It took me a while to remember who Joshua Harris was when he "kissed Christianity goodbye." The news didn't really rattle me; he's so far from the mainstream of my life that I missed whatever it was he was selling. And yet it was a big deal in Christian circles.
Christians should look for other kinds of heroes. In the spirit of that thought, I had a chance to grab lunch with a young man, Dan, from my church a few weeks ago. He used to be the Program Manager at the PCA church where I'm a member; now he's returned to Pittsburgh, having completed an MAR at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. At present, Dan is working toward a Master of Theology degree (ThM), with hopes to continue on to PhD studies in Old Testament.
My lunch with Dan turned out to be one of the most fascinating things I've done in a long time. He spoke of the sense of surprise that he felt while listening to a Yale Biblical Studies course online several years ago. He remembered their precision of detail, and the formidable, comprehensive alternative explanations they offered for things that we've believe in the Reformed tradition for a very long time.
It wasn't a surprise to him that Yale would teach those kinds of things. What struck Dan was the fact that they were also offering an alternative view of the Old Testament that "could potentially destroy the foundations of the average person in the pew." "It opened my eyes," he told me, "to the depth and breadth of the kinds of scholarship that are antithetical to what I believed to be true. I had never heard it expressed to that level of detail".
Dan grew up in confessional churches, and thankfully he was able to table an immediate judgment. Yet he realized that not many churchgoers would be able to interact with the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP), or with the theory of the Deuteronomistic history. And it wasn't just one theory that disturbed him; rather, he felt overwhelmed...
"...by the many ways that these critical theories try to dismiss the reality of Divine Revelation... I thought 'I'm sure there is an academic Christian response to all of it. I just haven't heard it in a local church.'"
As Dan put it, "I wanted to hear a response from the Reformed tradition that was more detailed than merely fideism."
Through our church, he was able to take a Greek course at a local seminary, and he even considered a call to pastoral ministry. Though deciding against this last option after much prayer, he did discover a passion for ancient languages. "I LOVED studying Greek," he told me, and he even taught himself Hebrew using Weingreen's "A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew" ("The key to it is doing the exercises").
Our churches, seminaries, and other institutions should do all they can to enable young men like Dan to accomplish their goals, to step into those places in academia where these intellectual battles are taking place. J. Gresham Machen spoke about this more than 100 years ago:
"The church is waiting for men of another type. Men to fight her battles and solve her problems. The hope of finding them is the one great inspiration of a seminary's life. They need not all be men of conspicuous attainments. But they must all be men of thought. They must fight hard against spiritual and intellectual indolence. Their thinking may be confined to narrow limits. But it must be their own. To them, theology must be something more than a task. It must be a matter of inquiry. It must lead not to successful memorizing, but to genuine convictions."
Ultimately, while Dan has intended to provide a defense of the faith in his Old Testament studies, it wasn't the only reason he ended up going to seminary,
"I view it like a garden: there's a hedge, a defense, for sure, and that's really important. But then there is ultimately the fruitfulness and abundance within. I was attracted in a way to both -- understanding a Christian response to the tide of modernism, but also being attracted to the beauties of God's word itself as a supremely compelling object of study."
Imagine a young man like Dan teaching a Religious Studies 101 class in a state university. The church needs young men like Dan, almost more than we need anything else in the world. Dan is my kind of hero.
Author's Note: For those of you involved with seminary or other educational programs, imagine how our institutions can help and enable Dan and others like him to get into those kinds of positions. To reach Dan specifically, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 "Christianity and Culture" by J. Gresham Machen, The Princeton Theological Review, vol. XI (1913), p. 14.
John Bugay is a marketing automation professional and a long-time blogger at Triablogue.
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