Belief and behavior. Worldview and way of life. Knowing and doing. Doctrine and discipleship.
Years ago now, I began to wonder why it was some students I had loved kept at the vocation of their faith, and others did not. Never a theoretical idea, these were people that had become part of my heart. We had walked together, read together, prayed together, laughed together.
And then, inch by slow inch, they began to walk away, disconnecting what they said mattered most from the way they made decisions about both the present and the future-and over time they became different people. The aching it produced in my heart became so intense that I determined that if ever possible, I would take my studies to-date to the next level of seriousness, and pursue PhD work on that very dynamic within the human heart, viz. why is it so very difficult to keep at keeping on, to sustain belief over a lifetime?
After looking coast-to-coast, I found my way into a PhD program that allowed me to study the interdisciplinary nexus that is the formation of moral meaning in the years between adolescence and adulthood. So a strand of psychology alongside that of philosophy alongside educational theory, with a surprisingly open door to the importance of theological reflection-all together giving me lenses to more fully understand the challenges of coherence between what we say matters most, and the way we actually live our lives.
One of the best gifts of those years was the decision made by my dissertation committee following my comprehensive exams. Surprised by joy I was when a few days after completing my written comps, the professors said this: “We want to give you permission to write a book. You will still need to satisfy the university’s formal requirements for the dissertation in terms of its presentation, but in substance we think you ought to write for a broader audience than the group of us, your best work finding its place on a shelf in the university library.” That was a grace to me, as overwhelmingly most of those who begin PhDs don’t finish them; there are truly too many good reasons not to.
So I worked and worked and worked, stumbling along the way with those very same professors who at critical points could not agree together on what they required of me. I did despair of finishing. But then one of them took the lead, and brought me to the end of my years of study-and gloriously on a sunny day in May took my wife Meg and me out for dinner in celebration of the degree.
Twined together with this story is that of a long friendship with James Sire, senior editor of InterVarsity Press for some 30 years. Off and on he would encourage me to write, and so one day I sent him “the book” that had become my dissertation. He responded as enthusiastically as an editor ever did (at least it felt that way to me, and I was grateful)-and over that summer a book was born. By the next fall The Fabric of Faithfulness was published, and the direction of my life began to change.
Ovcr the next years the book went through many printings and eventually a 2nd edition, first being read widely among those who cared about the world of higher education in their own vocations as presidents and deans and professors, as well as those called to the work of campus ministry-and many students too, of course. But then more so over time it began to be read by many different kinds of people who in their very different ways want to understand the meaning of integrity, especially in its vocational implications. As its readership has widened, my own vocation has too.
And then came a wonderful phone call. Nearly ten years ago now Ray Blunt invited me into a conversation about common interests in character and culture. Over breakfast in a local diner, we became friends-and now we have become colleagues, dreaming and working together in the work of The Washington Institute. Given life by the graces of the Lilly Endowment and The Falls Church, the 300 year-old congregation which is my own parish, five years ago we began to work on a set of questions which grew out of the intersection of faith to vocation to culture; yes, one more time, wondering about the ways that what we believe shapes how we live. (And from the beginning, the “we” also included John Yates and Anne Cregger.)
At our best we have stumbled, but we have persisted, continuing to think and pray and work together, always wanting to see more fully the incarnation of faith shaping vocation shaping culture. That is our work.
Ray has been most articulate about the reality that in all we do we live into the thesis of The Fabric of Faithfulness, and that as we do so we understand what we do and why we do it with greater clarity. More slowly, I have come to the same conclusion-with a smile, I must confess. When I heard stories of other people, individually and institutionally, choosing to orient their visions and practices by the argument of the book, I was surprised, even as I was glad.
And yet, of course, it made all the sense in the world. The research I did for the PhD never seemed as if it was rocket-science; more that I was touching truths that were palpable-which in fact is the way that one of the early reviewers described its thesis. The insights were ones that could be “touched” by all, as they were not abstract and theoretical, beyond the experience of ordinary people in ordinary places. There has always been a wonderful sense of “Yes, of course, that’s true.”
What is the thesis? On the one hand, the first half of the book examines why it is so very hard-under the conditions of modern and postmodern life -to have a coherent life, to connect our worldviews with our way of life. On the other, the second half of the book tells the story of a more seamless life through windows into men and women who have kept on keeping on, in particular focusing on three habits of heart characterizing everyone whose story is told.
People who move through their twenties and thirties, emerging out of the valley of diapers in their forties, having deepened and not discarded their beliefs and convictions, are marked by having in common 1) developing a worldview that makes sense of truth in a pluralizing, secularizing world, 2) finding a mentor who incarnates the worldview, showing that ideas do have legs, and 3) choosing a community over that time that is a flesh-and-blood embodiment of this worldview, offering the necessary communal character of words becoming flesh. Simply said.
This is our vision at The Washington Institute. All that we think, all that we teach, all that we write, all that we pray, grows out of this framework. Our tutorial conversations that abound week by week, our courses and classes, our speaking and writing, our consulting with very diverse organizations and institutions, each in their own way reflect our commitment to a coherent life marked by these dynamics of worldview, mentor, and community.
We invite you in. Read with us. Think with us. And live into this vision for yourself-that you might keep on keeping on, as you do deepening your understanding of the ways that what you believe is worked out in the way that you live.