Book Review: The Bible and the University
The Bible and the University. Edited by David Lyle Jeffrey and C. Stephen Evans. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, 328 pp., $34.99, hardcover.
The modern university would be unrecognizable to scholars from the Renaissance, at least, and to those who preceded them. The key distinguishing difference between the academy then versus now was the segregation of the Bible from all other disciplines when it used to enjoy the pinnacle of all learning. In the esteem of old university mindsets, the Bible stood at the forefront of learning while it now appears as a department that receives little attention save for those who occupy chairs within today. Those scholars of years past who lived when all other disciplines were useful for understanding the divine wisdom in the Sacred Scriptures would shake their heads in disbelief and shame because of this minimization. Furthermore, today academics are urged to leave their faith at the door and evaluate the Bible only through a critical purview while our scholarly forefathers would not have dared handle the divine wisdom sans faith. God’s Holy Bible has lost its pedestal and is among the archives in comparison.
In the final of a series on Scripture and Hermeneutics by Zondervan, David Lyle Jeffrey introduced this work by reminding the audience of the history the Bible once enjoyed in the academy as the matron of all studies. He not only deconstructed the recent history of academics viewing biblical research in a purely academic method, but he also humbly acknowledged their contributions to biblical studies via critical engagement with the text of the Bible. Nevertheless, he reminded those who urged others to abandon the faith when entering into scholarly pursuits just how men of faith in the Renaissance defined and developed their disciplines (e.g. textual criticism). Jeffrey’s primary focus is the liberal arts and the history they served not only to the church but also the laity. Nevertheless, liberal studies, he reminds the reader, were such because churchmen saw the value of all other sources of knowledge as they aided a student in understanding the whole of God’s knowledge.
From the introduction onward, different scholars weigh in on the Bible’s impact on other studies and vice versa. As befitting their expertise, they show the value of the Bible to their disciplines — some of which may be secular when evaluated. Central to most chapters is the influence philosophy has had not only as a conduit through which to understand God’s wisdom in the Bible, but also its service to theology. The work mostly speaks to new assessments of the academy and the Bible’s value for the variety of disciplines that it used to serve in history where secular knowledge met sacred knowledge. The authors are unanimous in that the Sacred Writ should still be foundational to all sources of learning because in them is a revelation from heaven rather than the ruminations of men.
At a depth of this work is the need for faithful, professing Christians to become scholars in secular disciplines so that they can harmonize sacred wisdom with secular knowledge or practice. What often happens in Christian universities is that faculty exemplifying scholarly knowledge with confessional faith are selected to teach biblical studies or religion. They find employment because of their confessional fidelity. However, in those same Christian universities, sometimes secular-minded people who profess no faith teach secular subjects. When they teach those subjects through a secular worldview in the Christian university, they deconstruct the Christian nature of the institution by directly attacking the foundation of faith — the Bible. Something that should not occur in professing universities is the undermining of the mission of such a university being Christian in its identity. Jeffrey, in the final chapter of this work, wrote about having not only biblical literacy as a professor but also how that harmonizes with academic freedom and Christian liberty. In recent years, several professors have been dismissed from confessional universities because, despite tenure, they exercised academic freedom and wrote as their consciences dictated, which upset the powers that be — namely, the donors.
The need for Christian universities to have faithful Christians in each department appears as a lesson to be learned. The ideal would be for there to be no departments at all in the modern academy and for it to return to how it used to be as envisioned in this work. Disbanding departments is likely an unrealistic wish. However, in restoring the academy to its former state, one must also realize the unity of the ancient academy as it then existed.
This work is not solely for the academics in the Christian university but also appeals to the Christian scholar who may teach in a secular atmosphere. The urging at reading this work for this demographic would be to make the Christian narrative a compelling alternative to the secular worldview. Given Christianity’s connection to Western Civilization, making the sign of the faith relative should be no problem. The Christian professor in the secular academy might want to approach it objectively and historically to show the influence that the faith has had on learning throughout the ages. This work aids in accomplishing that goal. Other works would certainly supplement those ends. This particular writing is of particular encouragement should the academic find themselves in this position.
Educators engaged in the classical Christian model of education will find this work helpful as would those who have an interest in its overall purpose of integrating faith and learning. While the whole of this work is to encourage the integration of faith with learning as it once was, the work by no means falls short of doing just that. However, this work was initially a series of lectures presented in a graduate setting. Some readers may find the work hard to read, but indeed those accustomed to the life of the academy should at least find them in a friendly way. Having a dictionary on hand would be advisable given the technical language some of the scholars employ.
What else makes the book challenging is that sometimes each chapter does not naturally flow into the following chapter. When the reader remembers that these were a series of lectures, this may ease some of the confusion brought about by the disjointedness of the reading. One might also view the work as a whole that helps find common themes and thoughts.
There is undoubtedly something for everyone in this book concerned with education. Some often claim that too much learning drives men mad, as Paul once heard. However, when learning occurs through the purview of faith, it enlightens the mind to the wonders of the first things. Despite it primarily appealing to the University, points may surely be extrapolated and applied in a grade-school setting as well. Reading this book is a joy and time well spent. It also is comforting to know that others are trying to recover classical learning.