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Religious Studies and Theology: Living in Both Worlds

28th February 2011

[This post was originally published 08/2009]

Chris Heard over at Higgaion posted an interesting discussion of Kurt Noll’s article, “The Ethics of Being a Theologian,” over at the Chronicle of Higher Education web site. While I agree with Chris that Kurt’s article is full of unsubstantiated “truth claims,” I still recognize the distinction between religious studies and theology.  While my sympathies with Noll could be because he is a fellow Canadian and my perception is that Canadians draw the distinction between religious studies and theology more sharply than those in the USA, the fact is that I try to live in both worlds and tend to eschew the combative and dualistic nature of the “Religious Studies vs. Theology” debate.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the distinction between religious Studies and theology is a matter of some debate.   Since the end of the nineteenth century, the discipline of Religious Studies has typically been understood to be the value-neutral and objective study of religions, while Theology is the confessional or particularistic study of one religion (See Donald Wiebe, “The Politics of Religious Studies,” CSSR Bulletin 27 [November 1998]: 95-98, where he argues forcefully for this distinction. Wiebe has long been a Canadian proponent for the continuing role of the academic study of religion within the context of a public university, by which he means the value-free study of religion free from any religious or confessional goals).

The distinction between Religious Studies and Theology played an important part in the establishment of Religious Studies departments in a number of universities in Europe and North America – though significantly not all educational institutions thought that the distinction was necessary.  While this distinction is certainly characteristic of Canadian public universities, there are a number of institutions in Europe and North America that have combined departments of Religion and Theology (and that is what we attempted to do at the now defunct Taylor University College).

This traditional demarcation has also been challenged on some fronts in light of the postmodern recognition that there is no real objective, value-neutral study of religion (or any other subject for that matter). While I wholeheartedly agree with this recognition, that does not mean there is no distinction between religious studies and theology — it just means that any claims to be “objective”or “neutral”  should be dismissed. We all engage our disciplines from our horizon with all of our own prejudices and presuppositions.  What it means, however,  is that the differences between the disciplines are only the rules agreed upon by those working within them. And each discipline works out different rules of engagement.   (For an interesting discussion of postmodern theories of religious studies, see the interaction between Garrett Green, “Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barth’s Theory of Religion,” Journal of Religion 75 [1995]: 473-86; Russell T. McCutcheon, “My Theory of the Brontosaurus”: Postmodernism and ‘Theory’ of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 26 [1997]: 3-23, and William E. Arnal, “What if I Don’t Want to Play Tennis?: A Rejoinder to Russell McCutcheon on Postmodernism and Theory of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 27 [1998]: 61-68;  see also McCutcheon’s response, “Returning the Volley to William E. Arnal” on pp. 67-68 of the same issue).  In practice, Religious Studies in the Canadian public university context tends to be the study of religion which does not privilege one religious discourse above another (notice I didn’t say “scientific” study of religion, since I find those that throw around the term “scientific” do so with prejudice against anything not deemed “scientific”).  Theology, on the other hand, is typically defined as the study of one religion from a confessional standpoint. Thus the insider/outsider demarcation remains.

It is also possible to make a distinction between the academic disciplines of theology and biblical studies. On one level theology is a discipline distinct from biblical studies.  Christian Theology, as one recent work defined it, is “an ongoing, second-order, contextual discipline that engages in critical and constructive reflection on the faith, life, and practices of the Christian community” (Stan Grenz and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism. Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2001) p. 16).   As such, “Christian Theology” seems to me to be a normative insider job rather than purely descriptive discipline. Biblical studies, on the other hand, is an inclusive, multifaceted discipline that centers on the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and Christian New Testament and that includes scholars from a variety of different religious and methodological perspectives. That being said, there are a large number of biblical scholars — indeed an entire a sub-discipline of biblical studies — who are also confessional and theological in their approach. That is, they are not only interested in describing the message of the Apostle Paul, they also want to engage the question of how Paul’s message may be relevant to the community of faith today.

