In a previous post I talked about the difference between intensive and extensive reading, and the importance of finding a balance between the two. The same terms can be applied to our faith. It is easy to live an exclusively extensive Christianity today: our coverage may be wide, but we don’t let God’s word sink in and we don’t allow ourselves enough time in reading or in meditation to develop deep or acute reflections on it. We know what the latest books are, and we know what we think about them, but we haven’t read them. We know what the latest controversies in our denomination are, but we (I very much include myself) haven’t set aside serious amounts of time to pray about them. We read the bible and move on; we go to church and move on; we pray and move on; we do our academic work and move on…
In an article entitled “What is the Future of Evangelicalism?: Evangelicalism Now” in an edition of Modern Reformation called Evangelicalism’s Winter, J. I. Packer laments that:
It has often been said that Christianity in North America is 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. Something similar is true, by all accounts, in Africa and Asia, and (I can testify to this) in Britain also.
I think a good case can be made that as Christian academics we bear a particular responsibility in this respect. Not to deny that all Christians should be encouraged to be readers and deep thinkers, each to the measure of our ability, time and resources–of course not–but we academics spend much of our lives honing skills of close reading, analysis and interpretation: a luxury to which most do not have access. And “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).
So, fellow Christian academic, how deep is your understanding of your faith? As deep as your understanding of your academic discipline? Is your grasp of your faith three thousand miles wide but half an inch deep? If so, you are skating on thin ice, and you might want to head over to the Christian academic’s full body workout, or become a paleolibricist.