Faith and intellect can add up
Roland Along - Mitchell Roland
Dusty Wilson spent years of his life looking for the answer to one question: "What does it mean to be a Christian intellectual?"
The Highline math professor spent two to three years asking around, hoping for an answer. He asked his fellow professors; he asked his friends; he would even ask strangers that he saw walking around on campus. But he never got a satisfactory answer.
The thing that led him to ask this question was the first line of a book written by Mark Noll, which says that "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."
This sentence led him to question his surroundings, including the church he was a part of. As an evangelical, Wilson said that education at his church was "discouraged."
Wilson had a long path to becoming an evangelical. His childhood was spent living in Olympia with parents that he describes as hippies.
"I grew up the first 10 years of my life in a log cabin," said Wilson.
He really started to turn to religion in high school, when an adviser asked Wilson if he had ever asked God what he should do. Wilson hadn't.
While he was Christian as a child, he did not read his bible daily. Wilson said there is a big difference when he started to practice his religion.
He said "it's a totally different thing," and likened to the difference between knowing a lot about baseball and actually playing.
Growing up, he loved reading. He loved it so much that his parents put him on a book restriction, limiting him to read one book a day.
It was this thirst for knowledge that partly led him to be become a professor of mathematics.
Wilson said that "Jesus was a teacher and his words, methods, and teachings are immensely relevant to my profession."
Wilson arrived on campus in 2001, soon becoming the adviser for Cru, which is a Christian organization on campus.
Wilson said Cru has had a "huge influence," and that it has "radically impacted his life."
"It has taken us around the globe," said Wilson.
But Wilson still did not have an answer to his question, about what it meant to be a Christian intellectual.
In 2007 or 2008, Wilson was in Portland with Cru members at a conference. While listening to one of the speakers, he heard someone that he thought could give him an answer.
After the speaker finished, he asked him if he was available to meet to talk about a few things. The speaker was flying out the next morning, which meant that the only time he was available was for breakfast. The next morning Wilson met with him to ask the same question he asked everyone else.
"What does it mean to be a Christian intellectual?"
The man paused from eating, looked at Wilson, and said "The fact that you are asking the question means that you are one."
Wilson had finally found the answer he was looking for. After years of asking, he knew what it meant to be a Christian intellectual.
But Wilson said he still felt somewhat out of place. Wilson was stuck in a gray area, feeling too religious for Highline but too educated for his church.
A year later at the same conference in Portland, he got answer. While in an elevator having a typical elevator conversation, the lady Wilson was talking to said that he should meet her dad. Politely, he agreed.
The meeting was nice, with the man giving Wilson a gift bag full of books and other religious items. One of the items was a CD, with a talk on it from professor Walter Bradley.
Driving back from the conference, Wilson popped the CD in to pass the time and listened to a lecture by Bradley about what means to be to be a Christian professor. And then he listened to it again.
Bradley explained how to talk about faith with students, how to interact with coworkers, and how faith can impact research. Bradley was saying everything that Wilson had wondered about.
Finally, all of his questions had been answered. He finally felt confident with his religion and knew how to interact with others.
Often it can seem people are either religious or educated, and that they are two separate worlds that never cross. But Wilson doesn't see it that way.
He said that his faith motivates his desire to "understand the source and nature of mathematics as one of God's great mysteries."
Wilson said that his faith in God impacts everything he does in life, and that everyone can interact with God the way that he does.
"Jesus changes everything, but you have to know what he says to be able to know what it means for you."
Wilson hasn't forgotten his upbringing, and has kept some of the hippiness he learned from his parents.
"I still have some of that counter-culturish hippie style," he said.
Mitchell Roland is the opinion editor of the Thunderword.