Recently I had a unique opportunity.
I was asked, by members of the Comparative Religion M.A. cohort at the University of Washington, to lead a conversation on being a pastor who is also an aspiring scholar.
Most of them were not Christian in any sense of the word.
And yet, they were interested.
I’m convinced that many folks are awakening to the fact that something is missing. The church and state divide often becomes a divide between faith and intellect.
What I mean is that, Christian or not, there is a subtle (and sometimes overt) bias in many settings that if you are a religious devotee in the subject area that you study academically, then your scholarship is suspicious.
And I get it. Especially in Christian scholarship.
There’s some stuff out there that is designed to prove basic scholarship wrong.
An easy example to pick on is how certain theologians spend all their time defending Genesis 1 as though it were a science book.
Of course, this anti-mainstream-science posture leads young adults out of the church and harms our witness in the long run.
I understand being suspicious.
I am too in certain situations.
But. What I sensed from this hodgepodge of humans from my program at UW is that they crave a sense of connectedness.
The old binaries of “this” or “that”–sacred versus secular–aren’t working for them either.
They want to engage, on the ground, with their subject areas.
And, they want people like me to be free to be fully immersed in the Christian faith without having a lurking suspicion that my scholarly advances are biased.
They want to put the soul back into scholarship.
This wasn’t tilted toward Christians, or any other religion of philosophy.
This wasn’t informed by a “God is Not Dead” mentality (the movie about mean professors that make Christian students feel dumb… which is actually are RARE situation).
It was informed by a simple fact: that when you take the soul out of scholarship, something of our human nature is haunted by it.
For those of us who follow Jesus, we should be encouraged.
Following Jesus as Lord and cutting our teeth in scholarship don’t have to be driven by our biases.
Rather, with the soul back in scholarship, we might just become better scholars.
And I’d argue, if you are reading this blog: You are a scholar.
I’ve become convinced that almost anyone can become a scholar or theologian of Paul or any part of the New Testament.
In fact, if you think about and study God in any way, shape, or form—you are already both.
Maybe this sounds silly to you. I get that.
But here’s the deal—
Studying God isn’t something that was meant only for the ivory tower, it is something available to everyone.
We, together, are putting the soul into scholarship.
Author: Kurt Willems
Kurt Willems is a pastor, author, and spiritual director. His first book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain, releases in March 2021. Kurt is also the host of the Theology Curator podcast. He has a master of divinity degree from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a master of arts in comparative religion from the University of Washington.
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