We recently launched the BibleMesh Research Fellows program. Our aim is to highlight the expertise and insight of developing scholars as they teach, write, and research in service to the Church. To this end, we are excited to introduce Shawn Langley— a new Fellow in Philosophy & Apologetics.
Our Dean, Dr. Dennis Greeson, recently sat down and interviewed Shawn about his background, research interests, and recommended reading. Read the highlights below, or watch the full interview (24 minutes).
Where are you from and what various ministries are you involved in?
I am originally from Tennessee, in the United States, but I am currently living in North Carolina where I work at a community college doing some teaching along with some administrative and academic responsibilities.
I also serve as an associate research fellow with the Kirby Laing Centre, writing and reviewing and participating in various research activities with them. Additionally, I teach in BibleMesh’s MA in Theology programme offered in partnership with Union Theological College.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
My undergraduate degree is from the University of Tennessee, and my masters’ were completed at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, focused on biblical studies and theological method.
After seminary, I weighed what research I wanted to pursue and decided to move more into philosophical theology for my doctoral studies. I earned a PhD from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, through their partnership with Trinity College Bristol, where I was fortunate to study with Craig Bartholomew, writing on epistemology and how it influences our theological method.
Why did you choose to study what you did?
A lot of the motivation for the switch from biblical studies to philosophy and epistemology was the types of problems I was encountering and that had been prevalent throughout the history of biblical interpretation. Many of the discrepancies we see in the ways we read and interpret Scripture stem ultimately from how we approach what it means to understand something in the first place. And so this seemed like a worthy question to give attention to and led naturally into the realm of epistemology and theories of knowledge.
What theological topics do you think Christians today need to engage with more?
One question in need of more engagement is the role and place of suffering in the Christian life. It is such a hard thing to process in general, but to think of how it might contribute to our epistemological awareness of things is a really interesting question. We need to explore further the way suffering can play an active role in deepening our knowledge of life, of ourselves, and of God.
More specifically for Christians would be the role and place of epistemology in our understanding of the means of grace, including those particular expressions and perspectives we might have on the means of grace.
For instance, what are the means of grace doing in our minds, what are they evoking in us, and how are they drawing us closer to God and a deeper understanding of God in prayer and the Bible. I think we could agree and say, for instance, prayer is very important to our understanding of God, but what is it exactly that evokes this sort of understanding? Further, different traditions emphasize different things, so what advantages or disadvantages might these include?
What is epistemology?
In essence, it is thinking well and carefully about what we understand and all that is involved in that. For instance, how is it that we come to understand certain things, and what are the implications of things that we do understand or that we think we understand?
If you could recommend a book in your discipline to a layperson, college or seminary student, and an up-and-coming scholar, what would they be?
To anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of Christian philosophy in general, and epistemology in particular, my first recommendation is typically to begin with the work of Alvin Plantinga.
For the lay person, I would suggest Plantinga’s Knowledge and Christian Belief.
For a college or seminary student, Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.
And for the scholar, Plantinga’s entire trilogy on warrant.
Plantinga is probably the best entrance point for someone who wants to get a sense of how all of these things have been dealt with over the past several decades. And, more importantly, his clarity and carefulness exemplify what Christian philosophy can be at its finest.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading about the progression of analytic philosophy in its earliest years of development. For example, Frederick Beiser, an expert in German philosophy, has a recent book examining the role German idealism played in those early expressions of analytic philosophy. We don’t often point out the connections between idealism and analytic philosophy, but it is a significant question.
What is analytic philosophy and where do I see it today?
Presently, analytic philosophy has come to be regarded mostly as a method of rigor characterized by an intense focus on the structures of language and logic. It has recently become closely associated with Christian philosophical theology and philosophy of religion, in which the focus on careful linguistic and logical analysis is applied across the whole system of Christian thought.
What is the relationship between the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Great Tradition? How does your discipline fit into that?
One way for us to love people is by contributing in some way, if we can, to deepening their understanding of God and the way they treasure him.
The Great Tradition fits in not only by informing how we try to do that, the types of questions or helps that we might give to somebody as we seek to serve them, but also it gives us a wealth of experiences and circumstances that we can draw from.
Looking at situations and contexts we often think the particular things people face are confined or unique, and it may be hard to connect with others from different cultures or contexts. But we can look back throughout the centuries and see how churches, communities, or groups of believers handled similar types of situations or similar types of theological problems. We can take those experiences and serve one another more carefully because of that.
Watch the full interview with Shawn Langley.
The BibleMesh Institute Research Fellows program will highlight the expertise and insight of developing scholars in disciplines related to:
- Biblical studies
- Systematic and historical theology
- Ethics and public theology
- Philosophy and apologetics
- Christian ministry.
The writing of our Research Fellows will feature on the BibleMesh Blog, as well as in the forthcoming BibleMesh Journal, which will provide free long-form resources on subjects that further our mission to equip Christians for faithfulness to the Great Commandment, obedience to the Great Commission, and formed by the Great Tradition.
Find Out More About The BibleMesh Institute Research Fellowship.