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Christian Scholarship in a Nutshell

Here is a great blog by Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen on how scholarship works with Bible Study.  It seems that for many of us we don’t spend enough time with the Bible (and that should be our main focus as believers), but we all participate and must participate in all three areas or types of Christian Scholarship even if we do not realize it.  As Christians we should check our brains at the door of our closet or church, but use our intelect under the control and power of the Spirit to understand God, His Word, and His world better. The Three areas should not be seen as competitors for people or camps that people live in, but as teammates in rightly interpreting and applying the Word of God – The Bible.

Christian Scholarship in a Nutshell: “
Three types of Christian scholarship:

1. Exegetes (study) – Level one studies

original research; learning; data; facts

These are the type of people who are continually doing research. They primarily involve themselves in first hand resources. In biblical studies, they are concerned with original language, backgrounds, historical criticism, and textual issues. They are often (though not always) very timid to take theological stands due to their realization of the complexities of the issues involved. Because of this, they are sometimes accused of “academic agnosticism.” They are very precise thinkers and normally find it difficult to teach because they are always qualifying everything. More often than not they limit their studies to very particular areas.

They find all the pieces of the puzzle.

Viewpoint: TREES

  • Why they might dislike theologians: “They often lack the precise information and are sloppy with the facts.”
  • Why they need theologians: To process the data and come to conclusions from a broader understanding.
  • Possible problems with exegetes: Truth often dies the death of a thousand qualifications. They can lack common sense. Their precise studies can blind them to the obvious.

2. Theologian/Philosopher (think) – Level two studies

systematize; reflect; theories

Theologians are the thinkers. They are not so much concerned about researching and discovering original data, but with the bigger picture of what the data means and exploring original ideas. They spend their time reflecting on issues and coming to conclusions about truth. They systematize the data in order that creeds can be reasoned, established, and defended. They are much broader in their thinking and studies, having to be familiar with many areas of scholarship in order to provide a systematic understanding of the complete truth. They are concerned with biblical studies, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, logic, and the like.

They put the puzzle together.

Viewpoint: FOREST

  • Why they might dislike exegetes: “They lack wisdom.”
  • Why they might dislike pastoral-types: “They compromise the truth for acceptance.”
  • Why they need exegetes: To provide accurate data from which to derive their conclusions.
  • Why they need pastoral-types: To test the truth in the real world.
  • Possible problems with theologians: They can be traditionalistic, being concerned with their preconceptions more than the truth. Can be rash about coming to conclusions without having done sufficient homework.

3. Pastoral/Missional (apply) – Level three studies

integrate; contextualize; communication

These are concerned with how to distribute the information to others. They are focused on how the information can be applied to real life. They spend their time thinking about church, mission, and strategies. They are didactically (teaching) purposed. They are discerning as to what applies, when and where. They are more hands-on with the real world which gives them a great understanding of whether or not the truth , when tested, actually works. This is often the determining factor of the reality of our faith.

Pastoral types display the puzzle.

Viewpoint: TREES

  • Why they might dislike exegetes and theologians: “They are ivory tower scholars who cannot relate to the real world.”
  • Possible problems with pastors-type: Methodology can take priority over the truth. They spend so much time thinking about programs and contextualization, they can compromise the information in favor of acceptance.


These types of distinctions have a lot to do with personality and find a place in just about every discipline, not just Christian scholarship. However, I think it is helpful here to apply them only to Christian scholarship.

While most of us will see ourselves more in one than the others (I find myself in 2), we need to be careful. Of course we need to recognize the dangers and listen to the critique of the others, but more than that, we need to be continually committed to finding balance. Our gifts and calling are going to clearly drive us to one more than the others so I am not saying neglect one to brush up on the others. But I am saying that if you neglect the others, it will make you less proficient in the one. I have seen sloppy theologians. I have been a sloppy theologian. I have seen exegetes who seem to continually miss the obvious. I have seen pastoral-types compromise. All I am saying is that you need to be aware of where you stand and committed to excellence by being appreciative of all three.

As a side note, Dan Wallace is a great example of an exegete who has tremendous balance. While he is careful, he is not non-committal. And his pastoral/missional side is obvious to all who have sat under him.

Which one do you find yourself leaning toward?


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