Interviewer: What led you into biblical studies, and in particular, Pauline studies, in the first place?
Seyoon Kim: When I embarked on my post-graduate theological studies, I was aspiring to become a systematic theologian. During the first year of preparatory reading for it, I realized that to become a good systematician, I had to be well grounded on biblical foundation. So I decided to do my doctoral work in biblical studies, and chose Pauline studies, thinking that it would prepare me the best for my eventual systematic theological work (but I have not been able to “advance” to it!)
Oddly enough, my first introduction to “biblical studies” was a negative one. (When a school or institute is called the “School of Biblical Studies,” abbreviatory jokes can be made.) Yet I know of no more apt moniker, and biblical studies as an academic field must continue to enjoy a respected place.¹ I started to say that it should have a berth “quite distinct from” theology and ministry, but I actually don’t believe that. My wish might be better stated like this: biblical studies² should be recognized as a foundational discipline for faith-related academic inquiry, constituting the stage on which theology, church history, ministry, and religious philosophy play out.
Dr. Kim appears to have used the word “advance” with a wink. I would grant that theological thought is “advanced,” in that it makes judgments and synthesizes. Here, I think of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which for me was Knowledge – Comprehension – Application – Analysis – Synthesis – Evaluation. (See current info here and here.) I think I learned and comprehended that model fairly well as a young college student, and I have applied at least the lower end of it throughout life. In other words, I don’t know that I have analyzed, synthesized, evaluated all that much. At any rate, I would grant that those who think more philosophically and theologically often have advanced minds. My brain is a 4-cylinder, 1.6L Ford Escort, whereas theirs are V10 fuel-injected V10s Ford F250s with 4WD. (Or maybe Ford Excursions with bells and whistles inside?)
I’m content to drive along trustworthy, relatively flat paths with my little engine. I think those big ol’ vehicles can get themselves into deep mud and crevasses as they attempt to climb hills and traverse rugged terrain while watching movies with their on-board Wifi. The windows can get all covered up with mud, and the drivers have a hard time seeing the path, though. So keep me in the text along with Dr. Kim, and save me from “advanced” theological machinations unless they are inextricably tied to the texts. Theological pursuits may be rewarding, but most of our minds (certainly not mine) can’t handle them very often, and I think we’re all probably safer on level ground.
¹ It is difficult to respect the theology department of a supposedly Christian institution of higher learning when it offers courses in church history and philosophy but not a single course in New Testament Greek.
² Within “biblical studies” we might include (but not be limited to) manuscript investigation, rhetorical analysis, discourse analysis, text criticism, studies in Hebrew prophetic genres and Hebrew poetry, studies in the literary nature of the gospels, Pauline studies, and, of course, studies of ancient scripture languages such as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.