We as people saved by grace, ought to be the people filled most with grace. When we learn to be gracious in everything, we would become the best testimonies of God's grace to the world. Humility is that true greatness and will enable one to pursue the essence of truth in the right manner. Interdependence is an offshoot of humility, where we acknowledge we are not sufficient in ourselves. Learn to collaborate on projects. Appreciate the research done by other scholars. Be approachable to teach as well as to learn. Serve one another. Finally, love is the mark of genuine scholarship.

It is one thing to get excellent scores in our academic work or scholarship pursuits on paper. It is yet another to achieve that with footprints of grace and humility. While it is important for us to achieve our targets, it is equally, if not more important do so in a way that glorifies God and respectful of one another. This book is certainly a good reference for anyone in the academy, especially if they are people of the Christian faith. There is no excuse for shoddy work. There is also no excuse for shameless hypocrisy or ungracious behaviour when it comes to pursuing worldly excellence. After all, God's work must not only be done in God's way. It needs godliness with contentment.

Wonderful book!


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