In my previous post, we discussed the nature of wonder. I argued that wonder propels us on our journey toward truth, and ultimately to the source of truth, which is God. This understanding of wonder has profound implications for us as university professors. We’re already moved by wonder (or at least we once were), and as educators, we can be used by God to awaken in others this God-given longing to know.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul likens servants of Christ to “stewards of God’s mysteries” (1 Cor. 4:1). We are “docents in the house of wonder” as William Brown puts it. [1] A docent,

points out things that could be easily overlooked but are of great interest. . . . A docent’s responsibility is to guide, share background information, and uncover what is hidden—all to cultivate a sense of wonder about the place where people are standing, walking and exploring. The docent transforms tourists into pilgrims. [2]

As a university professor part of our job is to help others—our students, colleagues, audience—see things in their proper light. We are guides, “docents in the house of wonder.”

I have found this idea incredibly freeing as a professor. I recently had a conversation with a geology professor. She was struggling with doubt and worry about being a faithful witness for Christ in the university. What does it look like to represent and proclaim Christ in the academy? Does it mean we need to add an altar call at the end of each lecture? (Surely the answer is no!) Does it mean there are times we are to proclaim the gospel? (Surely the answer is yes!) Does it mean being the right kind of person, a person that models through word and deed the love of Christ (Surely the answer is yes!) When we understand a key part of our role as a professor is to be a purveyor of wonder, I’ve noticed how this alleviates some of the pressure and angst many Christian professors feel in their wonderment over the question of faithfulness. A primary part of our job is to simply help students see the wonder all around them. As we set them on a journey toward truth, we are ultimately putting them on a path that, if faithfully followed, leads to God. As we spoke, I encouraged her to think of herself as a kind of John the Baptist, preparing in others a way for the Lord. As she points out the beauty and wonders found in rocks, and geological structures, and in the formation of planets, she can function as a guide for students, transforming them from tourists who are in the university to get a job to pilgrims on a search for truth. As her eyes lit up and a smile curled on her lips I realized that a burden had been lifted in this young professor’s mind. She has an important role to play. She is not a second-class Christian. Rather, all of us in the academy are on the front lines of one of the most important mission fields—the university. We are docents in the house of wonder. We are purveyors of wonder!

All truths discovered, all knowledge gained, points to the divine. “As the waters cover the sea,” we read in Isaiah 11:9, so too “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord” (RSV). This means that all of our research matters! In one way or another, the topic in your field of study connects to God. This fact helps us see the importance of our vocation as professors. We are not in the university merely to make good computer programmers, or good writers, or good engineers. That is, of course, part of the story. But when we think about how our calling fits into the divine drama, we see that we are in the university to serve as guides for fellow pilgrims, and for some, especially today given disenchantment, we play an important role in awakening the deep-seated longing for truth aroused through wonder.

So, as you enter the classroom or lab or departmental meeting today, put on your travel hat and pick up your pointer, and help others see the beauty and wonder and awe all around them. And be ready, when those times come, to share with others the source of it all.

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[1] William Brown, Sacred Sense (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 159. 

[2] Ibid.