Thinking About a Theology of Scholarship

No matter how my calling eventually gets worked out, sovaldi whether I end up continuing in my academic studies and going on to be a teacher of theology (either in a college or in the church), treat or whether I end up pursuing my theological passions through creative writing (either fiction or non-fiction), I know that my vocation is oriented towards a life of scholarship and research. I value, affirm and encourage Christians to pursue a “life of the mind”,[1] wherein we are called to think and meditate deeply on the Gospel of Christ and its power to transform not only individuals, but also communities, nations and cultures.

Christianity is smart, and it is mysterious, and serious theological reflection and scholarship allows a Christian, to paraphrase from Gregory of Nyssa, to participate in the never-ending ascent to God.[2] And so, I want to suggest that scholarship, especially theological scholarship, is inherently cross-shaped; it has both vertical components, those aspects that orient towards God, and horizontal components, those aspects that orient towards other people, both scholars and non-scholars alike. The three vertical components are scholarship as a response to God’s action, scholarship as a gift of grace, and scholarship as an act of worship. The horizontal component is scholarship as service to and within the community of faith.

In Evangelical Theology, Karl Barth writes that theology, and by extension, the theologian and Christian, respond to the work and event of the Divine Word. This response is not the same as the Word itself, for the human response of theology is always in light of the event of the self-revelation of God. As such, theology is totally dependent on God’s living Word.[3] The theologian, scholar, or teacher, cannot reveal or uncover God through the human striving of academic inquiry. It is because God has chosen to reveal Himself first that the theologian is able to even pursue contemplating the nature and existence of God. All theology, no matter which discipline (Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, etc), responds to the object of theology, which is God. This relationship between God and the theologian is inherently Chalcedonian. Both God and the theologian are bound together, united-but-distinct, each with their own task, wherein, God “commits, frees and summons the theologian to notice, consider, and speak of Him.”[4] This relationship is irreversible; the theologian cannot do what God does, and vice versa.[5]

Second, the work and call of the theologian is a gift of grace. Barth writes, “To become and be a theologian is not a natural process but an incomparably concrete fact of grace.”[6] And while some may say that this idea lends itself to a sort of arrogance, as if the theologian has been endowed, Barth is quick to point out that this gift of grace is a mystery, for “if anyone supposed he could understand himself as such a receiver of grace, he would do better to bid theology farewell.”[7] The response to this gift of grace is a response of gratitude. With this comes the need for humility. All of our theological presuppositions are grounded, not in the logical consistency of the theologian’s argument, but in the “reality of God’s self-communication to us in Jesus Christ.”[8] As such, theological statements “are true only in so far as they direct us away from themselves to the one Truth in God” and that Truth is Jesus.[9]

Third, theological scholarship can be, and is for many scholars, an act of worship. Research becomes not only a way to learn more about God, but also a way to delight in and praise the work of God. A life of scholarship is not a tedious choice, nor is it merely “busy work.” Instead, it is a way to marvel at the person and work of Christ, as well as to get “lost” in the amazing depths of Christian thought throughout the centuries. The act of research and scholarship not only shapes the mind of the theologian, but also orients and shapes the character, spirit and whole person to a position of humble worship in the presence of the Almighty. It is for this reason that the liturgy, that is, the rhythms and routines associated with scholarship and study, from the initial research, to painstaking formulation of a thesis, to publication, is important.[10] Of course, if the adage is true that “we worship what we love”, there is a danger for Christian scholars to begin to worship the act of scholarship itself, rather than the object of said scholarship. Scholarship is the liturgical tool that assists in worshipping God and not the god that is to be worshipped.

