Three types of Christian scholarship:

1. Exegetes (study) – Level one studies 

original research; learning; data; facts

 These are the type of people who are continually doing research. They primarily involve themselves in first hand resources. In biblical studies, they are concerned with original language, backgrounds, historical criticism, and textual issues. They are often (though not always) very timid to take theological stands due to their realization of the complexities of the issues involved. Because of this, they are sometimes accused of “academic agnosticism.” They are very precise thinkers and normally find it difficult to teach because they are always qualifying everything.  More often than not they limit their studies to very particular areas.

They find all the pieces of the puzzle.

Viewpoint: TREES

  • Why they might dislike theologians: “They often lack the precise information and are sloppy with the facts.”
  • Why they need theologians: To process the data and come to conclusions from a broader understanding.
  • Possible problems with exegetes: Truth often dies the death of a thousand qualifications. They can lack common sense. Their precise studies can blind them to the obvious.

2. Theologian/Philosopher (think) – Level two studies

systematize; reflect; theories

 Theologians are the thinkers. They are not so much concerned about researching and discovering original data, but with the bigger picture of what the data means and exploring original ideas. They spend their time reflecting on issues and coming to conclusions about truth. They systematize the data in order that creeds can be reasoned, established, and defended. They are much broader in their thinking and studies, having to be familiar with many areas of scholarship in order to provide a systematic understanding of the complete truth. They are concerned with biblical studies, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, logic, and the like.

They put the puzzle together.

Viewpoint: FOREST

  • Why they might dislike exegetes: “They lack wisdom.”
  • Why they might dislike pastoral-types: “They compromise the truth for acceptance.”
  • Why they need exegetes: To provide accurate data from which to derive their conclusions.
  • Why they need pastoral-types: To test the truth in the real world.
  • Possible problems with theologians: They can be traditionalistic, being concerned with their preconceptions more than the truth. Can be rash about coming to conclusions without having done sufficient homework.

3. Pastoral/Missional (apply) – Level three studies

integrate; contextualize; communication

 These are concerned with how to distribute the information to others. They are focused on how the information can be applied to real life. They spend their time thinking about church, mission, and strategies. They are didactically (teaching) purposed. They are discerning as to what applies, when and where. They are more hands-on with the real world which gives them a great understanding of whether or not the truth , when tested, actually works. This is often the determining factor of the reality of our faith.

Pastoral types display the puzzle.

Viewpoint: TREES

  • Why they might dislike exegetes and theologians: “They are ivory tower scholars who cannot relate to the real world.”
  • Possible problems with pastors-type: Methodology can take priority over the truth. They spend so much time thinking about programs and contextualization, they can compromise the information in favor of acceptance.

___________________________________

These types of distinctions have a lot to do with personality and find a place in just about every discipline, not just Christian scholarship. However, I think it is helpful here to apply them only to Christian scholarship.

While most of us will see ourselves more in one than the others (I find myself in 2), we need to be careful. Of course we need to recognize the dangers and listen to the critique of the others, but more than that, we need to be continually committed to finding balance. Our gifts and calling are going to clearly drive us to one more than the others so I am not saying neglect one to brush up on the others. But I am saying that if you neglect the others, it will make you less proficient in the one. I have seen sloppy theologians. I have been a sloppy theologian. I have seen exegetes who seem to continually miss the obvious. I have seen pastoral-types compromise. All I am saying is that you need to be aware of where you stand and committed to excellence by being appreciative of all three.

As a side note, Dan Wallace is a great example of an exegete who has tremendous balance. While he is careful, he is not non-committal. And his pastoral/missional side is obvious to all who have sat under him.

Which one do you find yourself leaning toward?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    29 replies to "Christian Scholarship in a Nutshell"

    • C Michael Patton

      I updated and republished this (deleting the old one) since it got taken over with the women in ministry issue!

      Let’s not do that again, please.

    • mbaker

      CMP,

      While I appreciate your looking into all the theological camps out there, and I agree there are many, I fear that the church as a whole suffers more from our culture’s tendency to specialize in one camp or the other that may be actually leading us down the wrong path.

      What we see as the trees, for example, may be what we need to be looking at, i.e. proper exegesis, or getting back to the basics, which has somehow come to be equated with extreme fundamentalism, a very dirty word in theoolgical circles nowadays.

