Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Calvin on Scholarship as Service to the Church

I have officially begun to read a reasonably large portion of Calvin's Institutes, a venture that I'm almost embarrassed to have started so late in my theological life. Needless to say it has been fruitful from the beginning, and I've not even gotten past his prefatory work.

I wonder what goes through the head of most scholars as they approach their academic theological publications. Is it just another day in the office, reading and thinking and writing? Or is it a prayerful attempt to serve the Church by aiding the understanding of God's Word? Calvin's prefatory letter to his reader touches on this subject in a way that must challenge the attitude of all evangelical academics (not least the humble writers of this very blog, if we may call ourselves academics). Listen to Calvin's words:
In any event, I can furnish a very clear testimony of my great zeal and effort to carry out this task for God's church. Last winter when I thought the quartan fever was summoning me to my death, the more the disease pressed upon me the less I spared myself, until I could leave a book behind me that might, in some measure, repay the generous invitation of godly men. Indeed I should have preferred to do it sooner, but it is done soon enough if it is done well enough. Moreover, I shall think my work has appeared at an opportune time as soon as I perceive that it has borne some richer fruit for the church of God than heretofore. This is my only prayer.
My guess is that this sort of zeal for producing good theology that is useful to the church (two phrases that Calvin seems to suggest are synonymous) ought to rebuke even the slightest stagnant professionalism that creeps into the minds of scholars. Calvin wrote to put the Bible into the hands of common men and women, not to take its theology from them. We must do the same.

If I may add one more potential application, perhaps those of us who have given some consideration to doctoral studies in theology ought to use thinking like this to measure whether it is worth the time, effort, and money. Will we be able to serve the Church more fruitfully? If so, it is probably worth whatever sacrifice it costs us. If not, we are sacrificing wastefully.

No comments: