Saturday, March 04, 2006

Why write and write and write?

I was amazed, but not surprised, to learn of Ben Witherington’s publication output for this year which includes:

Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew (Smyth & Helwys)
Collection of Sermons: Incandescence. Light Shed through the Word (Eerdmans)
Christian Origins: What Have they done with Jesus? (Harper Collins)
Commentary: Socio-Rhetorical Study of 1&2 Thessalonians (Eerdmans)
Commentary: Letters and Homilies vol 1, Pastoral and Johannine Epistles (IVP

In the future BW is producing commentaries on Luke (Cambridge); Letters and Homiles vol. 2 (Hebrews, James) and vol. 3 (1-2 Peter, Jude); then Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, and a two volume NT Theology. It’s not just the volume that is daunting; everything that BW writes is worth reading.

Is all of this necessary? What about the old days when scholars would publish a few small things here and there and finally publish a huge magnum opus at the end of their careers (e.g. C.E.B. Cranfield on Romans). I think that regular and studious writing is necessary. First, University funding is largely driven by research output (those in the UK will be all too aware of the beast called the Research Assessment exercise). In the academic sphere writing is about establishing the credentials of your department. Second, and more importantly, publishing is a means of disseminating the content and significance of one’s own studies. I take every opportunity I can to teach a class, preach a sermon, write an article or book because I believe that God has gifted me as a teacher and I want to use every opportunity I have to exercise that gift. In the movie Chariots of Fire, Erid Lidell said that he competed in races because he believed that it pleased God to see him run. When I teach or write, I feel that my heavenly Father is pleased with me and that is what drives me. I’ve also received very encouraging feed back from students who have benefited from things I’ve written which has reinforced this all the more.

One of my favourite preachers, John Piper, once wrote about “redeeming time by writing truth” where he saw writing as a real and genuine ministry of truth for the Church.

I try to make the most of my time and spend every spare second I have either reading, researching or writing. I do this because I believe that what I’m writing about matters. There are some good role models out there to aspire to. In the last year my friend Scot McKnight has written several books and has a few more coming out too (esp. on Mary and a commentary on James). D.A. Carson has stuff flowing from his pen all the time. I secretly harbour an ambition to match Stanley Porter’s voluminous research output (both quality and quantity) and I consider him the bar at which to aim.

I confess that I don’t think I’m doing too badly. I’ve got eight journal articles forthcoming, two encyclopaedia entries done, three essays for edited monographs in preparation, and four books in various stages of production. But when I compare myself to someone like BW I realise that I’m not in his league. But I take solace from of all people Homer Simpson. In one episode of the Simpson’s, Homer tries his best at being an inventor and strives to match Thomas Edison in the inventor stakes. Just when Homer gets disheartened that he can’t match it with Edison, he discovers that Edison strove to match Leonardo Da Vinci. I would really like to know who BW strove to be like as a scholar, and the same goes for Stan Porter and Scot McKnight. When I discover who they tried to emulate perhaps I won't feel so bad.

Here’s a question for us to ponder. Who are the role models for young biblical scholars, both in terms of research output, scholarly ability, pedagogical technique, and pastoral care for students? Who is your role model?

13 comments:

Chris Petersen said...

James DG Dunn and Dale C. Allison Jr. for sure.

Clifford B. Kvidahl said...

D.A. Carson, Stanley Porter, Kevin Vanhoozer, Richard Longenecker.

Chris Tilling said...

Out of the living ones, for different reasons: Wright, Riesner, Vanhoozer, Dunn, Steve, Motyer, Eckstein, Lichtenberger, Bauckham, T Hart, Esler, Hurtado, Thiselton, Fee, Wright (oh, did I mention him already?), Schnabel, and, er, Wright.

Matthew Montonini said...

I would have to say N.T. Wright, James D.G. Dunn, Gordon Fee, and David deSilva.

Jim said...

One writes because one has something to say and one feels that such saying has potential interest to others. One writes books because one must. If one doesn't have the burning desire to write, one writes drudgery. A scholar who has nothing to say, nothing to contribute, should change careers. Hence, every scholar should be a writer.

But don't become a mere clone of some "hero". Sure, it's fine to have a mentor and a model. But if one is just going to repeat what they say, don't bother writing. Just point to what the mentor has said.

