A Conspiracy of Silence? (RJS)

I was listening recently to a recording of a public conversation between two Old Testament scholars, Dr. Peter Enns and Dr. Stephen Chapman, held at Duke and advertised as Is the Bible Ever Wrong? It is a fascinating conversation – well worth the time. At one point during the evening Dr. Chapman was reflecting on the difficulty of the Old Testament in the evangelical church and evangelical scholarship and asked if it is too strong to suggest that there is a conspiracy of silence in our churches.We all, especially scholars and pastors, know that there are serious issues and questions, but most of the time we dare not talk about it because the topic is highly threatening and controversial. Textual criticism, archaeology, history, science, – all of these subjects have made it difficult to read or study the old testament, except in isolated bits and pieces.

Last year I was having coffee with a pastor, a man who was a campus pastor when I was an undergrad and had helped me a great deal at that time in my life.The conversation came around to one of my favorite topics - how should Christian colleges prepare college students, especially science students, for the intellectual challenges that will surely come in graduate study and the professional world?This pastor reflected that one of his sons came home after his first term at seminary and asked why his dad had never told him, never talked about, the issues and questions he was learning at school. The answer of course, was that there are some things that a pastor simply cannot talk about in church, he dare not raise the question much less provide scholarly answers.

I contend that this conspiracy of silence does as much, perhaps more, damage than good.

First: brushing the problems, “the blue parakeet texts,” under the rug means that evangelicalism cannot develop a robust and defensible view of scripture.

Second: the lumps under the rug are not really hidden. We simply all agree to pretend that we cannot see them. The OT becomes a book we avoid rather than a heritage we embrace. For 20 years I found it difficult to read the OT except in carefully selected verse sized fragments - because it simply is not what it is supposed to be. A fact that is painfully obvious, even to an educated layperson.

Third: the science, the historical study, the textual criticism, none of this is going away – ever. We have to deal with it honestly.

Fourth: it becomes a stumbling block that contributes to loss of faith for many and prevents many more from ever even considering the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So I have two questions for pastors and others in ministry:

Is there a “conspiracy of silence,” and if so is it a pastoral necessity? How should we deal with these issues in our churches?

and

How would you deal with an educated layperson with very real and very deep questions about the nature of the Bible?

The answer, by the way, to the question “Is the Bible Ever Wrong”  is no according to Enns and Chapman – but we sometimes ask the wrong questions and have the wrong expectations of the Bible.

  • http://darrenbrett.wordpress.com/ Darren King

    Great questions, RJS,
    Just yesterday I let myself get caught up in a debate with someone very educated, very intelligent, and very articulate, who is convinced that the Bible is infallible – and not just theologically, but by every definition of truthfulness you can imagine.
    When I brought up the Genesis creation narrative and how a literal interpretation differs with the latest science, he simply argued that science is always shifting (which is true, in minimal ways, but missing the point about the larger thrusts) and is thus untrustworthy. On the issue of evolution vs creationism he simply stated that evolution is false because it is based on atheistic assumptions. Strip away the assumption that there is no God, and the theory of evolution begins to unravel, or so this guy suggested.
    What I concluded in the end is that he’s read just enough to sound coherent, that he throws just enough red herrings into the mix to make others feel they should be alarmed, but really doesn’t engage with any of the real issues. He takes the “facts” that fit his presuppositions, and rejects the ones that don’t, merely because they belong to the supposedly atheistic enterprise. And here I’m sure he thinks arrogant human scientists are in cahoots with the Devil himself – though they probably don’t realize this fact. How do you engage with this kind of circular reasoning? In the end, you can’t. And even when you try, not only is it less than fruitful, but people like this resort to a defensive and angry posture.
    Bottom line: In my experience, there is not so much a conspiracy of silence as an absolute commitment to one idea: the infallibility of the Bible. This is the hill many evangelicals would choose to die on, before giving even an inch. And even when every iota of evidence seems to suggest otherwise, such people really do hope – and even more than this, they believe! (after all, according to their worldview they HAVE to), that the right view (biblical infallibility) will one day be vindicated.

  • David

    Is the Bible ever wrong? The anwer is yes. How can anyone deny the contradictions, scientific errors and historical inaccuracies?
    The real question is why anyone goes on believing that it is part of “God’s word” (whatever that means) or has received the imprimatur of God.
    Why would God use the language and culture of a particular time to convey truth or information, but fail to preserve the culture and do a bad job of preserving the written text?

  • Kyle

    Darren,
    The more I’ve studied historical interpretations of the text, the more I start to ask “When did the church start interpreting the Genesis creation narrative as primarily literal instead of theological?” I’m starting to think that the interpretation that I once held as the only one (i.e. literal) is actually more a result of our times.
    David,
    We try to stay away from strong rhetoric and debate, so I’m not going to debate your points. I’d suggest you listen to the mp3 linked in RJS’ post. It’s by two scholars who take your questions seriously and still hold to a high view of Scripture.
    RJS,
    Two quick things:
    1. You seem to imply that text criticism, science and archaeology are new critiques, or are at least constantly increasing in their critique. I know you well enough from previous conversations to know that you know this isn’t true and you yourself hold to a high view of Scripture. I’d even go as far as saying that in regards to textual criticism the critique has declined in recent years. Scot (as well as others in orgs such as the ETS, IBR, etc.) is part of a strong strand of conservative biblical scholars who are largely responsible for this decline. In regards to archaeology, it seems like now that the Albright school (50s-60s) and Copenhagen school (80s-90s) had their days in the sun, now people have come to realize that archaeology is a highly interpretive field and can neither prove or disprove the Bible. People still argue from both sides though. Science is your field of expertise, but I’ve gotta ask what in recent science directly contradicts a traditional view of biblical inspiration (as in Calvin for instance)? Most would of course say evolution, but I just don’t see it anymore (and know you don’t either from your various book reviews and discussions in the past). Of course, not everyone has read Polkinghorne, McGrath, Haught, et. al. on these topics and there was a time when it was a major conflict for me as well.
    2. You say “Textual criticism, archaeology, history, science, – all of these subjects have made it difficult to read or study the old testament, except in isolated bits and pieces.” I’ve actually come full circle in this regard. Understanding narrative better has brought me to the point where its actually easier to read and interpret in big chunks than in isolated fragments. Also, I’ve been recently helped greatly by the work of Brevard Childs. Have you read much by him? You might really enjoy canonical criticism.

