Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What Church of Christ Scholarship Should Be, 3

This is my third and final post on the article by James W. Thompson, "What Is Church of Christ Scholarship?" Restoration Quarterly 49 (First Quarter 2007), pp. 33-38.

In the titles for these posts, I've taken away the question mark and rearranged the words so that an assertion is made rather than a question asked. The reason I've done this is because Thompson himself is not interested only in mere description. In the second half of his article, the expression "I suggest" comes up over and over again. He wants to offer direction, too.

So what are the suggestions he offers? In the last segment of the article he asks, "What is the role of the Church of Christ scholar?" Thompson answers:

1. "I suggest, in the first place, that all Christian scholars will recognize that, while the Enlightenment approach to scholarship has proven beneficial, it does not offer the only paradigm for academic study." Thompson goes on to imply that because "scholars and worshipers are responding to different questions" those scholars who genuinely want to serve the church will finally speak about the Bible and from the Bible as though it really were a religious text and not an historical artifact. I believe it was Phillips Brooks who talked about the difference between looking at a telescope and looking through it to worlds beyond. However, along this line Thompson does not address the question of how scholars are to handle the tug they'll experience between the two worlds and their remarkably-different enterprises.

2. "I suggest, in the second place, that the Church of Christ scholar engages the tradition both to commend and to offer critique." This is a balancing act. And the scholar's ability to stay on the tight rope is, finally, a challenge that he or she must take up and deal with regularly, much like the circus performer (I know, a comparison we could have a lot of fun with).

Thompson waxes eloquent on this point and I quote him at length:

"Scholars recognize the significant influence of this movement on their formation, and they commend the contributions of the Stone-Campbell movement to the wider public . . . . At the same time, scholars shaped by a community that demanded the priority of Scripture over tradition will give precedence to Scripture over the tradition of Churches of Christ, allowing Scripture to confront the church with uncomfortable truth as well as nurture it. Just as the role of the ancient prophet was to confront Israel with the highest values of its own tradition, the role of the Christian scholar is to challenge the church with the Scriptural witness that disturbs its level of comfort and causes it to continue in its own search for truth."

3. "In the third place, as with other traditions, categories that are rooted in the movement will frame the questions we ask of Scripture." That is to say, in the same way that Wesleyans begin with (quoting Joel Green) "the pursuit of holiness, . . . and the primacy of grace," Thompson says that it is extensively appropriate for scholars from Churches of Christ to read the Bible "with the recognition of the importance of ecclesiology for the interpretation of texts."

Of course, Thompson is aware that his second suggestion might militate against his third. That is to say, if I operate on the premise that the one true God speaks authoritatively through that book we call the Bible, what if the Bible teaches me that I shouldn't collapse theology or christology under ecclesiology? Folks from the Churches of Christ have produced a lot of books like "Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ." But not so many books on "Why I Love and Trust in Jesus Christ." Max Lucado reversed that pattern and was ostracized.

Yeah, that's an oversimplification. But it's right. It's like one of my former elders once observed, "A Baptist wants to tell you about the one true Savior. People from the Church of Christ want to tell you about the one true church."

So, should we accept Thompson's third suggestion? Is it really compatible with the second one?

4. Thompson concludes: "In the fourth place, this scholarship will address not only questions raised in the academic guild but also those that originate in the life of the church. The church has its own questions as it confronts the challenge of change. As the intellectual center for the life of the church, the school of theology maintains the resources for research and reflection that will benefit the church. As the church faces critical decisions involving corporate worship, evangelism, or missions, scholars will serve the church by offering insights for the church's consideration."

So ends the article. My questions are:

1. How do you respond to the suggestions that Thompson offers?

2. What might you have added to his list?

3. As I was asking above, in what ways do his second and third suggestions conflict? In what ways are they compatible?

4. Who would you point to as good examples of scholars who have worked (and are working) in order to serve the Churches of Christ?

5. Maybe a better question is, Can you identify some scholarly preachers among the Churches of Christ who have taken up and handled well the challenges that Thompson is talking about?


Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Frank I just wanted you to know I really appreciate this series.

Bobby Valentine

Matt said...

On Thompson's points:
1. We do have a tremendous respect for scripture and I think that is a good start. It can be a problem if that is all we have a passion for and do move closer to the God whose words we study. It has to change more than our minds.

2. This is happening more and more as technology has gotten us reading so much more widely so much faster than has ever been available. There are many things to commend, as mentioned above and a few things to critique (our minimalism of significant biblical activities like the Lord's Supper for instance).

3. Scripture has influenced the movement and once the movement solidifies it becomes a framework through which we see scripture. If the ecclesial community needs a reminder of the importance of the church because church has been neglected and abused then the next generations may learn that is the only thing to emphasize and that idea that needed to swing the pendulum back where it ought to be ends up being the benchmark idea of generations to come while that may never have been the intent of those who were trying to reform things.

4. I wonder how much scholarship really does filter back down to the church. There is so much misinformation that you hear over and over again that you wonder if people have any resources to study from written after 1900.

I have to get back with you on your questions later. I need to think about them a little more.