I became a scholar (or teacher, or pastor) because of my professor, Professor x.
I imagine it wasn’t difficult to fill in the x. Now imagine spending an extended session with that professor, to hear about how their work as a scholar has affected their life as a person of faith.
That’s the premise of a new collection of life stories by a diverse group of prominent Bible scholars, called I (Still) Believe. It was the hope of editors John Byron and Joel Lohr “that more than anything the contributors present real stories, with all the complexities and struggles they may hold. And they do.” (13)
The result is a deeply personal, at times surprising extended conversation with eighteen leading biblical scholars of our day. Below are three stories of faith and scholarship, from Walter Brueggemann, Beverly Gaventa, and Scot McKnight.
They highlight the components, challenges, and personal influences that shape the faith and scholarship of the voices who’ve shaped us.
The Components of Brueggemann’s Faith & Scholarship
Leading our selection is the venerable Walter Brueggemann. Among other personal highlights, he shares six components to his own faith journey and growth as an interpreter:
- While he has always been active in the professional guild of Old Testament studies, he has become increasingly committed to pastors and lay members of the church;
- His scholarly trajectory “leapt abruptly with the emergence of Liberation Theology in its many forms…”
- His introduction to the Frankfurt School of interpretation opened up for him new possibilities in thought and life;
- His interpretive perspective has been decisively shaped by Paul Ricoeur;
- Brevard Childs’s and Norman Gottwald’s works “constituted for me a huge impetus for a move beyond historical criticism of a conventional kind toward a sense of Scripture’s role and function amid the power realities of dominant society.”
- A growing edge of inquiry “has been attentiveness to Jewish perspectives and Jewish scholarship that were not part of my formal education.”
Brueggemann hopes to leave a legacy of scholarly courage “to move beyond critical questions to substantive issues of faith;” and for the church “interpretive courage that refuses to be boxed in by the several orthodoxies that tame the text.” (42)
The Scholarly Cost of Gaventa’s Faith & Scholarship
Beverly Gaventa admits while her scholarly work hasn’t undermined her faith, she has “sometimes wondered about the cost and contribution of the scholarly enterprise.” (88) She share several challenges.
First, the cost of the scholarly lens. “It can result in a special form of myopia that renders us blind to much else going on in the world.” (88)
As a mother, she speaks to the enterprise’s familial challenges: “When I was at my desk I wanted to be with my infant son, and when I was with him, I wanted to be at my desk. But those are challenges for all who combine a strong vocation with parenthood, another strong vocation.” (88)
Questions of biblical scholarship provide a different challenge. “I grow weary with facing the same questions year in and year out, decade in and decade out.” She hasn’t doubted God as much as “the significance and contribution of biblical scholarship.” (88–89)
Finally, there are the personal costs: the ethos of self-promotion, the seasons of self-doubt, the professional demons springing to life with each writing project.
Though the costs are sometimes steep she is grateful “for this immense privilege of a life of study and teaching.” (92)
The Personal Influences on McKnight’s Faith & Scholarship
Finally, Scot McKnight shares his winding journey from the locker room to the classroom. In reading his story of faith and scholarship, I was struck by the cast of characters that contributed to McKnight’s direction and development.
In college, he told his first Bible professor, Joe Crawford, he wanted to be like him someday because of the way Crawford helped him engage the Bible. John Stott led him to see he was an evangelical and no longer a fundamentalist. While studying at Trinity, he decided he wanted to teach Jesus and the Gospels someday just like Walt Liefeld. Harris, Osborne, and Moo led him to believe he was called to do a PhD. James Dunn at Nottingham admitted him and became both a wonderful mentor as his Doktorvater and friend.
McKnight is not unique in the way people have impacted his professional journey. Yet it seems to have led to an epiphany that has instructed his teaching career:
I learned something about teaching when I was a young teacher for which I am most grateful: that I was not teaching subjects to students, which makes me a talking head, but teaching students about a subject… (166)
Such a personal view of the professorship seems evident in those who taught McKnight, as well, giving significant shape to his faith and scholarship.