On the horizontal axis, scholarship must be done in and for the church. As T.F. Torrance notes, “The church constitutes the social coefficient of our knowledge of God” and as such theology “cannot but be a church-conditioned and church-oriented theology.”[11] It is impossible to do Christian theology apart from the community. The theologian must participate in the messiness and beauty of the church. As Barth notes, the theologian, as a member of the community of faith writing from within and for the church, “participates in its schisms and in its longing for unity, in its obedience as well as in its indifference.”[12]

It is this emphasis on the role of the community of faith on the life and work of the theologian that I am currently wrestling with as I contemplate future academic studies. There are few confessional schools within Canada that offer doctoral programs in theology. So the question becomes, can theological scholarship be done in a secular university?[13] And even if I can study theology under the guise of “Western Religious Thought” at a secular school, there is still the realization that theology cannot be abstracted from the life and service of the church. Torrance emphasizes this reality when he writes: “the matrix of Eucharistic worship and meditation upon the Holy Scriptures and evangelical experience in the fellowship and mission of the church” are where the “empirical and theoretical components in our knowledge of God are fused together.”[14]

Ultimately, the question becomes, what is a Christian scholar, or what does Christian scholarship look like? Christian scholarship is a life and a body of work that is grounded in, finds its identity in, responds to, and submits itself to the self-Revelation of God through the event and person of Jesus Christ.



 

[1] See for example, Richard Hughes, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005).

 

[2] Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, trans. Abraham Malherbe and Everett Ferguson (New York: Paulist Press, 1978).

 

[3] Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, trans. Grover Foley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1963), 49.

 

[4] Ibid., 90.

 

[5] Ibid. This fits with Barth’s overall Chalcedonian pattern, for in the Church Dogmatics Barth emphasizes that the relationship between the Divine and human is one that cannot be reversed. That is, we can, and rightly do say “The Word became Flesh”, but we cannot say “The flesh became the Word.” See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Translated by Geoffrey Bromiley. Vol. I/2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 136.

 

[6] Ibid., 73.

 

[7] Ibid.

 

[8] Thomas F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1982), 23.

 

[9] Ibid., 123.

 

[10] See, for example, James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), chap. 2.

 

[11] Torrance, 46.

 

[12] Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, 80.

 

[13] Space is limited, but with this question comes the question of the inherent difference and conflict between Christian virtues and the virtues prized by the secular academic culture. See, for example, George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 107.

 

[14] Torrance, 49.

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Evangelical Theological Society — Some Concluding Thoughts on the 2012 Conference

I have arrived home, cialis sale and have mostly recovered from the travel lag (slept 16 hours on Sunday). Thankfully the trek home wasn’t nearly as stressful as the trip down to Milwaukee, malady with only a 90 minute delay for my flight departing from Denver to Regina. As a way to wrap-up my series on my experience at ETS, no rx I wanted to offer some final, not necessarily connected, reflections.

First, I am very glad I went. It had been eight years since my last ETS conference, and it really is an amazing experience. Downtown Milwaukee was delightful, and I found some great (cheap) restaurants to eat at (which when you go to conference isn’t always the easiest thing to find).

Second, being as introverted as I am, I didn’t meet as many people as I probably could have, but those few that I worked up the courage to introduce myself to, were amazingly gracious. I was happy to meet Leslie Keeney, Jennifer Ellison and Marc Cortez from the blogosphere. And while I didn’t actively meet too many people, I did enjoy playing a fantastic game of “spot the scholar”.

Third, over the last couple of years there has been discussion about the lack of women in attendance at ETS. Indeed, Leslie and I both blogged about encouraging women to attend this year’s ETS. From what I observed, there were more women in attendance at the paper presentations then I have seen in the past. There were only a few papers that I attended in which I was the only female, but more often than not there was at least a handful of us, and given that some of the presentations I went to often had no more than a dozen in attendance, that’s saying something.

Fourth, and most importantly, the decision to have paper presentations Friday afternoon was a very bad idea. Many (if not most) people had left by noon Friday to get down to Chicago for SBL/AAR. I felt sorry for those who were presenting. In fact one paper presentation I went to Friday afternoon had only 2 people in attendance. As well, two papers I had planned to go to were canceled because the presenters had to catch a train down to Chicago. Hopefully this is only an issue this year, as ETS and SBL were held in two different cities. Next year both conferences will be in Baltimore, so  those presenting on the last day won’t be as abandoned as they were this year. (Does anyone know why ETS was in Milwaukee and not in Chicago?)

