In light of the online debate about whether there is an anti-traditional bias in biblical studies, I wanted to write a few brief posts outlining my thoughts as someone who works in both the academy and the church. This post will look at the different goals of each institution and the next post on the different methods to achieve these goals.
As I see it, the purpose of the Humanities in the University is to study different subjects that help to illuminate what it means to be human, including the psychological, social, cultural, and ethical dimensions of human existence. Religious Studies is one branch of the Humanities that examines the formation and development of particular human communities around a set of beliefs and practices in specific contexts. The ultimate goal of the academy is to produce new knowledge, whether breaking down older paradigms or advancing new lines of research based on different ways of interpreting the same data or fresh discoveries.
Churches, on the other hand, act as custodians that guard what they see as the treasure entrusted to them (2 Timothy 1:14) or the faith handed down to the saints (Jude 1:3). This is preserved and protected by a canon of scriptural writings, creeds, common rituals, and trained clergy. However, it is also true that churches will always be changing as they enter into dialogue with the traditions that they inherit from within different historical, social, and cultural contexts.
It may seem like the goal of these two institutions, the academy and the church, are antithetical. Indeed, there may be some core convictions by which a certain Christian scholar has been shaped that may differ from his or her peers coming out of a different tradition. However, from my Christian standpoint, I think we ought to acknowledge that our understanding is always only limited and partial, that we see through a mirror dimly and know only in part until eternity when we see face to face and have complete understanding (1 Corinthians 13:12). Thus, this can be an invitation to continually explore and test what we think we know and to see if we can arrive at a greater understanding of some matters in every generation. All truth is God’s truth, even in the areas that have yet to be explored or fully grasped.