In the light of the above distinctions, much of what I do would fall under the rubric of theology.  I teach at a confessional institution from a confessional perspective, and one of my educational goals is to encourage students to critically reflect on their own religious tradition and integrate this faith with all aspects of their lives.  That being said, I chaff at Kurt’s characterization that I “do not advance knowledge” but only “practice and defend religion.” My classes, while taught from a confessional perspective, are not the sort of indoctrination or apologetics that Kurt seems to think they must be. My teaching incorporates a broad methodological perspective that seeks to take account of a variety of critical and ideological approaches representative of the broader religious studies/biblical studies guild.  Perhaps the difference is that I don’t stop there. I seek to interact with and explore how this broader perspective relates to the theological interpretation of scripture for the community of faith. So I am not sure that the relationship between “religious studies” and “theology” is an “either/or” relationship. I prefer to view it as a “both/and” relationship where the theological task is seen as “going beyond” the methods and questions of religious studies to include the personal faith integrative task as well. For what it’s worth, lately  I find that I am far more interested in the latter issues than the former.

Either way, no matter where you stand on the debate, Peter Donovan makes an excellent point when he notes that

the scientific study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from the thinking of others interested in the same subject-matter, merely because they may hold very different views about theory and method (Peter Donovan, “Neutrality in Religious Studies,” in The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion. A Reader [ed., Russell T. McCutcheon; New York: Cassell, 1999], p. 245).

I would add that the theological study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from those who take a religious studies approach as well!  What is perhaps most important for any approach to the study of religion is that the approach is academic and methodologically sound and rigorous. And I happen to think, contra Kurt Noll, that this is possible for both scholars of religious studies and theologians!

Posted in Faith & Scholarship, Religious Studies, Theology | 9 Comments »

Thinking Christianly

18th August 2009

I preached a two-part sermon series a few weeks ago about the importance of thinking Christianly. Now I am well aware that there are some who think that putting “Christian” and “thinking” in the same phrase is an oxymoron, but I will not address those concerns here. Basically my sermons were reflections on what it may look like for someone  to “Love the Lord your God… with all of your MIND…” (Mark 12:30).

Smith_WorldviewIn the second sermon I painted a profile of what I believe are some important characteristics of an “intellectually mature believer.” First and foremost, I underscored the importance of “epistemic humility” based on our fallenness, fallibility and finitude. The second characteristic was openness. More particularly, I emphasized the importance of openness to God and Scripture, openness to all truth (no matter where it may be found), and a genuine openness to others. By openness I do not mean a wishy-washy relativism, but something called “critical commitment” where you know what you believe and why and hold it with faith, moral courage, and epistemic humility. My final characteristic of an intellectually mature believer was that he or she should have as a goal integration. Here I was arguing for a somewhat unified/integrated Christian perspective on the world and our faith (I consider the modifier “somewhat” very important). This “unified view” is  often referred to as a “worldview” or “world and life view.” While there are a number of limitations to the concept of a worldview (especially the notion that there is such an animal as “the Christian worldview” or that worldviews are somehow impervious to culture rather than embedded in culture), I still find it a helpful concept for thinking about thinking.

In this regard, I was quite interested in a notice I received today about a new book by Calvin College philosopher, James K. A. Smith. The book is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic, 2009; Buy from |   The latest Christianity Today has a brief review article on the book entitled, “Putting Worldview in Its Place.”  The book looks like a balanced perspective on worldview and Christian education. Methinks I will have to order myself a copy.

Posted in Faith & Scholarship, Pedagogy, Theology, Worldview | 3 Comments »

God’s Word in Human Words with Dr. Kenton Sparks

25th September 2007

fccimage.jpgTomorrow evening I will be picking up Dr. Kenton Sparks at the airport. He is the speaker for Taylor University College’s “Faith & Culture Conference” which runs Thursday and Friday of this week. The title of this year’s conference is “God’s Word in Human Words: The Prospects and Perils of Believing Criticism.”