Given that I’m on a student budget I probably won’t be able to attend next year’s conference, but I’m planning to attend again in 2014 (in San Diego). And while several people have suggested that I flip to SBL, I really do like ETS. Maybe I’ll be able to take in both at 2014, but I wouldn’t trade ETS for SBL, at least not any time soon.

 

 

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Evangelical Theological Society — Barth, Barth, Barth

Yesterday afternoon I spent three hours listening to papers on Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals. This session was built off of Michael Allen’s new Barth reader (which looks like a much needed replacement of the reader by Gollowitzer), try and each of the four presenters spent some time talking about benefits and hindrances of interacting with Barth from an evangelical perspective.

First up was Michael Allen himself. He spent some time talking about the current state of evangelical culture and how Barth can be helpful in addressing some of the theological issues that evangelicals are wrestling with. He started by saying that it’s important for evangelicals to be aware of how our presuppositions are so much different from the presuppositions of much of modern theology. Biblical scholars do a good job of checking their presuppositions, understanding the disconnect between 21st century readers and the original biblical authors, but for some reason theologians don’t apply that same caution and realization when they interact with more modern theology. In relation to Barth, what this means is that evangelicals often fail to grasp Barth’s theological setting which means we will fail to understand what he is about and what exactly he is doing. Indeed, “Most of us [evangelicals] read Barth as if he’s playing in the ETS world, and he’s not.” The other money quote from Michael Allen’s presentation: “Barth’s work serves as a bomb on the playground of theologians.”

Next up was Marc Cortez. His paper was titled, “An Evangelical and a Universalist Walk into a Bar” and looked at the question of whether or not Barth was a universalist, and how the supposed ambiguity about Barth’s universalism makes evangelicals uncomfortable. The short answer to the question of whether Barth was a universalist is, in the words of Barth himself, “I am not a universalist.” But, that said, there are still questions with his presentation of election and salvation. Dr. Cortez’s presentation was humourous and conversational. His section headings had titles like:
Four reasons to allow Barth to hang out with you in public and Three reasons to make Barth pick up the tab.

After a short intermission, we then had the last two papers by Matt Jenson on Barth and Ecclesiology, and Keith Johnson on Nature and Grace. These two papers were theologically dense, and I had to focus on listening and was unable to take notes during their presentations. I’m hoping to get copies of these two papers at some point so that I can spend time in deeper engagement and refection.

The big news from this panel session was that starting next year, there will be a specific session devoted to the theology of Karl Barth. This is an exciting development and I look forward to seeing the session grow.

Evangelical Theological Society — Day Two

Wednesday afternoon was a bit of a mixed bag. First up was a great presentation by doctoral student James Gordon on Barth and speculative theology. There were some great post-paper questions raised by the audience. Next up was a very weak paper which was disappointing because the topic was fascinating. The day concluded with a great paper on Irenaeus and his emphasis on teaching catechumens how to read and interpret Scripture.

For supper, sovaldi sale I wandered a bit and found a great pub about a block from the hotel that had great (and cheap) burgers. And then I spent the evening unwinding. (Once again, ask I am reminded why I’m glad I don’t have cable. Commercials are annoying.)

This morning started with an unexpected surprise. William Webb’s presentation was canceled, so on a whim, I decided to pop into Richard Bauckham’s paper on naming practices in Jewish Palestine from 330BC to 200AD. I ended up sitting beside a Briercrest professor who I didn’t even know was going to be at the conference! Yay Briercrest! Next up was a paper on Cyril of Alexandria and John Chrysostom on Baptism by Talbot professor Ashish Naidu, and then on to the presentation by Francis Beckwith on ethics. My final session of the morning was cancelled, but that’s okay because it meant BOOKS!!!

I promised some friends I would post a list of the books I’ve purchased. So here goes:

I bought a three volume set of books on the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall: Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Worshipping with the Church Fathers, and Learning Theology with the Church Fathers.

