Readers and others sometimes ask which books have influenced the way I look at this or that. Sometimes I can answer, sometimes I can’t. One influential book that I read early in my academic career, while I was a graduate student, was Mark Schwehn’s Exiles From Eden. I stumbled across (on Twitter I think) notice that there’s a conference happening now celebrating the 20th anniversary of this book. As I began to contemplate life as a pastor and teacher in an academic setting (not that I was completely confident it would happen or that I would never again be a full-time pastor) I was looking for models and someone recommended this book. It was honestly autobiographical about the nature of the academy, engaging, and critical of the influence of the Enlightenment on the modern academic model. Schwehn tells the story of leaving “Eden” (the University of Chicago) for a smaller, less prestigious Christian school (Valparaiso University). For many academics, a university position is goal of going the graduate school. University jobs are difficult to obtain and keep and then there is a hierarchy among them. Regional universities are not as prestigious as national universities and among the national universities there more and less prestigious places. The University of Chicago is one of those prestigious places so Schwehn explained why he was leaving the place to which so many others aspired. He left because he realized that he was pursuing a different vocation than his colleagues. Where they identified themselves by their academic research, he identified himself as a teacher. Where many of his colleagues considered teaching something they had to do (their day job, as it were) in order to research. He considered research something he had to do in order to teach, to form character and persons. He does a fine job of showing how the way we think about scholarship (the lonely scholar in his room doing his work privately to present to the world) is much influenced by models that have theological underpinnings of which Christians should critical and even wary.
It’s been a long time since I read it but it was a compelling book and his vision of focusing on teaching has stayed with me. I think the best writing is that which teaches. The MA thesis or PhD diss. that mainly recites the student’s research (“hey, look at all the work I did!”) rather than taking the risk of reaching a conclusion, proposing a thesis, and making a case, is the chief difference between the last work of a student and the first work of a scholar.
When I left full-time pastoral ministry in 1993—I’ve been involved in part-time ecclesiastical, pastoral ministry most of the years since—I did not leave my pastoral vocation behind. In the providence of God, until I’m called back to the church full-time, I exercise my vocation here by trying to do my part to help form future pastors (about 70% of my students), elders, and scholars. My research is for the benefit of my students (and others) but it provides fuel for teaching and mentoring students.
University and college profs typically have just one or perhaps two audiences: the academy and perhaps their own students. More than other branches of the academy, however, seminary profs are pulled in three different directions: profs, pulpit, and pew. Everyone has to make decisions about how he will spend his life. On the HB I try to address each audience but in the nature of the medium the writing tends toward pulpit and pew. My academic work (in those expensive volumes intended for libraries about which HB readers sometimes complain) are intended for other scholars (Latin for students) and pupils.
Whatever one makes of all of Schwehn’s case (e.g., his appeal to aspects of communitarianism), his critique of the Enlightenment roots of the modern academy and the academic identity was helpful to me by alerting me to the presuppositions of the guild to which I was trying to gain admission. My experience has tended to support his critique. It has pushed me back to the roots of my own tradition (Reformed orthodoxy) to try to understand how they saw themselves and how they tried to serve their various constituencies.