What Is Scholarship?

A scholar’s business is to add to what is known. That is all. But it is capable of giving the very greatest satisfaction, because knowledge is good.

— A. E. Housman, in Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love

As Christ commanded, we are supposed to love God with our minds, as well as with our hearts and our souls and our strength. It is an illusion to think that there is any necessary conflict between a Christian commitment and free, adventurous thinking. No-one ever does their thinking on a blank sheet of paper. Every intellectual of every kind is in a conversation with some set of ideas, doctrines, ways of seeing the world, and that’s what makes their own thinking serious. The Christian conversation with Christian ideas, and with every other kind of idea, need not be defensive or imprisoning. Why is there a stereotype that says you have to choose between faith and thought?”

Francis Spufford

HT: Alan Jacobs

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

5 thoughts on “What Is Scholarship?”

  1. I once learned this definition of a scholar: “A scholar is somebody who agrees with me.” (As in, “The great scholar so-and-so once said….”

    I think I got that from Dr. Charles Smith in his class on the Gospel of John. It was either him or Sam Schnaiter. One of the two, both great scholars! Ha!

  2. To address the first idea–does not God expect us to explore and search for truth? Did He not create us with a desire to know and understand not just Him but the universe that He created? Careful students of Scripture dig and search and research to mine out the deeper things of the Word. But if Jesus is the personification of Truth, then all truth is of Him and should inevitably lead us back to Him–to a deeper knowledge of His mind and His nature. Paul’s admonition to bring every thought into subjection to Christ, in this context, seems altogether in keeping with this although he may not have been thinking of scholarly pursuit at the time. So, as I see it, every sort of endeavor dedicated to uncovering truth in creation, truth in microbiology, truth in physics, in astronomy, in any realm is to learn more about the One who created it all. So, those who dare to think deep thoughts, pursue unexpected paths, and take big leaps of faith are those whom God blesses with amazing discoveries. These adventurous souls deserve to be called scholars indeed.

    But there is also room for the teacher, who, although he may never contribute new information to the greater body of knowledge, spreads around to that sizable pool of ignorant folk what is already known and thereby opens the door for others to pursue a different, and perhaps a scholarly goal. The best teachers may not be in themselves scholars by Housman’s definition, but the passing on of what is known from one generation to another also has great value as well as its own satisfaction.

    And to address your remark, Mark, I would just say this. Your wife undoubtedly IS a scholar, and much more frequently that you may be willing to admit.

  3. =) I can tell you that my wife is the very best and most trenchant (and gentle!) critic of my sermons and lectures. I trust her judgment implicitly. Just recently she listened eagerly about four times through a lecture I gave, and offered me insightful feedback and correction every time. Truly, her price is far above rubies.

  4. Well, my funny quote is aimed at the pretentiousness that goes on in the scholarly world. When we use the term, “As the great scholar so-and-so says…” We are quoting the great one to use some of his reputation and glory to add weight to our own point that we are making. Of course, if we are using the dummy to point out how much smarter we are than him, we say, “As the so-called scholar says…”

    To answer Spufford’s question: “Why is there a stereotype that says you have to choose between faith and thought?” I would say that it just that there is a fair amount of pride of intellect that goes on in the scholarly world as well as rampant unbelief. Naturally there is an antipathy to both.

    Of course, there is plenty of pride to go around, and lots of it among the non-scholarly as well.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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