A Devout Scholar


A devout scholar

Few teachers in theological education subscribe to an enlightenment view of theology and biblical studies – that it can be done correctly regardless of a faith commitment. This is what sets theological study apart from other disciplines.

But the next question is important, and not often asked. How do we construct a spiritual relationship to our studies? Here are a few suggestions;

  1. Identify with the New Testament writers. These are people we study in our work but they were all apostles, missionaries and pastors, interpreting scripture and doing theology for the benefit of the spiritual lives of the church members. It would be strange for us to use them as sources for our theology but not their lives for examples.
  2. Recognise the powerful connection that moves from our lives to our studies. As liberation theology has pointed out. If you are not feeding the poor, you will construct a theology that does not require you to feed the poor. The same could be said for prayer and holiness.
  3. Acknowledge that often spiritual experience is part of the basis on which we do hermeneutics. Study of the Hebrew words will get us some way to understanding the psalms but spiritual experience akin to that of the writer will be essential for us to understand them deeply. It requires more than taking apart the piano to understand a Beethoven sonata.
  4. Understand that we do our academic work in His strength and with His guidance. Here is a prayer from a theologian greater than those who walk the earth today, Anselm (Prayer to Christ).

“Hope of my heart, strength of my soul, help of my weakness,

By your powerful kindness complete what in my powerless weakness I attempt”

          He was in fact, primarily, referring not to his academic work but to his love for God.

  1. Aim that, in some way, our work will contribute to the coming of Christ’s kingdom, the furthering of the task of the mission of God in this world. Looking for how our studies do that is fundamental to motive and a sense of usefulness. And we must help our research students to choose subject areas with this in mind.
  2. Remember that we read and speak about God in the presence of God. We certainly discuss someone in a different way when they are present and listening, so with God. Studying privately and teaching publically in his presence is our job. Which makes it a very special job indeed, and in some ways a scary one. Which leads on to my next point;
  3. Look to a time when God will judge our work. This is a fact for all Christians but, because of the greater responsibility, teachers, says James, will be judged with greater strictness. One part of a spiritual attitude is carefulness.
  4. Live our academic life as a central part of our discipleship because it is our calling. No other reason comes close. We do it for the one who has asked us to do this and who has done so much for us.

Living and working as this sort of teacher, we pass these attitudes on to our students for their academic life. Devout scholars birth devout scholars.

[This may be a useful little article to discuss as a faculty. There is plenty of space for the three “d”s – debate, develop and disagree. Why not suggest this to your academic dean?]

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2 Comments on “A Devout Scholar”

  1. Thank you Graham, for reminding all of us who, in any capacity, engage in the delivery of theological education, that what we do is primarily a sacred imperative, a holy service. I was deeply blessed by the extract you quoted from Anselm’s prayer, and humbled by your exhortation to remember I conduct my service in the presence of the Lord.

  2. harknessa Says:

    So may it indeed be! Thanks for this timely yet timeless reminder, Graham.

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