The common joke goes something like that. But there is a grain of truth in it that motivates many commentators. In reading the introduction to D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd Edition, I found some commentary that is helpful in the quest to allow seminary to be a spiritual green house, rather than a mortuary.

Carson describes the shift away from devotionally minded Bible reading into critical biblical study as experienced by a fictitious seminary student. Most seminarians probably come from just such a situation – fluent in their tradition’s interpretation and eager for devotional insights, yet unacquainted with critical issues in the text and variant theological perspectives. The jarring process the exegete undergoes in studying a text Carson describes as “distanciation.” (Both my computer dictionary and my old red Webster’s failed me on that one!) If you look up distanciation on the web, in English, you should find that it describes the process of being confronted with views that differ from your own, after which you must evaluate critically and reestablish your own view. This process of alienation must happen when we come to the biblical text, otherwise we are just reading our own views or our preferred tradition into the text.

It is clear how this could contribute to some negative effects in the lives of seminarians! Three responses Carson identifies are “a defensive pietism that boisterously denounces the arid intellectualism… all around” or “the vortex of a kind of intellectual commitment that squeezes out worship, prayer, witness, and meditative reading of Scripture” or one “may stagger along until he is rescued by graduation and returns to the real world.”(pg. 23)

Carson does not leave us with these three common responses, but suggests that we can enjoy the best of both worlds – intellectual and devotional satisfaction. “Work hard at incorporating your entire Christian walk (practical/devotional) and commitment (intellectual), and the topic of this study (exegesis, specifically pitfalls therein) will prove beneficial.(pg 24)” [parenthesis added by me.]

So, this post has three encouragements: 1. Wrestle with the text and embrace the shifts in your worldview on account of interacting with Scripture, to be more conformed to it. 2. There is in fact good stuff in the introductions to books! 3. Seminary need not be Cemetery!

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