I had the privilege of being a fellow for the Advanced Theological Studies Fellowship at Kampen Theological University, the Netherlands, this past month. The premise was simple: PhD students with accepted proposals would come together and live under the same roof and research for a month, at the end of which they would present their findings in front of an academic audience while a local specialist in that area of study provides a response. The program was a brainchild of James Eglinton’s, my doctoral supervisor at Edinburgh.
I had a delightful time with the other fellows, each of whom studied different areas, from the patristics to Pierre Viret and the theme of suffering in Christ in the Pauline epistles. In my case, I presented on the question of Bavinck and critical realism, providing a close textual analysis between Bavinck and the German Idealist, Eduard von Hartmann. My respondent was Prof. George Harinck. It was an exceedingly fruitful experience.
My time there reinforces a thought that has lingered in my mind for the past two years living in Edinburgh. The conversations I had there with scholars engaged in significant research on various topics in theology further reinforced the conviction that a short conversation in person can bring greater clarity in a few minutes than months of merely reading the author’s work. The delightful talks that I had with Aza Goudriaan, James K.A. Smith, Dolf te Velde, Henk van den Belt, Ad de Bruijne, and George Harinck, all gave me a clearer map of the scholarly field and their perspectives in a way that simply reading books could not, and recalls the various conversations I had with other practitioners in the past (not to mention a great boon and encouragement for my thesis on Bavinck). This further convinced me that it is essential to seek out the people with whom one engages academically in person. It may save months of confusion and, especially if we think we are actually disagreeing with them, could save us from caricaturing their positions in print. Disagreements tend to be stated more sharply on paper than when one is meeting someone face to face. It also reinforces my belief, therefore, that serious theological engagement and critique should definitely not be done in blogs, especially, again, as the person we critique can become abstracted as mere disembodied texts on pages or screens.
Irenic relationships fuel irenic scholarship.