About six weeks ago, Peter Enns wrote a column for Patheos that has been pinging around the Internet ever since. In it, he laments the situation the dilemma that evangelical scholars who do their graduate work at non-evangelical institutions face when they return to evangelical schools. He wrote:
Folks, we have a real problem on our hands, and everyone has to bear some responsibility. Here’s the familiar scenario. The “best and brightest” students in Evangelical seminaries work hard and are encouraged and aided by their professors to pursue doctoral work. Many wind up going to some of the best research universities in the world. ….
During graduate school they begin to see issues from a different perspective–after all, this is what an education does. An education does not confirm what we already know, but exposes us to new things in order to broaden our horizons.
Once they start teaching, they bring with them the excitement of learning new things, some synthesis of old and new for their students, because they feel such conversations are necessary for intellectual and spiritual health.
But Evangelicalism does not exist to create these conversations, but to keep them from happening–or perhaps from getting out of hand. Decision makers are gatekeepers, and they rarely have the training or the inclination to walk the same intellectual and spiritual path. A strong response is inevitable.
This leaves these scholars to ponder how to engage that conversation with their students carefully but with integrity–which is to consign themselves to a life of cognitive dissonance. Either that or they bury their academic and spiritual instincts for fear of losing their jobs.
This is what happens to the “best and brightest” Evangelicals.
It may be that mainline and Catholic commentators have taken note of this column because it confirms our preconceptions, so without sounding superior, might it be possible to discuss what evangelicals could learn from the mainline’s approach to the study of sacred texts and vice versa?