To What end are our labours?: Review of The Passionate Intellect

by Anna Blanch on December 18, 2008

Jens Zimmerman and Norman Klassen’s book The Passionate Intellect is tough to read. Tough because there are times it hits you between the eyes and tough because it demands the reader be engaged. Tough is not the same as difficult. Tough is not necessarily a bad thing.

Klassen and Zimmerman explore whether the Intellectual university life and Christian faith are compatible. Written primarily for Christian undergraduates with a view to challenging them to conceive of their worldviews thoughtfully. The college years are possibly the most significant years in a young person’s life. This is the time that patterns are set for the rest of their lives. These patterns build, of course, upon those values and habits developed during childhood. But once mum and dad aren’t around anymore, the rubber hits the road.

It is then, usually during college that students’ worldviews take shape and an individual’s faith is often either discovered, deepened, or discarded. This book is particularly beneficial for those Christians attending or considering a secular university for their education. It will help them understand the intellectual landscape into which they will be entering. The book explores the foundations of academic culture and encourages students to deepen their while connecting it to their academic pursuits.

Klassen and Zimmerman argues that the only basis for a truly “reliable” humanist education is the Incarnation:

“Christians are supposed to be the paradigm for a new humanity founded by Christ and inaugurated by his resurrection from the dead, a decisive event signaling the reconciliation of humanity to God and anticipating the full redemption of God’s creation.”

Passionate Intellect begins by mapping out the intellectual history of the university and of humanist thought. These sections of the book are dense but worth the effort. Taking the time to condense and map out the history of these ideas will serve the student (at whatever stage of life one is at) well. However, the sheer weight of this overview is also one of the reasons why this will be a difficult book for many to pick up, if for no other reason then most are just not used to the sustained depth and intensity. To my mind, the later chapters are the most useful. Once you have done the hard yards Klassen and Zimmerman pull their threads together into a coherent and persuasive argument about the compatibility of faith and the academic pursuit of knowledge.

Norman Klassen is a Professor at Waterloo University, Ontario, Canada. His research interests include Chaucer and Medieval Literature. Jens Zimmerman is Associate Professor of English and Modern Languages at Trinity Western University and Canadian Research Council Research Chair in Interpretation, Religion, and Culture.

For other reviews see Mars Hill Audio’s review and David Opderbeck’s review.

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