Justin, share with us, why Blueprint 1543? Why did you start this organization?
In one way or another, my scholarly career has concerned bringing the sciences to Christianity and other religious beliefs and practices. Often that has meant scientifically studying religious beliefs and practices such as why it is that people find (or don’t find) the idea of God attractive. Sometimes, however, I have focused on helping people see the value that the sciences may bring to theological inquiry and to the activities of the Church. For instance, pastors may be concerned that their congregants grow in their ability to forgive, but are they aware that there is a psychological science of forgiveness? And sometimes I have found myself teaching students and others how to live integrated lives as Christians who feel like God has called them to work in an area of the sciences. How does one’s relationship with Jesus influence why and how one does psychology, for instance? This has been the sort of work that I have been doing for much of the last 25 years and now I have an opportunity to do it as my sole professional focus.
Thanks to the support of an allied foundation and its generous benefactor, in October 2019 Blueprint 1543 launched. Our mission is to integrate Christian theology and the sciences to answer life’s biggest questions through new scholarship and collaborating with others who share similar visions and values.
25 years is a long run. Why does bringing the sciences to Christianity and other religious beliefs matter so much to you?
It is striking to me that often the most important values and commitments people have concern God and ultimate realities and yet the sciences have commonly avoided the careful study of these aspects of humanness. Furthermore, many of the world’s biggest challenges and potential solutions are related to the sciences and science-related technologies. But whereas the sciences can give us new insights about ourselves and the world around us, the sciences alone can’t tell us what constitutes a flourishing life and can’t tell us how we should and shouldn’t use science-based technologies. Answers to those questions will come from value systems, philosophies, and religions. And so, many of the biggest questions in life have a key role for the sciences but not only the sciences. The best of philosophy, theology, and other modes of inquiry have important roles to play, too.
I have heard you worked for Young Life in your past. What led you down that path?
My wife led me to Young Life. Young Life led her to a genuine life-changing relationship with Jesus, and she sold me on the good sense of Young Life’s relational approach to doing ministry. And so, when I was a doctoral student and a newly-wed, my wife and I did Young Life together as volunteers, and then, years later, when I was feeling a little disillusioned with the value of academic work, my wife took a position on Young Life staff at one of their camps in Virginia and then later we co-led a Young Life area in Kansas.
Starting an organization is a big move. What excites you?
I have been part of starting a number of centers and institutes within academic institutions, but this time I get more creative license to pursue the mission of Blueprint 1543 without divided concern for the more general mission of a university. I get to pick my colleagues, strategies, and processes, and that excites me.
How did you get to this point in your career? What have been some key milestones for you?
I have set a bad example for charting an academic career. I have always tried to do what I think is the work I am called to do even if it doesn’t seem conventionally strategic. So, upon finishing my doctorate at Cornell University, I went back and taught at my alma mater Calvin College (now Calvin University), and from there took a post with the Culture and Cognition program at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) teaching graduate students. Then I left the academy when my wife joined Young Life staff. I home-schooled my kids and volunteered at the Young Life camp, but wrote my first book from that farmhouse in rural Virginia. After five years away from the academy, my next academic post was Oxford University, where I became part of the anthropology faculty and helped start the Centre for Anthropology & Mind, and the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology. After five years, it was time to return home to the States. Fuller Theological Seminary asked me to come develop and lead the Thrive Center for Human Development in their School of Psychology. A few years later, when Mark Labberton became president of Fuller, he asked me to develop and lead a new unit, which became the Office for Science, Theology, and Religion Initiatives (STAR).
What are some other things that make you, you?
I suppose my relationships with various people and places have made me me. I have a great wife and two wonderful adult children. I have a great bunch of friends and colleagues from various places, cultures, and worldviews. My relationship with God is very important to me, and I have enjoyed being an active part of Christian Assembly Church in Los Angeles. The bulk of my childhood was in small towns but I have lived in college cities for most of my adult life; I am a bit of a country boy wrapped in academic regalia.
When you are not at work what do you like to do?
I like to collect my thoughts by being outdoors running or hiking. Cooking is my favorite indoor sport, but over the past few years my wife has gotten me into line dancing and not just country line dancing. Over the last year a typical Monday night was soul line dancing with a wonderful group of people at Pasadena’s Jackie Robinson Community Center. Growing up my dad always sang and played guitar and so I have picked up the habit, too.
What is a piece of pop culture you identify with?
I have really enjoyed the Marvel movies because of the vision of exceptional people bringing their gifts together to solve big problems. Captain America is probably my favorite because his greatest strength is his character: unswerving commitment to what is right and courage to pursue it. We could use more people like that in this world.