Monday, October 10, 2011

Scholarship: What is it good for?

Once every semester the faculty take a day off from giving instruction to receive instruction or to work collaboratively on something. Classes are dismissed and the library closes until 2:00pm for Faculty In-Service Day.

This fall two of our newest faculty members gave presentations on their areas of expertise. Dr. Blair Wilgus gave an overview of his doctoral dissertation on Amos chapters 3–6, focusing on the message of judgment and hope in that book. Dr. Carl Toney taught a lesson on “What is God's will for my life?” out of his work as a Pauline scholar.

Then three professors shared best practices of integrating faith and learning in their courses:
  • Associate Professor of Science and Mathematics, Glenn Cadzow shared how he attempts to connect what he is teaching in science to the student's faith with comments such as, “if you look closely enough, you will see God's fingerprints” or “we are looking at a facet of our creator.” 
  • English Professor, Natalie Hewitt talked about how she used Rob Bell's recent controversial book Love Wins to engage students in deeper discussion about C.S. Lewis' Til We Have Faces, allowing blog posts and email discussions to be used as term paper resources to help engage higher level thinking about the issues that affect faith. 
  • In Constitutional Law and Interpretation, Roberto Sirvent brings students to an understanding of how intelligent, well-meaning people can disagree about the proper interpretation of constitutional law. Then, once it is established that it is not as easy as they might have thought, he leads them to make a similar connection about those who differ about the interpretation of Scripture. 
I was intellectually stimulated by lunch time!

But then that same day, the Hope International University Tribune (student publication) was distributed throughout campus. In it I found an interesting opinion piece by our very own Library Technical Services Assistant, Trevor Williams. Trevor, a second year Biblical Studies major, was critical of biblical scholarship. That surprised me because I believe that he is wired to be a scholar. But he wasn't against scholarship. He was more critical of jargon that Christian scholars use that "leaves the average Christian behind."

“As valuable as their knowledge may be to them, it is all worthless if the only purpose it serves is to have knowledge for knowledge's sake. There must be a bridge made that makes Bible scholarship relevant to Christians.”

Interestingly, this quote reminded me of a comment that former Pacific Christian College President Medford Jones made to me about a seminary we had a common connection with. He felt that they were too interested in scholarship just for the sake of scholarship. Dr. Jones' comment surprised me then because it was not meant to be a compliment. (I think Trevor would have appreciated Dr. Jones.)

Reflecting back on the presentations by my colleagues that morning, I wondered what Trevor would have thought of them.

Brave Dr. Wilgus was first and had the most jargon-filled presentation to give.  He explained various ways of studying the scripture, from the traditional German historical-critical method to more contemporary post-modern new criticism that has become popular in the United States – and how they might approach the study of Amos.

If Trevor or Dr. Jones had been there, they might have asked what I asked during the Q&A period. "What would the scholars say is the lesson from Amos for us today?" And, then the follow-up question, "And what do you say?"

As Trevor suggests, biblical scholars, perhaps more than in any other discipline, have a responsibility to effectively communicate meaning from their research. I haven't read their dissertations, but I think that our professors demonstrated effective and creative communication of meaning during the In-Service. (Dissertations, by definition, tend to be heavy on scholarship and light on accessibility.)

Libraries with the goal of producing biblical and theological information literacy will not only enable students to find, access, and critically evaluate the information they need, but will also facilitate their ability to use it to produce reports of quality and meaning.

Theological Libraries Month and Information Literacy Awareness Month continue throughout October.

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