The introduction of this review essay appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Pneuma Review.
Phillip Duce and Daniel Strange, eds., Keeping the Balance (Intervarsity Press, 2001), 238 pages, 9780851114828.
Approaching theological and religious studies at university-level can present Christians with some special challenges. Cherished beliefs will probably be called into question and deeply held convictions challenged in an intellectual environment that may prove ambivalent, or even rather hostile, to a biblically orthodox faith. In Keeping the Balance, seven substantial essays by seven Christian academics examine a number of issues that will be relevant to the Christian student—whether he or she is still thinking about taking his or her Christian studies to the university, or is already engaged in a degree.
The first thing to get clear from the outset is that Keeping your Balance isn’t a piece of scaremongery written to put people off taking theology! The authors are quick to affirm that theological study is a great adventure that offers some very real rewards—both to the individual who engages in it and the Church as a whole that benefits from an educated body of theologians in its ranks. It’s also an essential part of preparation for a solid Christian ministry. But we must be realistic: it’s a sceptical world out there, and many of the scholars that believers will brush up against in the book room, the lecture hall, and the tutorial, will approach the Bible and the Christian faith with a different set of presuppositions—and perhaps a pair of mean scissors in both hands! An unreflective, ill-prepared study of academic theology could undermine, rather than strengthen, the beliefs that form the very basis for Christian ministry, perhaps leaving students spiritually disorientated and incapable of fulfilling their originally intended vocation.
But the authors, whilst firmly countenancing these unpleasant facts, maintain that a “theological education, properly approached, need not have such undesirable results”. With some careful thinking about how students should deal with theological problems, maintain their devotional lives, and make use of all the information they are cramming into their heads every week, in practical and relevant ways, “keeping the balance” and successfully navigating the theological minefield is, in fact, quite possible. One of the recurring emphases throughout the book is the need for integrating one’s theological studies with one’s personal spiritual life, rather than holding them as far apart as possible. Whilst it may initially look like a “a recipe for disaster”, the authors are convinced that a healthy Christian life must be lived as an organic whole, not in a “Jekyll-and-Hyde” dichotomy! And that Christian devotional life, the Christian life of worship, and the Christian life of service, on the personal and the corporate levels, are all vital components of a sound Christian spirituality that must be kept up if students are to survive the course and emerge stronger and better equipped to reach the world.