Baker Academic

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Does the World Really Need More Bible Scholars?

I was shellshocked by the violence reported from France in the last few days. I'm now utterly dumbfounded by the news from Nigeria. What makes this already hellish news worse is the realization that in two days or two weeks (more or less) Americans will be preoccupied by Downton Abbey or the Superbowl or the latest non-story related to an implausible presidential candidate. I sat through church today trying to form words for the Boko Haram situation and was thwarted by the ineffable (apologies to my pastor who was trying to get me to care about accepting God's love in my life - a not insignificant topic!) .... I am simply ill-prepared to form an intelligible thought when confronted with such horror. So forgive me if this suggestion is ill-considered: shouldn't our churches be sending our best and brightest into the field of peace and conflict studies?

About a dozen times a year I get an email (or facebook chat) from a very bright MDiv graduate who wants to do a PhD in biblical studies. I just got one of these yesterday as I was reeling from the daily news. Normally I think of these inquiries in terms of the depressing job market, or financial stresses, or the various forms of egotism that form the building blocks of the ivory tower. But yesterday it occurred to me that we need better and smarter people committed to the health, wellbeing, and development of nations in chaos (present company included). So here is an initial proposal for my friends considering terminal degrees in religious studies:

Don't become a Bible scholar. Don't become a theologian. Don't become an expert in a dead language. Take classes related to these fields by all means (I'd like to keep my job)! But perhaps consider going to Rutgers, Notre Dame or Berkeley, etc. to study peace. Maybe we need more pastoral voices who are both conversant with the Apostle Paul and Malala Yousafzai. Further to this suggestion, maybe we need more classes on peace studies taught at our seminaries and Bible colleges? Here is a short list of related programs. After all, even if graduates do decide to become pastors, counsellors, and scholars employed by our churches, we'll all benefit by these voices in our faith communities.

The world already has enough professional Bible scholars. A good argument can be made that we already have too many. My guess is that we'll continue to attract folks who just can't see themselves in another field. We have a greater need. We need people who think deeply, interdisciplinarily, and intelligently about peace. For what it's worth, I believe that this is a biblical hope.



This 16 min talk by Chris Abani is wonderful and wonderfully funny at times. Humor always helps me put a face on tragedy in a way that humanizes rather than sentimentalizes.


  1. Some of us are getting there, in a slow, roundabout way -- thanks for the good word, ACLD!