Saturday, August 10, 2013

Respect and Humility as Academic Virtues

In reflecting on his experience as a theologian in an interview, John Frame gave a 30 part (!) answer to the question, "What advice would you offer to theological students and young theologians as they face a lifetime of theological work?"

His trigintanarian answer contains a trove of wisdom for scholars of any age. In particular, #27 and #28 embody two traits that I think are worth striving for in the academic community: Respect and Humility. Frame writes,

27. Respect your elders. Nothing is so ill-becoming as a young theologian who despises those who have been working in the field for decades. Disagreement is fine, as long as you acknowledge the maturity and the contributions of those you disagree with. Take 1 Timothy 5:1 to heart.

28. Young theologians often imagine themselves as the next Luther, just as little boys imagine themselves as the next Peyton Manning or Kevin Garnett. When they’re too old to play cowboys and Indians, they want to play Luther and the Pope. When the real Pope won’t play with them, they pick on somebody else and say, “You’re it.” Look: most likely God has not chosen you to be the leader of a new Reformation. If he has, don’t take the exalted title “Reformer” upon yourself. Let others decide if that is really what you are.
Frame's counsel regarding the nature of critical engagement falls along these lines: "Don’t destroy people’s reputations by misquoting them, quoting them out of context, or taking their words in the worst possible sense. Be gentle and gracious unless you have irrefutable reasons for being harsh."

Significantly, Frame also has a clear place carved out for a high view of Scripture within the academic pursuit of theology (something I would connect to humility as well):
Remember that the fundamental work of theology is to understand the Bible, God’s Word, and apply it to the needs of people. Everything else—historical and linguistic expertise, exegetical acuteness and subtlety, knowledge of contemporary culture, and philosophical sophistication—must be subordinated to that fundamental goal. If it is not, you may be acclaimed as a historian, linguist, philosopher, or critic of culture, but you will not be a theologian.

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