Both scholars and scholarship have their value; we need them for several reasons.  The skill of scholarship, however, is like theology, academia, accreditation, and leadership in that it has a negative side.  The problem is that many people have chosen to adopt a “boiler-plate” position as to the worth of each one.  Some people can see no flaw in scholarship, while others can see no good in it.  It is the same argument we have had with accreditation, but both extremes are wrong and dangerous.

Yes, you can trust a scholar.  You can trust him to think, search, and research.  You can trust him to be complicated and detailed.  You can trust him to go where others have not gone.  You can trust him to look for answers where none have previously been found…and to sometimes find answers that don’t really exist.  While some scholars think they are infallible, they are not; God alone is without error.  There are scholars who are our friends and will be helpful to us in resolving difficult projects.  Some are humble enough to admit that, even in their specific discipline, there are things they do not know.  The honest scholar will tell you that he has made a lot of mistakes and that he spends time helping others learn to think critically and analytically.

All thinking is not equal; one can think good thoughts or bad.  Nor does all thinking necessarily lead to truth; it can just as often lead to error.  For the same reasons, all scholars are not equal. Though they may have similar practices, they – like all humans – are stymied by presuppositions. Some of their positions may be a result of flawed thinking, while others are deliberate mental roadblocks that lead to destructive conclusions and practices.  These mental barriers include evolution, atheism, agnosticism, and arguably the most damning, liberalism.

THE PROBLEM WITH SCHOLARSHIP

In many disciplines, such as science, scholars often claim to hold absolute truth on a subject.  The problem, however, is that they then keep changing their minds about what is absolute and continuing to violate their own standards that affirm scientific proof.  As in the courtroom and in politics, they play fast and loose with data, reminding us of the old adage which says that “figures don’t lie, but liars figure”.  Paul told Pastor Timothy, O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith. (I Timothy 6:20-21a)

Although it may be difficult to keep the value of trustworthy scholarship in mind, the sad fact is that much of what falls under that heading is nothing more than intellectual “vain babblings”. One can expect such from the scholar who is spiritually dead, because his condition leads to deceit and the denial of divine revelation and the sovereign creator God.  The point of this article, however, is about something far more serious.  It has to do with the scholarship and intellectualism that falls under the name “Christian”.  Even here, we have to peel off the layers. Many of these individuals, while claiming the cover of Christians, do not appear to be believers. We could understand why a professing Christian might still think and act in a confused pattern, since they do not have the Spirit of God dwelling in them.  Sadly, evangelicalism has broadened ranks so that the evidence indicates that it now includes scholars from both sides of the spectrum.  For this discussion, though, we will focus on those who claim to be believers.

YOU CAN’T TRUST THE SCHOLARS

The idea that scholars are the authorities and therefore are the final word on a specific subject or issue may rise from the worship of intellectualism.  Even in the matter of the biblical text, it is dangerous to use human reason as the final judge.  When the valuable tools of scholarship are used to discover an answer from a Bible text, then we are thankful for such expertise.  Those who are highly skilled in the languages of the Bible and in textual studies do us a great service. As long as they remain servants of the text, we can benefit from their ministry.  The problem comes when they place themselves beyond challenge from the average believer.

The Bible was not written to or for scholars; it was written for the average believer.  God did not establish a separate category of Bible students, such as a college of grammatical cardinals.  He did give believers different gifts and abilities, but those were for the benefit of all and not just some.  It is the responsibility of every believer who is serious about Bible truth to ask questions about the conclusions scholars offer.  Often, the conclusions of scholars are still questions rather than firm or proven answers.

The fallibility of these skilled servants can be seen by comparing their findings.  Faithful renderings of the original languages are important to the process of hermeneutics.  The problem is that some of these scholars feel that when they have finished their work with the original language they have found the answer and thus need go no further.  The conflict is revealed when others who are skilled in the same language and doing the same work come up with different conclusions.  In reading what various commentaries have to say about a single passage, it appears that there is little agreement even among the “final authorities”.

THE FAITHFUL BELIEVERS

Luke tells us that the people at Berea had it right:  These were more noble than those at Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the scripture daily, whether those things were so.  (Acts 17:11)  Can the faithful believer who studies the word diligently with the one biblical hermeneutic know when a scholar’s conclusion is erroneous?  The average bookstore that claims to be “Christian” probably has more error in its books than truth.  The faithful student will ask questions about those errors.  He will ask questions of the Bible text and then will let the text speak for itself.  The faithful believer will ask questions about every lesson, sermon, article, and song with which he intersects.  The average church member lets the majority of false teaching just go right by; after all, why challenge a scholar?  Why question any person who sounds like they know more about the Bible than I do?

We have also discovered the reason why educational institutions that call themselves Christian get a “pass” when they are moving away from the clear teaching of the Bible text.  In many cases those departures are not deliberate, but what is the difference?  Error is error, and God gave believers the scriptures to check and see if what is being taught is true or false.  The challenges are clear; you can’t trust someone else to do your work for you.  You can’t trust scholars, religious icons, or popular preachers.  You can’t trust me to do your work for you.  I can tell you how to know if you are being lied to, but you have to do the work for yourself.

 

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