Friday, January 11, 2013

Entering The Fray and Academic Boxing Matches

I finished Michael Halcomb's Entering The Fray sometime in December, and it was a godsend! If you like theology or are just curious about all the hoopla on the internet, I think his book is an excellent way to gain a base of understanding for what's going on in academia. Halcomb's book brought a  lot of clarity for me, as well as whetting my appetite for more.

One lesson from Entering The Fray which I found particularly helpful is that academics take a looong time! They come up with new ideas, and then they need time to chew on the idea, discuss it with colleagues, and then duke it out with opponents. The academic process is the opposite of  our instantaneous culture.

The internet has made it possible for us to get a hold of academic ideas not long after they first pop up in a professor's mind. I'm not saying it's wrong to get excited because Theologian A has discovered a new aspect of translation. However I do think we need to learn to be cautious before jumping on the bandwagon, taking into consideration that theses need time to be tested. From what I read in Entering The Fray, ideas in the academic world take a few decades to be thoroughly explored, kicked around, and bombarded with criticism (good and bad) before they can mature. And even then, it seems that few ideas survive a decade before somene else's new idea throttles it to the ground.

Unfortunately people will react quickly to these ideas without any context. Some embracing them because it simply sounds "good;" others rejecting because it sounds "wrong." If someone doesn't have the context for how long it takes for an idea to fully mature, or if they don't take into account that this same theologian might change his mind his next book, then we have a person who is forever changing his beliefs and is tossed about by this windy world.

If you consider that it could take around 50 years for an idea to be tested so thoroughly that it's likely to stand the test of eternity, should we really be so quick to abandon orthodox beliefs just because Theologian A says it's a good idea?

The other thing I learned from Halcomb's book is that academics honestly need a chance to be looney. They need to ask questions, and they need to explore them. Exploring unorthodox questions doesn't always mean an unorthodox conclusion. It could actually lead to reinforcing beliefs and strengthen the pillars of the Church. Debate, without hate, is good for the Body of Christ. It's good to be willing to look at things from different perspectives and to see how those perspectives fit within the Bible or Church tradition. I personally think, however, that one shouldn't change their beliefs just because one came up with a provocative alternative possibility. Again, given the history of Church, it's just foolish to change what you believe just because some seminary is purporting exciting theses--those theses could be vaporized by some other theses from another seminary in ten years or so.

Academics are just as human as you and I. They have feelings, and even the most Spock-like can get their motivations mixed up. They have power plays in universities, unpopular ideas get squashed, and money is forever beckoning people away from the love of truth. Liberals complain they can't get respect at the conservative universities, and . . . wait for it . . . conservatives complain they can't get respect at a the liberal universities. Both sides sling mud and claim martyrdom in the ironic chaos of intellectual pursuit.

I don't think academia is a lost cause. I value all the hard work and investigation that PhDs do. I think the majority of academics, and usually not the loudest, genuinely have a passion for pursuing Truth. There is a vulnerability in being willing to think outloud, outside the box, and to allow your mental progeny to be criticized and pummeled for the sake of intellectual purity. We need  Athenasiuses and Karl Barths for our generation.

This leads me to not get overly bothered that Professor So-and-So wants to explore the violence of the Old Testament. From what little I've read on the internet, some of his premises seem unfair, and he sounds rather whiny. But I don't want to shut him out. I want him to have the freedom to present his opinions, and want other academics to have the freedom to challenge him.

We need to be careful when wading in world wide web waters, and context needs to be among our considerations when we try to decide what's worth keeping in our virtual fishing nets. Many times what we encounter just needs to be tossed back into the informational abyss.

© 2009-2015 Emily Woodham

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