Seminary Viewpoints

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What Is Next-Level Theological Scholarship for, and Who Needs It Anyway?

Neal Cushman | December 9, 2021
Theology Thursday

As discussed by Neal Cushman on The Steve Noble Show on Dec. 9.

BJU Seminary released the fall 2021 edition of our flagship publication, the Journal of Biblical Theology & Worldview (JBTW). The titles of JBTW’s articles revealed some rather challenging and even obscure subject matter:

  • “Theological Foundations for Counseling Addicted Believers”
  • “The Theological Intersection of Sonship and Resurrection in Redemption and Christology”
  • “The Futurist Interpretation of Revelation: Intertextual Evidence from the Prologue”
  • “The Translation of שוף [šûp̄ (shuf)] and the Promise of Victory in Genesis 3:15″

After all, what does it matter if a Christian counselor has a theological basis for working with addicts if science has apparently identified medical solutions?

Why devote articles in three separate issues to the arcane discussion of a possible differentiation between “Christ’s preincarnate sonship and a messianic sonship that was imparted by resurrection?”

What is the “futurist interpretation of Revelation,” anyway? What does “intertextual” mean?

And why an extended investigation of various translations of a single word in Genesis?

Lay observers might be tempted to dismiss this in-the-clouds focus as “ivory tower” and a distraction from the Gospel. Shouldn’t believers and leadership focus on simply proclaiming the Word, serving the church and sharing our faith?

But a couple of analogies explain why next-level theological scholarship like that presented in the Seminary’s journal is critical to today’s church.

Importance of Next-Level Theological Scholarship

Consider the following story: some 30 years ago, a new pharmaceutical firm pursued a drug to treat Lou Gehrig’s disease, a crippling, incurable neurodegenerative condition. Though animal trials were promising, clinical trials crushingly failed to demonstrate effectiveness in humans.

But a pharmaceutical industry legend who joined the firm’s leadership advised applying the basic research behind the neurological drug — workings of growth factors on cell receptors — to simpler conditions such as kidney and eye diseases and cancers. Blockbuster drugs resulted.

That success led in turn to another line of research — mice bioengineered to respond more like humans in testing these factors — and from there, a line of antibody drugs.

Fast-forward to the COVID-19 pandemic when the antibodies expertise of Regeneron moved monoclonal antibody treatments from discovery to late-stage clinical development and then to regulatory approval for emergency use in record time. These medications were used to treat former President Donald Trump last year and are in increasing demand as the virus mutates.

The point: basic research in physical sciences can become applied research, which is key to successfully developing useful products and pharmaceuticals, often in surprising ways. Another example of applied research: NASA has identified more than 1900 commercial spin-offs of its technology.

In the same way, the high-level scholarship in the JBTW can ultimately translate to applied research, helping the church in multiple ways — all previewed in 2 Timothy 3:16, which teaches that the God-breathed Word is profitable for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Teaching

It starts with “teaching” — increasing precision and comprehensiveness in interpreting and applying Scripture. The Seminary’s journal seeks to stretch scholars, such as those on our faculty and their students, to a “next level” of understanding, handling, argumentation and presentation of God’s Word.

This intellectual challenge is preparation for a world in which, according to Barna organization research, large majorities of pastors describe their greatest challenges as dealing with “watered-down Gospel teachings,” the “culture’s shift to a secular age,” and “addressing complex social issues with biblical integrity.”

Reproof

A second application relates to the worst of those challenges: critical or even combative “reproof.” Just as a pandemic infects society, false teachers can “infect” the church with errors and heresies, leading to dangerously misleading worldviews and practices.

Not long ago, a Christian radio host heretically pointed to a given date of Christ’s return, and thousands of believers split with churches and took other drastic actions. Other false teachers preach prosperity gospels, modernist views of sexuality or social theories based on heretical views of the natures of God and man.

Similar to how basic research on growth factors became pandemic treatments, theological basic research can add to a cumulative body of study on the intention of Scriptural authors to provide doctrinal “treatments” for doctrinal “infections.” We don’t yet know how research in our latest journal edition that advances the general fields of Christology, eschatology or Old Testament interpretation might be so applied.

Correction

A third application can be characterized as “correction,” dealing with less major interpretation or application errors, often relating to contemporary issues, practices or behaviors. Jim Berg’s and Timothy Miller’s contributions to the Journal, taking on disease models of addiction and claimed historical arguments favoring an egalitarian view on women in leadership, respectively, could fall into this category.

Instruction in Righteousness

The final application of research can be seen as exhortational — “instruction in righteousness” — encouraging the church to begin or continue in a direction. Most of the Seminary’s thought leadership stemming from our faculty’s (and guests’) expertise is accompanied by resources for pastors to spur their members to self-examination and biblically-based worldviews, practices and disciplines.

In the coming weeks, Viewpoint will feature the next-level theological scholarship reflected in the latest journal edition and its relevance to today’s church — and tomorrow’s. In the meantime, I encourage you to benefit personally from its challenging insights.

Read thumbnails on the journal entries and more about the journal itself here.