Lesson in Stature

Judging from my students’ papers, one of the most prominent journals in the field of biblical studies would be Bibliotheca Sacra, a publication of Dallas Theological Seminary — a source whose theology almost all of Seabury’s students would reject out of hand.

Why do they turn so frequently to BibSac for exegetical guidance, when they dissent so firmly from the authors’ presuppositions? Because BibSac got to the digital party early. The Journal of Biblical Literature, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum — the journals that Seabury students ought more consistently consult for interpretations more in keeping with their general theological outlook — all keep very low online profiles (most appear online only on a subscription/fee-per-view basis, and though our library carries subscriptions to them, students avoid the complications of searching from campus computers). Moreover, these more academically-prominent journals don’t show up in affordable packaged digital libraries, as BibSac does.

As a result, students who have no sympathy for the doctrine of biblical inerrancy opt to cite a journal written from the perspective of inerrantists, because it’s convenient. There’s a lesson in that — and it isn’t “forbid students to use a journal that espouses a different theological perspective from yours.”

9 thoughts on “Lesson in Stature

  1. I remember grumbling mightily when SWTS merged libraries with Garrett– not least that they got the NT material and we got the journals… if they’re not online, aren’t they at least just downstairs in our own own (well, that’s how we thought of it) library?

  2. “and it isn‚Äôt ‚Äúforbid students to use a journal that espouses a different theological perspective from yours.‚Äù”

    Dang, and that seemed like such an easy takeaway message, too.

  3. David C, Seabury has the current issues of periodicals, but back numbers are shelved according to their Library of Congress category — which for biblical studies is BS, all the way across Sheridan Road in the basement of Garrett’s branch of the United Library.

    dave p, yeah, I’m cranky that way.

  4. My field is electrical engineering, so I can’t comment on the theological journals. I have noticed that most people half my age are content to limit their searches to what is available in electronic form, since it is so much easier that way. That places a filter on the data, and it may not be the filter you would prefer. Personally, library research has always consisted of pouring through references lists, spending a lot of time in the stacks and even more time at the photocopier. I think nothing of going out to get that classic paper from 1964 which never got digitized. Unfortunately, that is becoming a rare trait.

    Computerized journals are terrific, as is free access to computerized searches. Still, it is only one tool among many. As the famous saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everyting looks like a nail.

    In an age of increased access to information, we need to place a premium on separating the wheat from the chaff. If students aren’t learning that lesson, perhaps professors need to figure out how to make that happen.

  5. While your point that BibSac is readily available in the digital libraries is valid, one should also acknowldege that often the exegesis found in the Biblical Studies genre is first rate. The “problem” is the way the conclusions of the exegesis are then marshalled to support the “theology” that many in the ECUSA are not in agreement.

    Although it was almost 30 years ago when I went to DTS, the one thing they taught me well was exegesis, and to not be afraid of where that exegesis will lead. In fact, that view of exegesis sent at least four of six fellow DTS alumni studying at the University of Chicago in the early 80s into the arms of the “Mother Anglican Church.” It was the way they taught us to do exegesis that made it possible for us to question (and ultimately answer in different ways for each of us) the conservative underpinnings of the standard “Dallas” dispentational Calvinist theology. I also believe that this would hold for those from my class who went to Harvard, and to European universities for further study.

    I agree with your main point that the major journals should be more accessible.

  6. David B (this topic brings out the Davids, I guess), I tried to emphasize the incongruity of my students’ own theology with the source to which they were referring. I have some reservations about the directions exegesis takes at DTS, but none that exceed the reservations that someone from DTS would sensibly have about my exegesis.

    I write about this all the time: there’s a vital distinction between my saying, “It’s odd that you’d be citing from BibSac, since you disagree so forcibly with the theology that informs it,” and saying “I can’t believe you’d cite that fundamentalist nonsense” (or some other such condescending jibe). It’s quite right that people tend to be more cautious about the interpretive perspectives of readers from a divergent theological (and for that matter, “historical-critical”) school of thought. The problem arises when our confidence that our school is right motivates us to reckon that theirs is stupid (or “compromised,” or “accommodated to culture,” or some other fatal error that doesn’t affect us).

    So I earnestly respect the work done at DTS, even when I disagree with it — just as I hope for respect from colleagues who (justifiably) disagree with my own interpretive practice.

  7. “As a result, students who have no sympathy for the doctrine of biblical inerrancy opt to cite a journal written from the perspective of inerrantists, because it‚Äôs convenient. There‚Äôs a lesson in that ‚Äî and it isn‚Äôt ‚Äúforbid students to use a journal that espouses a different theological perspective from yours.‚Äù

    Could the lesson be consider the perspective of the “inerrantists” more carefully . . .Their greater clarity and accessability may extend beyond mere arguments?”

  8. Though I’m tempted to go by a pseudonym beginning with David here, I will sign on as myself, a current student of AKMA’s.

    I have noticed when doing electronic research that BibSac comes up more frequently than others. I even believe I used it once. However, I skip over those references now for two primary reasons. One, I try to find my sources in the six or seven journals that AKMA listed for us in NT 1 as being good sources. That’s the practical reason. Two, I didn’t much care for the conclusions I found in the one article I did cite from BibSac. It was not because it posited a more conservative theology, but because the article took a different approach at the passage I was investigating than where my paper was going. I always try to find at least one source for my NT papers/probes that disagrees with what I’m saying so as to be able to make an argument against it and round out the paper.

    As to what Paul B. said – yeah, we whippersnappers do like to do research electronically because it is faster, and more user friendly to us than an outdated card catalogue. While those resources are still available and knowledge of their use if helpful, it is oftentimes unnecessary for the depth that we typically need for a M.Div/SWTS paper. If you can get what you want by spending hours in the catacombs of a library and then more hours arguing futilely with a Xerox machine and you can get the same thing by successfully navigating an electronic search that takes much less time, why not go for the faster method if you know how to do it? As I’m sure you know, there are a million leashes attached to the other areas of our life demanding our attention and constantly pulling at us. I like to try and be able to get to as many of those as possible.


  9. i must say that some of the discussion here seems a little simplistic with regards to exegesis, etc. the temptation is always there for us (regardless of theological persuasion) to “bend” the data to fit our views, and i don’t think DTS is unique in that. i’ve seen some amazing article from folks from a range of traditions that make me marvel at the exegetical gymnastics they perform to deny what the text seems to plainly say!

    yes, i am a dallas grad, and my experience has been that there is a weird sterotype out there of what DTS is like that seldom is accurate. not sure why that is, but the school has changed, and the DTS of the 60’s is probably not a school i would have attended, but the DTS of the 90’s was a fantastic place to be prepared for ministry.

    anyways, just my 1.5c worth… i’m australian, so you can just ignore me! 🙂

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