This is not to discredit biblical scholars and theologians with academic training–these are, after all, the people I look up to as a young scholar. There is obviously a very real benefit to formal scholastic training when it comes to biblical interpretation. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have spent the last decade in an academic setting learning from biblical scholars and theologians shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to do so. I am speaking as an academic (a baby though I might be). However much credibility a Bachelors degree in Biblical Languages and Christianity, a Master’s degree in Biblical Languages, and 15 additional graduate hours in Theological Studies with a half-written thesis might give me, I am speaking as one how has academic training. And from this perspective I still argue that academics do not have a monopoly on the biblical texts. There is no room for academic elitism when it comes to reading the scared scriptures; the spirit of elitism does not exist alongside the Holy Spirit and the work the Spirit does in whom the Spirit desires. So, while formal scholastic training is beneficial to the individual reader of scripture, the lack thereof does not automatically disqualify one from the ability to grasp the biblical texts nor should it automatically disqualify one’s contributions to a discussion or argument or whatever.
Does not the Holy Spirit play the primary role in our ability to read and understand the scriptures?
Despite what some might assume, I would not argue that any and every interpretation is credible. For one, I prefer the language used in theological interpretation of “better” readings rather than correct or accurate. I might even differentiate between plausible and implausible readings. Furthermore, I am not arguing that the best way to read the Bible is alone in isolation with just you and the Holy Spirit. To the contrary, I actually believe that to read Scripture well we need to read it in conversation with tradition and with the church, not alone in a vacuum.
What I ultimately take issue with is the idea that someone can automatically be disqualified not based on their arguments and/or methods, but on their pedigree or lack thereof. This is a shame, it reeks of academic elitism and arrogance, and does not take into account the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual believer as well as the wide access we have to information today.
A PhD does not guarantee someone is a good reader of scripture. Unless you’re N.T. Wright, of course.
– Jessica Parks (written in 2015)
5 thoughts on “An Argument Against Academic Elitism from a Young Academic”
Your bring a wonderfully balanced article, Jessica. I enjoyed it very much. Especially as one who does not have formal training in the academia of theology. I especially appreciate your emphasis on study in the community of Believers. Surely a theology in isolation can lead to heresy. Sometimes we decide the voice we hear is the Holy Spirit and not our human reasoning.
I for one have been guilty that of that!
Yes! Was just talking to students about Theological Interp and the continuing role of the Spirit to bring meaning not simply limited to historical frameworks.