  • http://www.livingspirituality.org Greg Laughery

    Trouble posting comment so here goes again.
    Yes, I think that, in some contexts, there is a conspiracy of silence. All stops are pulled out to avoid or ignore questions about the Bible. Such protectionism usually fails to be convincing and often produces detrimental results.
    Dealing with someone who has serious questions about the nature of the Bible should be considered a privilege. Encouraging people to get their questions out on the table is essential. Taking time to work through questions and learn from them will be rewarding. The Bible does answer many questions, but of course not all. Instead of a spirit of silence, we should be promoting a spirit of openness that welcomes questions, while at the same time recognizing that they arise in the context of answers that are sufficient for their purpose and goal.
    Is the Bible ever wrong? I would say that depends very much on what it is understood to be communicating and in what context. To evaluate the Bible’s creational claims on the basis of contemporary science is like asking, “Is an egg happiness.” The Bible’s creational context is the ANE and it is from that context that it still speaks authoritatively about God and creation today.

  • Gerschi

    Hi there,
    thank you for the great post. As I am from Germany I don’t know about conspiracies in American churches, but I do know how difficult it is to address some of these questions in some settings in Germany. And I have to add, I know how troubled I AM at times when faced with this kind of questions! Maybe I should add that I am an ancient historian who just started to work on his PhD-project, i.e. I am specialized in Greek and (first and foremost) Roman studies. I am quite confident in addressing difficult questions regarding the NT, but less so when talking about the OT. The point is, not to address them is of no help and simply to reject them due to worldview considerations is neither. Even questions based on a wrong worldview can be good questions. As a historian I cannot help but see some of those questions and wonder what they might imply for my understanding of concepts like “Inspiration”, “Word of God”, “Revelation”, etc. This is one reason why I definitely like P. Enn’s book “Inspiration & Incarnation”. I still have some questions concerning some of his conclusions here and there, BUT he is addressing the tough question, he is trying to answer them in a at least basically sound (IMHO even more than just basically) way, and he is asking for the consequences regarding our understanding of God’ Word (=Scripture).
    As a European evangelical in the tradition of confessional Lutheranism and Lutheran pietism I do not feel bound to some modern doctrines of inerrancy like the Chicago statement, BUT I also think that it is possible to address and to answer hard questions with a nuanced understanding of inerrancy as a starting point (as some really good evangelical scholars of the “inerrancy tradition” give witness to). Nevertheless, a better starting point would be in my opinion to ask for the purpose God had in mind when inspiring of scripture (Soteriology! E.g. the “useful for” in 2Tim 3,16 and the “so that” in Ro 15,4). Yes scripture is true, i.e. it is at the very least faithfully doing what God has intended it for, making people fit for salvation (it leads them to Christ and helps them to stay with/in Christ). And God was giving scripture to and through people in the Ancient Near East and in the Jewish, Greek and Roman 1st century. Due to the nature of Christian faith, for making people fit for salvation there also has to be a certain historical correctness of varying degrees depending on where we are in scripture (cross and resurrection of Christ are certainly more important than the cloak which Paul had left in Troas and the precise number of people crossing the sea of reeds under Moses). But the degree of precision is based on God’s soteriological purposes and we must learn to spell truth in “biblical truth” in biblical terms, i.e. primarily in relational terms and only then also in factual terms. For accepting the historical relatedness of scripture the incarnation analogy certainly is of great value. Both aspects (soteriology &history) are linked in the way God acted historically in Christ for the purpose of our salvation, i.e. “by taking the very form of a servant” (Phil 2,7). If Scripture is given for a soteriological purpose within history then we shouldn’t be surprised that it also has part in that “form of a servant” while precisely in this way being the very (written) Word of God. With this approach we might loose the easy answers. But from this basis we can start to tackle the difficult questions I a way which is in my opinion faithful to Scripture, faithful to Scripture’s witness about itself and about the God who has given it and whom it points to. Having said that let me add that I am willing to go a very long way to defend a substantial historical reliability of the historical parts of Scripture when read as part of their own time and culture. I am certainly no “minimalist”. But I am also convinced that the truth of Scripture is more than “getting the facts right”, and that the degree of precision, well at the very least it is not to be evaluated in modern scientific terms.
    A final word: As I am quite busy at the moment, I don’t know when I will be able to look at the post again. So if I don’t respond to comments on my comment, this is not due to a lack of interest or politeness but simply due to a lack of time. Sorry for that!
    God bless,
    Gerschi

  • Gerschi

    P.S.:
    RJS, I don’t know if you do read German (and I hope it is not impolite to ask!), but if so, let me point you to some authors who were and still are of great help to me in thinking through these issues. They are: Johan Georg Haman (and authors writing about him like e.g. Heinzpeter Hempelmann below); definitely Adolf Schlatter (cf. briefly Clemes Hägele, Die Schrift als Gnadenmittel – Schriftlehre nach dem Vorbild Adolf Schlatters. In: Christian Hermann (ed.), Wahrheit und Erfahrung – Themenbuch zur Systematischen Theologie, Bd.1: Einführende Fragen der Dogmatik und Gotteslehre, Wuppertal 2004. p.23-31), who strongly contested the use of atheistic methods in theology and biblical studies but still rejected a hermeneutics of inerrancy and an ahistorical approach to Scripture; and then Klaus Haacker (the essay: Securitas und Certitudo – Grundentscheidungen in der Anwendung und Kritik historischer Methoden in der Bibelauslegung. In: idem, Biblische Theologie als engagierte Exegese – Theologische Grundfragen und thematische Studien, Wuppertal 1993, p. 43-54; is in my opinion absolutely essential, but the whole book is worth reading) and Heinzpeter Hempelmann (Wie wir denken können – Lernen von der Offenbarung des dreieinigen Gottes für Wissenschaftstheorie, Sprachphilosophie und Hermeneutik, Wuppertal 2000 (a lot about Haman); and much briefer: Plädoyer für eine Hermeneutik der Demut. Zum Ansatz einer Schriftlehre, die aus der Schrift selbst zu lernen versucht. In: ThBeitr 33 (2002), S. 179-96; and: Was heißt „bibeltreu“? – Achtzehn Thesen und zehn Säulen einer Hermeneutik der Demut. In: Hermann (ed.), Wahrheit und Erfahrung, p. 32-44).
    As I do have some of the articles as pdfs, tell me via email if you are interested and will send them to you.
    Sorry that it got so long again…
    God bless,
    Gerschi

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    RJS — what a blessing you are. God uses you well.
    I had a good sister come to me years ago and tell me that I should avoid teaching the OT to new converts.
    I have spent about 75% of my teaching time on exactly that ever since.
    You can’t avoid this stuff — its unavoidable.

