Essay / Education

Biola–An Inoculation Against Intellectual Engagement?


In a recent book (following C.S. Lewis, we might call it the “Green Book”), the acknowledgments read as follows:

“Ignoring the guidance of my fundamentalist Christian community by making Karl Barth the focus of my doctoral studies was one of the most pivotal decisions of my young adult life. After being inoculated to intellectual engagement at Biola University through its inconsistent and half-hearted forays into the enterprise, I was incapable of seeing just how insulated, sectarian and arrogant I had become.”


My first reaction: “Someone’s angling for a job back at his alma-mater!”

But that’s a bit of a cheap shot… My real response is one of sadness. While institutions have a range of perspectives and voices, I sure hope this isn’t an accurate portrayal of the kind of work Biola is doing.

Today, I spent the morning discussing a chapter of NT Wright’s new book (Paul and the Faithfulness of God) with a few students (those same students are currently reading John Paul II’s writings on the theology of the body with another professor). From there, I went to a faculty reading group that discussed some of Origen’s works (to be followed by Pseudo-Dionysius and Julian of Norwich). From there I headed back to my office to catch up on email before a meeting with a student who wanted to ask me about a St. Andrews theologian, Ivor Davidson. This was followed by a few more meetings, a group discussion with students where we are co-planning a seminar on the doctrine of the atonement I will teach next fall, and a meeting with a student to discuss Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Tomorrow, I’ll spend most of the day working on a book exploring the Atonement as a work of divine wisdom, interacting with Edwards, Barth, Athanasius and a host of other figures from the history of theology.

Why give you a glimpse into my day? Because my colleagues and I are determined and eager to expose our students, and ourselves, to the best the Church has to offer. We want them, and ourselves, to ask the best and hardest questions. We want to have the doctrine of the Trinity come to life through Augustine, to listen to Kant’s account of religion and to salivate over the thought of an elective course on the theology of Karl Barth. And so far as I know there are not texts, traditions or questions which we avoid or fear, though of course we cannot give them all equal attention.

Do we desire these things because we’re trying to shed our fundamentalist heritage? Do these pursuits necessitate that we are ashamed of our Evangelical heritage?

Absolutely not.

We long to know and worship the God of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to do so is to hunger and thirst after this good news: to be thoroughly evangelical is to dive into these questions, to learn from these figures, and to learn to read Scripture through and with them, with eagerness, confidence and joy.

I grieve the acknowledgments in the “Green Book.” I hope my students do not have such an experience, just as I don’t want it for myself. I loathe insulated, sectarian arrogance and have been deeply hurt by certain kinds of fundamentalism. My students don’t need to leave the Biola I know to be free from such things; they certainly don’t need to go elsewhere to read Barth. My colleagues and I are hungry for the kind of intellectual engagement this alumnus wanted, and are doing it consistently—with each other, and with our students—as my schedule today bears some small witness.

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