This paper was presented at the Christian Scholars’ Conference on the campus of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, in a session on 8 June 2017 on the topic “Bridging the Divide: Addressing the Gap between the Church and the Academy,” convened by Brandon Pierce of the Church of Christ in Stamford, Connecticut, and Paul Watson of the Cole Mill Road Church of Christ in Durham, North Carolina. I am grateful for the invitation to present the paper and for the encouraging response of conference attendees, including those of differing political persuasions.
My reflections today mainly concern one narrow aspect of the gap between church and academy, but I beg your indulgence for one general comment on the session theme. The lesson I think I most needed to learn upon departing graduate school for a teaching position in a church-affiliated institution was that wisdom is more valuable than knowledge (in part because it’s more rare); and even inarticulate wisdom merits more notice and respect than superficial cleverness, of which there is no shortage in most institutions of higher education. I suspect that’s also true in ministry staffs, though I have only slight experience of the latter. In one of his sermons, Austin Farrer wrote, “I have been taught to use my tongue and my pen; it is not much.” Everyone who has completed a degree in theology would do well to inscribe that sentence on our hearts.
That said, I appreciate the interest shown in the topic I proposed, though I remain unsure whether one should be indulged to speak at a conference like this about his hobby. (I used to offer as a justification for following politics that it saves time compared with other hobbies, since in politics the Super Bowl only comes every four years. Recently I’ve been led to reconsider whether that justification still holds.) I’ve done a fair bit of reading on the subject, beginning with the works of William F. Buckley, Jr., about age 14, owing to my grandmother’s viewing of his TV program “Firing Line,” but by no means do I suggest that my remarks should be received as the reflections of a scholar of politics. I offer them rather as the opinions of a participant-observer in the life of a school associated with Churches of Christ with students drawn from a number of communions, as well several congregations with which I’m familiar.
A member of one of those churches who has also been a student in my New Testament classes called a couple of weeks ago, when I had begun to worry that the concern animating this paper might be overblown. She expressed some alarm about political opinions a fellow church member had posted to Facebook and the conversation between the two of them that ensued. The first rule of political discussion on Facebook is, of course, “Don’t discuss politics on Facebook,” but I’m pleased to report that in this case the minister of the congregation that both parties attend weighed in after a bit to commend them for the civility with which they were discussing their differences. My caller, however, went on say that the exchange had led her to question whether to remain in that congregation or to seek another, as it was her impression that a significant number of members held the same political opinions as those that had troubled her.
That’s the general sort of situation I propose we consider today.