Although I am presently working as a local pastor, and not doing as much scholarly work right now, I learned a lot from my time at the University of Edinburgh during my PhD. As I reflect back on scholars and peers that I respect and consider what led to successes and failures in my own scholarship, I can offer four qualities that I believe make someone a good Biblical Scholar or Theologian.
I think these probably apply to more than just Biblical scholarship, but in my own life, they have proven to be essential to sustain work in this complex and challenging field.
I think that it is easy to buy into the myth of genius or innate talent. There is this common notion that there are some people out there who are just always experiencing flashes of genius and can barely make it to their computer before they explode with brilliant articles and monographs. The reality is the opposite. The best scholars that I know are the ones who faithfully and consistently put in work on a regular basis. They aren’t chasing the lighting strike of a discipline-changing idea. Instead, they do good work as often as possible. And from that, great ideas emerge.
“I am not my work.” That is something that I repeat to myself on a regular basis. It is so easy to allow our spirits to rise and fall with the success of our ideas within the world of academia. This kills people. The quality or popularity of our work (although not totally unimportant) is not the measure of us as human beings. We need perspective.
Failure is inevitable. Learn to get back up early and often. Don’t let your failures stick with you for too long.
It is tempting to force our ideas onto the Biblical text — especially when we have invested months and even years into crafting them. We must allow the text to shape our ideas. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it is so easy for us to see what we want to see.