I bought Zondervan’s Four Views on Christian Spirituality.

I bought Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s Clouds of Witness: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia.

I bought Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. (The school library has this book and it’s one of those ones where I keep signing it out and never actually finishing it. But since I was able to pick it up for $10 now I should have a bit more flexibility to finally finish it).

And the best book purchase ever has to be Kim Paffenroth and John Morehead’s edited book The Undead and Theology. Chapters include (but are not limited to):

Vampires are People, Too: Personalism in the Buffyverse (Jarrod Longbons)

The Living Christ and The Walking Dead: Karl Barth and the Theological Zombie (Jessica DeCou)

Zombie Walks, Zombie Jesus, and the Eschatology of Postmodern Flesh (John Morehead)

“Eat of My Body and Drink of My Blood”: Johannine Metaphor, Gothic Subculture, and the Undead (Beth Stovell)

I can’t wait to read this book!

The plan for the rest of today is to find some lunch, and then spend the afternoon in the session on Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals.

Evangelical Theological Society — Day One

After a horrific day of travel, shop I am now officially at the ETS conference in Milwaukee. (Horrible travel day included a canceled flight after we were already boarded, sale two hours in line to be rebooked, illness being rerouted through Denver, another delayed flight, and horrible customer service at security. I arrived in Milwaukee a full 6 hours after I was originally scheduled to arrive).

First on the agenda was Kevin Vanhoozer’s paper on the relationship between biblical studies and theology, specifically the need and importance for a theological interpretation of Scripture. The room that the presentation was to take place was teeny-tiny (maybe 50 seats), so they moved to a larger room (200 seats) and even that room wasn’t big enough as several people were left with standing room only at the back. What I appreciated about Dr. Vanhoozer’s presentation (besides the topic), was that it was conversational and affable in tone. (Trust me, this is a big deal because often times paper presentations can be the most wooden and boring things to listen to.) Vanhoozer suggested that the danger in “pure” biblical studies is that it becomes “magic”, that is, a way to exert power and control to ensure the results the scholar wants, in this case discovering the “true” meaning of the passage in the original context. Because the Bible is not merely human and historical, but also points to the Divine discourse that God had and continues to have with his people, theological interpretation opens the way for us to participate in the Story of scripture.

Unfortunately, Dr. Vanhoozer’s presentation ran overtime, so I was unable to get to my second session. Instead, I went and checked out the exhibitors (translation: BOOKS! CHEAP BOOKS) I am a little ticked at IVP though, they won’t ship books to Canada, and Canadian ETS attendees who order books have to order through David C. Cook, but David C. Cook won’t give the 40% ETS discount. Grrr. Argh!

The next session I attended was a paper on the shift in Basil the Great’s understanding of the Ascetical Life. The presenter, Jason Scully, compared Basil’s “Epistle 2” to his “Longer rule” and argued that Basil moves from being preoccupied with the soul’s intellectual purity (emphasis on purging bad habits), to being focused on the need for loving actions (emphasis on fostering good habits and pursuing virtues).

The last paper of the morning was by doctoral student Susan Rieske. Her paper looked at the language of “delight” that is used to describe God’s attitude towards Israel’s destruction and ruin if she breaks the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:63). She proposed three ways to interpret this “delight”: as a term of volition or determination; as a rhetorical device meant to get Israel’s attention; and as pointing God delighting in his overarching purposes for Israel (over and above judgement).

So far, it’s been a great experience. Yay for brainy Christians who serve God through scholarship!

Life of a Grad Student

I sat through the last class of my program this week. Granted I still have mountains of post-course work to do for the three classes I did this semester, ampoule but I’m done sitting in class. Come January, cheap I should be starting my thesis.

This class, treat Pauline Epistles, was a huge blessing. Not only was it academic and challenging, it was also an amazing opportunity for God to work. It felt wonderful to break out in prayer throughout class to give praise to God as a way to give thanks for what we were learning. The professor showed us her heart and hunger for Jesus and demonstrated great pastoral care for each of the students.

