Book Review: Is There a Doctor in the House?, by Ben Witherington III

Is There a Doctor in the House?  An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Biblical Scholar, 2011, Zondervan.

I picked up this little book thinking it would only appeal to my interest in academia, but found it to be of value to all involved in Bible handling – students, preachers, teachers, scholars.

The label “scholar” gets thrown around a little too easily.  If one person in the church is starting to learn biblical Greek, they get labelled a scholar.  They may  barely even be a student yet!  In this book, Witherington reflects on his experiences as a student, pastor, teacher and writing scholar.  His manner is winsome, his sometimes amusing experiences shine through, and his insight helps the reader to see just what is involved in being truly earnest about God’s Word.

He begins with an excellent illustrated guide to a PhD, before explaining his own experiences getting a PhD in Durham in the 1970’s.  It is great to read of his exposure to such scholars as C.K. Barrett, C.E.B. Cranfield, T.H.L. Parker, etc.

Even if you don’t care to understand the differences between the British and American doctoral systems, the book quickly moves into a survey of the necessary fields of study required of biblical scholars.  While brief and maintaining momentum, these chapters give helpful insight into language study, historical/cultural background study, literary sensitivity, as well as integrating biblical research into theological and ethical studies.

The latter chapters address the necessary subject areas of research and writing, hermeneutics, key skills in lecturing and teaching, as well as the character issues that can easily get lost in the mix.  The book ends with a brief survey of the sacrifices involved (not just for the scholar, but also for the spouse), and a resounding, “I would do it all again!” from a man delighted by the privilege of his study, his career, his vocation.

I interact with folks who hold to a kind of self-taught piety.  They have their library of 66 and the Holy Spirit and consider themselves to be un-credentialed scholars.  Maybe some are, in some way.  But where their attitude becomes derisory toward academic biblical scholarship, I do get concerned.  This book should be required reading for all who care to sit in judgment over the academy, as well as those fascinated by it.

Most of all, this book graciously raises the bar on our commitment to really doing the work involved in handling the Bible well, and offering the fruit of that study to others in ministry.

(If you are in the UK, click here to go to the book on Amazon.)

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