  • Andy

    RJS: one question and one comment. First, under your second point above, you mention that the OT “is simply not what it is supposed to be.” In your mind, what does the average church person supposed the bible to be? Would we have any kind of agreement here on the standard or dominant view of the church-goer?
    As to the conspiracy of silence: I do not believe there is any intentional conspiracy. My impression from school, scholarship, and church is that (1) pastors find these issues to be difficult in their own rights, (2) they feel them to be somewhat removed from the concerns of the “ordinary believer,” (3) they feel at a loss as to how to begin to address them in a 20-25 minute sermon (which isn’t about textual difficulty anyway and which is usually taken from the NT!), (4) try hard to be relevant and think such textual stuff is irrelevant to many people, and (5) don’t feel that the complexities belong in a devotional kind of Sunday school class, either.
    Now I’m not defending those positions, but it seems to me that … well … it just ends up never getting addressed. And so we languish with a really poor understanding of the OT in our churches (as if it is only there to give us a few prophecies about Jesus!).
    I remember my OT prof basically saying “Shame on you if you don’t find a way to address these issues and work to erase the gap between the library and the church.” His concern was that we too often let people wander with their questions only for them to conclude that the questions aren’t worth asking, or are too dangerous to ask, or somehow put them outside the fold. And the outcome of that is to jettison their faith, the Bible, or the church – or all three.
    Grace and peace – Andy

  • Your Name

    I am a lifelong believer who was guilty of avoiding the OT ( other than select passages). My church experience was certainly part of that problem, but the bigger issue was how very little indepth scripture study was happening at all. Later, being in a church setting that encouraged deeper study of scripture, with the freedom to not tie it all up neatly in a bow has been a gift to me. My break through came as I began to experience that scripture is truly “god-breathed” and is how God communicates to us and in particular to me. I became hungry for the whole word, even if it didn’t always sit well the first time I tried it! Realizing that I didn’t need to protect God’s reputation, and he could handle whatever we throw at him in our studying and questioning left me with a freedom to read through the entire bible without fear of having to sweep something under a rug to protect my faith. __My 12 year old recently challenged me about the creation narrative. He calmly informed me that the story conflicted with what was clearly true scientifically and that he was sorry, but he was going to have to question his faith and the scriptures. I assured him that we didn’t view Genesis as a science textbook, and his faith could be stretched and strengthened by asking hard questions. The honesty of kids and non-believers when approaching scripture has always been a nice break from the unspoken agreement of seasoned Christians to skim over the things that don’t quite fit!

  • John C

    There is a conspiracy of silence partly for the good pastoral reasons Andy identifies. But I’d add another factor – the fear of losing credibility with very conservative congregations. Profound reverence for the authority of Holy Scripture is not always enough to protect a person against charges of ‘liberalism’, and that can damage a ministry. Even thoughtful critiques of extreme positions like young earth creationism might cause walk-outs in some churches. So pastors end up addressing the issues in private conservations with troubled souls, rather than up front in their preaching.
    There is a third option – a good one I think. That is to discuss particular problems with Scripture in special seminar classes on Sunday evenings or midweek, when people can become better informed while asking questions and feeling free to disagree.

  • Your Name

    I’m a pastor of church that has many disgruntled kids of evangelicals in it. One of the chief questions as they struggle with the particular shape and short-comings of the faith they were taught is about scripture, the claims made on it, and the disconnect they see between the facts they know and the explanation they were given or not given. In short, exactly what this post is about. Not just OT, but NT as well.____As a result we are starting to teach and talk about it. I asked our community recently if anyone would be interested in learning more about his and easily 40-50% of the congregation raised their hands. So we are going to have lunch and an intro into the topic of criticsm. We also do an adult learning section on inspired redaction and other key concepts. ____I would encourage all the pastors to not shy away from the hard stuff, but especially this topic. It may not lend itself to preaching and easy answers, but I think – like all discipleship – that it makes for a deeper, more humble, confident faith.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com Joey

    There is a job security issue. Silence on certain, controversial, topics is common wisdom for keeping one’s job. I won’t contend that this is good or worthwhile but it is true. My own church (I’m an associate) simply has an underdeveloped theology because of this silence. I’ve found that introducing new conversations is a delicate and slow process. It is like navigating a mine field in some churches.

  • RJS

    Kyle (#3)
    I have come full cycle as well – the OT is part of our heritage, our story, and our scripture to be embraced. But we have to ask the right questions, have the right expectations, of it.
    And if people new to the blog want to see some of the earlier posts and conversations a search on RJS will turn up most of the posts I’ve written; just use the “Search This Blog” feature in the sidebar.

  • Glenn

    A few years ago I helped assist the high school youth pastor at the evangelical church I attended. I always asked the pastor to challenge the kids more, to push them and to wrestle with the issues and difficulty of the Bible. He replied he needed to keep the cookies on the bottom shelf! So we focused more on the daily issues of peer pressure, acceptance, grace, and God’s love. As I saw these now college kids come home again every summer, year after year, I noticed a drift away from the faith. Almost all the secular colleges they attended offered some courses that related to biblical criticism, archaeology and the bible, history and religious traditions, etc. Most of the kids took two or three of these courses, after all they had spent 12 years in the church, and accepted at face value much of what the professors had to teach. When they returned to visit and I would talk to them, they struggled with now hearing evangelical sermons, etc. that were in direct conflict with what they had learned and saw the church and members as simple, uninformed and wrong. Can’t say I blame them.

  • Clay Knick

    Scot,
    I look for teachable moments. They do come, if
    we are paying attention and when we lead Bible
    studies.
    I try to answer honest questions honestly and if
    I don’t know the answer I tell the person or group
    that I will study and try to answer the question
    the next week or in a few weeks.

  • Your Name

    The OT becomes a book we avoid rather than a heritage we embrace. For 20 years I found it difficult to read the OT except in carefully selected verse sized fragments – because it simply is not what it is supposed to be. A fact that is painfully obvious, even to an educated layperson.
    I’m not sure what you mean by saying that the OT “simply is not what it is supposed to be.” What is it supposed to be? What is it instead?
    Reading through the Old Testament – well, the Torah (Richard Elliott Friedman’s Commentary on the Torah with Hebrew text and English translation) – the irreverent impression that often comes to mind is that YHWH is or can be what Jules Winnfield (the Samuel L. Jackson character in Pulp Fiction) had embroidered on his wallet. But who is ever going to say that? :^)

  • RJS

    Your Name (#16) (it would help if people would identify after accidently getting a “Your Name” post.)
    Examples? Here are three – and we could go on…
    (1) Genesis 1-11 as a literal historical account, including Adam, Eve, Babel and the global flood.
    (2) Exodus as a coherent univocal account of the story of Israel.
    (3) Samuel, Kings, Chronicles as unbiased reporting of historical facts.

