God’s Call to Excellence: A Challenge

We all know excellence when we see it.

Too often, we focus primarily on doing and neglect being. But doing is rooted in being! Jesus: asked, “Can a bad tree bear good fruit?” Therefore, in my book on excellence, before turning to specific virtues, I have chapters on holiness and sanctification as well as spirituality.

 

Today, I want to invite you to think with me a bit about excellence, a strangely neglected topic in Christian circles. When was the last time you heard someone talk about excellence? Why is this topic neglected?

My thesis today is this: God has called every one of us to excellence, simply defined as being a person that is above reproach and that is doing their work diligently and with distinction. Yet defining excellence is not the main problem: we all know excellence when we see it.

Too often, we focus primarily on doing and neglect being. But doing is rooted in being! Jesus: asked, “Can a bad tree bear good fruit?” Therefore, in my book on excellence, before turning to specific virtues, I have chapters on holiness and sanctification as well as spirituality.

When I talk about excellence today, I do so as a matter of aspiration, not reality. As Vince Lombardi said, “If you pursue perfection, you may be able to catch excellence.” Aspirations are very powerful. As Paul wrote, “Not I’ve already obtained perfection, but I press on.”

Why Write on Excellence?

In my work on excellence, I’ve had various impetuses:

1. Reading: Years ago, I read Addicted to Mediocrity by Frankie Schaeffer, son of Francis, who noted that Christians are not known for their excellence. Why? As a business student, I also read In Pursuit of Excellence by Tom Peters, and later From Good to Great by Jim Collins. Is excellence only relevant in the business world?

In seminary, I read Between Faith & Criticism by Mark Noll. Evangelical scholarship since 1950s has come a long way. As a teacher, I’ve used scholarly biographies such as A Place at the Table on the life of George Ladd: a great scholar, but lacking as a father, husband, and churchman. Deeply stung by a negative review, he started drinking; some sobering lessons can be learned.

2. Quest for own identity: My ongoing quest to refine my understanding of my own identity contributed as well: What does it mean for me to be a Christian scholar? How is that different from being a non-Christian scholar?

In an SBL Forum, former SBL president Michael Fox contended that faith and scholarship cannot coexist. He promoted the ideal (some might say “myth”) of neutral, scientific, unbiased scholarship; faith = bias. Do you agree? Disagree? Why or why not?

3. Survey of the market regarding books on excellence: Most books are anthologies of quotes by famous people (celebrities, philosophers, poets, thinkers, etc.) or humanistic success stories with a veneer of religion or ethics by the likes of Dale Carnegie or Robert Schuller.

What Would a Christian View of Excellence Look Like?

Answer: it would be grounded in the character of God and in our creation in his image. God is the epitome of excellence. He is excellent in his character and in everything he does (such as his works of creation).

Such a call to excellence grounded in the character of God is consistent with Owen Strachan’s call for “Big God theology.” Standard Systematic Theology treatments by Grudem and Erickson speak of the magnificence of God, the holiness of God, and occasionally of his excellence.

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