Professionals and Amateurs
Jim West's crusade against amateurs has prompted James Crossley, Tyler Williams, and Chris Heard each to weigh in on the question of credentials and creed.
They all make good points, but I honestly can't say it better than Chris Heard:
I do not believe that being professionally trained is necessary or sufficient to producing good biblical interpretation, and...I also do not believe that being a Jew or Christian is necessary or sufficient to producing good biblical interpretation... In my judgment, the ideal interpreter of the Bible is someone who is attentive to and honest with the text. The ideal interpreter of the Bible reads the text closely, works hard to understand it, and attempts to give a rigorous account of what is actually there. Professional training and religious commitment may contribute to or, in some cases, detract from these intellectual virtues, but they are not unique in doing so on either count.
As an amateur I've been studying the origins of Christianity for about sixteen years (since the fall of '90), but it took a while before I was prepared to engage comfortably with professionals on the internet (such as e-lists like XTalk and Corpus Paulinum); I've been doing that for about six years. So that's a decade of "getting a foothold", so to speak, and sifting through wheat and chaff -- and, as Chris implies, there's plenty of chaff in the professional field as much as the amateur.
If we're going to distinguish between professionals and amateurs, let's do so meaningfully and not meanly. The professional is equipped for the interpretive task through formal training (especially with languages), but what one does with that training is another matter. The amateur has less authority to stand on, but that doesn't stop one from being a good interpreter. (There are professionals I would take over amateurs, just as there are amateurs I would take over professionals.) The amateur should be conversant with professional literature, but none of this is dependent upon creed. It just doesn't matter whether one is Christian, Jewish, atheist or otherwise. What matters is that everyone listens to each other, because each is capable of spotting things others will miss. I've profited from the evangelical as much as the secular (and seen a fair share of nonsense from both), and would never condone insular thinking. We need our multitude of voices.
Thank goodness for professionals in the field; we'd be lost without them. But I'm also thankful for interpreters like Stephen Carlson, Rick Brannan, Peter Kirby -- and yes, even the now exiled Michael Turton -- those amateurs right there on our sidebars.