  • EricW

    Sorry, RJS. I’m #16 “Your Name” (can I blame the beliefnet “type the text you see in the box below” feature?)
    Thanks for your response.

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    My experience growing up in church, studying Bible at a Christian liberal arts college, and finally attending an evangelical seminary, has led me to this realization: We use words like ‘inspired’, ‘infallible,’ and ‘inerrant’ in different contexts to mean different things. It’s like a pyramid scheme where the higher up you get, the more ‘insider’ information you receive (even though the same words are used). So, in our churches we fight for inerrancy against those ‘liberals’ or ‘scientists’ who argue against a literal reading of the text. Then in college you are able to peak behind the curtain (so to speak) to understand that, well, the synoptic Gospel writers weren’t really concerned with the nitty-gritty details of chronology, etc., so even though there are seeming inconsistencies, the Bible is still ‘inerrant.’ Then in seminary we learn that, yes, the biblical authors held to a pre-scientific worldview, in which they probably did believe that the world was flat, etc., etc., but when properly understood phenomenologically, their writings are still ‘inerrant.’ ____Is this a conspiracy of silence? Perhaps. A more generous view might be that rather than a conspiracy, it is simply a pedagogical method, compelled by the notion that the deeper you get, the more you can discern these issues. Either way, I agree that it is unhelpful and, indeed, destructive to many people’s faith. I would much rather an informed pastor raise these issues in church or youth group than have the congregation run into them reading Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    There may well be a conspiracy of silence and a conspiracy of convenience by pastoral staff.
    I would like to suggest that the solution isn’t as simple as those in ministry just deciding to talk about it. There also can be a conspiracy of comfort on the part of many church-goers. With the OT, we are dealing with a written text, of another culture, with a different social and political structure. Sad to say, but many in the US (but not just the US) have little to no practice thinking deeply about written texts, other cultures, and social and political structures. Many people exist on sound bites and opinions. Like George MacDonald said, many people rearrange their prejudices and call it thinking.
    Thus, when you try to get people to think deeply about this stuff you can end up with a mess (like people getting very, very upset). It isn’t that you are introducing one more subject, the OT, into a disciplined intellectual grid. It is that you are trying to teach them to begin reading and thinking. I deeply desire to take the Sunday School classes that I teach deeper, but it is hard to get people to simply read the text, look for repeated ideas, do basic homework, etc.
    I don’t mean to be critical of people. Others have strengths where I have weaknesses and vice-versa. I’m just trying to look at both sides of the problem.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog David Opderbeck

    I could write about this all day. I think the answer is yes, no, and sometimes.
    Yes — I believe a great many pastors and educators know the problems and keep silent for fear of how their constituencies will react. Look at what happened to Pete Enns and at how his book — a relatively modest proposal in the bigger picture of Biblical scholarship — stirred up a hornet’s nest. There are many broods of vipers in the Church who will strike at the first sign of flinching.
    No — I believe a significant, significant, significant number of pastors and educators are living in denial about the problems. In the old “battle for the Bible” paradigm, critical methods were seen as prima facie invalid because they approached the Bible from a paradigm of unbelief. The result is that many have steeled themselves against even hearing and testing the claims of Biblical / historic / scientific criticism. They’re pretty sure Answers in Genesis has solved all this, and that’s the end of it.
    Sometimes — it seems to me that there are more an more people in evangelical circles willing to take Biblical / historic / scientific criticism seriously. There are at least here and there local church leaders who remain engaged with trends in the academy (I’m blessed to know some personally). And at the same time, there are some GOOD reasons to subject the conclusions of critics to criticism. So-called “scientific exegesis,” all the rage in secular Biblical Studies, excludes a priori any “real” miracles behind any Biblical text, including the bodily resurrection of Jesus (note that this has noting to do with the realtion of the Bible to the natural sciences — by “scientific” they mean an exegetical method that precludes the supernatural.) To the “scientific” exegetes, N.T. Wright is a fundamentalist — go figure.
    The bottom line is that IMHO churches engaging the educated and informed young people of today, especially in a North American context, cannot, cannot continue to keep silent or live in denial and claim to be exercising their missional responsibilities.

  • http://julieclawson.com Julie Clawson

    I grew up not exactly facing a conspiracy of silence on these issues, but more like propaganda. Without ever actually being taught in church what the critical issues were, I was taught how wrong and deluded they were. (same think with science, but I actually was taught that in school). We were taught apologetics to defend that which we didn’t really understand – resorting to mockery when all else failed. In Christian college, we learned somewhat about textual criticisms (as in they exist, lets observe them as an historical phenomenon), but at least I never had to wrestle wit them.
    But in these days of heightened religious dialogue it is nearly impossible to avoid hearing about such questions. And anyone with half an inquisitive mind will ponder on such things (even if they have been taught to just make fun of the silly liberals and atheists). The number of people I know who have left the church because of this is staggering. For some it is because they lose their faith as they knew it – one based not on God but on a particular reading of scripture. But for others it is because they feel betrayed by the church – lied to and deceived for years.
    As with the politics thread yesterday – is hiding one’s true self and beliefs (i.e. lieing to your church) really the path we want pastor’s to have to follow. I understand job security and keeping the good tithers in the church, but no matter how realistic those situations are – why should they trump truth?

  • Kyle

    “Look at what happened to Pete Enns and at how his book — a relatively modest proposal in the bigger picture of Biblical scholarship — stirred up a hornet’s nest.”
    I think it’s a good book, and should be read alongside Kenton Sparks “God’s Word in Human Words,” but to be fair to both sides of the argument, it’s not like all of those who were criticizing the book, such as Greg Beale’s critiques in Themelios, are fundamentalists and are not being honest in regards to the arguments of historical criticism.

  • Dan H.

    I often get the impression that Christians (myself included) are often too easily satisfied with an answer to a question. When we care more about proving ourselves right then about exploring the truth then we’re bound to set ourselves up for trouble.
    I guess what I’m saying is that there may be a conspiracy of silence, but I think the problem is more endemic than that.

