“God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than He is of any other slacker.” – C.S. Lewis
Almost without fail, at least once a week, I hear someone complain about Biblical scholarship or Academia. ”I just want to hear that God loves us.” ”Do you think that Academia is at the center? Of course not, it’s God!” ”I don’t trust in scholarly theories, I trust in the Bible.” ”Jesus said it, therefore, we don’t need to argue about it.”
I usually sit in silence, and then go plant my face in my hand in private. But today, I’m pulling out my soap box. Admittedly, I am a Bible Scholar, so I am strongly biased. If you would like, I can follow up this post with the weaknesses of scholarship in religious communities. But in my opinion, while they exist and are plentiful, they are usually not what people suggest to me the weaknesses are.
Feel free to let me know in the comment section what you might think possible weaknesses are. (Edit:) But scholarship is not opposed to the Gospel or the Church, contrary to some opinions.
A. If there is no scholarship, there is no Bible. No Bible, no Church, no Gospel. Are you not aware that there is no standard original text of the Bible? There are thousands of various manuscripts, which then, somebody has to go through and speculate (with evidence, of course) as to what the original text was. Guess who does this? So, your precious Jesus, Church, and Gospel don’t even make sense until the two thousand years of scholarly work binds it into a book form for you. And the original text is still debated to this very day. People, wake up, and smell the leather binding.
B. Scholarship has put these sacred texts into a book and into a certain order. But to read it as one book, requires some form of internal human processing. Biblical scholars are often hesitant to connect the dots from one author to another, because who’s to stop us from making the Bible say what we want it to say when we do that. It’s a form of control in the interpretive process. But many Theological scholars (and biblical too) have connected the dots with this or that theory. Often when people connect the dots to make a theology that Biblical scholars would question, they do so with theories from Augustine, to Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, et al. Not with the work of the holy spirit. In other words, people unknowingly have already accepted some form of scholarship in their interpretation of Scripture and Tradition.
C. Scholarship is so much more about learning and educating pastors and lay people to ask the right questions, not always to find the right answers. If you start with an understanding of what the Gospel is before you read the Bible, of course all the answers will be self-evident. But where did your Gospel come from in the first place? You can start with a Gospel that’s external to Scripture, it’s not illegal. But don’t pretend to be a “biblical” Christian when you do it. Scholarship on the other hand, helps us to ask the best and most efficient questions (not always that efficient) to find out what the Gospel might be.
D. Many people do not know what they’ve accepted on faith before they believe. What manuscript of the Bible is the best one? What about the exclusion of the Apocrypha? The Bible must be interpreted ontologically? Literally? Figuratively? Most of these questions are answered by a community and accepted on faith, without any awareness of the fact that they’ve already been accepted on faith. Part of scholarship’s job is to point out what faith claims are in play at each decision point. A good rule of thumb: the less you think critically, the more you’re accepting on faith. And the irony is, the more you accept on faith, the more you place your trust in scholars that you don’t even know, and the less your faith is centered on Christ. Get it?
E. Scholarship brings out marginalized voices within Christianity. Scholars are not the inventors of these voices necessarily, but they amplify them. The theology of the African slaves which was based on the exodus, was amplified by scholars, and now most scholarship realizes the importance of the Exodus imagery all throughout the Bible. Scholars amplified the Jewishness of the New Testament after the holocaust. Peasant communities in Latin America have helped scholars look at the text from an agricultural society, rather than from a capitalist one, amplifying the peasant ideologies that exist in the texts of the Bible.
In my opinion, when people complain about Biblical/Theological scholarship, it’s usually because we aren’t edifying them with what they already believe, and we aren’t telling them what they want to hear. After all, you can always just go to another church that will, anyways.
I’ll step off my soap box for now. But there’s so much more…
What are the benefits/weaknesses of Biblical and Theological scholarship for you?