Here is a rundown of the different sessions:

  • Session 1: “To Err is Human: A Biblical View of Epistemology” (Thursday 27 September; 11:30 am)
    Evangelical Christians often believe that error is a bad thing, but the biblical view of things is otherwise. Scripture teaches that human error is an inevitable and natural part of normal, healthy living. This observation has profound implications for our epistemology and theology.
  • Session 2: God’s Word in Human Words: The Problem and Promise of Modern Biblical Criticism? (Thursday 27 September; 1:15 pm)
    Modern biblical scholars have highlighted features in Scripture that seem incommensurate with the Bible’s divine origins. However, when we understand these features as an affirmation of our humanity and as an expression of theological orthodoxy, we shall find they are wholly suited to a high view of Scripture’s inspiration and authority.
  • Session 3: God’s Astronomy: Accommodation, Inspiration, and the Bible? (Thursday 27 September; 7:30 pm)
    Does the Bible get the science right? And if not, what does this mean for Scripture’s authority and inspiration? The Church has long had the theological resources to deal with the apparent difficulty created by conflicts between the Bible and science. Evangelicals have largely forgotten these resources, which we shall try to recover.
  • Session 4: The Path of Wisdom: The Church and Biblical Criticism? (Friday 28 September; 11:10 am )
    The biblical critics are right about many things, but this does not mean that we can carelessly bring their insights into church pulpits and Sunday School classrooms. “True facts,” when misunderstood, become false and potentially destructive facts. How can the Church wisely assimilate the insights of biblical criticism without being destroyed by them?

I am looking forward to these sessions as his talks will be dealing with a number of crucial topics for those of us who consider ourselves “evangelical” biblical scholars. It seems to me that evangelical biblical scholars get a raw deal from both sides of the spectrum. On the one side, scholars such as N.P. Lemche argue (somewhat recklessly) that the label “evangelical biblical scholar” is an oxymoron. You can’t be both an evangelical and a scholar at the same time — at least not a real scholar. Then, on the other side, the more conservative elements of evangelicalism question the evangelicalism of those biblical scholars who don’t hold to the traditional party line on questions such as the authorship of the Pentateuch, the unity of Isaiah, historicity of Jonah, among other questions. While I believe the situation is much better now than in the past (due in large part to the fact that evangelical scholarship has improved immensely in the last 40 years or so), Mark Noll’s comment that “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” remains valid in many quarters of evangelicalism.

sparks_kent_07.jpgWhat Kent will be drawing our attention to the human side of Scripture. And he is well-equipped to do such a task. He holds the PhD from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he specialized in the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (his adviser was John Van Seters). His publications include numerous articles on the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, as well as four books:

  • God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship (Baker Academic, forthcoming March 2008; pre-order from or
  • Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (Hendrickson, 2005; buy from or
  • Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel: Prolegomena to the Study of Ethnic Sentiments and their Expression in the Hebrew Bible (Eisenbrauns, 1998; buy from or
  • The Pentateuch: An Annotated Bibliography (IBR Bibliographies, no. 1; Baker Academic, 2002; buy from or

sparks_ancient_texts.jpgKent’s Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible is one of the best and most recent guides to all of the background literature to the Old Testament. It includes an introduction to comparative study of ANE texts and ANE archives and libraries, as well as a discussion of all of the relevant texts organized by genre. Original publication data and other useful bibliography is included for each ancient text — I highly recommend it. At present, Kent is preparing a book-length treatment of Israelite origins for Oxford University Press.

In addition to his academic credentials, Sparks is also an ordained Baptist Pastor, who served in that pastoral role for seven years before moving to Eastern University in St. Davids, PA, where he is presently a Professor of Biblical Studies. Sparks is also a recipient of the Lindback Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching.

If you are in the Edmonton area, you are welcome to attend the sessions — especially the Thursday evening public lecture. Recordings of the talks will be made available on-line, so stay tuned.

Posted in Bible, Conferences, Criticism, Faith & Scholarship | 5 Comments »

Writing “On the Side”

10th November 2006

Scott McKnight over at Jesus Creed has a thought-provoking post on “Writing — On the Side.” His comments resonate with my own thoughts, though I don’t find writing comes easy. Just this morning I was staring at my computer screen for far too long!

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God in the Academy

19th October 2006

Inside Higher Ed recently reported on the findings of a survey regarding the religiosity of college and university professors in the United States. The study was conducted by by two sociologists, Neil Gross of Harvard University and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, and was for a presentation sponsored by the Social Science Research Council.

Here are some excerpts from the Higher Ed article:

Listen to many critics of higher education, and you would think that faith had been long ago banished from the quad — or at least all those quads not at places like Notre Dame or Liberty or Yeshiva.

