Finding God At


A Professor Reconstructed

Mary Poplin, Ph.D., is a professor of Education at Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of Finding Calcutta, InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Mary Poplin, Cedar Campus 2008

I was a fully tenured professor teaching radical theories as they applied to my own field of education. I had been through structuralism, multiculturalism, radical feminist theory, and was well into critical theory and deconstructivism. Deconstructivists took apart texts and situations in such a way to reveal unstated assumptions and/or contradictions, intentionally complicating the meanings to make the familiar look strange and the strange familiar. This was particularly applied to western culture to emphasize oppressive characteristics. In a sense, to pull the rug out from previous cultural meanings. Deconstructivism appealed to my desire to be different, radical, non-conforming and to construct my own definition of reality; it allowed that anything that was ever called Truth could be re-analyzed as true only for you, or only in this situation, or not true. Truth, if there was to be any, was simply a social construction ultimately bound to cultured, gendered, social, economic and political conditions. All "meta-narratives" (truth statements) were suddenly illegitimate, except, of course, this new one.

In actuality I was not really all that novel myself, just following along behind the radical left, bringing their spokespeople to campus and enjoying being part of the in-crowd. In reality, the movement did help educators break out of old concepts of educational equality, which were also not true.

At that time if you had asked me about my calling, if I could have answered at all, I would have said it was to stay on the edge of new trends and apply them to education. So I went through one theory after another. Each time the search ultimately would end in boredom. I was constantly trying to escape boredom. One graduate tells me that I told my students they could use any sources in their course papers except the Bible. All the while, I thought of myself as wildly open-minded. I also thought of myself as "spiritual;" I thought I was a "good person" surfing the spiritual net in every arena, from Eastern religious practices to the new age. The only place I would not look was Christianity. I had given up that "meta-narrative" long before trying to give them all up.

I believed all the professors and colleagues who told me that Christianity was oppressive and the academy was no place for God and I had become one of those professors myself. It hadn't occurred to me to look around the world and see where people were the least oppressed or to think that if there were a God who created the

world and all that is in it, it would matter in the study of everything. This God might have some intellectual, social, economic, scientific, artistic, psychological, even educational principles that might differ from our secular "constructions." The truth is that we do "construct" and "deconstruct" what we believe about reality because we would hate to know that someone, especially God, already knew the truth and that truth had some requirements. For centuries, even most Christian scholars have given up trying to apply Christian principles to our problems and our work in the various disciplines, so the very idea seems either bizarre or strangely medieval, especially to secular colleagues.

Friends, Cam Anderson, Dallas Willard, Mary Poplin, Cedar Campus 2008

In my personal life, I was also escaping boredom. I was like Rahab and had the favor of university colleagues, but soon after my conversion, I was to become something of a leper at the country club. I was to come to understand that Christianity, like any religion - from secular humanism to Buddhism - forms a world view that holds implications not just for one's personal life but profoundly for the way one approaches one's academic discipline. I was also soon to learn that the radical diversity and academic freedom proclaimed by the university primarily favors leftist and non-monotheistic worldviews. As George Marsden pointed out, we restrict religious expression often in the name of multiculturalism. I find in the social sciences that certain religious expressions are encouraged by multiculturalism, particularly the more eccentric and eastern ones, but not so for Christianity which is proclaimed by radical multiculturalists as part of the oppressive meta-narrative.

But in January of 1993, when I knelt down during a communion service in the tiny Glen Alpine Methodist church in which my mother had grown up and said to God, "If you are real, please come and get me." He did.

After years of secular philosophies like constructivism, radical feminism, and years of New Age ideas, I began to write the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs out by hand, word for word. As I did, I felt my mind begin to clear and heal. I suddenly felt clean. Like Psalm 107 proclaims “He sent forth His Word and healed them.”

Then I truly became a radical and have never since been bored.


This story can be found in "A Faith and Culture Devotional," (Kullberg & Arrington, Zondervan) and, is adapted from her chapter in John Dunaways, Gladly Learn, Gladly Teach (Mercer, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005).


Dr. Poplin isn’t bored, because she is in relationship with God, and with people, and because the Gospel is relevant to life. She asks us, Who could plumb the depths of the philosophic, social, economic, scientific, political, artistic, educational and psychological principles of God? Which of us could ever wholly fulfill Jesus' command: "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Despite the number of university buildings that have the last part of this command engraved in stone, this is not some secular promise about knowing the truth if we just work at it long and hard enough. It is a command for those who want to know the truth that knowing and following the Truth are inseparable.

What seems to have been the turning point for Dr. Poplin?

What are turning points in your own experience as you consider, and/or follow, Christ?

What ideas of Jesus strike you as radical? Untried? Scary? Intriguing?