the weblog of Alan Knox

The Place of Academics

Posted by on Jan 30, 2010 in blog links, discipleship | Comments Off

Arthur from “the voice of one crying out in suburbia” has written an excellent post about the role of academics in the church called “Three cheers for Greek geeks.” Of course, like Arthur says, there’s no place in the church for “academics for academics sake.”

After discussing the simplicity of following Christ and the lack of education of the first disciples, Arthur then points out how academic studies (especially the translation of Scripture) has benefited the church.

Arthur concludes with this:

There is a place for deeper studies of theology and doctrine, people willing to dig really deep, to get after source material. There are many controversial and false teachings that crop up and thank God for men who have put in the time to refute these errors where they crop up. There are some incredibly gifted theologians in the church and again I thank God for them. When crackpot theories come out, we need sound scholarship to refute them. Whether it is counter-cult apologetics or silly stuff like ‘King James Only-ism’, the academy is a useful place to hash issues out. Of course plenty of really dangerous and kookie teaching comes from academic institutions too, so having a PhD is not a safeguard against heresy.

Where the possible problem rises up is two-fold. First, the academics in the church in many cases have stopped serving the church and started serving the academic community. Christian academics for the sake of academics, with a goal of getting published and recognized instead of serving the Body of Christ, is self-serving and sinful. If you use your own gifts for your own glorification, even hidden under a veneer of false humility, it is sinful and prideful and incredibly dangerous.

Second, there is the notion that those who lead in the local gathering of the church must be those who meet the proper academic credentials, credentials that are absent from Scripture but present on virtually every pastoral job posting. I think seminaries have a vital function as bastions of learning but I don’t think they should be vocational education schools for ministry and I also don’t think (as I have stated often before) that they should be enclaves of learning for those willing to pay tuition but rather they should instead be places of sending where the academics among us go out from their ivy covered halls of higher learning to serve the church. Writing journal articles that are so complex and confusing that only other academics can understand them may get you published in a theology journal but don’t do much to edify the Body of Christ.

In spite of these issues, there certainly is a place for scholarship and academia in the Body of Christ. There is nothing especially noble in being as ignorant as possible nor is there anything noble in puffing one’s self up with pride in the academy. As long as everyone uses their gifts to support and edify the Body and bring glory to Christ, we will be alright.

Arthur is right, of course. Those in the academy should make sure their work serves other believers, not just their advancement in the academy.

But, this also applies to other professions as well. Everyone should ask if and how they are allowing God to use them to serve the church.