TREMPER LONGMAN III | WESTMONT COLLEGE
I became a Christian my senior year in high school during the so-called Jesus Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was an exciting time, particularly on college campuses where there was something of a revival going on.
I arrived at college the next year, half Jesus freak and half football player, but not really interested in academics. Two factors changed my attitude toward academics, one positive and one negative.
The positive was meeting my future wife, Alice, who had just become a Christian under the influence of some seminary students in the area where she grew up (including a young Andrew Lincoln—yes, the author of, among other things, the wonderful Ephesians volume in the Word Biblical Commentary). These wise students told her to take her newfound faith seriously and go study at L’abri with Francis Schaeffer. When we met, she challenged me to take my faith seriously in my mind as well as my heart.
The negative influence was coming from the religious studies faculty at my college. I figured I was a Christian, so I should study the Bible. The faculty was not impressed with my naive (and indeed it was at that time) trust in the Bible. While negative in the sense that they were trying to dissuade me from my newfound faith, it was positive in that it woke a desire in me to dig deeper.
Younger Christians, including younger scholars, may not know that in 1970 there was nothing like the abundance of resources available to us today. Consider Bible translations. In terms of a whole Bible, we had the King James Version (a fine translation if you lived in the seventeenth century), the Revised Standard Version (panned at the time as “liberal”), and the Living Bible (also panned, but as a paraphrase). The complete New American Standard Bible came out in 1971, but the New International Version was not available until 1984.
Now we sometimes complain about having too many commentaries, study Bibles, and other helps to our understanding, but back then there were few. Indeed, the challenge and the lack of resources, along with the encouragement of Alice, were major motivations for me to get involved in an academic ministry.
I think it is wonderful that, over the years since then, scholars of faith have worked hard to produce new translations (just think of the New Living Translation, English Standard Version, Christian Standard Bible, The Message, the New King James Version). If you know me and my work, you know I think there can’t be too many commentaries and other resources. It’s been great to be a part of that effort over the past decades. A number of scholars my age started in the field during this time, went to great seminaries and graduate schools, and have taught and written to build up the academy and the church.
Until recently, the evangelical church has expanded quite rapidly along with the resources. There was an expansion as well of seminaries and other research centers. Jobs were never abundant, but because of the expansion, evangelical Protestants were in a better place to get a tenure-track job than others.
For various reasons, times have changed. Fewer people are going to seminary, there is more online training, and there are fewer full-time tenure jobs. Gifted young scholars graduate from great graduate schools and struggle to find a traditional job.
This is one reason why I retired from my tenure-track job at age sixty-four. Not everyone is ready to retire so young ( ! ), but I would like to challenge and encourage my peers to consider making way for the next generation. The encouragement comes in the form of saying that there are still plenty of opportunities to contribute in part-time teaching, editing, and writing in one’s retirement.
But even if my generation made more room for the next, there would still be too few jobs for the many well-prepared younger scholars out there. So my challenge to you—and my advice to those who contemplate getting a doctorate and going into the field—is to have a plan in place if you don’t get that tenure-track job. For one thing, we need more pastor-theologians. Being a pastor requires you to move beyond the ivory tower, and being a scholar-–theologian can deepen your pastoral work.
TREMPER LONGMAN III is currently writing a commentary on Revelation and a three-volume work on the Old Testament as literature, as history, and as theology.