I recently spoke to a wonderful theologian, who decries the use of Wikipedia. He has a great deal of authority on the issue, since he has several articles published in real, print encyclopedias.
He doesn’t allow it as a reference in his classroom. Which makes sense. “There are some things that are just not up for debate,” he says with his usual mix of cynicism, erudition, and humor. I laugh and agree with him. The source of our information should be left up to experts, not the masses.
But, then I hang up the phone.
The next moment, I find myself preparing for a class on how the canon was formed. I’ve studied the topic at great length, but need a reference to refresh my memory before I assemble the class notes. I begin to reach for that book on the subject, but what was it? Who was it by? I vaguely remember that it has…a cover. Beyond that, I’m at a loss. It could be at home, or at the office, or in the basement. Or…did it survive the last three moves? I mean, I don’t know how an exciting read on canon formation could have been culled for the Goodwill, but I suppose it’s possible.
It’s late. The libraries are closed. The class is forthcoming. And so I wiki.
I have to admit, as a pastor, I use wikipedia. When nobody’s looking. Just to…you know…refresh my memory on things. According to Geoff Nunberg, I’m not the only one.
I know it’s not the best source for theology, church history, and biblical scholarship. And the article on canon formation, it’s a mess! No consistent voice. It’s a hack presentation by a crew of conflicting authors that makes my head ache by the end of it.
But I’ll use it again. I know I will. The whole world is using it.
So, what if we start admitting it? And what if our fine academics began embracing it? Even contributing to it? Is that too much to ask? It may not feel like the most scholarly thing to do, but you could do it late at night, when nobody’s watching. Although you wouldn’t be getting paid for the service, there’s something in it for you. You can reference yourself as an expert, in the third person. You can put your books or papers down in the notes, and (you’ve got to trust me on this one) your impact on the Christian education and the church will be enormous.
What do you say? Will you roll up your sleeves and join the conversation? On behalf of all the late-night pastors/pseudo scholars, I sure hope you do.