Can Your Research Be for Your Faith Community?

Who your audience is will necessarily drive what it means to create publishable research for them.1 What you’re producing will change according to who you’re producing it for.2

As an emerging biblical scholar, you’re familiar with the standard forums and mechanisms for academic publishing. Depending on who you’re trying to reach, those can be perfectly valid whats to work toward with your research.

Some biblical scholars have contested whether scholarly research as such can happen in the context of faith communities.3

But faith communities are not, in principle, any less worthwhile whos for the what of your research than is the academy (and, indeed, vice versa).

Two reasons for this emerge from the principle of “first who, then what.” These are that

  • the who shapes the what but doesn’t alter its essential identity as research, and
  • teaching involves its own kind of scholarship, or expertise.

Research Remains Research

A faith community may or may not be your particular who for a particular research project. But a faith community, the academy, or any number of other possible whos can be perfectly valid audiences for your research.

Any given who should shape the what of your research. That’s true whether the who is the academy or a faith community.

But even when your who is a faith community, the what of your research is still research. Precisely as an emerging biblical scholar, you can publish your research to faith communities. And your doing so doesn’t somehow necessarily mean that your research isn’t well done or your scholarship isn’t scholarly.

It’s an oversimplified example, but the measure of a good mathematician isn’t how studiously he or she avoids presupposing the traditional answer to the question of the sum of 2 + 2. Nor is it how ready the mathematician is to come to a different answer about that sum.

It’s a matter of how well the mathematician follows the process for determining and demonstrates the amount of that sum.

Similarly, research that’s scholarly is research that’s well done. It’s not necessarily research that comes to—or avoids coming to—particular conclusions.

So, there’s no reason in principle why the who for your research couldn’t be your faith community, despite the differences in what your research will need to be for them versus what it would need to be for a different who.

Teaching Requires Scholarship

That said, it is true that, if your who is a faith community, you’re likely to have fewer biblical scholars (emerging or otherwise) in your audience than if your who is the academy.

Instead, you’re likely to have a greater proportion of specialists in other crafts besides biblical studies—be those crafts plumbing, air conditioner repair, dentistry, automotive assembly, or whatever.

That kind of audience creates a unique set of demands on you in publishing your research to them. A specialist academic audience would create its own unique set of demands.

And in each case, meeting your audience’s expectations is part of the “scholarship of teaching” that you need for that audience, to borrow Ernest Boyer’s phrase.

For instance, anybody with a fairly basic grasp of a complex subject can successfully make that topic obtuse. But describing a complex subject properly and making it clear and straightforward to a non-specialist on that topic—that’s a high-skill activity.

So, an audience of non-specialists doesn’t make your research not research. Nor does it necessarily reflect anything about its quality. But that who of your audience does drive what it means for your research to be “publishable.”

Conclusion

A lot more could be said about the relationship between biblical scholars and faith communities.

But for the present, suffice it to say that recognizing who your research is for is incredibly important. Whether your who falls in any particular group or has any particular characteristics is much less so.


As a final note, I’m particularly grateful to serve on a graduate faculty that recognizes the validity of both the church and the academy as whos for the what of biblical scholarship.

So, if you’re looking for a place like that to continue honing your craft as a biblical scholar, I’d encourage you to consider joining one of our fully online degree programs (MA, ThM, PhD) at Faulkner University’s Kearley Graduate School of Theology (KGST).

All of them involve live classes conducted by video conference to ensure you get quality, live interaction and instruction in honing your craft. You just don’t need to travel or pull up stakes and relocate to participate.

If you have questions about joining our community at KGST, feel free to drop me an email. I’ll be happy to help or to connect you with the folks who can.

(I’ll just ask for your patience if it takes me a few days to get back with you, depending on how many others email around the same time. 🙂 )


  1. Header image provided by Glen Carrie

  2. Here, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussion of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64. 

  3. E.g., see Philip R. Davies, Whose Bible Is It Anyway?, 2nd ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield, 2004); Michael V. Fox, “Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study: My View,” Society of Biblical Literature Forum, February 2006. 

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