Evangelical Theological Scholarship In The Twenty-First Century -- By: Millard J. Erickson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 46:1 (Mar 2003)
Article: Evangelical Theological Scholarship In The Twenty-First Century
Author: Millard J. Erickson

Evangelical Theological Scholarship In The Twenty-First Century

Millard J. Erickson

[Millard J. Erickson, distinguished professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, P.O. Box 97126, Waco, TX 76798, delivered this presidential address at the 54th annual meeting of the ETS on November 20, 2002, in Toronto, ON.]

In recent years we have heard some rather severe statements about the status and quality of evangelical scholarship. While I share some of the concern of those who have issued these condemnations, I have preferred to try to alleviate the problem by contributing positively to the corpus, rather than complaining about it. This is a case of lighting a candle, rather than cursing the darkness.

Having said that, however, I do have some concerns as we look forward into the twenty-first century, and these are concerns about the quality of the scholarship, not the theological conclusions. While some may mistake “concern” for “fear”1 or even “alarm” and “consternation,”2 it is important to draw the distinction. Fear is not what leads a sailor to check carefully the rigging of his boat and to obtain a weather briefing before departure. That is concern or caution. Rather, the experience of fear of control failure or of dangerous weather is reserved for those who fail to take such precautions. It is not fear that leads a person to have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in her home. Fear of fire is what may be experienced by those who do not take such precautions. It appears to me, as we face the century into which we have entered, that some sanctified caution is in order, for reasons that I will elaborate further. As I shall explain later, there are times when I am optimistic and times when I am pessimistic, but this may be a time for what psychologist Julie Norem calls “defensive pessimism.”3

In addressing this subject, I do not represent myself as some shining paragon of scholarship, but as one who, by virtue of sheer chronological giftedness, has had opportunity to observe the evangelical scene for some time.

These are goals toward which I have tried to strive, but have not yet attained. While no one has yet reached the North Star by sailing toward it, it is still a good sight to aim toward. Let’s simply call what follows my hopes for the development of evangelical theological scholarship in the twenty-first century. While “I have a hope” does not have quite the ring of “I have a dream,” it has the virtue of being more or...

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