This week I attended the Bible Faculty Summit for the first time. At BFS, Bible scholars (and some Ph.D. students) from various disciplines and institutions read, critiqued, and discussed theological papers. This statement from biblefacultysummit.org summarizes what BFS is all about:
The Bible Faculty Summit is dedicated to promoting scholarship in service of the church. We are Bible teachers and seminary professors from a group of colleges and seminaries who have been meeting together since 1995 for the purpose of academic reflection, scholarly engagement, and mutual edification.
Papers varied from biblical languages (e.g., the Greek middle voice) to church history (e.g., J. Graham Machen) to theology (e.g., Purpose of pretribulational rapture). Fellowship was warm, and some critiques could be semi-heated. Lively discussion continued during meals and even late at night (see photo below). Here are several ways BFS was a great encouragement to me:
1. I’m thrilled to see how God provides gifts to the church.
I felt that I was the dumbest person in a room of over fifty men. While the gifts of the men represented in the conference varied, they all came from the same source. As Martin Luther testified, “the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth.” God is faithful in fulfilling Ephesians 4:11-16 generation after generation as the Gospel is entrusted to more faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2). This week I saw a small dose of that–men using gifts entrusted to them by publishing edifying books, training pastors, translating Scripture, and pastoring churches.
2. I’m encouraged to cultivate humility in my own heart.
As I listened to paper presentations and the critiques that followed, I was humbled in at least three specific ways. First, it takes humility to understand that even the best paper I could write will not be perfect. There will always be room for growth. Secondly, it takes humility to receive (and actually seek after) feedback for improvement. My favorite part of the conference was the open question and comment time after each paper presentation. This is what makes BFS purposeful and fruitful. Critiques only help strengthen and improve one’s views and argumentation. Lastly, it takes humility to disagree graciously with others even in topics you strongly mildly disagree with. This is what makes BFS different from the exchange of viewpoints in social media.
3. I’m extra-motivated to write.
Hearing others present their papers certainly motivated me to work on my own research, and perhaps even submit a paper for next year’s summit. I have begun looking at previous papers I turned in for revisions. This is more work—but it’s worth it.
4. I’m reminded why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Why am I spending the time, money, and energy towards an advanced degree? I’m reminded of the joy (and also the pain) of writing research papers. Working towards a PhD and a busy schedule is grueling. But seeing men who had gone before me use their gifts for the church is encouraging and aids in my perseverance through this process. If scholars are gifts from God for the church, then scholars have the responsibility to use what was entrusted to them for the church. I really appreciate the devotionals from Mark Ward and Kevin Oberlin that challenged the attendees to exercise their gifts of scholarship for the edification of the church (Ephesians 4:11-16) and for the gladness of the nations (Psalm 67).