      I think we need to avoid compartmentalizing the Christian faith and just start making it more about the gospel.

    • Lucian

      1. Exegetes (study) – Level one studies
      2. Theologian/Philosopher (think) – Level two studies
      3. Pastoral/Missional (apply) – Level three studies

      4. Pattonian/Bloggarian (write, post & publish) – Level four studies.

      5. Reformer (re-study, re-think, re-write & re-shape) – Level five studies.

      6. Reconstructionist/Qohelet-ist (re-build) – there’s a time to build and a time to rend – Level six studies. – The Matrix Reloaded.

      7. Revolutionary (re-volutionize) – Level seven studies – The Matrix Revolutions.

    • Skaggers

      Well said Michael, athough it seems to me that the old post had more pros and cons to each.
      I am often living in the exogete category, which suits me fine because I love crunching numbers. Yes. There is a but. BUT I do often find myself on Sunday’s pouring over information on passages that my Fundalmentalist church and pastor(who is my in-law, FBonthenet.com) uses to back their positions. Although I am a bit too intraverted, a terrible apologist (have to be more a polemecist with funamentalists), and too evengelical NOT to give liberties in non-essentials, I still find myself scouring the little resources I have to prove to myself that they are incorrect, but never actually coming to a conclusion myself! I spent one night (8 hours) scouring the net trying to find the real truth behind some symbolism/story of Christ’s “swaddling clothes” and how in church we were told they were actually burial clothes. I kinda threw out the “in all things, charity” part of my evangelicalism there.
      The list of nights like those could go on and on, which is why I am so glad God gave me a complementary wife to set me straight. (And pull me off the computer.. Like now!)
      I try daily to do what I am good at, and not let sin take hold and turn my gift of exegisis against me and others.
      Thanks for letting me post! Off to bed before she gets up again! And Micheal, I am waiting for top 10 reasons Fundamentalist didn’t cross the road (I got 50 in my mind right now!)

    • Hank Caskey

      I love God’s Word as I have experienced its power in my own life. As a pew sitting man; without the blessing of formal theological training, I am grateful for the men and women who toil over the original manuscripts. I am grateful for the men and women who wrestle with the data and the totality of scripture. I am grateful for those who serve in pastoral and missions work as they lead the church in its battle at the point of attack of the enemy.

      I have found myself encouraged by the academics that attack the word. Not because of the attack itself but rather because of the faith enhancing responses I’ve seen from those willing to spend the time to deal with the false prophets of our age who have the power of access to information in a way unprecedented in history.

      As I considered Michael’s post, it occurred to me that God has purpose for each of these types of scholarship. They all bring glory and honor to Him. The key for you all in my perspective is to ensure that the scholarship has a focused purpose. Bring Truth to the world that disciples would be made; that they would be taught to observe all the Lord has commanded.

      God Bless you who serve Him in this way. Remember why you do it.

    • John B

      Nice post.
      Just wondering…. do we want our congregation members to be balanced in all three too?

    • James Tucker

      Michael,

      Interesting post! I myself am a hybrid (according to your systematization, pun intended) between an Exegete and Theologian/Philosopher. My academic disciplines are Biblical Languages and Philosophy of Language. In my particular field of Hebrew Bible, I find some egregious errors in the area of biblical theology especially in the area of philosophical hermeneutics. What is even more consternating to me is the inability of Hebraists to engage me when it comes to discussing the issues that our current Horizon presents regarding interpretive dilemmas. For example, I intended to present a paper at the Pacific Northwest Regional ETS on the relationships between our metaphysical assumptions and language, as it specifically relates to נפש. This specific paper would explore how our metaphysical commitments taint our lexicography, and thus is/can be exacerbated in our biblical theology. Unfortunately, I had to with draw the paper, but to my point, those of us who are exegetically minded, must learn how to weld the seems of various disciplines together.

    • Dave Z

      As I read each one, I said “That’s me!” So, basically, I’m confused. I think I really do have elements of all three, but probably fit best into #2.

      But thanks to Lucian, I have a new option open – Pattonian! A lofty goal indeed!

    • JRoach

      I remember this article previously and it made me think of myself and my role in the body of Christ.

      I find myself in the #2 category. The Holy Spirit has given each of us a different gift and we should utilize that gift to edify the body of Christ.

