Fundamentalists and Scholarship, Part 7

To Make a Scholar

In The Nick of Time
Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Suppose we fundamentalists wanted to produce scholars—real ones. In what sort of resources would we have to invest? What does it take to make a scholar?

The first bit of news here is good: there are certain activities in which we would not have to invest. For example, there is no reason for Fundamentalism to educate its own scholars in the sciences and humanities. If we equip church members to be serious Christians, then they will be able to integrate their faith into the scholarly training that they receive in any institution. The only scholars that Fundamentalism needs to produce are theological scholars.

Nor does Fundamentalism have to provide its own publishing venues. In fact, if we try to, we are likely to fail. The presses and journals of the scholarly world are open to fundamentalists. With rare exceptions, we have not been denied the opportunity to publish. We have simply failed to take advantage of the opportunity that exists.

Furthermore, Fundamentalism does not need to produce a great host of scholars. Every church needs a pastor, and all pastors ought to be theologically knowledgeable, but not every church needs a theological scholar. Scholars are not shepherds over God’s flock. They are more like veterinarians, or possibly like guard-dogs who repel wolves. They ought to be available to serve the shepherds, but their work is far more specialized, and it is not localized in particular congregations.

So much for what we do not have to do. Nevertheless, we must obviously spend something if we wish to produce scholars. What will we have to pay?

First, we will have to invest in serious, liberal education. Liberal education is so important that it cannot be left until college, or even until high school. It has to begin with fathers reading to their little children. Then it has to continue all the way through grammar school, high school, and college or university.

This is not the place to specify a program for liberal education, but I can summarize the results. By the time a student (any student in any major) has completed a bachelors degree, she or he should have mastered the liberal arts of the Trivium. A college graduate should hold at least a survey-level knowledge of Western intellectual history. College graduates should know and understand the permanent questions and the principal answers. Furthermore, they should be able to read and write in at least one foreign language. These are the marks of any educated person. We will not have scholars until we are serious about education.

Second, if we want to produce theological scholars, then we must provide training in the skills that scholars require. This is the role of academic institutions and Ph.D. programs. During graduate and especially postgraduate education, would-be scholars must learn to navigate the literature within their disciplines, master the skills required for scholarly research, and develop those powers of presentation that will be essential for functioning in the scholarly community. During the years of preparation, future scholars must also make their first forays into the academic arena, attending and offering presentations for the learned societies that service their disciplines. Simultaneously, they will begin to develop the networks of relationships that will lead to publishing opportunities. Most importantly, future scholars must begin to focus attention upon the areas of specialization in which they hope to advance the scholarly conversation and thereby to expand the scope of human knowledge.

If a school wishes to offer this kind of preparation, what will it need? First, it will need faculty members who represent a decent cross-section of their disciplines. In a credible doctoral program, the professors will have received their terminal degrees from a variety of institutions, and only a small minority will hold their final degree from the school in which they teach. These professors must not only have mastered the scholarly corpora and techniques, but also they must have devoted themselves to specialized sub-disciplines. For example, having a single New Testament professor is not adequate: a school that hopes to train scholars must have specialists in (among others) Pauline, Johannine, and Synoptic literature. A single historical theologian on the faculty is not enough: in order to train scholars, a school needs specialists in Patristic, Medieval, Reformation, and modern theology (I note in passing that I know of no fundamentalist scholar who has specialized in the theology of the Middle Ages). The other theological disciplines require the same kind of specialization.

Besides competent faculty, a school needs to provide an adequate research library. At the postgraduate level, a research library has to include specialized tools as well as primary sources. How large does a doctoral library have to be? That is not an easy question to answer, because each library (like each doctoral program) tends to have its own focus. Still, it is difficult to imagine how any credible doctoral library could contain fewer than 70 or 80,000 titles—assuming that they represented the right books.

Beyond faculty and library, a decent doctoral program needs to provide its students with the opportunity to interact with the scholarly community. Both faculty and students should participate in learned societies. Scholarship is not an isolated activity, but a conversation with a community. That conversation takes place in venues like the Evangelical Theological Society, the Society for Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Church History, and dozens of other specialized societies and study groups whose memberships overlap and interlock. By the time students graduate with their Ph.D. degrees, they should already be reading papers in at least some of these societies.

All of this is necessary in order to provide adequate training for scholarship. If we suppose that we can produce scholars while making less of an investment, we are simply kidding ourselves. Nevertheless, people who have completed this training are not yet scholars. They have crossed the river so as to stand on the edge of the promised country, but they must now go on and possess the land. In other words, if fundamentalists want scholars, then they are going to have to do more than simply provide for scholarly training. They must also provide opportunities for scholars to do their work.

What does that provision look like? What opportunities do scholars need? I shall return to that question in the next essay.

I Thirst, Thou Wounded Lamb of God

John Wesley (1703-1791)

I thirst, Thou wounded Lamb of God,
To wash me in Thy cleansing blood;
To dwell within Thy wounds; then pain
Is sweet, and life or death is gain.

Take my poor heart, and let it be
For ever closed to all but Thee:
Seal Thou my breast, and let me wear
That pledge of love for ever there.

How blest are they who still abide
Close shelter’d in Thy bleeding side!
Who thence their life and strength derive,
And by Thee move, and in Thee live.

What are our works but sin and death,
Till Thou Thy quick’ning Spirit breathe?
Thou giv’st the power Thy grace to move;
O wondrous grace! O boundless love!

How can it be, Thou heavenly King,
That Thou shouldst us to glory bring;
Make slaves the partners of Thy throne,
Deck’d with a never-fading crown?

Hence our hearts melt, our eyes o’erflow,
Our words are lost; nor will we know,
Nor will we think of aught beside, —
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

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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