Monday, April 25, 2005

The (Fragmentary) Christian Mind

Mike at Eternal Perspectives commented: "BTW, great quote in your masthead." Since Francis Schaeffer has played such an influential role in my Christian life, I'm particularly appreciative of the quote displayed in the masthead of Mike's blog. It's from Schaeffer's The God Who Is There:
True education means thinking by associating across the various disciplines, and not just being highly qualified in one field, as a technician might be. I suppose no discipline has tended to think more in fragmented fashion than the orthodox or evangelical theology of today.
Schaeffer was concerned that increased specialization tended to emphasize the parts at the expense of the whole. One of the potential dangers of focusing intently in one area of study is that that area's relationship to other subjects can be overlooked if not forgotten. Think of each discipline as one of the over 3 million dots of color in Georges Seurat's familiar painting "A Sunday in the Park on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (above). How foolish (not to mention unsatisfying) would it be for art students to set out to become experts in one point of paint? Standing with their noses pressed against the canvas, scrutinizing their particular dot, they would miss the grandeur and beauty of the entire piece.
The "today" Schaeffer was referring to was almost forty years ago. The information explosion presents even more obstacles to the kind of cross-disciplinary thinking he was advocating. Millard Erickson, in Christian Theology, describes the impact on theological scholarship:
Theology is now being done in a period characterized by, among other things, a "knowledge explosion." The amount of information is growing so rapidly that mastery of a large area of thought is becoming increasingly difficult. While this is especially true in technological areas, biblical and theological knowledge is also much broader than it once was. The result has been a much greater degree of specialization than was previously the case. In biblical studies, for example, New Testament scholars tend to specialize in the Gospels or in the Pauline writings. Church historians tend to specialize in one period, such as the Reformation. Consequently, research and publication are often in narrower areas and in greater depth.

The mass of theological data is too great for any one person or group of persons to master. I'm not so naive as to question that. What I do question is where the integrative task is being done. Where and how does theological Humpty Dumpty get put together again once we've analyzed his yolk, white, and shell? Are our seminaries aiding future pastors to become truly educated as Schaeffer defined true education? Are we training leaders who will be capable of teaching others to make the connection between their respective vocations and biblical faith?
In a previous post I quoted from the preface of Craig Bartholomew's and Michael Goheen's book The Drama of Scripture in which they warn of the consequences of approaching the Bible atomistically. Assuming that there's at least one person who hasn't gone back in this blog's archives, I'll post it again. It's that important:
Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits - theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But when we read the Bible in such a fragmented way, we ignore its divine author's intention to shape our lives through its story. All human communities
live out of some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history and gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. Idolatry has twisted the dominant cultural story of the secular Western world. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of Scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Hence, the unity of Scripture is no minor matter; a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers.

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