#8. The church and Christian Academia need to stop viewing each other as mortal enemies. The Christian academy needs to stop bashing the church as a bunch of caveman fundamentalists who know nothing about the Bible and assume their rightful place in assisting the church in its function of fulfilling the Great Commission. The church of Jesus needs to stop viewing the Evangelical academy as a bunch of flaming liberal heretics who don’t “believe the Bible” and may not even be truly “saved” and instead use the academy as a valuable resource which supports the mission of the kingdom of God.
I’m a big believer in the autonomy and authority of the local church. I’m practically an honorary Baptist when it comes to Eccelesiology and church governance. It is my firm belief that the local church is the institution that God has chosen to use on earth to bring about the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Christian Academia does not exist as an independent entity for its own purpose, for the pursuit of knowledge in and of itself, nor to spout it’s wisdom from the heights of the ivory tower of the academy unstained from the messiness of the real world that the church must live in day to day. In my mind, the evangelical academy exists solely to serve the church (and aide/assist in its mission). If not, then it has no role in the Great Commission, and thus ceases to be a Christian Institution.
On the other hand, the church has this awesome resource at its disposal which it largely chooses to ignore. Exegesis and spirituality are seen as constantly at war. The church is often highly suspicious of the scholar or the seminary trained pastor. We are warned that if we go off to seminary we will emerge as godless, unbelieving heathens! ‘The academy, with its historical criticism, has an anti-supernatural bias.’ And yet how many of us regularly use the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible (a translation produced by, yes, those “liberal” Bible scholars because, well, the church isn’t very good a koine greek)! The result is a bifurcation between the church and the academy with suspicion on both sides: sloppy exegesis in the church and un-spiritual professors in our “christian” universities. [Note: much of the above paragraph is borrowed and paraphrased from Gordon D. Fee’s excellent article Exegesis and Spirituality: Completing the Circle.
And so we end up with an (artificial) dualism between “devotional” reading of scripture and rigorous (academic) study of the Bible – as if they are mutually exclusive activities! Why is it that, when I stop in the middle of my “devotions” to look up a word in the Greek Lexicon (in order to better understand what God is saying) that I have this underlying feeling that somehow what I am doing is inherently “un-spiritual.” Didn’t Jesus add that we are to love God with our mind (Mark 12:30) as well as the Old Testament formula with our heart, soul and strength (Deut. 6:5)? Why is it that when I sit down to translate the book of Isaiah I somehow feel that it is unnecessary to pray before tackling such a task. Why do I view exegesis as a purely intellectual activity for which no Holy Spirit is required? (Don’t worry, we’ll tackle re-capturing the role of the Holy Spirit in exegesis during week 10!)
In the meantime, what do you think? How can we help bridge the gap between Christian scholarship and the church? Have you experienced snootiness toward the believing church in the academy? Have you experienced anti-intellectualism in the local church? Is there a more integrated way to read scripture with both our mind and spirit? Could there be a radical middle here?
Until next time my friends when we will discuss Christological interpretation of scripture!