It turns out though, that there are plenty of believers on college faculties. Professors may be more skeptical of God and religion than Americans on average, but academic views and practices on religion are diverse, believers outnumber atheists and agnostics, and plenty of professors can be found regularly attending religious services.


On the question of belief in God, the study notes the “common perception� that professors are atheists and suggests that this view is simply not true. The following statistics show how professors aligned themselves:

Professors and Belief in God

Positions of Belief % of Professors
I don’t believe in God. 10.0%
I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out. 13.4%
I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind. 19.6%
I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others. 4.4%
While I have my doubts, I feel that I do believe in God. 16.9%
I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it. 35.7%

While the study found no sector of higher education without believers, there are significant differences by type of institution and discipline. Faculty members at religious colleges made up about 14 percent of the sample in the survey and they were more likely to believe in God. While 52 percent of professors in non-religiously affiliated colleges believe in God either despite doubts or without doubt, 69 percent of those at religious colleges feel that way. Professors are most likely to be atheists or agnostics at elite doctoral institutions (37 percent) and less likely to be non-believers at community colleges (15 percent).In terms of disciplines, professors in psychology and biology are the least likely to believe in God (about 61 percent in each field are atheists or agnostics), with mechanical engineering not far behind at 50 percent. Professors most likely to say that they have no doubt that God exists are in accounting (63 percent), elementary education (57 percent), finance (49 percent), marketing (47 percent) and nursing (44 percent).

The survey found a “surprisingly high� proportion — 19 percent — of the professoriate that identifies as “born-again Christian,� and they are not restricted to religious colleges. While very few professors (about 1 percent) have this identity at elite doctoral institutions, the share at secular institutions over all is 17 percent.

This is quite interesting. I imagine that the results would be a bit different for Canada, with a less belief — especially in the major public universities as compared to private institutions.

(HT Targuman)

Posted in Faith & Scholarship, Popular Culture, Teaching & Learning | 1 Comment »

Skeptiticism and Secularism in Scholarship

15th August 2006

James Crossley over at Earliest Christian History has a thoughtful post on secularism and scholarship entitled, “Sheffield and the Secular.” His post is in response to Michael Bird‘s post, “Secularism and Biblical Studies.” Michael’s point of departure is a recent article by John Barton (“Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective” in The Nature of New Testament Theology [eds. C. Rowland and C. Tuckett; Oxford: Blackwell, 2006] 27-29), where Barton notes the significant place theology has had historically in Old Testament studies and how that will likely continue to be the case. He notes, “But I still think that the most important aspect of the OT is the theological content of most of its texts, and that it is therefore natural for this to continue to be the focus of interest in the future as it has been in the past.” Michael then goes on to raise a few points about secularism in biblical studies, including that secular scholars will always be the minority since the object of study in biblical studies is, lo and behold, the Bible — one of the religious texts par excellence — and therefore religious people will be attracted to academic biblical studies.

James offers a response to Michael in his post and while he agrees with much that Michael writes, he notes that “we should not forget what the discipline [i.e., biblical studies] missed out on in comparison with other humanities (e.g. history) because of a lack of secular perspectives.” I would agree with James to a certain extent, though I’m not sure we’ve missed out too much — and considering the lag typically associated with biblical studies, perhaps it is yet to come! :-)

Now here are some of my own quick observations:

Theology and Biblical Studies. It is not just secular scholars who eschew theology; there are many religious biblical scholars who favour the historical critical method and thus avoid theological issues (at least in their published scholarship). That being said, it is fair to say that scholars involved in “biblical theology” (whether OT or NT) will almost without exception be religious. This is especially the case for biblical theology in Old Testament studies since one of the major tasks historically for the discipline has been to explore the relationship between the testaments.

Skepiticism and Scholarship. James rasies this issue in connection with Ben Witherington’s post on doubt in scholarship (see my comments on Ben’s post here). James notes that one of the benefits of secular scholarship is that “the biblical texts are open to a much more critical reading, critical in the sense of deconstructing their ideologies etc. and being ready to entertain the possibility that the texts are just irrelevant, at least in a historical context ideological approaches to biblical interpretation.” I can agree with James to a certain extent here, though I am not sure that radically skeptical approaches that constantly read against the grain are ultimately very fruitful. I think some skepticism is healthy and necessary, though when it obscures understanding more than facilitates understanding, it should be discarded (or at least relagated to the “that’s interesting” pile). Thus, if you conceive that the goal of biblical studies is to better understand the biblical texts, then an empathetic hermeneutic may be more appropriate than one of suspicion. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that we should priveledge the Bible over against other texts, or that we should forget that they are ancient texts. I am saying that we should look at any text we are trying to understand with a good dose of emphathy.