So much of the stuff produced by "scholars" is nothing but the reduplication of things that have come before. Footnotes and 2000 qualifying comments lace every chapter and so what we end up reading is a 400 page replication of 10 books we have already seen. That, by the way, is what's so infuriating about Wright.

One horrid critic once said Vivaldi had one tune, composed 1000 times. If we said of Wright, and so many others, the same thing, it would be much truer.

Celucien joseph said...

For me: John Piper, MacArthur,N.T. Wright, D.A.Carsnon, Dunn, Marshall, Grudem, F.F. Bruce ( my dead teacher).

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Ezra Pound, a mentor to genius.

Oh ..., thats right you wanted a biblical scholar. Hmm, that's a difficult question. John Wevers made a comment in one of his works on the LXX about the lack of citations from secondary literature. He said he was too busy with the text to spend much time with the secondary literature. So perhaps I should adopt J.Wevers as my role model.

I am trying to read something by R.Bauckham about women in the gospels. I am having a hard time with it. I am a Bauckham fan, like almost every thing I have read by him but this work seems to have a different ring ... a little tinny.

Say while I am here in blogspace I would like to thank C.Tilling for visiting my photo blog. Will try to provide some more content as I get time.

Clay

Sean du Toit said...

"Scholarship appears to be producing more footnotes than insight." That's what The Tom told us in a lecture once. But I'd have to say, McKnight, Wright, Witherington are definitely model scholars. And there may even be a Bird on the horizon.

ciao

Jim Hamilton said...

Thomas R. Schreiner, under whom it was my privilege to study. He was not only my Ph.D. mentor, he was also my pastor. This author of, among other things, a book on Paul and the Law, a major commentary on Romans, a Pauline Theology, and a forthcoming NT Theology, also preaches week in and week out. I learned so much listening to him preach for 3 years, to say nothing of the time he invested in our conversations and interactions. . .

Clint said...

Don Garlington. Although laboring in relative obscurity in a small school for most of his teaching career, he has nevertheless aided Pauline scholarship by anticipating some of the more recent assessments of NPP that are looking for a via media.

Garlington is a model of Christian humility and biblical fidelity. His lack of extensive publication probably has to do with his concern for integrity in his work. He is one of those rare scholars who has shunned the political game of academia.

(Could there be some similarities with the Reformed and baptistic, Dr. Bird?)

James Crossley said...

Got to say that I'm siding with Jim on this. I have real problems with having some kind of hero and it worries me academically that some people feel the need. I admire the work of several scholars but I think there is a tendency in biblical studies (and maybe in every other academic discipline for all I know) to stare in awe at the good and the great. Then a nice consensus builds up and builds up and builds up. That is not always helpful and can seriously stifle creativity.

Michael F. Bird said...

James,
Hero worship in Christian circles goes all the way back to 1 Corinthians 1 ("I follow Paul ... I follow Peter"). So it can easily degenerate into an unhealthy (acadmically and spiritually) case of idol worship. At the same time, Heb. 13.7 reads: "Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith". I think it is good to have role models and leaders to try imitate and aspire to. You only have to Jim Hamilton's comments about Tom Schreiner to know the significant impact teachers can have on their students.

Clint,
I got to meet Don Garlington at SBL last year. We both wrote a critique of John Piper's book "Counted Righteous in Christ" that was so similar it was scary. I think I even pointed him to a copy of Talbert's commentary on Romans for $15. I think we are kinda similar though I would probably part company from Don a few issues about the NPP. Don is a guy I'd definitely like to get to know better too. If only the world had less lawyers and more Reformed Baptists it would be a better place. (Although I really, really wonder what Ardel Caneday would have to say about that?)

Milton Stanley said...

My role models are my former professors at Johnson Bible College and Lipscomb University: Carl Bridges, David Reece, Rodney Cloud, . Every one of those men earned Ph.D.'s and keep active in their various scholarly societies. And each man teaches five or more courses per semester. In short, they've sacrificed their own glory in scholarly output for educating the next generation of preachers.

I've written thousands of pages for publication, including several book-length projects. I used to aspire to write commentaries and books on popular discipleship. Now I'm overwhelmed with how very many books are already out there---thousands upon thousands screaming for our attention, and new ones coming out every day. Unless God really lays it on my heart to write something, I'm not going to add to the cacophony.

Of course, I understand the value of publication by academics. Bless Ben Witherington's heart for his output, but what the church needs now is not more books (or, for that matter, keeping it close to home, blogs).