  • http://www.myspace.com/tonyandshanda Tony Simoncini

    Silence of the Lambs or are they being led by blind-fold wearing shepherds?
    No doubt there is a conspiracy of silence in the Christian community. Just ask Dr. Enns…if I remember correctly the man lost his job for some suggestions in a book he wrote speaking of some of these same issues. Some believe you must read it (the bible) word for word as it is…use it as “data” for site texts to prove any point you need, especially when dealing with people who are too liberal to let loose in the evangelical community…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I have heard over and over again how my questioning and wrestling with the scriptures is going to get me in trouble, and I think what they were saying was…”when you find out that everything you have been taught is bordering on a big fat lie, you will be tempted to lose your faith, so don’t ask any questions, just sit there in your chair and enjoy the status quos!”
    But what I realized when all of these “truths” began to unravel right before my eyes, was that the compilation of words from Men and women who follow the one true God were beautiful and perfect even in their rawest form, and I needed to stop thrusting my wants, needs, and desires onto them in order to interpret them. That is when interpretations get messed up and so do the people who are subject to hearing those interpretations on a Sunday basis.
    So I do believe there is a silence in some circles, but I also think there is a blindfold on many pastors and leaders around the country who are not as “scholarly” nor do they have the desire to be true to the text, because that is not what people want to hear…truth!!! They want to hear what makes them feel better in a lot of cases so the leaders just stick with what works!

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog David Opderbeck

    Kyle (#23) — you’re right, I don’t mean to suggest that people such as Beale and Carson who offer serious discussion about a proposal such as Enns’ are among the “vipers” (even if I think they are missing the point). The vipers IMHO tend to be lay people and popular leaders who control or want to control church boards, denominational heirarchies, seminary and mission boards, etc.

  • RJS

    Lots of excellent comments and observations.
    Joey (#12) The job security issue is a big one. And I realize that. Sometimes preaching or even adult classes, small groups may be inappropriate as Andy (#8) and John C (#10) suggest – although I would think that a voluntary small group approach could work.
    And David (#21,26) I agree – the answer is probably yes, no, and sometimes.
    But I would like to consider this from another angle as well, getting to the second question in the original post. And lets make it a a concrete example. I am a layperson – not part of church leadership, not part of the guild of Christian scholars or Pastors. I am however, a well educated and well read layperson.
    If I as a 20 something grad student (or now as a 40 something university professor) came up to you as pastor with hard questions about the nature of scripture what would you do?
    I am lucky; I have never been met with a hard core conservative reactionary response, the “propaganda” Julie (#22) refers to.
    But I have met several other reactions – most of them unhelpful (the best response was being directed to this blog). Andy (#8) touches on many of them.
    How should we respond?

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog David Opderbeck

    RJS (#27) — I’m not a pastor. To me, a close to ideal pastoral response would be :

    “Great questions. Glad to see you’re digging deep into these things! Be assured that these are not things to be afraid of. Many of them are things the Church has wrestled with for centuries. Some of them are newer and might take centuries more to work out, if we ever really work them out. Here at Grace First Nondenominational Community Relevant Friendly Neighborhood Church, we think studying the scriptures in all their divine-human strangeness, and bringing all Truth to bear in how we understand God and life, is an inexhaustible adventure, one God encourages us to take! If you end up reaching some critical conclusions, that’s ok (I’ve reached some of my own, you know) — let’s stay unified in our common commitment to Jesus as Lord and to the Bible as “scripture,” something uniquely given by God to guide the Church. Along the way, we’ll continue to trust that the Holy Spirit will illumine us and we’ll continue to refine our understanding together. Maybe you’d be interested in our “Biblical Studies” small group, which meets each month to discuss openly the challenges and new vistas offered by archeology, the natural sciences, and other areas in relation to the Bible as “scripture” (don’t worry, this isn’t a “prove the Bible is true” group!)

  • http://www.theophiliacs.com Tony Hunt

    I completely agree that the OT is illusive and confusing for many, myself included. But don’t count out the NT either. When I took some advanced Textual Criticism studies, many of the lay students were very very upset that these kinds of issues were not discussed when they were younger. For many, a child-like trust in Scripture is never available again.

  • RJS

    David (#28),
    Great response – you and I think alike here, perhaps because as educated laypeople we have confronted many of the same “demons”.

  • EricW

    I completely agree that the OT is illusive and confusing for many, myself included. But don’t count out the NT either. When I took some advanced Textual Criticism studies, many of the lay students were very very upset that these kinds of issues were not discussed when they were younger. For many, a child-like trust in Scripture is never available again.
    As someone has said, it’s not that we don’t know enough about Jesus; it’s that we know too much! If we had only 1 Gospel instead of 4, we’d KNOW what Jesus did during the last week of His life and the order in which He did things. We’d KNOW what He said on the cross. We’d KNOW who was at the tomb. We’d KNOW whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal or not. We’d KNOW when He gave the various parts that make up the Sermon on the Mount (or was it on the plain?) We’d KNOW the right version of the Lord’s Prayer. We’d KNOW what the words of institution were (maybe; there’s still 1 Corinthians). We’d KNOW what He said and where He said His Olivet Discourse. We’d KNOW how many blind men he healed. We’d KNOW how many times He cleansed the Temple. We’d KNOW the names of His twelve disciples. We’d KNOW how Judas died (unless that 1 Gospel was Matthew’s). We’d KNOW who washed His feet with her hair, and whether she anointed His feet or His head, and whose house it happened in.
    Or would we?

  • T

    Great post; great comments on such an important topic. I agree, there is a choice made by many church leaders to avoid certain topics, or do one-sided propaganda on these issues, for the various reasons described. I will add that many ministries don’t deal with these issues out of a positive desire to focus on what they perceive to be “the weightier matters” of the faith, and to avoid arguments over disputable ones. But to the extent the church is being silent or ignorant out of fear or denial, I totally agree we are only setting up folks for a harder fall.
    That said, as one who has practiced a little of the physically “impossible” myself through Christ, and encouraged others to do the same, I always get a little nervous about criticizing or analyzing the OT or NT accounts on the basis of “what we [already] know from scientific studies to be possible and impossible.” The answer to the question, “Was there a literal flood?” can be very similar to the answer of “Did Jesus literally walk on water / heal the sick / rise from the dead?” when we come to scripture with pre-set ideas of what is physically possible, or what could be “fact.” I don’t think this means that we should be either threatened or unwilling to discuss scientific discoveries and long-held historical conclusions based on scripture, but neither can we make the conclusion of what’s “possible” or even historical fact apart from revelation’s bold claims. Each needs to push back on the other; we need to be cautious about what each really “proves” by itself.

