Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Word on Biblical Scholarship & the Life of the Church

For the last several days I have been immersed in the deep end of some very rigorous commentaries on Hebrews. One of them in particular, which I'll site below, is written by a liberal whose knowledge of culture and grammar is vast but whose knowldge of the living Jesus Christ seems non-existent. I am obviously not in a place to judge his soul, but believe me, I could site tens of passages to make my case--I don't think he knows the Jesus of whom he writes.

This led me to reflect for a while last night about the nature of biblical scholarship as it relates to the Body of Christ. What follows, then, is a somewhat random and incomplete brain dump! I hope it makes sense.

I'm not sure exactly why rigorous biblical scholarship was divorced from life in the local church, but in the end I think this move was a serious mistake. For in distancing the scholar from the daily ebb and flow of life on the frontlines, as it were, we have also obscured questions of the purpose and function of Christian scholarship. We have hewn paths which lead scholars in directions that are neither necessary nor helpful for the overall life of the body of Christ, and more importantly, that incubate unbelief.

For example, in his commentary on the book of Hebrews, Harold Attridge notes the following: “This rich Jewish heritage—which includes speculation on the divine world and its inhabitants, the world to come, and the eschatological agent or agents of God’s intervention into human affairs—is an important part of the general background of Hebrews, but there is no single strand of Judaism that provides a clear and simple matrix within which to understand the thought of the author of our text” (Hebrews. Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 29-30).

I doubt that this Jewish heritage is “rich” in the sight of God because what it really represents is a fleshly propensity to stray away from the God who called and formed and guided and covered the Jews through so many centuries. And I fear that when we separate Christian scholarship from the life of the church we create conditions in which this same kind of fruitless, and dangerous, speculation festers and grows. Having spent four years of my life with liberal scholars at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, I know this to be the case.

I am not saying that there is no place for rigorous scholarship in the life of the church, but I am saying the church itself is the best context for such scholarship because part of the function of the Body Christ is to foster and prosper belief, on the one hand, and to root out and kill unbelief, on the other (see Heb 3:12-19 & 10:25-39).

We have no need of scholars who possess vast amounts of knowledge but do not know the Living God. We have no need of professors of theology and the Bible who are not first and foremost professors of Christ. If the world wants to study Christianity "objectively," as it were, from the perspective of religion or philosophy or sociology or psychology, then let them do so. But as for the Body of Christ herself, we have no need for scholars who simply analyze data and phenomena. Rather, we have need of scholars whose hearts are aflame with love for Christ and whose minds are saturated with the wisdom of Christ and whose lives are characterized by obedience to Christ, so that they can in turn equip the body for the glory of Christ!

Thus, I say "amen" and "hallelujah" to the seminaries that are developing within the context of faithful, Bible-believing, Christ-exalting churches. (For example, the soon to open "Bethlehem College and Seminary" at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.) Perhaps someday the Lord will lead our church to found one as well.

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