All in all an interesting discussion.

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Doubt and Scholarship

12th August 2006

Ben Witherington has a good post entitled, “Justification by Doubt“, that is worth a read. Here is an excerpt:

But there is a particular trait of some Biblical scholars, indeed many of them, which I would like to comment on, on this blog, because it drives too much of what passes for critical Biblical scholarship. It is the tendency I call justification by doubt. A scholar tries to demonstrate his or her scholarly acumen by showing not merely great learning, but how much he can explain away, dismiss, discredit, or otherwise pour cold water on. This activity in itself is sometimes mistakenly called ‘critical scholarship’ apparently in contradistinction to uncritical or pre-critical scholarship. And having once trotted out this label it is then assumed that any real scholar worth her or his salt will want to be a skeptic so they can then be revered as a ‘critical scholar’. Otherwise they are not really being scholarly.

Read the whole post for yourself — it’ll be worth the effort! I pretty much agree with his perspective, though some skepticism is necessary for critical biblical scholarship. It’s all a matter of balance.

Posted in Faith & Scholarship | 2 Comments »

Faith-Based Wissenschaft: An Oxymoron?

24th February 2006

Michael V. Fox has a thought provoking essay at the most recent SBL Forum entitled, “Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study: My View.” While I have the utmost respect for Fox as a scholar (his various works on the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible are absolutely second to none), I am not sure I agree with his bold statement “faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship” (see Danny Zacharias’s reflections at Deinde, as well as James Crossley’s posts here and here).

On the one hand, I’m not sure I like the implication that “faith-based scholarship” (or Wissenschaft) is an oxymoron. While I would agree that any scholarship that presumes its conclusions is methodologically problematic (and borders on disingenuous), faith-based scholarship does not necessarily have to fall in this category (though some certainly does). Furthermore, I would think that secular Wissenschaft could learn a lot from a lot of faith-based scholarship as well as other ideological approaches. As Peter Donovan has recently noted, “the scientific study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from the thinking of others interested in the same subject-matter, merely because they may hold very different views about theory and method” (“Neutrality in Religious Studies,” in The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader [ed. Russell T. McCutcheon; New York: Cassell, 1999], 245). What is perhaps most important for any approach to biblical studies is that the approach is academically sound, methodologically rigorous, and up front about any and all presuppositions.

On the other hand, Fox’s point has some validity in that he is not dismissing the “scholarship of persons who hold a personal faith.” In fact, he notes that “there are many religious individuals whose scholarship is secular and who introduce their faith only in distinctly religious forums.” Basically what I understand Fox as saying is that “Wissenschaft” employs a “secular, academic, religiously-neutral hermeneutic” and any scholars who want to engage in biblical Wissenschaft needs to play by the agreed upon rules. Thus, Wissenschaft becomes a “middle discourse” by which people of different faiths and/or no faith can engage in scholarly discourse.

This debate within biblical studies is paralleled by a larger debate within the discipline of religious studies. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the discipline of religious studies has typically been understood to be the “value-neutral” and “objective” study of religions, while theology is the confessional or particularistic study of one religion (see, for example, Donald Wiebe, “The Politics of Religious Studies,” CSSR Bulletin 27/4 [November 1998] 95-98). This distinction played an important part in the establishment of religious studies departments in a number of universities in Europe and North America — and especially Canadian public universities (interestingly, not all educational institutions thought that the distinction was necessary). This traditional demarcation has been challenged on some fronts in light of the postmodern recognition that there is no real objective, value-neutral study of religion (or any other subject for that matter), and thus the only differences between the disciplines are the rules agreed upon by those working within them — the rules of the game, so to speak.

