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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

What we must adopt, however, is “an attitude of humility towards God as Revealer (and therefore of submissiveness to his revelation)”. This will afford us with two “practical controls” on our theological studies: To begin with, we will not be lured into thinking we know, or need to know, all the answers. Secondly, we will “take care to respect the limits imposed upon upon theology by the scope of revelation itself”. Field reminds us that “God’s revelation is strictly functional”; it is enough to enable us to live godly lives. On the one hand, we should not be “agnostic where God would have us certain”. On the other hand, we must “be careful not to stray beyond the data of revelation”.

Professionalism Of all the traps and snares the theological student can fall into, Field believes “the most insidious” is that of “professionalism”. He quickly explains that there isn’t anything inherently wrong in being a professional. However, there are important balances and adjustments to be made if we are to correctly assimilate our new professional knowledge and approach so that it helps rather than hinders. Awareness is crucial.

Relating to the Bible To begin with, theology students must appreciate that “the way in which they are required to study the Bible” has become “subtly but vitally different”. Before, they read the Bible as a “devotional handbook” and sought to apply God’s Word to life in a personal way. Now, the Bible has become an “academic textbook” to be analysed and dissected. These two approaches aren’t irreconcilable, but if students “fail to integrate their academic and devotional approaches to Scripture” they may fall into one of three destructive errors: One false reaction would be to “rebel against studying the Bible academically at all” and become “closed minded”. On the other side of the ditch, they may become so involved in their academic studies that the Scriptures cease to hold “any vital devotional meaning”. A third error, masquerading as the balanced middle course, would be to recognise the value of both approaches but try and “keep them as far apart in their own minds as possible”. Field believes the correct approach is integration: The Christian theologian must “take care to soak in the actual words of the Bible as well as the thousands of words written about it”.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2006

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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