I just returned from 5 days in San Diego. I presented a paper at the annual Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion national conference. The AAR includes many religion scholars and the SBL includes the scholars of the Biblical texts. This will be the last year that both groups will meet together. As always I enjoy this conference. This year I was sruck with some interesting thoughts.
The conference was at the San Diego convention center and my hotel was in the Gaslamp district. Each day I walked about a mile one way to and from the convention center. Each day I passed many homeless people. In the evenings I walked by the crowded restaraunts, bars, and strip clubs along the district. Each day I attended lectures, papers, panel discussions from Bible and Religion scholars. I would suggest that many of them don't really believe God exists. However, many on the streets probably believe that God doesn't care.
I felt like I was in two worlds. One was the world of reality. I went to lunch with one of the homeless guys--he loaded up his plate, picked the most expensive drink, thanked me, and then said he needed to go lay down. Portland homeless folks eat with me and visit with me. San Diego homeless seem to go about their way. However, I found out that these men don't really care about many of the discussions going on in the convention center that week. I realized that the people in the Gaslamp district weren't concerned about the scholarly arguments and discussions we were having.
The other world was a different reality. The reality of the world of the scholar. This world discusses the integrity of the Biblical texts, ancient culture, the existence of God, languages, theology, and philosophy of religion. It is a reality that needs to be discussed. But it is a reality that can overshadow the reality of the Gaslamp district. I would walk to the hotel each day accepting that the Gaslamp district needs to inform the academic world that theology needs to address common issues in life. The Gaslamp district needs the academy and the academy needs the Gaslamp district. The sad reality is that many of our churches have held up the scholars as our heroes, and being one I tend to see why. However, who will be the ones reaching those on the streets, those in the bars, those in the strip clubs, and those who don't care about the convention center discussions.
On the other hand--we need the academy. In Portland we have lost many of our doctors in theology/ministry. John York, Tim Woodruff, Dave Bland, Mark Love, Rex Hamilton, David Fleer, Mark LaValley, and Bob Whiddon. Some left to take college positions, others were dismissed from their churches (churches which now struggle to grow). I decided not to be an exiting doctor--I decided to stay and reach the people in Portland. Lori and I had the opportunity that many did not have and we chose to stay. The doctors left and we suffer. Our churches struggle theologically--we need the scholars. Good theology drives us to the Gaslamp districts, bars, homeless, strip clubs, and our community. Good theology causes us to engage people and help them to see that the convention center discussion that we need to have exists to empower others. Good theology helps us to grow and be evangelistic.
The AAR and SBL will form two separate conferences next year. The hot topic at the conference was how religion scholars and Biblical textual scholars need to work together and be togther. I guess this is a common problem. We forget that theology and ministry work together to empower people to come to Jesus. We forget that feeding the homeless, loving the strippers, and engaging the discouraged are what the text calls us to. I had a great discussion with some of our Christian college professors about the need for the church to reach new people and engage them in the text. We're all thinking the same thing--we just need to work together.