Friday, September 09, 2011

Divided scholarship among the Christian populace

The moment I finished reading Tim Grass' fine biography of F. F. Bruce, I thought to myself how wonderful it would be if someone writes a biography of contemporary biblical scholars like Larry Hurtado and James D. G. Dunn?

These scholars are highly regarded in the academia while only relatively known among the wider Christian community. I remember recommending a local scholar as the speaker to an upcoming conference to my planning committee, and none of them have heard about him. I have to admit my surprise. The committee members are all my senior and have been around the Christian circles for decades yet they have no idea who the scholar is.

After I put down Grass' book, I googled to find out if there are other biographies about biblical scholars of previous or our generation. Found a few autobiographies. Then I chanced upon John Stackhouse' brief recollection of Hurtado's life leading up to his appointment at the University of Edinburgh. They were colleagues at the University of Manitoba.

I did not know that Hurtado was born in America. I always have the impression that he is from UK.

Stackhouse mentioned something very interesting:

Indeed, given how brilliantly and accessibly Larry speaks, it remains a scandal to me that he has not been asked to address major conferences such as InterVarsity’s Urbana, Lausanne meetings, WCC conferences, and more. But so few leaders of popular church movements do pay attention to scholarship nowadays that I am not as disappointed as I used to be. If you work for years as a faithful interpreter of Scripture and early church history at the highest levels, no matter how well you speak or write, I’m afraid you have to aim pretty low to show up on the radar of the people who seem to run those sorts of things.

The reason why this is interesting is because it coheres well with the sentiment felt among local scholars that I know. One of them recently told us how his research project is not appreciated by his Church and the local Christian community. He lamented that, "the church leaders have completely no clue/interest in my academic research."

There is strong resistance from the wider Christian community to reject whatever they are not familiar with or see value in them.

Take for example, recently I asked a para-Church organization whether they interested to learn textual criticism and reliability of the NT from local scholar, who is also a great expositor of the scripture. They said that the fact that they are Christians means that the NT is by default reliable to them and hence there is no need to learn. Obviously, they have no idea that Bart Ehrman was a Christian.

So it really is not surprising that Hurtado is not invited to be the speaker to major conferences like Lausanne meetings. To the wider Christian community, the fact that Christ is worshipped as god by the earliest believers (Hurtado's lifelong research interest) is by default a tautology. Hence needless to invite someone to preach on tautology.

But then is not the mandate to proclaim the gospel a tautology to Christians too? Why is the Christian populace prizes one over the other?


duncanpredie said...

answering the rhetoric: the tautology of missions could bring money&ppl in, the tautology of textual reliability could bring money&ppl out

Sze Zeng said...

Hahahahaha that's a good one. :)