Fundamentalists and Scholarship, Part 6

How Do We Get Scholars?

In The Nick of Time
Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Fundamentalism needs scholars—particularly scholars who specialize in the theological disciplines. We don’t need many of them, but we do need some. Unfortunately, we do not have all that we need (though we do have a scant handful).

What would Fundamentalism have to do in order to develop the scholars that it needs? I want to answer that question in two essays. Here in the first essay I want to suggest two things that fundamentalists must stop doing before scholarship can begin to flourish. In the next essay I hope to offer a brief description of the investment that we will have to make if we really become serious about training scholars.

If we hope to foster scholarship, we must first stop believing a lie. The lie is one that we hear repeated often within Fundamentalism. It is simply this: that scholarship is somehow antithetical to and prohibitive of either devotion or service.

This lie surfaces in various forms. It shows up in the smug sneering at seminary education (as in the jibe, “Why do you want to go to ‘cemetery’?”). It is evident in the oft-repeated canard that too much education will rob a person of spiritual vitality, evangelistic zeal, or whatever. It is the whole rationale for the insistence that advanced learning is a waste of time when one could be preaching the Word and leading souls to Christ.

These arguments sound persuasive until you realize that the same things could be said about nearly any activity. Why waste all the time that we spend shopping for groceries, cooking food, and eating meals? Couldn’t that time be devoted to prayer? Why spend energy marrying a spouse and rearing children when we could be winning souls? Why take the time to cultivate a field or practice the piano or make our beds in the morning? The answer is that these activities are aspects, and sometimes necessary aspects, of our very humanness. To be a good Christian does not require us to become less human or to abandon normal human activities. Rather, it requires us to submit every aspect of our humanness to the service of Christ.

The life of the mind is an essential aspect of humanity. The pursuit and consideration of truth is part of what it means to be human. Of course, not everyone is called to be a scholar, any more than everyone is called to be an accomplished chef or mechanic. But every human, and particularly every Christian, should recognize the value of intellectual excellence, just as we all enjoy the benefits of culinary excellence.

For a spiritual person, culinary activity is not an obstacle to devotion or service. Instead, it is one way of serving the Lord. The same can be said of farming or sewing or welding. It can also be said of scholarship. There is no particular reason that a person who cultivates a field cannot also cultivate a life of spirituality and service. The same is true of a person who cultivates the mind—the Christian scholar may also be (and often is) deeply pious and intensely committed to serving the Lord.

Fundamentalists are not likely to produce scholars as long as they tolerate leaders who denigrate scholarship. Frequent expressions of fear and distrust betray that some fundamentalists harbor an unreasoning hatred of the life of the mind, let alone the life of a scholar. Such people continue to insist that learning will kill piety and service. As long as fundamentalists believe their lie, Fundamentalism will not have the scholars that it needs. We need to stop believing the lie.

We must also stop deceiving ourselves about the status of scholarship within our ranks. Granted, Fundamentalism does have a few scholars in the hard sciences. In the humanities, however, it has fewer, and it has only a scant handful in the theological disciplines.

We fundamentalists have generally been afraid to face this deficiency. Too often, we have tried to kid ourselves into believing that we had all the scholars we needed. We have attempted to bolster this illusion by dumbing down the definition of scholarship. We have been content to compare ourselves with ourselves, and in doing so we have not been wise.

Fundamentalism does have some first-rate Bible teachers. It has some decent theologians. It has authors who are publishing good, popular works on various aspects of the Christian faith. All of these individuals are necessary and helpful. But they are not scholars.

At the risk of giving offense, let me be candid. No institution within Fundamentalism can afford to congratulate itself on providing a haven for scholarship. Not one can preen over the scholarly voices that it has produced or that it is presently supporting. We do have a few such voices here and there, but without exception they are doing their work in spite of their institutions, and not because of them.

When the wheel bearings begin to wear out in a car, the problem never fixes itself. Left unattended, the situation becomes worse and worse until the wheels fall off and the car crashes. The longer the driver convinces himself that all is well, the more dangerous the situation becomes.

For a long time, fundamentalists have been telling themselves that they had all the scholars they needed. Many have convinced themselves, but they are living in self-deception. The wheels are in danger of coming off. Unless something is done, and soon, Fundamentalism is headed for a crash. The time has come to stop fooling ourselves.

The point of this essay is not to criticize fundamentalists, though the effect is critical. Rather, I have begun to sense within Fundamentalism a growing interest in genuine scholarship. That is very encouraging. But we must be realistic about the obstacles that I have mentioned, and we must understand the cost of producing scholars. The next essay will attempt to estimate that cost by asking, “What will we have to do in order to produce scholars?”

V. Jehovah-Shalom. The Lord Send Peace

William Cowper (1731-1800)

(Judges, vi.25)
Jesus! whose blood so freely stream’d
To satisfy the law’s demand;
By Thee from guilt and wrath redeem’d,
Before the Father’s face I stand.
To reconcile offending man,
Make Justice drop her angry rod;
What creature could have form’d the plan,
Or who fulfil it but a God?
No drop remains of all the curse,
For wretches who deserved the whole;
No arrows dipt in wrath to pierce
The guilty, but returning soul.
Peace by such means so dearly bought,
What rebel could have hoped to see?
Peace by his injured Sovereign wrought,
His Sovereign fasten’d to a tree.
Now, Lord, Thy feeble worm prepare!
For strife with earth and hell begins;
Conform and gird me for the war;
They hate the soul that hates his sins.
Let them in horrid league agree!
They may assault, they may distress;
But cannot quench Thy love to me,
Nor rob me of the Lord my peace.

Kevin BauderThis essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
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