Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reflection: The lament of a so-called academic

Since I like studying the Scripture and I am working on a major research degree on the Bible, I am often labelled as an academic. Unfortunately this labelling comes with all sorts of negative connotations, and it causes me grief at times. Here are my protests and lament.

(1) I have done most of my academic studies part-time. For all these years I either worked in a church, or as an IT professional, or in a relief development agency. I am not an academic who doesn't know what the real world is like. Again and again pastors say to me that what they have learned from theological colleges doesn't work in practice. That is often true (unfortunately), but I hate to be classified as an armchair-theologian as such. I hope my working experience can help me read the Scripture through the lens of the joys and pains of human experience.

(2) Some people have suggested that a higher degree in theology is a sign of prestige and privileges. My experience is quite the contrary. If anything else, as I said above, I feel somewhat marginalised.

(3) Academic studies is not only hard work in itself, it is also costly. Not only that there is a financial cost, it also involves a lot of sacrifice in terms of time, security and stability. In Australia there are too few positions in theological colleges for the many trained academics. Often those who do hold a position have to work very long hours at a low wage.

(4) Lastly, my lament is that (at least in the Western world) there is a diminishing interest in the Bible. For a range of reasons, there is a tendency to rely on the teaching of well-known speakers and their books, rather than the Scripture itself. I think it is fair to say that Bible literacy is on the decline, generally speaking. The end result is that most people are not interested in studying the Bible with someone trained academically.

With these I am often discouraged. But at the same time I also feel the encouragement from the Holy Spirit to persevere. I hope in doing so many other fellow students of God's Word may be encouraged too.

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