The Walking Stick Principle

walking stick

The walking stick principle.

The tendency in theological education is towards greater and greater specialisation. A typical college has teachers who only operates in Old Testament, or Mission or Theology. That’s a pity because there is mission in the Old Testament, Theology in Mission, and Old Testament in both. But the classes they teach, the conferences they go to and the books and journals they read, are separate.

It was not always so. Many of the greats of the past were comfortable in a wide range of disciplines within the theology umbrella. A Calvin or Augustine would have seen it as a scandal if a theologian was not also a biblical scholar and a philosopher, for instance, – or more likely would not be able to comprehend the difference. Now these men had bigger minds than us and were dealing with a smaller overall body of knowledge but that does not reduce the disappointment that we do not have renaissance scholars any more.

When I first arrived in Nigeria as a missionary lecturer, I had just completed a masters in historical theology and, as the youngest and newest, was given Old Testament history and New Testament Greek to teach. I am not sure how much the students benefitted but I gained a great deal. As they say, if you wish to learn, teach.

Which brings me to the walking stick of the title. A walking stick is a way of turning a hand into a third foot. When there is rough going, or when one foot is weak, it is a sensible choice. The hand is gifted differently from the foot but the circumstances, not the gifting, dictate the best usage.

So, don’t be too precious about your particular gifts or your particular training or your particular knowledge base. It’s a little cold out there away from your natural home but, if you venture out, you get to see new places and return richer. And academic deans need to feel a certain freedom in allocating courses as much for the sake of the teacher as for the sake of the school.

A definition of an educated man I learnt many years ago was someone who knows something about everything and everything about something. So, in complete opposition to our rush to be known in a smaller field, the more we simply specialise the less we are educated.

So, step outside your theological ghetto now and then, read a book written by someone from a different theological tribe, have the courage to go to a conference of theological strangers, be willing to teach beyond your borders.

Get an education.

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One Comment on “The Walking Stick Principle”

  1. Don Says:

    Enjoyed your post and agree completely. I am quite eclectic, enjoying a wide range of subjects. As a big picture person I enjoy the links between various subjects. One cannot fully appreciate the development of theological knowledge without some knowledge of the contexts in which that development took place. We need historical and cultural knowledge to go with our biblical knowledge.
    However trying to cover a broad spectrum is causing some problems in a teaching career. Why? Because the secular authorities who issue the accreditation want specializations and it is difficult to be involved in ministry, have teaching responsibilities, read widely and study to get the ever increasing qualifications needed. How many doctorates can one gain in a lifetime and still have a life? Calvin had a limited amount of knowledge to absorb, today with the internet and so many people pumping out books and research it is impossible to keep up in all areas.


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