Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Bible and the Academy

A little more than a month ago, the University of Sheffield almost shut down its famed biblical studies department. The department at the University of Gloucestershire is still on the block, as far as I know. Both attempts by university administrations brought rallying cries from biblicists all over the world and, at least in the case of Sheffield, they were successful. I'm very glad and give my best wishes to those at the University of Gloucestershire.

Now I love the scholarly interpretation of the Bible, the dispassionate, "objective" pursuit of truth for its own sake. Of course I also think a good bit of biblical scholarship isn't of much lasting value. There are the very valuable depth studies on the most obscure topic you could think of--they do advance our knowledge of some small piece of the puzzle and are worthy. And there are the milestone works by those who we all come to recognize as advancing the field. They are certainly worthy.

But make no mistake, the reason the biblical studies industry is such a big market is because of people with faith, those for whom the Bible is Scripture. I think sometimes secular and mainstream scholars sometimes forget that it is the people with faith, most of whom are conservative--for lack of a better word--that primarily fuel the market. Without them, the field of biblical studies would be no different from worthy departments of classics or Egyptology--and it would have the parcity of market those worthy fields have.

My marketing advice to British universities--hire faith-filled professors like Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, and Simon Gathercole. They're the ones who will attract students from all over the world. And faith-filled American seminaries and universities will also be the ones with the vast majority of students, not the ones that basically market to recovering fundamentalists with anger issues (which I'll admit is currently a significant market--but there is something a little sick about basing your market off of harvesting organs from road kill).

You can "blah, blah, blah" about the truth or good scholarship all you want. But most of those who want to study the Bible are looking for something that builds up, not tears down. The market is what people want, not what you want to give them.


Jenny Hillebrand said...


Angie Van De Merwe said...

People are not interested in anceint history, but personal history. They don't think it is important to value education, but indoctrination. Therefore, the church is marketed in the business model of producing the most 'profitalbe" mode of operating in producing products that support the "customers" (believer's) presuppositions. No business undermines its customers, which are today's evangelicals.

Don't talk to them about things that concern the Academy, because the academy undermines their personal history and the expansion of 'god's kingdom', according to their definition. In fact, some think the Academy is at odds with faith altogether. This is a shame.