Friday, March 14, 2008

Scholarship---Et tu, Brute?

Within Fundamentalism an ongoing debate centers on the idea of “scholarship”. Although some within the broad spectrum of Fundamentalism equate ignorance with spirituality, that “some” is a small group. Most Fundamentalists with whom I am familiar understand the importance of study, learning, research, teaching, and writing. And I appreciate the writings and ministry of many involved in this debate. But we must be very careful.

Why is it necessary to obtain advanced theological degrees from nonFundamentalist schools? (Notice my emphasis is on nonFundamentalist schools. A person seeking training at various Fundamentalist schools is not my issue.) Some promote this practice without explanation, assuming that the reasons are obvious. Well, they aren't obvious to me. I don't see the need nor the point, except for necessary and specialized training in language skills or some other discipline which is available only at a few schools. But to go to Evangelical or liberal schools just for the purpose of scholarship or acceptability seems self-defeating and perhaps ego-building. In theory, if Fundmentalists should go to Evangelical seminaries, then shouldn't Evangelicals go to Fundamentalist seminaries? The argument for advanced degrees from nonFundamentalist schools implies that those schools are better than Fundamentalist schools. Is that what some are really saying? And if those schools aren't better, then is recognition and acceptance the reason for attending those schools? If that is true, then recognition and acceptance by whom? And why is that important? Or is it the accrediting agencies that are driving this emphasis?

Why is it necessary for Fundamentalists to publish in Evangelical journals and even in journals which openly deny the Bible? Isn't there a separation issue here? Pursuit of scholarship doesn't get an exemption from the principle of separation.

Why do Fundamentalists need to be members of ETS? Some Evangelicals are leaving ETS because of its theological compromise and doctrinal vagueness. So why do Fundamentalists believe they must participate in ETS in order to be “scholarly”? Perhaps some Evangelicals understand the issues better than some Fundamentalists.

For example, a few years ago the ETS was divided over what to do about some of its members who advocated open theism. Dr. John Sanders, one of the subjects of the ETS open theism debate, taught in my town at the local Christian college. Before the controversy in ETS had flared up, I took Dr. Sanders to lunch to find out more about him and the reasons for his beliefs. Although a very likable, personable, and apparently sincere person, I do not want to be part of any theological society which allows someone with his views to be a member nor part of a society which can't figure out what to do about someone with his views. The ETS is not worthy of Fundamentalist involvement or support.

I wonder if we know our heart on this issue. Since the heart is so deceptive and since self-deception is so real, I wonder if those who obtain graduate degrees at nonFundamentalist schools and obtain membership in ETS, SBL, etc. are sure of their motives. Obviously I can't know another person's heart, and occasionally we become aware of another person's motives. But are we sure what our motives are?

One reason Fundamentalism developed and grew was because of its Biblical position and its gifted preachers and teachers (on all levels—elementary, high school, college, Sunday School). Because we live in a world where a variety of information is immediately available, Fundamentalists of all ages can now easily access the writings and preaching/teaching of many theological flavors. Therefore more Fundamentalists are beginning to expand their writing and influence. The charge that Fundamentalists have not been writing is erroneous since Fundamentalists have been writing school textbooks for over 30 years, focusing their energy on what was more important and necessary at the time. In fact, the strategy of writing for elementary and high school venues is actually quite brilliant in that those books reach and influence a younger audience in their formative years.

Over fifty years ago, those dissatisfied with Fundamentalism used reasoning similar to the reasoning some Fundamentalists are using today to justify participation in nonFundamentalist schools and organizations. Although academic integrity and scholarship are worthy and necessary goals and those advocating these beliefs seem to sincerely desire to honor Jesus Christ, the day any Fundamentalist seminary becomes concerned with producing scholars and scholarship in order to be accepted and recognized in the “conversation” is the day that seminary has become like Caesar's Brutus, a friend who eventually killed us.

[Please Note: I am finishing the corrections for my dissertation and will not be able to respond too quickly to any comments. Thanks!]