Thursday, April 07, 2011

Every denomination should have a Bible scholar ;-)

I come from a revivalist/Pietist denomination.  Our history has tended to assume, I think rightfully, that the most important qualification for a minister or church leader is an "anointing" from God.  This goes along with things I've said about the heart being God's number 1 priority.  It shows our proximity to the charismatic movement (which grew from the same soil as the holiness movement).

We have tended to admire the down to earth, not necessarily too educated soul through whom God chooses to speak, the "fool" through whom God changes the world.  Indeed, in our history we have sometimes seen education as a tool of Satan to lead the church astray.  Not a single institution in my denomination grants a PhD in any area. ;-)

I'm involved with a PhD dissertation defense today at Andrews University and was finishing up the dissertation this morning when an amusing thought hit me.  You know, every denomination should at least have one or two Bible scholars, in addition to all its Spirit-filled prophets and leaders.  Every denomination should have one or two experts on what the Bible actually meant.

And what does that involve?  It involves things that I agree are not the priority for a minister or necessarily a denominational leader. I doubt massively that the most impactful pastors and leaders need to be or will be biblical scholars of this sort. Although I'm clearly having fun in this post, I really mean it when I say the heart and not the head is the number one priority even for a minister or church leader.

But you cannot be an authority on the original meaning of the Bible unless you know thoroughly and deeply:

  • the biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic
  • the historical-cultural background, meaning for OT the archaeology of the relevant sites and the relevant Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Canaanite literature; meaning for the NT the relevant Second Temple Jewish and Greco-Roman literature and archaeology
  • the history of interpretation/analysis for the last 100-200 years (the history of ancient interpretation is of minimal value in terms of the original meaning)
  • enough textual criticism to be able to reach an informed conclusion on the way the original text read
  • how to follow a train of thought inductively, including being able to ask questions the text wants to answer and to answer them using inductive evidence from the text read in its historical context
This is what you need to know to speak authoritatively on the original meaning of any biblical text.  God must more often than not speak in living and fresh ways regardless of these things.  But I was thinking this morning, every denomination should at least have one or two people somewhere on retainer who are actually qualified to speak to what it really meant too. ;-)

16 comments:

Avey said...

NTC Manchester do Phd's.... we have many American's etc who go there for that reason....http://www.nazarene.ac.uk/

Darrell Pursiful said...

Well said, Ken. I'm glad the Wesleyans have you.

James Petticrew said...

Are you in Scotland right now Ken?

Pastor Rob Henderson said...

This is why I read your blog and challenge myself about Biblical accuracy. I am a second career pastor with "FLAME" credentials, so to speak. I realize that it is very important to know what I am saying besides having the heart to say it from the pulpit. Special thanks to you and others who I read and learn from. Perhaps someday I may be able to go back to class.

Ken Schenck said...

Rob--I appreciate that... of course I should say before Craig does that having a PhD driver's license doesn't mean you can drive, and scholarly pinheads regularly disagree with each other on countless things. So what good are we really? ;-)

Ken Schenck said...

James, it's Andrews University in Michigan. I wish I were in your neck of the woods in Scotland!

Darrell, you probably know some of the WC's "scholars on retainer": Joe Dongell and David Thompson at Asbury are excellent students of the Bible, as is Steve Lennox at IWU, David Smith at Bethany, Joe Colson at NTS, Keith Reeves at Azusa. Fewer have made a dent in scholarly publications, but here we might mention Terry Paige at Houghton and especially Gary Cockerill at Wesley Biblical. I'm sure I've forgotten someone.

Dick Norton said...

Nice little piece of tongue-in-the-cheek writing, Ken. And I like your smiley-face-with-a-wink. You say that the heart is the number one priority for the pastor or other leader. And it's hard to argue with that given many things Jesus said about the heart. However, the head is a very close second. Motivation comes from the heart, but holy living and thinking come from the mind. I've been recently impressed by this truth as I have studied Ephesians (cf. 5:17-24). Then there is the well known Rom. 12:2, and Phil. 4:8-9. The "good heart" can lead us astray if it activates a dull mind. I believe that God has written an amazing book that can be adequately accessed by an alert mind whether or not it is trained in all the intricacies of theological scholarship. Jesus thought so, too, when in Luke 24:25-27, he scolded the disciples on the road to Emmaus for not believing what the Scriptures taught concerning himself, and then proceeded for an hour or two to give them a first rate class on hermeneutics.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

How can the heart be in the right place if people refuse to hear what the scholar has to say? But, then one has to believe certain things about the text to begin with, as well as things about themselves and the "in group".

