Maddy Ward on “What makes a good Biblical Scholar or Theologian?”

Theology is a bit like a spider’s web, in the sense that cutting a single strand of a theological framework can drastically alter the shape of the whole.

A good theologian understands the web from many angles. They can identify the fundamental tenets of an intricate system. They can foresee the potential effects of disregarding those tenets in advance. They can perceive when an apparently obscure issue is being used as a proxy for the underlying disagreement – and when it is not actually an obscure issue at all. They can spot patterns, echoes, allusions, and possibilities.

This obviously requires clarity of thought – but it also demands empathy and a wide-ranging understanding of context, since personal motivations are so often mingled with doctrinal ones.

Maddy Ward is the Henry J. Cadbury Scholar at Pendle Hill, Philadelphia, a Quaker Study, Retreat and Conference Center. 

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Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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  • In a simplistic or narrow sense a good bible scholar should be sensible…
    Firstly, he/she must be eagle-eyed and develop the art and skill ,that unique ability to see things at or from a distance with a crystal clear sense of determination, purpose and focus just like an eagle does. Given the fact that his/her scholarly interpretation of the sacred book the Bible has eternal ramifications on many people who reads his/her works.It is imperative that the bible scholar is not one in name only but one who is well trained with proven track record and that both his character and works would not only be credible but will make to sense to everyone who studies his/her works.
    Secondly he/she should not be out of touch with reality with what is happening in real life in different settings and contexts and in relation to his/her work. The tendency by some biblical scholars to just breath, live,sleep and hide in the academic quagmire and utterly refuse to engage with the people who are the potential beneficiaries of their hard work could only be counterproductive. Even lab technicians such as pathologists do not just spend all their time in the lab examining their medical species.At some point, they have an obligation to go get the species from the field. Biblical scholars ought to leave their lecture/classrooms and initiate both hermeneutics and social dialogue with the people in market places where real people with real problems reside.
    Thirdly, a good biblical scholar is one who is both emphatic and sympathetic towards others. He/she must have a tremendous sense of humanity to feel the pain and the pleasure, the hurt and the joy people experience and go through. This is imperative as people don’t care much how astute or brilliant your theological mind is until they sense and feel a sense of empathy from you and really people deeply appreciate the sympathy from the learned professor.
    Fourthly, as Paul argues using the biblical injunction in 2nd Corinthians 2:15 “we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” I consider the apostle Paul to be a man who had a brilliant theological mind and so a good biblical scholar would do well to heed from Paul’s advise. With due diligence and investment of time and money needed to produce any substantive scholarly work a good biblical scholar is mindful that his/work has the potential to bring about a sweet fragrance to the broken hearts in need of sound biblical teaching and that that their scholarly work also diffuse a sweet aroma unto God the giver of their talents and so their labour is not in vain.
    Fifthly, a good biblical scholar is one who has mastered the art and discipline of listening even from the unschooled ones. Good scholarly work is a combination of several factors the least of which is good listening. Good listeners are good communicators and good communication is mutually exclusive. You cannot possibly communicate effectively your narrative to your target audience if you are not good at listening,
    In summary a good bible scholar is one who longs for wisdom from God to discern what,when,where,why and how to disseminate their knowledge in a way that is meaningful,relevant and makes sense to everyone.

  • Congratulations Maddy. Your definition about Biblical Scholar or Theologian is one of the best.

  • Thank you Maddy,
    You’ve given us more than meagre few words to ponder – and all of them worthwhile. Thanks for your time and thought in order to help us think and reflect.

Written by Tavis Bohlinger