Vanderbilt always has been a special curiosity in the world of Biblical Studies. It is an Ivy type school withBoston like social and political impulses. But there it sits nestled in Southern magnolias, the shiniest gem inwhat is often called “the Buckle of the Bible Belt.” In the middle of this, or better maybe as the mainperpetrator of this paradox sits Daniel Patte, trudging the rocky path of exacting critical inquiry, yet at oncewith peaceful charity, and a simple and fresh
joie de vivre
.More than 50 people came to honor this important figure over the weekend, some from as far as Seoul,Korea. Thirty-five or so spent a long day at the symposium itself. Papers came from Patte’s students,ranging in their mid 20s to mid 60s. Each was written to honor the man who shaped their lives. Of the manyscholars who applied, 10 were chosen to write and present on this special occasion.Scholars often are accused of living in “an ivory tower,” meaning that they get lost in the world of their ownideas and lose touch with everyday life. It is true, unfortunately, that the world of scholarship sometimesfeels distant and hard to understand. But that might be the case when any group of experts gets together.They tend to use language from their own field that only they can understand. The same might happen ifwe tried to understand surgeons, guitarists, or even little league managers. There is no way around it, inhouse language is just hard to keep up with. But still we know, sometimes it is important to be aroundpeople who understand us best. This gives us the chance to reach the farthest into new thoughts andideas.It is easy to fall into the temptation to think of scholars as distant from “real life,” but this is not true. DanielPatte, in decades of teaching, has turned out professional graduates who themselves teach100s ofstudents every year, and sometimes have positions of even greater influence. These students then becomepreachers in churches, writers of books, deans of schools, and leaders of church denominations withmillions of members.Shouldn’t we hope that people with this kind of influence are serious about how they read the Bible?The Barna group just published a study
recently showing that nearly nine out of ten Americans, 88%,
aBible. On average, American Bible owners have 3.5 Bibles in their home, and one-quarter of Bible owners,24%, have six or more!Surely we have to care about how our neighbors read the Bible! How about women’s rights? Minorityrights? Should local churches respond to inner city riots? What should we, as a nation, do about the wrongwe’ve committed against innocents? What about the role of religion in the horrible genocides of our time?Or our relations with members of non-Christian religions?With such issues at stake, a good teacher surely then, will be very serious about their area of study. Patte isthat kind of teacher in spades. He invests deeply in radical and pioneering work for understanding theBible.