One of the great challenges of contemporary higher education in the West is the (often assumed and undefended) expectation that all good research should be characterized by “originality.” The problem with this expectation arises when scholars are forced either to think of something new or be considered mentally and scholastically deficient. This often results in the denial of a chance to obtain an advanced degree of any kind.
Of course there is room and need for creative thinking in higher learning, and certain fields in Christian thought—including theology and apologetics, for example—lend themselves more readily to the need for originality than others (like Old and New Testament exposition). But difficulties arise when the drive for creative thinking encourages and pushes the thinker into arenas of extremism and even heresy. In the pursuit of a higher degree and due to the demand for originality, many contemporary Christians are almost forced to devise new ideas that seek to challenge tried and true conclusions about our enduring source of authority, the Holy Bible.
In the end “something new” becomes the elusive and sought after goal of all research to the detriment of desperately needed ongoing exposition and restatement of God’s enduring truth. Consequently, few in the Christian community actually know what the Bible really says anymore. I am reminded of the Athenian philosophers and foreigners in Paul’s day who “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). In this sense, there really is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
But I fear that like the ancient Athenians, some pastors and Christian scholars have succumbed to the ubiquitous and not-so-subtle temptation to expound something new so that they can appear profound, remain interesting, and be deemed someone on the “cutting edge” of contemporary life. In a day and age such as ours, we would do well to hear and obey the ancient words of the prophet Jeremiah in 6:16 which have never been so relevant as they are today: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”