It was exactly what a seminary class should be: wholistic; not just about “head knowledge” but about the formation of the whole person. We were shaped, and ministered to, and challenged by the Word and by the Spirit.

I’ve spent the last two days with a “mod” hangover. It’s the hangover that is inevitable after sitting in an academic class for a week. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep, and given the weather (mega-snow), it’s been a perfect weekend to stay holed-up at home in my jammies. Now as the hangover clears, I find myself finally being able to rejoice in this milestone. I’m almost done my degree. By this time next year I should be finishing my thesis and gearing up for graduating. It feels good.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying and encouraging me on this journey. Doing these classes has been blessing and I am thankful for all the professors and students who I have had the privilege to study with.

Now to tackle the mountain of post-course homework. Thesis, here I come!

 

 

 

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The Relationship Between Biblical Studies and Theology

“In the modern period, ask but especially in the last few decades, here the disciplines of biblical studies and systematic theology have grown so far apart as to seem hardly within shouting distance of each other. The two disciplines are natural partners who have lost the means of effective communication with each other, cialis so absorbed have they become in their own issues.” Richard Bauckham in R Bauckham and C Mosser, eds. (2008) The Gospel of John and Christian Theology.

The chasm between biblical studies and theology continues to baffle me. Why do so few biblical scholars interact with, reference, or acknowledge theologians who reflect on or exegete Scripture?

Take my recent work on Karl Barth. For those of you who are not in the loop, my research focuses on Barth’s use of his original exegesis of John 1:14 (found in the book Witness to the Word which is his lecture notes from his class on John) in the Church Dogmatics. Barth is no exegetical slouch. In fact, exegesis is at the very heart of his theological method. And yet, as I navigate through the Johannine scholarship there is very little reference by Johannine scholars to the exegesis done by Barth. Indeed, only in the above cited book, The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, have I found much reference to Barth.

Is there value to be had in including theological exegesis such as Karl Barth’s? Is exegesis done by theologians always useful? Not necessarily.

Take for example John Owen’s exegesis of Hebrews 4:10. Here, Owen suggests that “the one having entered the rest” refers to Christ and not to the Christian believer. Modern translations and most modern commentaries all understand this verse to be in reference to the Christian believer. Owen seems so focused on cramming Christ into an already Christological passage (Hebrews 3:1-4:16) that he actually does injustice to the text through his excessive Christocentrism. Most biblical scholars don’t even entertain or interact with Owen’s exegesis. And when they do it is, I think, to rightly dismiss it. For example, Paul Ellingworth considers the Christological interpretation of Hebrews 4:10 and rightly notes, “It is difficult to understand why, if the author had wished to speak of Christ’s entry into God’s place of rest, he should not have done so plainly.” (The Epistle to the Hebrews, 257.)

But this kind of interaction with theological exegesis is rare. What would happen if there was more cross-over and collaboration between biblical studies and theological studies? Of course, part of it requires theologians to spend time learning the biblical languages and doing exegesis, which many seem loathe to do. But why is there more emphasis put on learning theological German than on learning Greek and Hebrew? (says the theology grad student who knows that learning German is going to be an inevitable requirement for further study, even though I’d much rather learn Hebrew). Likewise, it requires biblical scholars to be explicit in their commentaries that in doing their exegesis they are also doing theology.

ETS Scholarship Announcement

I received an email announcement yesterday that the ETS has launched a scholarship to help student members attend this year’s ETS. Leslie ended up quicker on the draw than me, cialis and has posted the details over on her blog, search so I’m going to point y’all over to her blog to check out the details.

If you’re a full member of the ETS, I encourage you to nominate a student member for this scholarship opportunity.

See Also:


Encouraging Women to Attend This Year’s ETS Conference Part 1: My Experience with ETS

Encouraging Women to Attend this Year’s ETS Part Two: What to Expect at ETS


Encouraging Women to Attend This Year’s ETS Conference Part 3: Why ETS and Not Another Conference

The ETS Women’s Project Part 1: Why Women Shouldn’t Give Up on the ETS

The ETS Women’s Project Part 2: The Silent Constituency

Academic Research and Zombies: Are There Topics that Can Hurt a Scholar’s Career?


