Seeing The Threshing Floor

As the Davenant Institute celebrates ten years of great work, many of us have had a chance to reflect on the gifts it has given us. Without doubt, the greatest gift I have received from my education at Davenant Hall has been my relationship with professors who demonstrate a unity of conviction and charity, receptivity to new ideas and a commitment to the faith once delivered. This unity has become an example for me to strive after, a model of truly Christian scholarship.

An episode from my time at Davenant will illustrate what I mean. At the end of one of my first classes with Davenant, I informed my professor that I was troubled by some of the arguments of a couple biblical scholars whose work I had recently encountered. I asked him how I should respond to these scholars. My professor, before directly answering my question, graciously encouraged me to think less in terms of responding to these scholars and instead to think of engaging charitably and critically with their ideas.

I have learned during my time at Davenant that understanding necessarily precedes criticism. Real criticism cannot occur where intellectual charity has not first been extended, since charity is necessary for understanding. By shifting my framework from merely trying to respond to actual engagement with the ideas that were troubling me, my professor was calling me to become what I am striving to be–a Christian scholar. He wanted me to seek to charitably understand their arguments first, to really see the threshing floor, before trying to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The instructors at Davenant consistently model this kind of receptivity over reactivity in their classrooms and in private conversation. I think this lies at the heart of Davenant’s preference for the language of wisdom over that of worldview. Not, of course, that there is nothing helpful in the latter category, but simply that the former encourages us to cultivate a healthy kind of intellectual receptivity–the precondition for any true critical engagement. My studies at Davenant have encouraged me to be less intellectually trigger-happy and reactive, and the Davenant community as a whole has been a breath of fresh air in an economy of public discourse like ours that is too often dominated by sloganeering and pigeonholing.

What is so refreshing about the Davenant Institute in this respect is that such receptivity and openness is coupled with an unwavering commitment to the magisterial Protestant tradition. The Davenant community’s willingness to engage with others does not stem from a spineless retreat from commitment but instead from confidence in the tradition of the Reformed catholic faith. Such conviction allows for openness to new ideas precisely because of the Davenant faculty’s confidence that the Protestant tradition is healthy and robust enough to handle objections and challenges.

In my opinion, it is the genuinely Christian scholarship taking place at the Davenant Institute that makes it worthy of your support. The work Davenant is doing in instruction, translation, publication, etc., is collectively aimed at drawing treasures new and old out of the Reformed catholic storehouses to build up the contemporary church. I can’t think of a project better suited to meet the needs of our time and I, for one, am grateful to be a part. I trust you will find that the same is true for you.

Coleman Rafferty is a Davenant Hall M.Litt student.

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