Then, those that are convinced that all one needs is the "Holy Spirit" aren't open to hear the scholar's "head thoughts" or questions.

Yet, those that want to investigate for themselve might just be as independent, but for different reasons.

Should pastors be content if "their flock" lives in an imaginary world and make decisions and base choices on groundless assumptions and call it "faith"? Is it loving to allow irrationality to rule human beings?

Then, those that are not convinced that scripture is inerrant or that the Academy has something to offer, are on a totally different page, that is considered "the Devil's Den" that will destroy faith. Is faith to be grounded or not? Is faith antithetical to reason and information about the world at large, or is scripture the defining "tool" to determine what is Truth?

I can't remember the whole quote, but something to the effect, that it is hard to get a person to see something especially if his salary depends on it! Certainly, the Church would want to protect its "own work", but is the Church blind in doing so?

Tony Siew said...

Dear Ken, many thanks for this post. It was really timely as I was reflecting on the same thing. All the best for your teaching ministry. God bless.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

'''Hmmmm..."on retainer", meaning one goes and does work for the Church with retainer fees...and a promised hope of return? That sounds like a business proposition (or slavery?)....that's nice for the Church to hide...real ethical...but good for those in the "in group"!

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, I am ever amazed at your inability to hear even the most obvious of intended meanings. As I've said before, you are a testimony to deconstruction. When you initiate the thought, you often make sense and many of us wonder if there isn't actually a genius lurking in your brain. You just can't connect at all with the thoughts of others. Our thoughts unravel like bits of disconnected string in your hands.

Thanks Dick for the caution. I am not anti-head at all.

Glad the thought hit you where you needed it, Tony...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't believe for a moment that scripture is 'divine". It is ancient literature and was about that time within that context...though I do believe that because human problems and human beings do not change all that much, the text can be "useful". I'm just not too interested anymore in "biblical Christianity", or the text(as fundamentalist or evangelical) as I suggested on your entry about Bentham.

I believe that what seems to be incoherent is my "processing" information that is shared as well as my own internalization of things I have read or understood on my own time. This is wny I might pick up a term that is used, but miss the "whole point". Or I might use some analogy or concept that I've been ruminating upon. This is what happens when the fundamentalist or evangelical think "God speaks". It is moral development...as a process of becoming autonomous beings. And it is coming to maturity about one's life.

I used to "have all things together". I lived in the "biblical paradigm", or "worldview", but it broke apart, and thankfully so! The world is much too complex a place to simplify with sanctomonious phrases that are supposedly going to "fix it"....

But, I am too much of a libertarian to submit to "social conditioning" in the Church. This is why I experienced a profound shift in my thinking and being as I studied "moral development" when Wim was at the State Department! The exposure caused me great anxiety, but was a necessary step in becoming and thinking in broader terms. I am so thankful for the whole experience of learning...And what I have always valued, liberty, is THE ideal of a Constitutional government.

I am still "in process", but I believe we all are, until we die.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I just "got" you title....Biblical scholar, and denomination! Is scholarship defined by a denomination's theology?!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I must correct myself...on further thought, the Bible as the fundamentalist or evangelical use it is damning and damaging to social welfare. Without understanding that their "hearing" is really their own consciousness and development, they assume it is "God".

One's personal opinion or conviction is held and jusified in a "defense of God", instead of understanding that there are various ways and means to valued "ends". And these "ends" should be first and foremost understood as personal goals.

When "God" justifies one's present stage of development, then there is no more need to grow, or think outside one's box. "God" justifies, therefore, "I" am right and you are wrong. "You" are "out" and "I" am "in". All that amounts to is self-identifying factors, that maintain group cohesiveness. While groups have to have a cohesion to maintain their identity, group identity limits individual development.

Therefore,the world's peace and denominational differences will not be resolved through theology or scripture.....

Martin LaBar said...

It would be nice if the denomination listened to their Bible scholars, too.

theinquiringminds said...

Thanks Ken!