  • http://thethinplaceproject.wordpress.com/ Andrew

    This was a great post. As a pastor I do think there is a conspiracy of silence but I’m not sure its always from the pastor side of things. I spoke about some of the issues recently and how approaching them in my grad level studies has actually strengthened my faith. But other members said such things as, “It doesn’t matter”, “I don’t want to know” and so on. I think that acknowlding some of these “blue parakeet texts” means deeper teaching, modeling, growing, and discipline of both pastors and lay people that some people simply don’t want. Its a lot easier to “simply believe” than deeply study, question, wrestle, and possibly walk away with a limp touched by God but no longer the same.

  • RJS

    Tony (#29) and Eric (#31),
    I agree that the NT has problems of its own. But consider the examples Eric mentions – correspondence in the gospel accounts.
    My current thinking is that the reality of the four gospels, agreements and discrepancies, is one of the most important pieces of data we have in thinking through how to consider the Bible as the word of God. The agreements and discrepancies between Samuel, Kings and Chronicles provide another key element. We could probably come up with more.
    This is our heritage, the book inherited from the church, superintended by the Holy Spirit. Won’t we be much better off if we let the data define what it means for the Bible to be the inerrant word of God than if we force our definition of inerrant on the data? Or is there a problem with this?
    Andrew (#33),
    I realize that the pressure for silence is often from the people rather than the pastor… it is a tough problem. But simply letting it slide isn’t the answer (and am not suggesting that you think it is) because it is causing an increasing crisis of faith for many. If help doesn’t come from the church there are plenty of skeptics ready with “obvious” answers.

  • http://http:homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone offer this answer, so I’ll go, even if I’ve come late to the party:
    What if these pastors actually think these things are a load of crap?
    What if they think that most of these “problems” are born of a antisupernatural bias and go away if you believe in God?
    Gen 1-11: There are a lot of educated preachers who think Gen 1 is, in some way or another, compatible with modern science (e.g., Reasons to Believe). Even if you accept some kind of evolution, that doesn’t stop you from seeing it as possible that there was, in some form or another, a special “first” human pair — whether spiritually or biologically — who really did introduce sin into the human experience. Maybe, just maybe, God really did do something crazy with water (though, iirc, a “global” flood was never assumed until the last 100 years or so) to the earth. Is it outside of the power of an omnipotent God? No.
    Maybe they don’t think the fact that the exodus is difficult to date is that much of a problem. Maybe they’re not bothered by the fact that Egypt didn’t record their utter humiliation.
    And so it goes.
    At the risk of offending someone, may I suggest that the fact that these folks don’t see it the way you do doesn’t mean they’re ignorant, hiding their heads in the sand, or hiding the facts. Maybe they know everything you do and think you’re wrong.
    Would it be nice if they’d say so on Sunday morning? Yes, but few pastors do any kind of apologetics or history sermons. They all go for the three application points and a story. Maybe that’s the problem we should be discussing.

  • Your Name

    In reading this post and the comments, I recalled the classic chapter in The Brothers Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor. It deals with human nature, freedom, and ambiguity.
    Do we really want to know about these problems? The Grand Inquisitor would say that the majority can’t handle the freedom that Jesus gives. The majority want to live and die happily in ignorance. Dostoevsky suggests that it is the church that is indeed in the know and leads the conspiracy. We can’t or don’t want to handle ambiguity. Put it in a tidy box for us and we will be happy, ignorant, but happy.
    Isn’t a pastor that knows the difficulties of the scripture but keeps it from the people like the Grand Inquisitor to a certain degree?
    I agree with you, RJS. We have to take the bible for what it is, and God for how he has chosen to set things up. Is that freedom?

  • MarkE

    Opps, 36 is me.

  • RJS

    ChrisB (#35),
    I think that you are right – and many pastors do think that these issues are not real problems if one believes in God – so there is no conspiracy of silence. They may also think that there are deluded (or worse) evangelical Christian scientists and evangelical Biblical scholars who claim otherwise. I am not interested in the extreme skeptical positions (what David (#21) identified as “scientific exegesis” for example) – these can be dealt with relatively easily.
    There are concordist approaches to parts of Genesis 1-11 (Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe are big on day-age and progressive creationism as an approach). These are worth talking about. But I have yet to find any of this capable of convincing me – for a variety of reasons.
    The occurrence of the Exodus, the date and the absence of mention in Egypt didn’t enter into my thoughts, although perhaps it would if I talked with some OT scholars. If I sit down and read Exodus in one sitting it is apparent that it was not written in one voice, by one person. This is what I meant by univocal – i.e. not by Moses or at least not by Moses alone, it is a compilation of sources.
    But the real problem is that most (almost all) pastors are not sufficiently educated in the wide range of fields necessary to really evaluate the issues. And seminary doesn’t teach it in three years, on top of everything else they must cover. So positions are not taken on the basis of evidence – but on the basis of something else…
    So – also at the risk of offending some, may I suggest that many of these folks are ignorant of the facts and this is why we have such a huge problem? They think they know – but don’t.
    I think that we need to look to evangelical scholars; biblical scholars, scientists, anthropologists, historians, etc. and let these people educate the pastors.
    None of us can possibly know everything about everything. None of us can master the body of human wisdom – the acquired knowledge of the human race. We all rely on experts and authorities for some major part of our knowledge and understanding. We need to take Christian scholars seriously and we need to allow those scholars to tell their part of the story honestly. More than this – we need to enable an environment where evangelical scholars can talk across disciplines and think through many of these tough issues, openly. This should not be as individuals but in community and in prayer, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    I don’t take positions out of skepticism or reliance on the secular academy. I am a scientifically literate expert in chemistry, physics, and biophysics. This obviously shapes some of my position. I also read Christian scholars in other areas (history, Old Testament, New Testament, theology, genetics, geology, sociology, and we could continue) – to evaluate their approach and to consider their evidence. This also shapes much of my opinion. We need more Christian scholars in all areas of the academy and we need to support and listen to these Christian scholars.

  • Kyle

    RJS,
    We need not forget our past either! Evangelicals are notorious for this. David Livingstone’s “Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders” makes this point so well!
    You say: “I think that we need to look to evangelical scholars; biblical scholars, scientists, anthropologists, historians, etc. and let these people educate the pastors.”
    Since I focused on historical theology, I actually had a good bit of this stuff in seminary, but the majority going into the pastorate had to focus on business ethics, counseling, etc. Those are all vitally important in today’s church, but do not address this particular issue.
    That’s exactly why the movement away from denominational structures and into networks will be such a blessing for the church at large. Denominations focus their large gatherings on the structure, ordinance, etc. of the denomination, often spending days debating votes about topics that are impractical to the masses within the denominations. On the other hand, networks seem to spend more time developing their members and leaders.
    The two big groups where this has worked are among Emergents and young Reformed, and both show exactly how in a loose network it is easier to develop individual pastors, church planters, etc.

