By Fred Hansen
WHAT IS A SCHOLAR?
According to the definitions in The Oxford English Dictionary, the word scholar can describe anyone from a person who reads or writes well to someone well acquainted with the Greek and Latin languages.
In other words, scholarship is often in the eye of the beholder.
And the meaning of the word has changed throughout history.
In the Elizabethan period, for example, it referred to university graduates who could not find employment in a professional field but sought to make a living by writing.
Our use of the word is broader than that, but still somewhat limited. Many would use scholar only to describe someone who holds a PhD, especially if that person regularly publishes books and journal articles in his or her field of expertise.
In this article, when we speak of scholars we’re referring to any highly educated individual who has chosen to serve in the local church.
Many academicians, ministers, and members within the body of Christ wrestle with the role of the scholar and scholarship in the church.
Historically, churches in the Restoration Movement have been reticent to hire a learned individual as minister. Perhaps this stems from our movement’s traditional stand against the liberal theologizing of the 1930s and ’40s, or from jealousy, or fear.
Whatever the reasons, strenuous objections to erudite ministers in the church have, are, and will continue to weaken our Christian influence in a culture of competing ideas. Although the church may not need ministers who lecture for hours each week on Greek grammar and syntax, it does need leaders whose knowledge and learning, tempered with humility and service, is broad and deep enough to wrestle with life’s unchangingly difficult questions.
While serving in the preaching ministry, I found Christians and non-Christians alike responded to thoroughly researched and thought-out sermons on the afterlife, suffering, and the resurrection of the dead, to name a few. People are always wondering where they will go when they die; they wonder how suffering reflects on God and creation; and they struggle to synergize the concept of God raising a dead body from the grave with their empirical, rational, and scientific worldviews. Too often, ministers give overly simplistic or dismissive answers to such questions, to the detriment of the church.
Scholarship in the Christian church tends to derive from two primary sources: (1) professors at Bible colleges and seminaries who preach and teach in the church or (2) suitably educated ministers who, while grappling with cultural trends and demands, refuse to abandon the Scriptures as a guide for the church. My own spiritual and academic journey reflects the influence of men in both of these categories.
Exemplary Church Scholars
There are countless exemplary church scholars in the Restoration Movement past and present. I could not possibly list all of them and, by their very nature, many of these scholars are unassuming men and women whose names will never make a publicized list. So I will simply mention a few scholars who deeply influenced me and who are the kind of dedicated churchmen that bring honor to all men and women fulfilling similar roles in their churches.
My first memorable introduction to scholarship in the church came as a high school student at the feet of Richard Hogan, DMin, former minister with the First Christian Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His sermons prompted me to keep many of his outlines tucked in my Bible into adulthood, and his plea for missionary workers as president of the 1988 North American Christian Convention played a role in my pursuit of a BA in world missions. But I remember him most for his prayers over dinner after Sunday night church. He was a model of scholarship and discipleship to many young people in our church.
Harold Noe, DMin, translation director for Deaf Missions in Council Bluffs, regularly taught an adult Sunday school class at First Christian Church. His frequent trips to Israel and love of archaeology made his lessons unparalleled in my Christian education until late into my college career. To this day, as a high school student, I remember him taking me to his office and showing me his collection of oil lamps from antiquity. It brought the ancient world to life. Additionally, he would read from his Greek New Testament at our men’s prayer breakfast, an impressive feat to a young man who would later become a professor of Greek.
I would be greatly remiss if I did not mention my father-in-law, Dennis Martin, PhD. He once taught at Minnesota Bible College, now Crossroads College. Although his knowledge of music, history, language, and biblical studies was intimidating to a young suitor of his third daughter, intimidation turned to love and admiration as an adult. His Sunday school lessons reflect the applicability and practicality necessary in a pragmatic church age and yet are scholarly enough for any Bible college. Moreover, I have never met an elder who loves the church and the Restoration Movement more.
Although John Cachiaras and Earl Grice did not earn degrees beyond the master’s level, their academic and ministerial influence at Minnesota Bible College and among the Christian churches in the upper Midwest is unquestionable. During my internship as cross-cultural minister in Rochester, Minnesota, Mr. Cachiaras and Mr. Grice met every morning with a group of church members gathered at a small kitchen table for coffee. The conversation inevitably ended with my taking copious biblical notes on napkins. This may explain why to this day I hate to throw away extra napkins.
It is no overstatement to say that thousands of individuals either accepted Christ or grew deeper in their faith as a direct and indirect result of these men’s faithful exposition of God’s Word in the church and their humble service to the kingdom.
Becoming a Scholar
The church needs more men and women like these who are willing to use their considerable gifts through teaching and discipleship and who model their knowledge in humble service. It is my plea that people of all ages and backgrounds prayerfully consider how they might pursue scholarship to lead the church in submission of our minds to Christ.
For those desiring to serve as full-time missionaries, ministers, educators, or in any paid capacity supporting the church or parachurch, I highly recommend seeking graduate and postgraduate education whenever possible. Although advanced degrees are not necessary to qualify one as a scholar, they do provide the kind of structure and accountability that most individuals need in order to attain great breadth and depth of learning. Such humble scholarship challenges students to contextualize the Bible and culture in any environment at any time.
While there are dozens of fine undergraduate schools for such ministry training, our movement has only three seminaries. Cincinnati (Ohio) Bible Seminary, Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee, and Lincoln (Illinois) Christian Seminary all offer accredited graduate programs that prepare students for biblical scholarship and service in a number of church-related areas. Two of those schools, Lincoln and Emmanuel, even offer a Doctor of Ministry degree.
Scholars have been and always will be vital to the health and ministry of the church by shaping and forming minds. It is my hope they will continue to do so and that Restoration Movement churches will contribute greatly to their numbers.
Fred Hansen is instructor of Bible and theology at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian Seminary.