The Intellectual Habits Of Great Thinkers. Interested?

I am still somewhat perturbed about Huizinga’s biography of Erasmus and its lack of information on Erasmus’ intellectual and study habits. Truth be told, that is why I read the book (though secondarily to get more information on his editions of his Greek New Testament).

I am quite interested in the intellectual habits of those who have shaped the study of ancient history and its documents, be that those in biblical studies, classical studies, or Christian history. Obviously it involves a lot of time studying, but a lot of study alone does not a great thinker make. There are particular study habits, research habits, personal traits and other things I am sure that takes someone from bookworm to significant thinker. In many cases I would imagine it is luck (or, more properly, a smiling providence). In some cases it is surely all hype. But on average I would imagine that there is quite a bit more to it than just luck and hype.

I am not really on a quest for how someone becomes a famous scholar; I hope I am not that vain. I am more interested in personal development. I want to be a better thinker than I am. If that leads to fame and notoriety that’s fine, but that’s not my goal. I would like to see the habits of smart men and compare them to mine to see if I am just completely off base or if some tweaking needs to be done.

So I now have a question for you, my dear readers: Do you care? I am thinking of doing something, but it would turn out so much better for me and for everyone else if I had some audience participation, and it is this. I would like to compile a list questions about intellectual habits, backgrounds, qualities, etc. that I could ask various scholars about their private study lives and how they got where they are. The ultimate goal would be to publish them on the blog in some fashion for the benefit of all.

I am not interested in this being a scholar-worshipfest. I would not be asking for autographs (okay...maybe a few :) ), what their favorite food was, or for a lock of their hair that I might build a shrine. These would be pragmatic questions. "Hey scholar X, you are recognized as an authority on Y. How did you get there?" "What is it in your background that helped you?" "What would you look for in the habits and traits of those who would replace you when you’re dead?"

I would also want help from you in picking the people. And I would want people from different disciplines. Hearing from ten textual critics and NT scholars would be good for me, but not as beneficial for everyone. And having more would be beneficial to us all as we should not limit ourselves too narrowly.

And finally, I have the equipment to do audio. Would anyone want audio interviews, or just text?

I am going to SBL this year. Unlike last year, I have the money already (enough to pay for my plane, food, and hotel), so Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise I will be there. If there is enough interest I would try to interview folks there since that is the largest meeting of scholars in the fields that I and most of my readers would probably care about.

Anyway, thoughts? Please shoot me an email, give me a call on my cell (contact info for both can be found here), or leave a comment if you have any thoughts. What say ye?


Brett 2008-06-21 08:33:19


I wonder how much good it would do to know the study habits of Einstein? Seems to me some are just born with an IQ that's off the charts. I think this needs to be figured out. Imagine Einstein saying something like, "I don't like to study; I prefer to just think." (Emulating Einstein won't help too much here.)

Also, I went to hear Charles Ryrie one time speak and a few questions were posed to him. I remember him not having ready answers to questions he'd written quite a bit about, albeit some time ago. In other words, I would be interested in knowing what study habits lead to knowledge that scholars can easily retreive in their minds at anytime. (Retention so one can integrate it with future studies.)

I think there is a difference between research scholars who can look up gobs of information and write on their research, and scholars who know their subject matter after they've internalized it. I suspect someone could write a detailed, scholarly book on the civil war, but once they've moved on to their next book, they'd may forget half of what they just learned about the civil war. (This is another illustration of the Ryrie example above.)

I'd also be interested in scholars who've made a significant reversal during one of their studies. This would tell me they may be fairly open to the evidence despite their presuppositions. (Something like an Antony Flew, only not that late in life.)

I'd also want to know if this scholar has a balanced life. How much time does he/she spend in other activities outside of studies? Does the scholar appear to be a humble, godly person who can interact with scholars and non-scholars alike. Does the scholar appear to be a servant. (I want to see how studies effect the person.)

I may have caught Clark Pinnock on a bad week, but when I interacted with him, he was very arrogant and distant. 

At a time in my life when I felt like dying, I went to speak with J. Dwight Pentecost. He showed no interest in helping me.. none! I was a young Christian in the midst of a tragedy, and just walked away from me. I'll never forget that.

Also, I'd like to know if the scholar is scholarly in a particular niche or in a very broad area of subjects.

I would try to select scholars who have demonstrated an ability to reduce the complex to the simple. Can they communicate the data to scholars and non-scholars alike. 

I'd be interested in what motivates them to study. Why do they pursue the knowledge?

Woops. I have to feed my brother's dog. I'll give it some more thought.

Great topic!




Eric 2008-06-23 10:19:54

Well, you fit in quite a bit there. I have met neither Ryrie nor Pinnock except through their works (and I am impressed with neither on that count, though I admit that I have read less of Pinnock).


Those are some good questions, but apparently others don't find the idea all that interesting as this is the only comment or email I've seen.

Brett 2008-06-24 07:55:51


I will be leaving for Greece mid September. I will be traveling around the county in search of biblical manuscripts. I hope to stay active on the Internet but am not sure how accessible it will be.

Sorry others didn't find this overly interesting. I wouldn't let that discourage you. It is still a good topic. You might call it Seven Habits of Highly Intellectual People. Who knows, maybe the book will net you a few million.