Richard J. Mouw, Called to the Life of the Mind

Mouw, Richard J. Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 80 pages, pb. $10.  Link to Eerdmans

This little book is a series of personal reflections from Mouw’s long career first as philosophy professor and later as president of Fuller Seminary. Since Mouw has been at the forefront of evangelicalism for more than fifty years he offers unique insights into being an evangelical who genuinely pursues a life of the mind.

The subtitle of this book is “some advice for evangelical scholars,” although it reads more like a series of short devotionals about academics the idea of a Christian College and University as well as how to be an educated person. Calvinists like Mouw have always been leaders in evangelical circles (Calvin Theological Seminary’s Clarence Bouma was the first president of the Evangelical Theological Society (1949-50) and the Seminary hosted the ETS in 1955 and 1963). While the center of evangelicalism has shifted south geographically and to the right politically, Reformed thinkers are still very much at the forefront of intellectually honest evangelicalism.

Mouw, Life of the MindMouw struggled early in his career with being an evangelical and an intellectual at the same time. In his formative years he was warned against straying from the simple Gospel by scholarship. He recalls hearing “we don’t need exegesis, we just need Jesus” on more than one occasion. Yet Mouw says he was called to life as a scholar and he does not regret his pursuit of an intellectual life, a calling more young evangelicals need to heed!

When evangelicals began founding colleges and seminaries, there was a tension between intellectual rigor and practical training for ministry. As someone who teaches Greek in a conservative Bible College, I have had to defend the value of learning to read the Greek New Testament on several occasions. Mouw says “there is a danger of allowing a concern for the practical value of learning to merge with lingering tendencies toward anti-intellectualism in the Evangelical movement” (16). This observation is as true today as it was a hundred years ago. Within Evangelicalism there are certain sacred cows which are rarely questioned because they imply liberalism.

The book is filled with numerous insights into what Evangelicalism looked like some 50 or 60 years ago. For example, he relates his first experience reading Bernard Ramm’s 1954 book The Christian View of Science in the Scriptures (p. 57), a book influential in his dismissal of young earth creationism while still in high school. For a Christian teenager in the 1950s, reading Ramm’s book was like sneaking off with a copy of Playboy! What is shocking is that sixty years later, this is still the case.

In another part of the book he describes the ideal Christian College environment as a safe space for “playing around” intellectually. Safe spaces are crucial, Mouw says, for intellectual exploration. This would be true both for a bright student who is questioning his faith as well as a college professor honestly seeking a deeper understanding of an academic field. There should be no safer place for these sorts of explorations in a Christian College, but I suspect that is not always the case.

Called to the Life of the Mind is a book everyone who works in academia should read. It is simple and concise, yet deeply challenging. I would encourage students to purchase copies of this book for their professors as a Christmas gift at the end of a busy semester!

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with an electronic review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

National ETS 2013 in Baltimore

I am heading for Baltimore this afternoon to attend the National meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. I always enjoy ETS, even though it is smaller than the SBL/AAR meetings later in the week.  I am not giving a paper this year, but I am a “moderator” for a Gospels/Acts parallel session tomorrow morning.

9780310331360Because I am serving as a moderator, I will not be able to attend what promises to be one of the main events of the conference. November 19 there will be a panel discussion featuring Albert Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, Peter Enns, and John R. Franke onthe topic of Inerrancy. These five scholars are the contributors to Zondervan’s Five Views on Inerrancywhich is due be released December 10. This will likely be a heavily attended session, given the topic and participants.

The Bible Gateway is going to live-blog and live-Tweet (@biblegateway) the event from from 8:30-11:40 AM EST. If you are not in Baltimore for the meetings, be sure to  check out the Bible Gateway blog.

If you are in Baltimore, have a great time and enjoy the crab-cakes.

Book of Acts at ETS

I am attending the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in New Orleans this week.  I realize the SBL bloggers get all the press, but I enjoy ETS as well.  It is obviously a lot more tame and evangelical, but there is some good scholarship going on which unfortunately gets dismissed since it is coming from conservatives, relatively speaking.

I attended what was billed as the “Luke/Acts Consultation,” although it was only three papers, one of which was a last minute replacement.  Mark Strauss began with a great paper on the purpose of Luke / Acts, surveying the several suggestions found in the literature and concluding that the purpose was to “legitimatize” the Christian / Gentile mission rather than an evangelistic purpose (i.e., to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ).  During the discussion after his paper, several expressed the thought that it is hard separate this from the purpose of evangelism,

While I have always been attracting to the idea that the document as we have it now served some function in Paul’s legal defense, Strauss made the comment that no Roman official would wade through all of the obvious theology of the books in order to get a few items of legal interest.

David Pao read a draft of a paper which is to be published in JBL.  He dealt with the problem of the deacons, who appear to be selected to deal with food distribution but instead are noted preachers and evangelists, never actually “waiting tables.”  Pao’s suggestion is that the food distribution was an extension of Jesus’ own table fellowship and therefore part of the eschatological banquet.  They were not called to “wait tables” but to be leaders who facilitated table fellowship.  As much as I enjoyed his paper, I think that there are a few serious problems with the thesis, not the least of which is that the Apostles themselves made the distinction between waiting tables and preaching when they suggested appointing the seven.  I am a bit more inclined to see the activity of the Seven in terms of Hellenistic / Greek speaking Jewish ministry in the Synagogue of the Freedmen at the same time that the Apostles are in the Temple area doing ministry among Aramaic speaking Jews. I do think that he is correct to see table-fellowship in the context of Jesus’ ministry, especially in Luke / Acts.

Since my dissertation deals with the eschatological banquet in Jesus’ ministry, I will return to Pao’s article in the future – it is a worthy contribution.

David Pao now chairs this consultation and hopes to expand the paper offerings next year.