      Billy Graham is a good example of #3 and he has done a great job to say the least. Watching him on TV helped me make a decision to receive Christ back in 1983. But Billy Graham is not an exegete as he would admit. I believe it takes all three.

    • C Michael Patton

      John,

      I think that your congregation members are going to, like everyone else, gravitate toward one or the others. It is just a matter of how one’s brain is wired.

      First, I would say that people need to know about and appreciate all three. The biggest problem that I have seen in the “world of Christian scholarship,” lay and professional, is this idea that one is better or more important than the others. One type of scholar looking down on another. Wisdom would have us understand that this does not work in any area of life.

      Second, I think that everyone needs to be balanced in the sense that they spend some time in each of these areas. Taken to Biblical studies, it simply looks like this:

      What did the text mean to the original audience (level one; exegete)
      What does it mean for all people of all time (level two; theologian)
      How does it apply to us (level three; pastoral)

      If anyone were to skip on of these steps in their studies, there would be issues. God’s word would be cut short.

    • Dave Z

      CMP comments:

      What did the text mean to the original audience (level one; exegete)
      What does it mean for all people of all time (level two; theologian)
      How does it apply to us (level three; pastoral)

      Very good application. Your level three is showing.

    • mbaker

      I agree that all three should be emphasized.

      However, without good hermeneutics as a basic, we can and unfortunately do, have too many folks misunderstanding God’s word so much that they sometimes cause more harm than good by trying to do the right thing with the wrong gospel.

      Well rounded Christian scholarship needs to be an ongoing goal for everyone.

    • Canadian

      Scholarship is very important, but how do you avoid narrow focus/island mentality/lack of balance, when the scholars themselves have no ecclesial authority to determine what is normative, binding, or true for the people of God? Academia should never be removed from the ecclesia.

    • mbaker

      “Scholarship is very important, but how do you avoid narrow focus/island/mentality/lack of balance, when the scholars themselves have no ecclesial authority to determine what is normative, binding, or true for the people of God?”

      Obviously you can’t when you have hundreds of denominations and seminaries in the mix. But I think we can all come to a very basic agreement on the essential tenets of the faith, while continuing to debate and to study other relevant points.

      Spiritual gurus are always going to be a fact of life because we tend to hero worship those we consider champions of the faith, and that means we often take what they say or do as gospel, rather than learning for ourselves. I notice in many churches very few carry their Bibles any more, for example, unless they have a pastor that preaches directly from it. I think that’s where we often get Christian scholarship confused, i.e. if our pastor says it, it must be true, especially if he is admired among his own peers.

      Popular trends and preachers in ministry means methodology wins out in many cases, as CMP pointed out. In our fast paced, microwave culture, it’s simply and faster easier for folks to digest the Bible in brief sound bytes on Sunday rather than going to the trouble of getting the truth from good in-depth, long term study. So they absorb only material from a particular church or teacher, and develop the ‘island’ mentality, and never get beyond that, unfortunately, because they are never encouraged to think for themselves.

    • John B

      Thanks for the reply Michael!

      I agree. I think that every member of every church should be moving towards an increased appreciation of all – as much as they are capable, because some are very limited. I also agree that there amongst congregation members there will be a variety of dispositions and combinations of these.

      I like the sentiment of the original post that ministers/preachers should be strong in all three.

    • Matt

      Great post. One danger I often see is that #3’s think they are #1’s by virtue of being #3’s. Another danger (as you suggest) are #1’s or #2’s who don’t care about the importance of what #3’s bring to the round table.

    • Canadian

      mbaker #14,
      You said: “Obviously you can’t when you have hundreds of denominations and seminaries in the mix.”

      Precisely!
      In that scenario, who determines when scholarship becomes heresy? Who has authority to say “this is error” or to say “this is dogma that is necessary to the faith”?

      You said:”and that means we often take what they say or do as gospel, rather than learning for ourselves. I notice in many churches very few carry their Bibles any more”

      I understand what you are getting at and support passionately the “learning” of the faith, but with “hundreds of denominations and seminaries in the mix”, all this “scholarship” whether academic or personal ultimately comes down to YOU…..usually by embracing the scholar that agrees with your interpretation of scripture (learning for ourselves as you said). Even if you are confessional and find a confession that you adhere to, ultimately those confessions claim no authority over YOUR interpretation of scripture.

