Evangelicals and Biblical Academia

Evangelicals and Biblical Academia

James McGrath contributes to the discussion, which Peter Enns began, “Can Evangelical Colleges and Seminaries Be Truly Academic Institutions?

Every time this topic is broached my ears perk up! Why? First, I always keep an ever watchful eye on the state of biblical academia, since I will soon enter the academic job market myself. However, there is another reason.

I have completed a few degrees at a more conservative school. During my final year as an undergraduate, as is customary, I had to acquire letters of recommendation from my professors in order to apply to graduate school. In this case, I was applying to Vanderbilt University. As a 4.0 GPA student, who otherwise had an excellent relationship with all his professors, who better to ask than one professor, whom with I had taken many classes and who had earned his own PhD from the university to which I was applying. However, I was shocked when he denied my request, because as he put it, “there are not any Christians at that liberal den of satan.”

The point: In my opinion, this professor’s response smells of academic unprofessionalism. Those within the guild understand that scholars should be judged by the quality of their scholarship alone, not by their personal views. Ignoring the critique of others because they do not believe like you, does not invalidate their critique. Furthermore, ignoring the critique of others and refusing to listen to dissenting voices is dishonest scholarship.

So, I provide some insight of the problem from a student’s perspective. By this, I do not mean to imply that this behavior is representative of the entire faculty at this particular institution or of all evangelical-conservative institutions for that matter. In fact, many other of my professors were more than happy to write me a letter of recommendation. Nevertheless, it well illustrates the continued polarization that seems to exist between conservative-evangelical and mainstream institutions.