1. Should you separate spiritual education from academic education?
I don’t think it’s a positive thing to separate the two. Many people now acknowledge that humans are holistic beings and we function best when our various dimensions— physical, intellectual, spiritual and social—are integrated and balanced. Paul in the New Testament refers to this as “your whole spirit, soul and body” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Education is not just about transmitting information and encouraging critical thinking; it is also about enabling the formation of personal and community values, and certainly a spiritual education facilitates that.
2. Is there a strategy to prevent Avondale College from losing its spiritual roots?
Many prominent educational institutions began with a religious ethos and mission; some even as ministerial training seminaries. James Burtchaell, in The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities From Their Christian Churches, points out that the movement away from their Christian heritage was not just on the part of the institutions. Sometimes, their “mother” churches were moving away as well. At Avondale, we are very conscious of our Christian heritage—if we do not retain it, we don’t have any reason for existence. So it is in our vision, mission and values statements. It is also in the overarching framework statements and in the learning outcomes for our courses. We invest substantial financial and human resources into maintaining our mission. However, the best evidence is to be found in our students and graduates who are inspired “for a greater vision of world needs.” The Adventist Church shows no evidence of losing interest in Avondale, so we are on the same page in terms of focus and investment.
3. Tell us more about your research into how culture and context influence our interpretation of the Bible.
All of us bring our own “text” to our reading of the Bible. For example, our family background, gender, education, age, culture and social context can impact our interpretation of Scripture. Add to that biblical writers, who while inspired, were also writing from within particular cultures and times. So how can we know we’ve interpreted correctly? For a start, we need to be aware— as much as is possible—of what
we bring to our study of Scripture. Then, we will need to take note of the literary and historical context of the biblical passages we are reading. Bible dictionaries and commentaries will help us with that. When the biblical “books” were first written, they were designed for reading in a community. So it’s important that we listen to the various voices in our own Christian communities: the women and men, the theologically educated and those who are not. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Holy Spirit is given to guide us into all truth—John 16:13.
4. So do the teachings of Jesus and the Bible have universal application?
Jesus taught in the context and culture of His time. He was Jewish and followed the Jewish customs of His day. Yet, He also stretched the thinking of those He came in contact with. At the same time, Jesus’ teaching also challenges us today, whatever our context and culture. The operative word here is “applic tion.” We have to apply the principles of Scripture into our context.
5. How do we avoid teaching our own biases?
Check all teaching by what Scripture says. After all, the Bible’s role, as Paul points out, is to teach, rebuke, correct and train (2 Timothy 3:16). There are three other questions I’ve found handy in avoiding personal bias in interpreting the Bible. First, “What do other Christians have to say?” Second, “Does it make sense?” And third, “How does it play out in actual experience?” None of these three takes the primary place—that always belongs to Scripture—but they should point us back constantly to a re-examination of Scripture.