Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Synthesis in the age of specialization:
McKnight's expert tour of scholarship's trends

It is a well known trend in all branches of scholarship that with deeper study comes a necessary narrowing in focus. This trend, after centuries of progression, has led to massive specialization in virtually every field. A brief scan of a seminary's course schedule will reveal this. A freshman in biblical studies will take "New Testament survey", an MDiv student will take a course on the Hellenistic influences on Pauline Christianity, and a PhD candidate will write a multi-year thesis titled "Purity and Impurity in the Gospel of Mark", referencing literally thousands of books and magazine articles in pursuit of a comprehensive treatment of the subject.

In an academic atmosphere like this, one of the most difficult of all achievements is the broad synthesis. A concise, readable work like The Writings of the New Testament by Luke Timothy Johnson is a monumental undertaking, one which purports to survey the state of understanding of all strands of New Testament scholarship and to provide a brief jumping-off point to pursue further study. Each 8-10 page chapter ends with a multi-page bibliography of 1000-page works for the student seeking deeper understanding.

Scholars like Luke Timothy Johnson are rare and immensely valuable to the life of the church, since people who can devote the majority of their time to teaching and preaching cannot possibly hope to know what these smart men and women are discovering and communicating. Another such man is the prolific Dr. Scot McKnight, whose blog I read often. Dr. McKnight is Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University in Chicago. He also may be a robot, given his ability to travel Europe, write books, speak intelligently to interested audiences on dozens of topics, and post to his blog multiple times, all in the same day.

Dr. McKnight has a tremendously valuable series of posts on his blog which aim to synthesize what's going on in the Society of Biblical Literature these days, and correspondingly, what scholars are studying and writing. Here is the current list of articles in the "thread":
Thanks to Dr. McKnight who can provide a vantage point tremendously valuable to those of us without his background and credentials.

1 comment:

John said...

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It is always great pleasure to read your posts.