The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation

Written by E. Harris Harbison Reviewed By James J. Stamoolis

Mind or spirit? This question has occupied a large place in the Christian Church from apostolic times (e.g. 1 Cor. 14) to our own day. Very often formal study and serious scholarship are regarded as unspiritual. This is in part because many heresies have entered under the name of scholarship. Yet the great advances of the faith have also been brought about by scholarship. The author demonstrates how one such advance, the Reformation, had solid roots in scholarship.

Treating the general subject of scholarship as a Christian calling, the figures of Jerome, Augustine, Abelard and Aquinas are discussed. Each is a model for a different view of the integration between so-called secular knowledge and Christian truth. Harbison finds three of the Renaissance scholars he studied (Petrach, Valla, and Pico) unable to attain a clear calling as Christian scholars. Here is one of the themes repeated in this book: scholarship done by Christians, but not integrated with and related to their faith, is not Christian scholarship. Harbison reserves his praise for those who accomplished that: Colet, Luther and Calvin. Indeed, the book ends with a plea for this integration to take place today.

As a tract for our time, this book should be read by every theological student and teacher. It is a call to action, the hard work required by those who would teach and pastor God’s people. But it is more than a historical survey. Harbison makes plain that scholars often have mixed motives. ‘There is always an irreducible egotism in most scholarship’ (p. 80). He also condemns trivial research and immature publication as problems in any century. The student who wishes to become a scholar would profit from the application of sound scholarly principles found in this book.

Finally, the portraits of Calvin and especially of Luther as scholars are particularly worthwhile and should be read by all who study theology. The enduring value of this book is seen by the issuing of this new edition nearly 20 years after it first appeared. Its message is still fresh, its call for devotion to Christ still needed.

James J. Stamoolis