Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Evangelical Theological Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Evangelical Theological Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

In recent years we have heard some rather severe statements about the status and quality of evangelical scholarship. While I share some of the concern of those who have issued these condemnations, I have preferred to try to alleviate the problem by contributing positively to the corpus, rather than complaining about it. This is a case of lighting a candle, rather than cursing the darkness.

Having said that, however, I do have some concerns as we look forward into the twenty-first century, and these are concerns about the quality of the scholarship, not the theological conclusions. While some may mistake "concern" for "fear"1 or even "alarm" and "consternation,"2 it is important to draw the distinction. Fear is not what leads a sailor to check carefully the rigging of his boat and to obtain a weather briefing before departure. That is concern or caution. Rather, the experience of fear of control failure or of dangerous weather is reserved for those who fail to take such precautions. It is not fear that leads a person to have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in her home. Fear of fire is what may be experienced by those who do not take such precautions. It appears to me, as we face the century into which we have entered, that some sanctified caution is in order, for reasons that I will elaborate further. As I shall explain later, there are times when I am optimistic and times when I am pessimistic, but this may be a time for what psychologist Julie Norem calls "defensive pessimism."3

In addressing this subject, I do not represent myself as some shining paragon of scholarship, but as one who, by virtue of sheer chronological giftedness, has had opportunity to observe the evangelical scene for some time. These are goals toward which I have tried to strive, but have not yet attained. While no one has yet reached the North Star by sailing toward it, it is still a good sight to aim toward. Let's simply call what follows my hopes for the development of evangelical theological scholarship in the twenty-first century. While "I have a hope" does not have quite the ring of "I have a dream," it has the virtue of being more original. To that end, may I share several of those hopes? Nor is any of this new and original. It may sound very familiar to all my readers, in which case, review is often helpful.

Before proceeding, let me respond to your criticisms of this address. With all due apologies to David Letterman, here are the top ten reasons why your criticisms are unfounded:

#10. Because you do not agree with me, you have no right to criticize my ideas.

#9. Your comments reflect a hopelessly obsolete conception. No one thinks that way anymore.

#8a. ...

#8b. That certainly was a surprising election, wasn't it?

#7. You have ignored a crucial distinction that I draw.

#6. 2 plus 2 equals 4.

#5. I have dealt with that criticism in my groundbreaking article in the Northwest Kazakhstan Journal of Crypto-Theology.

#4. How uncivil of you to say such things about an irenic theologian like me.

#3. You are engaged in a personal vendetta against me.

#2. You are a (rationalist, postmodernist, foundationalist, etc.).

#1. You have misquoted and misrepresented me. I don't hold what you have unfairly accused me of.

Now you may be saying, "But we have not even yet criticized your remarks. In fact, we have not even heard what you have to say." That objection, however, is quite irrelevant, at least in the environment that may be coming upon us. In fact, it should also be possible to offer a list of criticisms of the address, even before I deliver it. You may be interested in purchasing one of my "review makers," which come in several models, from the introductory $9.95 kit to the industrial strength version for $49.95. A sort of academic LEGO set, it contains all the components to assemble a critique of any book (e.g. the view is either monistic or dualistic, convoluted or simplistic, circular or inconsistent, radical or reactionary, verbose or truncated, etc. …

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