When I went for my open-heart surgery a few years ago, I didn't ask the heart surgeon, Dr. Houng, if he believed in evolution or if he understood the doctrines of baptism, resurrection and judgment. I wanted to know if he knew his trade. Was he a good man with the knife?
My cardiologist and all his fellows highly recommended the guy, and after interviewing him I discovered that he had done more than 1,000 procedures like the one I was facing. He knew the heart muscle and how to fix it. I relied on his expertise. He did a good job.
Like watching Oprah
I didn't go to a backyard Saturday-night, self-taught, part-time health mechanic to get my surgery done.
Yet I know a lot of fine folks who regard biblical studies like reading the comics: something anybody is able to do. No sweat, just pick up these 66 books that make up the Bible and teach away; it's a piece of cake. Understanding a 2,000- to 3,000-year-old compilation of documents shouldn't be
any more of a challenge than watching Oprah.
Scholars are servants of the people of God who want to know all they can about the most important book in history. When I saw these thousands assembling in Philadelphia (every year in a different city; next November the SBL will again visit Washington, D.C.), I had to ask what the fascination
was. Why this compelling interest in the Bible?
Clearly, there is something special about the Bible; it contains the best information mankind has about God and His purposes.
The volumes written about the various books of the Bible fill vast libraries, and each year thousands more are added. Truly, the Bible is the book that towers above all other literate efforts in human history. We are privileged to have such an array of tools and helps to understand the depth of
'Left Behind' left behind
The vast majority of new books displayed at the SBL are not your garden variety found in the local Christian bookstore. The pop religious market that caters to easy readers was not featured. There is good spiritual and inspirational stuff for sure in some of them, but the Jerry Jenkins-Tim
LaHaye genre of "Left Behind" fantasies, and the Max Lucado, Joyce Meyer, Bruce Wilkinson, Frank Peretti and Rick Warren type of religious books, were not on the tables at the SBL.
My brother-in-law, the late Dr. Charles Dorothy, wrote a commentary on Esther, The Books of Esther (the Septuagint version is about 30 percent longer than the Hebrew Esther), which was chosen by the Sheffield Academic Press in the U.K. to become part of its Old Testament series of
Charles didn't receive a penny for his work. He was supported in his research by the Association for Christian Development and his wife (my sister).
Such has been the experience of most scholars not fortunate enough to have the backing of a university or wealthy patron.
It is sad commentary that the money follows the popular and entertaining presentations. I believe it is the responsibility of the church to support biblical research and hold in high esteem those who dedicate themselves to it.
Do we need scholars? You bet. Respect for the Word of God demands we treat it with care, honesty and a desire to understand its truth.
Ideally, the role of scholars is to educate the ministry of the Christian church. This means ministers must do the hard work and heavy lifting to actually study in depth the book they preach from. The job of the minister is to digest scholarship and present it to his congregation as practically
and effectively as he can. The pastor's duty is to teach, expound, inspire and model the truth of Scripture.
The preacher needs to be cautious not to overdrive his headlights, not to dogmatize what God has not dogmatized, not to enforce doctrine upon God's heritage. It is the responsibility of the people of God to sift, accept and internalize what they find to be sound. The more tools the
preacher provides the congregation, the more able the sons and daughters of God are equipped to embrace the words of life.
Understanding on several levels
The Bible is an amazing book and can be read at several levels. It is profitable for doctrine, rebuke, instruction in righteousness--and inspiration.
It is also a spectacular adventure in learning about God and how He has lovingly and patiently nurtured His sons and daughters through the ages.
It holds and reveals the secrets of Torah and Christ and how we can become part of the Kingdom of God. We should never tire of "eating" its pages.