  • http://www.theophiliacs.com Tony Hunt

    RJS,
    This thing just botched a several paragraph response, and I have got to go. I’ll get back to ya

  • Brian

    I think there is an often unstated assumption behind the “conspiracy” that the world is actually pretty simple, and all we have to do to understand it is to get a good handle on the Bible. Getting people beyond that assumption is not so easy.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    ChrisB(35) and RJS(38) — I think the fact that many (most?) pastors think they understand the issues and have the answers is the heart of the problem. In my experience, most pastors don’t understand the issues, and the answers they offer therefore stink. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but really, that’s the way it is. And when the educated lay person decides to check all this out for him- or herself, and finds out that the answers on offer stink, that is liable to produce a crisis of faith. Like many others, I’ve experienced this myself.
    Now, if a pastor or anyone else has really studied the issues, and really is sensitive to the problems, and says, “I understand the problems with my position, but I think the best solution currently is X,” I have no problem with that, whatever X is, even if it’s a solution I think stinks. If that’s the approach, we have a range of options on the table and a basis for accepting and affirming each other as we seek the Truth together. But in my experience, that approach is rare. Usually it’s a suspicious wave of the hand and some stinky answers to the wrong questions.

  • Mike

    RJS,
    I tried to send in something yesterday, but this Beliefnet site is unbelievable!
    You said recently:
    “So – also at the risk of offending some, may I suggest that many of these folks are ignorant of the facts and this is why we have such a huge problem? They think they know – but don’t.
    I think that we need to look to evangelical scholars; biblical scholars, scientists, anthropologists, historians, etc. and let these people educate the pastors.”
    First, I’m not sure there is a conspiracy of silence if “[Christian workers] think they know- but don’t.” Indeed, if you’ll frame it that way, not only is the conspiracy missing, but you point to a privileged location of knowing the situation.
    Second, I’m sure that your proposal of who to look to for education is already happening.
    Third, I’m reluctant to have this “problem” land at my feet and others with the allegation that I’ve contributed to its creation: assuming it exists.
    Fourth, there is a problem, and personalizing the problem doesn’t really do justice to the severity of the situation, nor does it nuance the contribution of others. Namely: the educators you suggested above (including Enns etal) helping with different methods and results for seminarians, and then later pastors attempting to communicate and cultivate congregations with completely different questions and experiences in reading the OT. Even as I review my writing of the above, I am aware of how sharply I’ve reduced the complexity of the “problem.”
    OK: let’s see if this will post!

  • Rick

    I am a little troubled by the tone in many of these comments. There is a sense of arrogance.
    An answer to a difficult question may be “stinky” to one person, yet a rose-like fragrance to another, no matter the education level.
    As ChrisB said in #35, we need to be careful about casting generalizations that are far too wide. Believe it or not, many seminaries do address these issues (I attended one), and many highly educated, well-read people come to different conclusions.
    One person may have no problem with Genesis, the Exodus account, etc.. read a certain way. Another may wrestle with just the Genesis portion. Yet another may wrestle with many.
    As we encourage people to be careful how they read Scripture, and not put expectations on it that are not appropriate, we need to make sure we are looking in the mirror first.
    Andy in #8 may very well be right: there is probably no intentional conspiracy and there are other reasons these issues are not regularly brought up.
    That being said, I strongly agree with RJS in #38, “We need more Christian scholars in all areas of the academy and we need to support and listen to these Christian scholars.”

  • Mike

    RJS,
    OK: my comment posted! :)
    Here’s my participation in the “solution.” One, I preach from the RCL. I discovered that there are tons of OT texts that are great for the congregation’s maturity and my maturity. Two, in our campus ministry, I lead a one-week survey on the OT. The students come in with knowing next to nothing; the biggest criticism when we finish is why we can’t read more. Often the students begin to make important connections of continuity between the OT and NT. Finally, I pray the Psalms and Proverbs aloud: if that doesn’t penetrate the silence, I’m not sure what will…

  • RJS

    Rick (#44),
    I would not use the word “stinky” myself. But in David’s defense, while the explanations may reassure some (with a rose-like scent), for many others they increase the level of disillusionment. The basic progression becomes:
    “If this is the best the church can put forward we have a problem”
    followed by
    “If this is the best the church can put forward, perhaps the whole faith is suspect”
    followed by:
    “Dump the faith – it doesn’t hold together”
    or – more productively: followed by the kind of thinking you see from me, from David, from Peter Enns, … None of us have the answers, but we are trying to work from a framework of Christian faith to reconcile all of the information in God’s creation and in scripture.

  • RJS

    Wow – the Mozilla Firefox browser is now retaining my name so I don’t have to type it each time. If only Explorer7 would do the same.

  • RJS

    Mike,
    On Beliefnet – the verification text times-out (although it takes longer than it used to, small blessings.) I always copy my comment – so I can paste and resend if necessary.
    I agree that conspiracy is often not the right word.
    How we “know” is an interesting topic – we all know many things on the authority of those we trust.
    The vast majority of Christians who truly understand the evidence for the age of the earth take an ancient earth as a given. Those very few who don’t accept an old earth base their decision ultimately on the Bible – more accurately on a specific interpretation of the Bible and the Christian story – as source of knowledge, not on the scientific evidence.
    The vast majority of Christians who truly understand the paleontological or genetic evidence take the general schema of evolution as a given. This is not to say that we understand everything – there are legitimate questions that can be raised, Behe and intelligent design are legitimate question. Again – those very few who reject the entire evolutionary schema base their position on an interpretation of the Bible not the scientific evidence.
    Christian Scholars who really dig into Biblical Studies have a very hard time assenting to the positions of the conservative systematic theologians on many issues related to scripture and particularly for this post Genesis 1-11. This also holds for New Testament studies however, as in redaction of the gospels and authenticity of 2 Peter.
    The irony is that the geologists will insist on old earth but feel free to doubt evolution; the biologists will insist on evolution but feel free to doubt the archaeologists; the biblical scholars will insist that we look honestly at the development of the OT from the sources and the incorporation of ANE myth to tell a theological truth, but feel free to doubt the genetic evidence for common descent; the geneticist will insist on common descent but feel free to doubt the conclusions of evangelical OT scholars on Isaiah or Daniel.
    I think that we need to take Christian scholars seriously and we need to allow all of these scholars to tell their part of the story honestly.

