The Work and Faith of Theological Scholars: Converging Lessons from James 2 and Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation -- By: Elizabeth Mehlman

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 22:1 (Spring 2018)
Article: The Work and Faith of Theological Scholars: Converging Lessons from James 2 and Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation
Author: Elizabeth Mehlman


The Work and Faith of Theological Scholars: Converging Lessons from James 2 and Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation

Elizabeth Mehlman

Elizabeth Mehlman, PhD, JD is a clinical psychologist specializing in the life concerns of early and mid-career professionals. She has published a number of scholarly clinical articles, previously practiced corporate law, and enjoys studying theology.

The second chapter of James and Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation have much in common that is relevant to work, vocation and human flourishing in the Christian tradition. James and Luther address ethical issues concerning the theology of Christian life; both expect good works will flow from one’s faith to one’s neighbors. Theologians, however, who by vocation write and talk about faith, are often judged by others and themselves as duplicitously lacking the requisite ethical action as called for in James 2 as if their work is tantamount to a “verbal exercise.”1 This article examines the vocation of the theological scholar and the ethical call for good works as an extension of faith in both James 2 and Luther’s doctrine of vocation. While theological scholars may doubt if scholarly work alone satisfies the good works required by James to enliven faith, Luther’s doctrine of vocation, embracing diverse and unique vocational skills among believers, implicitly affirms the good works of theological scholarship creatively designed by God to serve unique neighbors.

The Demise of Theologians or Theology?

Why might theologians need another perspective from which to examine their faith? Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “[t]theologians [do not] get much respect these days, whether in the academy, society or the church.”2 In the next sentence, he switches from the topic of theologians to the topic of theology, and queries, “Why are people saying awful things about theology?”3 He implies that theologians do not get much respect because of theology itself, reasoning that the major factor is “the demise of doctrine.” He clarifies that the problem is not with doctrine but with its picture in contemporary society, which has unnecessarily marginalized and diminished it.4 Nevertheless, he argues, “Christian doctrine is a vital necessity for doing church, but also for human flourishing.”5

If socie...

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