Giving Scholarship a Bad Name

By Bruce Edwards, Jr.

One cannot help but be a little bemused by the outcry in various papers against “scholarship.” It is quite fashionable now to assail that terrible “ivory tower preacher, elder or editor” who will not come down to earth to “us common folk” and “just preach the gospel.” Granted, there may be some who will fit that ignominious category and justly deserve our taunting and badgering- but just what constitutes this “pseudo-scholarship” that we must be on guard against? Who will step forward with the infallible criteria by which we can all judge “true” scholarship and “false” scholarship? Is it a matter of vocabulary? Does it involve subject matter? Or is quantity of footnotes the ominous sign of defection from “proper scholarship?” Before we set out to ostracize every innocent “preacher-boy” who may inadvertently use an occasional “exegesis” or “apocalyptic” or “ignominious” or every older preaching brother who gets a new set of commentaries on the Greek text and has the audacity to use them – let us at least make an attempt at identifying the enemy.

I would suggest that it is somewhat naive to begin suddenly dispensing with scholarly studies in the word of God. Every man, woman or child who picks up his or her Bible in an attempt to learn the will of the Lord is a scholar. There is no dedicated preacher, elder or editor who is not a scholar. And yet we find good men prefacing their articles almost apologetically, “Now, I am no scholar . . . ” Preposterous! It is a dangerous disposition to be voicing abroad that “scholarship” is suspect and not to be trusted. This is the height of folly and, ultimately, the exaltation of ignorance. Of course not every individual who attempts to understand the word of God and then write down his conclusions for the world to examine is going to be correct, trustworthy and full of wisdom. But that has always been in the case and not a phenomenon peculiar to this time and place. Perhaps some of the criticism is more reflective of a low view of reader intelligence and perception than a high view of the truth of the gospel.

What, I think, must be understood is that not everyone in the body of Christ is going to have the same tastes and needs. We all have different backgrounds, educational experience and levels of spiritual maturity. When we begin to speak in behalf of “the rest of the brethren” we ought to take these things into account. Regardless of what publication one picks up he will encounter at least three kinds of articles: 1) those “above his head;” 2) those “right at his level;” 3) those somewhat “below his level.” No writer can write on three or even two of these levels at once and I would dare say that one’s efforts are probably going to be on all three of these levels to differing audiences. The point is this: there is no sure way to gauge what the optimum level may be for everybody. The best we can do, I suspect, is simply to write . . . and let our efforts find their audience – if any. And ultimately it is the editor who must resolve this tricky question of what is fit for publication and what is not.

We do not need less scholarship . . . we need more. And it is the responsibility of every child of God to be a diligent student of the word. No, we do not need a return to the “scholasticism” of the middle ages that obscures the will of God, but before we give “scholarship” a bad name let us seriously and rationally consider the direction of our thinking. Promoting a convenient superficiality in lieu of good, honest scholarship is to provide fertile soil for the seeds of false doctrine. There is meat and milk in the word. We cannot afford to dispense with either.

Truth Magazine, XX:5, p. 2
January 29, 1976