Scholarship, Studies, Academia, and Christian Virtue

   This is one book all Christian seminary students, professors, scholars, and teachers should read: Excellence by Andreas Kostenberger.  In this book, Kostenberger basically brings Christian virtue to bear in the areas of academia and scholarly study.  In other words, he argues from a biblical perspective that Christian scholars should display the fruit of the Spirit in every area of their lives – not just home and church life, but life in academia as well.  Excellence is Christian ethics applied to Christian studies.

The book is well written.  He first talks about the character of God, the gospel, and how Christians are to live in light of these theological truths.  Much of his discussion is rooted in 2 Peter 1:3-11.   Basically, he explains sanctification based on who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ.  After dealing with these issues in Scripture, he specifically talks about these “excellent” virtues in the life of a scholar: diligence, courage, passion, restraint, creativity, eloquence, integrity, fidelity, wisdom, grace, humility, fellowship, and love.  Each chapter is the perfect length; he summarizes the Bible’s teaching on certain themes then applies them to the life and work of a scholar. 

In this book, Kostenberger is “pleading with zealous young theological students not to sacrifice their scholarly integrity for the sake of attaining academic respectability” (p. 24).  He goes on.

“…God’s call to scholarship, like any divine calling, entails a call to die to self – which, in the case of scholars, might particularly manifest itself in the form of aspirations to fame and fortune, which, as mentioned, might lead to sacrificing doctrinal fidelity for the sake of academic respectability.  God’s call to scholarship also involves dying to self-seeking arrogance and forsaking the allure of power, position, and prestige, as well as steadfastly and resolutely resisting the temptations to sexual immorality and moral compromise” (p. 28).”

Though I very much appreciate and resonate with this book as a whole, there are a few shortcomings.  First, Kostenberger does discuss rest as a part of a scholar’s life, but he doesn’t mention Lord’s Day rest.  I’d say the Lord’s Day rest should be an integral part of a scholar’s life.  Second, Kostenberger is a little too enamored with N.T. Wright for my tastes.  I don’t think Wright’s ambiguously trendy writing style is overly attractive.  Third, Kostenberger suggests that we should love others (Christians and non-Christians) in our scholarship because Jesus loved them and died for them.  I don’t believe Jesus died for everyone.  But I do believe we should love others (Christians and non-Christians) based on God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves.  These are really the only quibbles I have with the book.  And they don’t detract from the overall discussion.

To summarize, if you are a Christian biblical scholar, theologian, or Christian philosopher I strongly recommend reading this book (even if these areas aren’t your full-time professional calling).  I think Kostenberger is right: Christian scholars should not just be book-smart.  Their lives should clearly show that they are disciples of Jesus, whether in the study, behind the lectern, or at home with the kids.  Scholars have to be careful to stay humble and loving.  They need to write well, study hard, remain diligent, and be truthful in all circumstances.  Scholars need to do their work not for personal acclaim, fame, or fortune, but for God’s glory and the good of the church.  This book, Excellence, will certainly help Christian scholars be distinctly Christian scholars.

I have to add one more note here: I think this book should be required reading for seminary students (preferably first year students).  Seminary students, please get this book!  It will help you go through the scholarly rigors of seminary with Christian excellence.

shane lems

4 thoughts on “Scholarship, Studies, Academia, and Christian Virtue”

  1. Sounds like a book I need to read. I have recently enrolled back into school, to work on a MDiv. The more I read these critiques, the longer my list of books to purchase grows! Thanks for all of these great reviews!


  2. I loved this book, I think every Christian engaged in some kind of scholarhip should read it, but I agree that seminary students need to read it. I would add Christians in college to that list a well.


  3. For something briefer but potent, see C Hodge, “Suggestions to Theological Students,” BRPR 5 (1833): 100-13 and H Witsius, “Character of the Genuine Theologian,” BRTR 4 (1832): 158-70.


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