Part of my influence in attending seminary was to help bridge the gap between the academic realm and the realm of the average congregant. In the four religious studies classes I had taken at U of O, I saw so much value in scholarship and wanted to help find a way to bring it all to those who are doing other things, but still showing up on Sunday mornings. I wanted to break it all down into little nuggets that people could take with them and look into in their own free time. Yet after one year of being in seminary, I am left wondering if it is even possible to fill that gap.
I know most people are not like me; not interested in the Bible more than a little reading each day and a sermon on Sunday, not interested in thinking critically about our beliefs and theologies, and not interested in the original languages of the biblical text except for a few Greek and Hebrew words. Yet I also know that one doesn’t need to be interested in all these things to learn a little more about them. But what I have found is that when it comes to theology and thinking critically, those less exposed to the biblical criticisms of recent scholarship (or even within the last century) seem much more hesitant to try on a new idea. I get that. New ideas are hardly ever comfortable ones, especially if it means changing the way one perceives a “near and dear” text as the Bible. But that hesitancy often turns into resistance, which is leaving me feel quite exhausted in my endeavor to bridge that gap.
No, I don’t mean to imply that scholarship is always more correct than one’s pastor or congregation. Nor do I assume that I’m smarter than the average church-goer in subjects pertaining to the Bible. Yet I have had more exposure and know that different ways of viewing a text – even if one disagrees with that view – is healthy for understanding, which is healthy for finding ways of sharing the gospel. But more often than not, it seems as though discussions of scholarly ideas run either to prove one idea false and therefore heretical or true and further support for a church doctrine. Treating scholarship this way, though, seems to limit our understanding of the biblical text and of God, which I find also cripples whatever growth we might have made toward God.
In your experience as a seminarian, pastor, professor, or biblical scholarship enthusiast, how has scholarship shaped your understanding of God? Has this shaping had a positive or negative influence in your ministry or instruction of others? Do you think the gap between scholarship and the average congregant can be filled? What are some ways you see as potentially helpful for filling that gap? And do you think I’m being too cynical or have you shared a similar experience?