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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

Field admits that “there does seem to be a gap” between this kind of knowledge and much of what is included in a theological degree today, but he also observes that “in the long run the sole major academic criterion by which any theological theory can be assessed” are the facts and doctrines of the Scriptures themselves. Responsible students who attempt to grasp the different theories they are learning for their exams will also be “acquainting themselves thoroughly with what the Bible says”. Field has a problem with those who “want to be indoctrinated rather than educated”. Language study, church history, questions of dating and authorship, textual analysis and philosophical awareness all offer “important intellectual benefits which theological study, when rightly approached, will yield”. Field reminds us that we have been told to love God with all our minds. Jesus Himself encouraged people to think about His parable, and during their time with Jesus, Field is convinced that “the disciples” minds were stretched rather than straight-jacketed. Our “preaching and teaching will increase in value” as our knowledge of the Scriptures deepens and our intellectual abilities flourish. Academic theology should not be abandoned because it poses some challenges.

Approaching theology with an “open” (not an “empty”) mind Having presented a positive case for doing academic theology, Field’s discussion now turns to the subject of how we should actually approach theological study. What we mustn’t do is look at it as a kind of “spiritual survival test” where we “cringe from contact with anything that calls into question” any part of our faith and “reject all new ideas on principle&quot! Field rightly condemns the person “who deliberately presents a closed mind to distasteful teaching” as a “bad student”. However—and this is important—there is “a vital distinction” between being “open minded” and “empty minded”. Field explains: “A willingness to open one’s fundamental convictions to scrutiny is one thing. To be required to jettison the same after little or no examination in the name of academic integrity is something entirely different”. We are not required to empty our minds of our convictions and pretend that other people’s positions are as likely to be correct as our own. “To come to the Bible in an attitude of faith …is to be neither basically dishonest nor inevitably blind to other viewpoints”.

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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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