Let’s bring the soul back to biblical scholarship

Let’s bring the soul back to biblical scholarship March 19, 2018

Recently I had a unique opportunity.
I was asked, by members of the Comparative Religion M.A. cohort at the University of Washington, to lead a conversation on being a pastor who is also an aspiring scholar.

Most of them were not Christian in any sense of the word.
And yet, they were interested.


I’m convinced that many folks are awakening to the fact that something is missing. The church and state divide often becomes a divide between faith and intellect.

What I mean is that, Christian or not, there is a subtle (and sometimes overt) bias in many settings that if you are a religious devotee in the subject area that you study academically, then your scholarship is suspicious.

And I get it. Especially in Christian scholarship.

There’s some stuff out there that is designed to prove basic scholarship wrong.
An easy example to pick on is how certain theologians spend all their time defending Genesis 1 as though it were a science book.
Of course, this anti-mainstream-science posture leads young adults out of the church and harms our witness in the long run.
I understand being suspicious.

I am too in certain situations.

But. What I sensed from this hodgepodge of humans from my program at UW is that they crave a sense of connectedness.

The old binaries of “this” or “that”–sacred versus secular–aren’t working for them either.
They want to engage, on the ground, with their subject areas.
And, they want people like me to be free to be fully immersed in the Christian faith without having a lurking suspicion that my scholarly advances are biased.

They want to put the soul back into scholarship.

This wasn’t tilted toward Christians, or any other religion of philosophy.
This wasn’t informed by a “God is Not Dead” mentality (the movie about mean professors that make Christian students feel dumb… which is actually are RARE situation).

It was informed by a simple fact: that when you take the soul out of scholarship, something of our human nature is haunted by it.

For those of us who follow Jesus, we should be encouraged.
Following Jesus as Lord and cutting our teeth in scholarship don’t have to be driven by our biases.
Rather, with the soul back in scholarship, we might just become better scholars.

And I’d argue, if you are reading this blog: You are a scholar.

I’ve become convinced that almost anyone can become a scholar or theologian of Paul or any part of the New Testament.
In fact, if you think about and study God in any way, shape, or form—you are already both.

Maybe this sounds silly to you. I get that.
But here’s the deal—
Studying God isn’t something that was meant only for the ivory tower, it is something available to everyone.

We, together, are putting the soul into scholarship.

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  • Greta Holt

    An Anabaptist view. I’m appreciative of your reaching down from academia and recognizing the many lay people who like to study and learn.

  • jekylldoc

    “Faith seeking understanding” is a lot easier to live into if you define faith in terms of trust rather than creedally. I would argue that the participation of pastors and lay persons is helpful to putting soul back in, as you put it, because the academic game is stacked in favor of critical work which gets “relevance” by debunking traditional formulations, and against constructive work which seeks to integrate careful research into a structure of meaning. The classroom has often served as the bridge between academic motivations and integrative motivations. But too many religious classrooms are restricted by ideology (not always traditionalist).

    Soul is integrative. Soul always wants to see any meaning as part of a whole.

  • Thanks for this Kurt. I’ve been in this conversation with a few friends who are church leaders, peacebuilders and anthropologists in the Philippines. They described the need to separate their faith from their scholarship since could loose their credibility because of their faith’s effect on their approach to academic work. They’re worried about being tagged with the label that christianity is an “impure” bias in their word. Because their intentions are not purely humanistic or altruistic their work is somehow tainted by their Jesus and a love for the world from a Jesus worldview rather than non faith based scholarship and academic science.

    Have you experienced a lot of conversations like this in your studies?