The Chronicle has an article about Dr. Bradley Voytek who is a neuroscientist who also studies zombies, remedy and uses the topic of zombies to engage people in the field of neuroscience. It has caused him some grief, try as several of his advisors suggest that he not include his “zombie research” on his c.v. because it could be a hindrance to his finding gainful employment in academia.

The one place he has been hesitant to promote, ailment or even reveal, his undead-brain research is on his curriculum vitae. As he applied for his current postdoctoral research position last year, his Ph.D. adviser, Robert T. Knight suggested he “scrub it clean” of zombies.

“I didn’t want him to be known as a ‘media guy,'” says Mr. Knight, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley. To be taken seriously as a researcher, Mr. Knight cautioned, you should avoid seeming like a limelight-grabber and balance fun outreach with hard-core science.

Mr. Voytek’s partner in the zombie research, Timothy Verstynen, received an equally discouraging response from one of his advisers.

While finishing postdoctoral research and beginning his faculty job search, Mr. Verstynen was told by a senior adviser that he considered his outreach work a “stupid idea” and a huge career mistake.

“I think it was a kind of protectiveness,” says Mr. Verstynen, who earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience at Berkeley in 2006. Anything that detracts from research could hurt a young researcher on the job market.

It’s got me thinking about the field of theology and biblical studies. Are there topics that would hurt a young scholar’s research and job prospects in Christian academia? Would studying theology and the works of Joss Whedon, or biblical studies and Star Trek automatically lead to a young scholar’s c.v. being rejected by a Christian institution?

Would blogging about the intersection between theology and science fiction be evidence that a scholar is not serious about the field of theology? Is it too fringe? Is it okay so long as they primarily do “serious research” and leave the geek stuff to be done as a hobby? Should these interests be hidden until a scholar has found employment, or has achieved tenure?

For those of you who are academics, were you ever discouraged from exploring an avenue of research because it wasn’t serious or respectable enough?

The Writing Process

When we were in high school we were all taught how to write a formal research paper: Thesis, remedy outline, etc. There was only one way and the teachers would make us hand in an outline of the paper a week before it was due. I hated this. Usually I would write the paper first, and then create an outline from what I had written. I have learned, after having been in school for so long, that different papers require different approaches.

Sometimes I have a very structured outline to write from, down to every single paragraph.

Sometimes I have a broad outline, structured by theme or major point.

Sometimes I have to just start writing, and not necessarily from the beginning, but from the middle.

Sometimes I have to write the paper backwards.

Sometimes I write my thesis and original ideas and then supplement with sources.

Sometimes I start with the sources and then build my idea around them.

Sometimes the structure isn’t so much linear as it is circular (thank you Barth).

Sometimes I have to start writing it as a devotional to myself, and then go back and take out all the “I” and “we” and replace them with more formal language.

Sometimes I draw the paper out as a flow chart or bubble chart.

It all depends on the topic. It depends on the discipline. It depends on how much experience I have in writing on this particular topic. It depends on my mood. It depends on my deadline. It depends on how creative I am feeling. It depends on the material I am working with.

What keeps all of this from falling apart and becoming some sort of willy-nilly, airy-fairy undisciplined mess, is preparation. I spend weeks researching. I read. I take notes. Then I read some more. I live in the material. The material becomes an old worn out sweater that is comfy and cozy. And once it becomes a little rank from wearing it too long, then I know that I’m ready to take off the sweater and turn it into a 10 page (20 page, 30 page, thesis length) masterpiece. 70% of my time is spent researching, and only 20% is spent actually writing. Most important is the 10% spent editing. Editing is key.

And so, my advice: don’t wait until the last minute to write your paper. If you leave it until two or three days before the due date one, or usually all of the components (researching, writing and editing), will be compromised. And trust me, professors can tell which papers were written the night before the due date.