Carson on the Trials of Biblical Studies
In The Trials of Theology: Becoming a “Proven Worker” in a Dangerous Business (ed. Andrew J. B. Cameron and Brian S. Rosner; Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2010), D. A. Carson contributes a chapter entitled “The Trials of Biblical Studies” (pp. 109–29).
Carson's essay reflects on five domains that students in biblical studies must address. (The bullet points below are my paraphrases, not direct quotations.)
1. Four forms of integration
- Don't separate technical and devotional Bible study.
- Be learned and godly.
- Read individual texts in light of the whole Bible.
- Appreciate and read broadly in systematic theology, historical theology, philosophical theology, and various forms of biblical theology.
2. Polar temptations re work
- Don't work too much. You can easily work yourself to exhaustion. Perfectionists are especially prone to be workaholics.
- Don't work too little. You can survive even if you are lazy and undisciplined, but your work won't be stellar or effective.
3. Five facets of pride
- Your desire to be admired and recognized is dangerous.
- The sheer joy you find in your work does not make you spiritually superior to people who work in other disciplines.
- Your academic specialty in an area of biblical studies does not make you a superior pastor.
- Knowing more about the Bible than most people you serve does not make you a superior person.
- You may experience inverted pride (i.e., being threatened because you are insecure and jealous) if successful professionals in secular work think lightly of your job.
4. Pressures to manipulate Scripture
- Avoid the pressure from the right: safe exegesis that reinforces your confessional group.
- Avoid the pressure from the left: clever exegesis that makes you academically respectable.
- Avoid the nonconformist pressure to reach independent conclusions on nearly everything.
- Avoid the pressure to so focus on the history of interpretation that you never decide anything.
- Instead, genuinely and patiently listen to the text with integrity.
5. Three priorities re writing
- Know what subjects you should tackle.
- Know what audience you should address.
- Avoid the lone-ranger complex.
These five domains are interrelated. What ties them together is humility.