Bible-Believing Biblical Scholar: Integrating Christian Faith and Biblical Scholarship (Scholar’s Compass)

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For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. Ezra 7:10 ESV

Reflection

The book of Ezra recounts the return from exile in Babylon of Jews to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Ezra, a trained scribe, went from Babylon to Jerusalem. He had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD and to do it. Not only that, but he also wanted to teach the Law to other Jews. The “Law” referred to the first five books of the Bible, Genesis–Deuteronomy, in which God’s commands to Moses for Israel were recorded. Ezra studied God’s words to his people, walked in God’s will revealed in the Law, and taught others to do likewise. Though my academic focus is the New Testament, this is my passion as well.

Long before I ever even knew one could get a Ph.D. in New Testament studies and get to teach courses on the Bible for pay, I had a deep desire to study Scripture, learning ever more about it, and seeking to live out what I learned. Then I decided, after getting some (sub-optimal) pastoral counseling, to go earn a B.A. in Religion, with a concentration in biblical studies, at a nearby Christian college. While I was there, I more or less woke up one morning, with a strong desire to equip future pastors with skills to teach and preach the Bible’s content and its implications to other believers, in order that they might grow as disciples. This, I determined, required a full-time teaching position, and that required a Ph.D. This overarching desire to help believers grow as disciples is what motivated me (and still does) to work in biblical scholarship. Things have not gone as planned or expected. I have been teaching as an adjunct for a long time, and looking for a full-time teaching position just as long. This raises lots of questions, but that’s a (theological) topic for another day. I would study Scripture at an academic level, and find ways to teach even if it was not in an academic context. I gather that my enjoyment of reading commentaries on the Greek text of the New Testament simply for my own edification puts me in a fairly small minority, even among committed Christians in biblical studies.

I have found that my faith and my biblical scholarship are not always happy partners. For example, the largest meeting for biblical scholars is the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting. I have presented more than once at conference sessions, but as with other disciplines, I cannot wear my faith on my sleeve. That would be completely unacceptable. I may start classes with prayer, but reading a paper—a far more scary activity—does not involve prayer (at least out loud). I expect students to speak to ways that elements of a biblical text can be “applied” or actualized by Christians today, but would never talk about that at an SBL meeting. So the guild does not make it easy to integrate my faith with my scholarship. This is probably no different than in other fields, but one might expect people who spend full-time careers studying and teaching the Bible to be more in touch with its ultimate Author.

Having to read books and articles by scholars who not only do not trust in Christ but are often openly hostile to the Christian faith makes studying Scripture a challenge as well, one which I doubt Ezra had to face. I would rather read works that promote doing biblical studies from a faith-based perspective. This perspective not only informs me about biblical truths, such as Jesus’ bodily resurrection as an historical fact, but aids me actually to hear the real Subject of Scripture speak to me. As a scholar, the Bible is an object for analysis; as a Christian, the Holy Spirit through Scripture analyzes and speaks to me. If I don’t take the message seriously, and seek to hear God speak to me as I study, how am I different from those other scholars, and what does it profit me to learn all these exegetical tidbits if I do not ever put them into practice? If I do not practice them, or at least seek by God’s help to do so, can I stand in front of others and teach them, let alone encourage them about ways to live more fully for Christ?

Questions

1. What spaces can you find in your own academic work for reflection on God’s Word and how this Word might affect how you do what you do as a teacher?

2. Are there ways in which you can teach others what you have learned from Scripture, even if that is not what your discipline is about?

Prayer

Lord, the One who inspired the biblical authors, help us to be good students of your Word. May we be both good readers and true doers of your Word. Help us by your Holy Spirit to live out what you would teach us, and give us wisdom to do so even in academic contexts where such ideas are frowned upon. Please grant to us ears to hear, eyes to see, and minds to understand what your servants have written, and pass this on to others, in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Image courtesy of Torfi007 at Pixabay.

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Kenneth Litwak

Kenneth D. Litwak has a Ph.D. In New Testament studies. He teaches as an online adjunct for Asbury Theological Seminary, a computer programmer, and continues trying to find a full-time teaching position in biblical studies.

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2 Comments

  • jsire@prodigy.net'
    James W. Sire commented on December 2, 2014 Reply

    Have you checked out the Institute for Biblical Religion? It’s goals, I think, are similar to yours and not a mirror image of the SBL. Google it.

  • kennethdlitwak@gmail.com'
    Kenneth Litwak commented on December 4, 2014 Reply

    Hi James,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I have been a member of the Institute for Biblical Research for many years. It regularly meets the same weekend as the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting. I find IBR valuable because of both good scholarship and the opportunity for prayer during its Friday night plenary session. I was a board member for a couple of years while serving as the web master before the site was moved to its current home. I would encourage anyone in biblical studies to join IBR. Other people are certainly welcome at all the sessions, but to be a full member, as opposed to being a “Friend,” one has to be in biblical studies. As I noted in my post, no one prays or the like at an SBL session. I used to wonder what to do on Sunday mornings when I was in a city I didn’t know, without a car. Fortunately, a few years after I joined IBR, they began having a Sunday morning worship service. So now I never have to wonder about where to go Sunday morning during the conference.

    Ken

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