Seminary Viewpoints

people collaborating at a table with computers

Collaborative Theology: Improving Research Within Community

Greg Stiekes | March 24, 2022
Theology Thursday

As discussed by Greg Stiekes on The Steve Noble Show on March 24

These days scientific facts — or should we more accurately say scientific conjectures — float around freely on the internet. Some may be true, some may have grains of truth, and some are just flat out wrong.

All this existing speculation reminds us that we should look for research that experts scrutinize through peer review. That information will be more complete, more correct, and consequently more trustworthy than the typical Instagram influencer.

Now think about this concept of peer review in relation to biblical study. Heresies, cults and theories — such as sin only passing through males — also pervade the internet and culture. Plus, as discussed in an article last week, even conventional wisdom threatens churches. But theologians and church members can’t trust just any new biblical study — it may turn out to be new conventional wisdom, or, even worse, an improbable idea.

If the world’s research needs peer review, why would we require anything less rigorous for biblical study? To validate biblical study, we must have collaborative theology.

Collaborative theology often manifests itself as the public oral reading of research papers followed by a time of response by expert men and women. At BJU Seminary, we hold theological research symposiums, and this week we are hosting the 2022 Southeast Regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, an organization dedicated to the oral exchange and written expression of theological thought and research.

Here are two prominent values of this collaborative theology for theologians and the church:

1. collaborative Theology prepares writers for future evaluation.

Considering that no one should ever write a paper to himself, scholars’ research will go through rigorous evaluation once submitted for publication. But even more importantly, fellow Christians — pastors, theologians, and even church members — will need accurate and thorough information that gives them confidence in the correct handling of God’s Word. And who knows: maybe an unbeliever will read or ask about biblical research, in which case scholars need to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).

2. Writers can take their research further with input from experts.

True scholars should want feedback to grow and learn from others. Experts can advise how to expand or reign in ideas, include more resources, and connect research to larger questions as the best papers do. Learning from those researching the same questions is an added benefit.

This process of learning from others encourages humility. We are handlers of the truth, not authors, so we must study it without being wise in our own eyes. That includes consulting other theologians — and not just commentators, but also contemporaries.

Be encouraged and motivated by these values. As scholars pursue their commitment to God-honoring research through collaborative theology, the church can know which facts are reliable. And through it all, we can all rigorously carry out our responsibility to rightly handle the word of truth.