      Scholarship, whether academic or pastoral amounts to personal opinion and needs the authority, guidance, and context of the church or it will be without lasting fruit for the people of God.

      1 Timothy 3:15
      “…..which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

      Matthew 18:17-18
      “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
      “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

      Acts 15:27-28
      “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:”

      John 16:13
      “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

    • Hodge

      Canadian,

      You do realize you’re arguing against Rome at this point. I know of no other ecclesiastical body that has such a vast chasm between its dogma and its biblical scholarship. Rome is of no help to you at this point unless you just stay out of RC biblical scholarship altogether.

      What we really need, and already have, is an historical guide through the Church to keep us on track. Popes and Cults are for those who don’t want to bother distressing over the truth anymore. With them, it comes easy with some fries and a shake. But you still have to make an opinionated decision about who is right. You still have to rely only on yourself and have faith that your decision to choose a specific church body is correct. There is no escaping it. The Church functions as verification when you are in communion with its teachings; but it cannot replace opinion, for opinion was needed to give it its authority over you; and opinion is needed to interpret history as well. In the end, we have the real Church out there, and it speaks to us, and if God has called us to Himself apart from ourselves, we will find it and believe. If not, our opinions are but the flavor of death we choose. And there is no guru who will save you from that fate.

      Sidetracking ended.

    • Canadian

      Hodge,
      No sidetracking intended 🙂

      It’s not that scholars stop distressing over truth at all.
      Catholicism does not accept all of the scholarship of Augustine, Aquinas, the Cappadocians, Athanasius or anybody else. The individuals give their life to learning, teaching, exploring, exegesis etc, but because they are in submission to the church, they do not exert authority over her or run off and start a new denomination. This is why you have unity but not uniformity in everything. Something that is de fide is not optional, most everything else is open within certain boundaries for varying positions. For example, different views of predestination may be held, but it is dogma that God did not predestine anyone to damnation. Again, it comes down to who has interpretive authority. In Acts 15, there was “much dispute”, discussion, exegesis, examination of historical evidence. But after the church in Council comes to her Spirit led decision, you find that the whole church was pleased. Those from the sect of the Pharisees, against, everything they had known and believed, submitted themselves to Christ by submitting themselves to the church’s dogmatic conclusion. No new denomination, no branching of the church, no opting out. The church being the pillar and ground of the truth, actually has the ability by the Spirit to teach with authority without seccumbing to each whim of her scholars.

    • Hodge

      Canadian,

      I completely agree. And what Church was that? Why didn’t they say that it seemed good to Peter? I believe I am a part of that Church today, which is not the RCC.

      The problem is that what you have described is exactly what evangelicals do. We have a base unity with diversity in other issues. The problem is that you seem to think that because a man dresses up in a fancy robe and resides in a physical building that is in unity with other physical buildings, that constitutes unity. If not, what are you complaining about evangelicalism? If the unity is theological, then what is in Rome that is not in the historic Church that evangelicalism sees at its core? More specifically, what theological unity is not in the magisterial Reformation that is in Rome? The difference is in the theology that unifies. The magisterial Reformers accept that councils have spoken authoritatively, but they have also spoken without authority, something to which Rome agrees. The fact is that the same disunity exists within the RCC that exists in the rest of Christendom. You just don’t put a different name on it (which in my mind btw is more dangerous for its people, as it breeds heresy and apostasy to make no distinction for the layman).

    • Canadian

      Hodge,
      You said: “And what Church was that?”

      That’s what I am trying to ascertain and criticism from folks like you is good for this process. 🙂

      You said:”Why didn’t they say that it seemed good to Peter?”

      They said “us”, not just Peter. The pope does not dictate dogma, he is a principle of unity for the teaching church. The Petrine position in scripture is another matter, but at Chalcedon which you infer that you accept as authoritative, they cried out “Peter has spoken through Leo” when they heard the tome. The council consented to the tome as apostolic.

      You said: “I believe I am a part of that Church today, which is not the RCC.”

      Rome would agree that we are brethren incompletely connected to the church. But you just assert the RCC is not it, by what authority or certainty do you do this?

      You said: “More specifically, what theological unity is not in the magisterial Reformation that is in Rome?”

