Interview with Paul Gould: The Missional Professor

January 18, 2015
Posted by Joe Gorra

Here at the EPS website, Amy Sherman and Amos Yong have helped us see some of the vocational and pneumatological dimensions of a Christian scholar’s mission in service to Christ and our neighbors. For example, Sherman articulates the following in an interview with me, where she discerns the significance of ‘vocational stewardship’:

By vocational stewardship, I mean the strategic and intentional deployment of all the dimensions of our vocational power to advance foretastes of the Kingdom of God. By foretastes, I‘m referring to the marks of the future, consummated Kingdom, as we see those described in the scriptural texts that provide glimpses of the new heavens and new earth.

More recently, evangelical philosopher, Paul Gould, has written about similar yet distinct topics regarding the vocation and mission of the Christian professor in his book, The Outrageous Idea of the Missional Professor (samples here). Paul is a member of the EPS Executive Committee, a professor of philosophy and apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and bottom line, an earnest follower of Jesus!

Wipf and Stock is offering the following bulk discounts if purchased directly through their website 20% for orders of 4 copies or less, 40% for 5 copies or more! You can gain further resources, including a leader’s discussion guide for the book, by going to and by following updates on Twitter @MissionalProf.

I recently interviewed Paul about his book, and the kind of vision it encourages.

How does this book reflect your many years in campus ministry and now as a professor?

Working as a campus minister for the past 16 years, I have become convinced that the university is one of the most strategic mission fields in the world. Many students come to the university looking for answers to life’s biggest questions—What is truth? How can I find happiness? Is there a God?—and often look to university professors for answers. The reality is that we often falter in our response. Some professors because they think belief in God is a delusion, a crutch, an irrationality. Unfortunately, Christian professors often think there must be a sharp divide between faith and the subject matter of the academic disciplines. The result is that the gospel is relegated to the perimeter of the university—given a role in the private and social lives of students, but not their cognitive lives. Jesus bids us a better way. My desire is that every student would have a chance to know and learn from Christian professors who love Jesus and faithfully (and wisely) integrate their faith into all aspects of their teaching, research, and service within the academy. In doing so, I believe lives will be changed, the gospel will get a fair hearing, and God will be glorified.

Is ‘missional professor’ a clever marketing term or does it refer to a kind of distinct calling for Christian professors?

As I read Scripture, it is clear that God is on mission. He sends Jesus to seek and save the lost. In turn, Jesus sends his followers to the world. The word “faithful” instead of “missional” works but I wanted to highlight one of the aspects of faithfulness to Christ that I think is often overlooked by Christian academics: the fact that God is a God on mission and those of us who have been called to the university are involved on the front lines of God’s plan to reach the world for Christ.

Obviously, there’s a variety of Christian professors with different backgrounds, areas of expertise, and different contexts. If I am a Christian who teaches at UC Berkeley in the areas of sociology, what might it look like to be a ‘missional professor’ in this context? How would you guide that professor to see what you see about their teaching, discipline and overall service to others, etc?

I would encourage this professor in three areas: mission, wholeness, and strategy. First, I’d encourage him to understand the importance of the university, his place in God’s story and God’s mission, and his calling to serve God in his teaching, research, and service. Next, I’d encourage him to seek Christian wholeness by cultivating moral and intellectual virtues and pursuing Jesus as his highest good and greatest need. Finally, I’d help him to be strategic as a witness for Christ locally and through his academic discipline. This would include banding together with like-minded Christians and thinking through the key integrative issues between his faith and the academic discipline of sociology.

We will talk more about the anatomy of an academic discipline below. But for now, given the allusion to Marsden’s Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, do you think that ‘Marsden-Noll revolution’ did not go far enough in calling Christian professors to address the ‘scandal of the evangelical mind’?

