For the Sake of Scholarship

I try to avoid reading comments on articles, particularly controversial ones, but sometimes the pull is just too strong. Maybe I’ve been reading to many comments on articles lately, but some people have some nerve.

I’ve seen a trend lately that I have a hard time understanding. Anytime a Bible Scholar writes an article on something controversial, a loud voice appears to rebuke them. I’m all for healthy debate, but the words spewed from opposition are collections of rants against a topic and a person. The opposition however never seems to be a scholar from across the aile, but loud lay people who hold their beliefs too closely.

Now, I have no intention of diminishing the ideals of a layperson. I believe that every person who claims faith in Christ is a minister of the gospel.

My issue comes from a sense of pride from common man. Surely a plumber would not tell a surgeon how to do his job, nor would a mechanic tell a pilot how to do his. Why? Well, each person has spent years honing their trade, and clearly would be more well informed in their speciality than someone elsewhere. Likewise, a Bible scholar has spent years studying God’s word, and does not come to quick conclusions in matters of faith.

Why then, is it so common for lay people to not just disagree with a scholar (which they have the right to), but to correct them? I’ve seen people insist that people who disagree with them just need to read the Bible more, as though they have spent more time in the word than the scholars of Christian literature! Many people essentially insist that if they read the Bible more they will come to the right conclusions…which just so happen to be the same conclusions that they’ve made for themselves.

What is the root of this nonsense? I would say that many people have “brittle faith.” If one concept of the ideology breaks, their whole network of faith is shattered. If they lose the six-day creation, if they lose the inerrancy of scripture, if they lose the sinfulness of homosexuality, if they lose the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit, their whole system of belief feels the aftershock. And so, they see any disagreements as an attack on their faith, and as an attack on Christian doctrine.

But what would happen if we allow room for discourse within Christian doctrine, and did not see every disagreement on an attack of the Truth? Well,  I don’t believe we would crack the code of Christian dogma and arrive at the Biblical positions on every issues under the sun after thousands of years of church history. But I do believe there will be two outcomes. First, we will all be more informed believers honing the practice of critical thinking as Hebrews 5:12-14 exhorts,

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

And secondly, we will be able to speak the truth in love, leading to unity and maturity as explained by Ephesians 4:15

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

In sum, let us not discourage our scholarly brothers and sisters in Christ, but listen to their slowly discerned conclusions, prod for answers and wisdom, evaluate their conclusion based one what we know, and continue a conversation. Correction won’t work, disagreements are a dead end, but conversation continue the work of critical thinking and evaluation as a refining fire to our beliefs. Let us not underestimate that.

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