      That the church is one, visible, heirarchical, sacramental, liturgical, Conciliar, catholic, although elements of some are present in protestantism.
      We have to ask ourselves about the numerous doctrines and practices that came from the reformers and their children that were absent for nearly a millennium of a virtually united church . This notion that the church can handle Trinitarian and Incarnational dogma and select the canon and evangelize the world, but did not know the gospel is silly.

    • Hodge

      “That the church is one, visible, heirarchical, sacramental, liturgical, Conciliar, catholic, although elements of some are present in protestantism.”

      No, all of these are present in the magisterial-oriented Reformed Churches.

      The difference is that “visible” is a matter of ecclesiastical manifestation when orthodox doctrine and practice are present, just like the early Church believed. That’s why we can remain in unity with the Fathers when a wayward body claims to be the Church as it starts to assign divine abilities to Mary, etc.

      “We have to ask ourselves about the numerous doctrines and practices that came from the reformers and their children that were absent for nearly a millennium of a virtually united church.”

      Numerous doctrines and practices? Are the Reformers in disunity with the early Church where the RCC is in unity? And, again, why is that we don’t have to ask about the numerous doctrines and practices that came forth from the newly started RCC in the sixteenth century?

      “The Petrine position in scripture is another matter, but at Chalcedon which you infer that you accept as authoritative, they cried out “Peter has spoken through Leo” when they heard the tome. The council consented to the tome as apostolic.”

      Because Peter represented the Roman Patriarchy, and the statement is made to say that there is theological unity between Leo and Peter. The bishop of Rome was given prominence because of the size and status of the secular city over which he resided. It wasn’t because they assigned the authority of a Pope in the later Middle Ages to him. Otherwise, I’d like you to explain how inferiors can pronounce him as a heretic and condemn him, as is the case with Stephen and Honorius. The bishop of Rome was one bishop of great importance because of his See. As the city of Rome united the Roman Empire, the Fathers saw the bishop of Rome as representing the unity of the Church. This explains why there is a division when…

    • Hodge

      Constantinople becomes the unity of the empire. If it was a matter of seeing him with some special authority from Peter as Pope, no division would have taken place.

    • Hodge

      OK, I promise I’m done with sidetracking.

      I think all three are important, but do witness #3’s bypassing #1 and #2 way too often. I also see #2’s who are skeptical toward #1’s simply because there is an apologetic tendency within Systematics that seems to be on guard against what it sees as too critical a biblical scholarship these days.

    • Canadian

      Hodge,
      You said: “OK, I promise I’m done with sidetracking.”

      Thanks for the discussion. I appreciate it. I won’t bug you any more 🙂

    • mbaker

      ‘I think all three are important, but do witness #3’s bypassing #1 and #2 way too often. I also see #2’s who are skeptical toward #1’s simply because there is an apologetic tendency within Systematics that seems to be on guard against what it sees as too critical a biblical scholarship these days.’

      Agreed, Hodge 🙂

      Canadian:

      I believe, based upon biblical evidence, that the Church is not a certain denomination, but human beings who have accepted Christ’s lordship over their lives, as their Head, as well as the gift of salvation.

      Too much Christian scholarship neglects the transformation part and the renewal of the mind that needs to happen after our conversion. Regardless of its authority, a church can only go so far in that responsibility. A person can be in the most theologically sound church, and still remained unchanged.

      It is necessary, IMHO, for churches to pattern themselves after Jesus to effectively disciple folks in all three ways, however, a church cannot be held responsible for the outcome. Even Jesus didn’t try to do that. He left the responsibility upon the individual by saying things like “Go, and sin no more.” He told the rich young ruler what the choices were and the rich young ruler rejected them. Jesus let him walk away. This is where I think a lot of over zealous, but well meaning churches believe they are in control of outcomes, when folks will not accept Christ’s authority as their head.

      Good Christian scholarship should also recognize when a person has simply accepted eternal life, but rejected to live life under Christ on this earth.

    • John

      Michael,
      Can you explain the difference from the view you articulated and progressive dispensationalism?

    • John

      Sorry, I meant to post that in your “Where I stand on dispensationalism” article.

    • […] is an interesting post over at Reclaiming the Mind discussing the three types of Christian scholar: the exegete, theologian/philosopher, and […]

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