(For an interesting discussion of postmodern theories of religious studies, see the interaction between Garrett Green, “Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barth’s Theory of Religion,” Journal of Religion 75 [1995] 473-86; Russell T. McCutcheon, “My Theory of the Brontosaurus: Postmodernism and ‘Theory’ of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 26/1 [1997] 3-23, and William E. Arnal, “What if I Don’t Want to Play Tennis?: A Rejoinder to Russell McCutcheon on Postmodernism and Theory of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 27/1 [1998] 61-68; see also McCutcheon’s response, “Returning the Volley to William E. Arnal” on pp. 67-68 of the same issue).

In practice, religious studies (and biblical studies) in the Canadian public university context tends to be the scientific study of religion which does not privilege one religious discourse above another. Theology, on the other hand, is typically defined as the study of one religion from a confessional standpoint. So in this sense, I agree with Fox that there is a valid difference between faith-based scholarship and secular scholarship. But the question remains “what rules are we going to play by?” While I appreciate Fox’s point, I am skeptical about whether there is any scholarship that is truly “objective” and “value-neutral.” And any scholar who suggests that their work is “objective” and “value-neutral” would perhaps be more at home in the 19th century! I for one live in both worlds and produce scholarship for a variety of contexts. Some of my research is for the broader academy and employs methods appropriate for such work, while some of my study is for the community of faith to which I belong and employs a slightly different approach. I hope, however, that all of my research may stand up under the scrutiny of scholars who take different approaches and have different presuppositions than I.

Let me end with the final exchange between David and his Rebbe from Chaim Potok’s masterful book In the Beginning (Ballantine, 1997; Buy from or

  • Rebbe: “… Are you telling me you will not be an observer of the commandments?”
  • David: “I am not telling the Rebbe that.”
  • Rebbe: “What are you telling me?”
  • David: “I will go wherever the truth leads me. It is secular scholarship, Rebbe; it is not the scholarship of tradition. In secular scholarship there are no boundaries and no permanently fixed views.”
  • Rebbe: “Lurie, if the Torah cannont go out into your world of scholarship and return stronger, then we are all fools and charlatans. I have faith in the Torah. I am not afraid of truth.”

Posted in Criticism, Faith & Scholarship, Hermeneutics, SBL, Teaching & Learning, Theology | 5 Comments »

Between Athens and Jerusalem: Thoughts on Critical Commitment

19th April 2005

Thanks to the heads up on Michael Pahl’s blog, I took a look at the latest SBL Forum and read C. Drew Smith’s post, "’Between Athens and Jerusalem’: Reading Liberal Books at Church-Based Universities." As a professor at a faith-based university, I can sympathize with Smith’s experiences. I too believe that in a liberal arts education students should read and engage a broad spectrum of scholarship — both "liberal" and evangelical (As an aside, I really do not like expressing this in the form of a dichotomy, as it is not in reality two distinct sides. Every author writes from her or his own ideological perspective and we are want to discern that when we engage them in our studies or in our classrooms). What our goal is critical commitment, not indoctrination. As Smith notes:

Would we not, as Christian liberal arts institutions, want to rise above the increasingly entrenched dichotomy between conservative and liberal, offering opportunities to hear various voices speak? And in doing so, should we not be humble enough to admit that there are positive contributions made by those who think differently from us, even when such difference is vast? And if we can come to this point, have we not reached the true goal of education, which is to consider all the evidence and to draw thoughtful and critical conclusions from that evidence? This to me is the essence of learning in a liberal arts tradition.

While I haven’t had much protest from students in regards to textbooks, I have had to talk to local pastors who have had concerns. This has prompted me to put disclaimers in my syllabi indicating that these books are to be read critically, etc. (I’ve been wondering whether or not I should put such a disclaimer on my Old Testament Commentary Survey so that well-intentioned readers don’t think that when I say so-and-so’s commentary is the best of the bunch, I endorse it’s theological or ideological perspective as well — which I may or may not). I don’t really like having to put the disclaimers in (as I feel they are just stating the obvious), but if it helps first year students, parents, and local pastors understand a bit about what goes on in the classroom, then so be it.

On the flipside, I feel that the education students receive at a faith-based university may actually be more of a true liberal arts education than a non-faith based university. At a faith-based university we look at all perspectives — including faith-based scholarship, which I imagine is often neglected at "secular" institutions (again the dichotomy!). At any rate, I encourage you to take a look at the SBL Forum, and Smith’s post in particular.

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