I think their work was and continues to be very important for those of us who would be Christian scholars. I do not, however, think they went far enough. Conceptual integration—the integration of our academic work with the cognative content of our faith—is part of what God calls us to as Christian scholars, but there is much more. This book aims to fill in the “much more” aspect of faithful living within the university: becoming Christ-like, understanding our vocation and calling as professors, evangelism, discipleship, and the importance of coming together for a cause bigger than ourselves or our CV.

Is the problem that prompts the need for forming ‘missional professors’ the problem of Christian professors not being adequately enculturated within Christian traditions of thought and practice? How would you characterize this?

In my experience the two biggest areas of struggle for Christian academics is lordship and mission. Given the competitive, self-serving, often hostile-toward-faith environment of the university, it is easy for Christian professors to lose their first love or get caught up in the pursuit of a career, often at the expense of a vibrant faith in and love of God. It is a daily struggle to keep Christ as Lord over all of life. For others, the struggle is one of a lack of vision and understanding. It is a failure to see one’s work as a vocation—a calling—and students and colleagues as people lost and in need of a Savior. In all cases, I think the root issue is a lack of theological understanding regarding the trajectory of God’s story in the Bible and a failure to find meaning and purpose within that story.

How is the Holy Spirit’s movement integral to the movement of missional professors in the academy?

Without the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of Christian professors both individually and corporately we will not see real change in the university (and because of that, the world). The university is one of the key culture-shaping institutions in the world. We must pray for God’s Spirit to convince us in our heart of hearts that Jesus is our highest need, greatest good, and only hope of the world.

What are the relevant institutions that ought to view themselves as stakeholders of the formation and training of ‘missional professors’ to become who they are called to be and to do under the authority of Jesus?

I think there are four primary stakeholders. The most important is the church. I long for the day when the church prays for, equips, and sends professors to the campus and sees their work as the Kingdom work that it is. Secondly, parachurch organizations located on the university that work with professors play a key role in the formation and training of ‘missional professors.’ Organizations like Faculty Commons, InterVarsity, Ratio Christi and many others bring a wealth of experience, expertise, opportunities, and resources to the table. I’d encourage Christian professors to get plugged into the local faculty movement for fellowship, training, and ministry. Third, Christian study centers are playing a key role as they give Christian professors and graduate students a place to hone their craft with respect to research and to think missionally about the university. By being physically located on the university, and by forging positive working relationships with the university, Christian study centers are modeling the kind of “faithful presence within” that will lead to real change. Finally, Christian academic societies can play a key role in the formation and training of ‘missional professors’ as they challenge their members to join together to work on projects, pursue Kingdom enhancing research, and reach out to others within the discipline with a robust gospel and a gracious spirit.

What is involved with the ‘transformation of an academic discipline’? Can you sketch a framework of the conditions involved?

In the book, I argue that our goal shouldn’t be to transform an academic discipline, rather the goal should be faithfulness unto Christ, and as a by-product, Lord willing, such transformation will occur. I specify four aspects of an academic discipline—guiding principles, a guiding methodology, a data set, and a shared narrative and history. Then I highlight for each aspect possible points of contact between an academic discipline and Christianity. Central to our task is the understanding that there is no such thing as neutrality in the scholarly enterprise, the need to move beyond mere conceptual integration, and the conviction that Jesus Christ is the beginning, means, rational, and end of the academic life for the Christian scholar.

Readers may be interested in the “Christ-shaped philosophy” project here at the EPS website as one possible example that seeks to advance the centrality of Christ for a discipline. Moreover, what does it look like for ‘missional professors’ to speak and live prophetically in their disciplines and departments?

In living for a cause greater than self, the missional professor will be truly outrageous in today’s hollow and fragmented world. Heads will turn. Non-believing professors and students will be forced to examine their own beliefs and hearts in light of the gospel of Christ. Missional professors, captured by the love of Jesus, a passion for research, teaching, and the service of God and man, will, Lord willing, be used to bring others to saving faith in Jesus, meet the needs of the world, and transform their respective academic disciplines and departments.

Learn more about Paul Gould’s work by going to