  • Rick

    RJS #46-
    I am all for those studies since they attempt (sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly) to help us better understand the truth of Scripture.
    My concern is that there seems to be in this thread a degrading of those who do not hold to the same concerns or views. The title of this post almost contributes to that. It is as if people who do not wrestle with some of these issues are automatically assumed to either be uneducated, unintelligent, or not understanding of the topic- otherwise they would have the same struggles. But that is not necessarily the case. They might actually come to different conclusions.
    As I stated earlier, even those who struggle with certain portions of Scripture do not all struggle with the exact same portions.
    I may differ with someone who holds to a young earth, but I also try to keep in mind that the person may be highly educated and well-read on the subject. I don’t want to shrug off our disagreement by claiming a “superior” mindset.
    In regards to opening up more of these discussions in Christian circles, I think if one’s high regard and trust in Scripture is reaffirmed at the beginning of such a conversation, then people might be more apt to listen.

  • http://www.elementalcm.com Henry Zonio

    “we sometimes ask the wrong questions and have the wrong expectations of the Bible”
    YES! I like how that is worded. Growing up in a traditional evangelical/pentecostal setting, much of the “blue parakeets” were simply glossed over. Now, going back and rereading Scripture through different glasses, I have a fuller understanding of the “God Story” of the Bible. It’s amazing how much Scripture opens up and the defensive walls go down when we start to ask the right questions and adjust our expectations of the Bible.

  • Mike

    RJS,
    Amen: Let’s take the Christian scholars seriously, and give the permission and social space to speak with honesty.
    I noted your conversation with your former campus pastor, “[H]ow should Christian colleges prepare college students, especially science students, for the intellectual challenges that will surely come in graduate study and the professional world?”
    I’m not serving at a Christian college, so addressing this question in ministry does not get the privilege of lectures, labs, office meetings, and colloquia with which to engage the question of method that you raise. And, I’d assume- correct me here- that you’d concur with me that there are a variety of authentic and faithful responses to the question of preparation. But, I will try one stab at one possibility.
    I am thinking of Shults’ book here, “Postfoundationalist Task of Theology”, when I say: we often think in binary ways- good and bad, right and wrong- and those dichotomies may (emphasis here on “may”) be among the sources of the problems we encounter in answering the question of preparation. (Shults does not use the above binaries…)
    Here’s where the preparation question can be its thorniest: our emotional reaction to some proposals (6-day creation literally, or parting of the Red Sea) often sets up barriers from giving ourselves an honest and responsible reading and listening to others. This kind of reaction is hardly limited to young adults or people within the church!
    So, I’ve attempted to introduce the question: how are you feeling about that [topic]? This often comes up in the proposal that Genesis 1 is a liturgical text; far too many students are stuck, whether they believe it or not, that we can only read that text as a literal description of the origins of the earth. My attempts have had limited success: too many students have not developed the emotional hardware to deal with the feelings that accompany a genuine consideration of the proposals from the Christian scholars.
    But, I would offer that this may be one way forward into the listening you are suggesting.

  • joanne

    great questions. this may sound radical but i think even Biblical writers heard through the filters of their culture. And that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s character and the fulfillment of the law. Biblical writers of the old testament applied what they understood of God in their own world. They held an Ancient Near Eastran view and processed the revelation of God within that context bringing as much justice and righteousness into that world as possible. ____problems for me…____1. the concubine that was thrown out to the men of the town and was gang-raped all night long. ____2. Jeptha’s daughter who was sacrificed to God because of an oath to sacrifice the first thing he laid eyes on. ____3. that women were property that were not to be coveted in the same breath as ox and other animals.____4. that infants and children were wiped out at God’s command____5. that it was better for Lot’s virgin daughter to be given to the men seeking to have sex with the angels and that Lot would even consider it.____

  • Rebeccat

    Rick,
    I don’t think we can just say, “well some people don’t struggle with these things, and who are we to say that they are wrong?” It’s one thing not to struggle with these things personally. However, a pastor who has no real answer for someone who does or who treats someone struggling as a threat or heretical is not doing their job. And taking the issue even further, a pastor who has such a shallow understanding of the issues that they do not even understand how their answers will be taken by someone who is struggling is pretty much doing the opposite of their jobs: they are driving people from the faith and preventing deeper spiritual formation rather than aiding it. All of us, but pastors in particular, have been given a charge not just to develop their own faith, in which case not struggling personally with these sorts of issues might be acceptable. We have been charged to bring the gospel to others, including those for whom the OT is a real challenge. Not being prepared to deal generously and reasonably intelligently with these issues isn’t just a matter of personal thinking, but a derelition of duty. At the very least we need pastors willing to do say, “I may not have the best grasp of the issue. It’s not something I’ve had to struggle with. Maybe you could look over there because I know other people have struggled with and come to different conclusions on the matter.” Instead too often we get pastors who haven’t struggled with the issues, suspects that those who do are not really faithful Christians, offers a shallow, often faulty explanation and think they have really done something. This drives people from the faith, interferes with the ongoing spiritual development of those who do struggle and is simply not acceptable.bnm

  • http://darrenbrett.wordpress.com/ Darren King

    Joanne,
    Agreed. Even revelation is interpreted through a worldview filter. Which has given rise to the idea of trajectory hermeneutics. Here the question is: knowing that the NT writers were interpreting revelation through a filter, how might we look at certain issues differently, now that this worldview filter has shifted?

  • Rick

    Rebeccat-
    I agree with you that pastors, maybe even all maturing Christians, should be prepared to deal with such issues- whether they have struggled with it or not. I have no problem with that, and think it may be beneficial for all. “All Scripture is inspired by God”, so we should not fear seeking its truth. If we look at ways in which we might better understand how He intends us to read it, then great!
    My problem is with the tone in this thread that says, “those who have not struggled with it, and/or those who come to different conclusions, just don’t understand the issue to my degree (because they must have not studied it sufficiently)”.
    For example, your comment equated “have not stuggled with it” with “not having the best grasp of the issue”. That is not necessarily a correct assumption.
    As I said, some will have a problem with my belief in an old earth, but that does not mean I should immediately question the intellect or education of those who disagree.
    That being said, your tone was more of concern rather than some of the almost arrogant tone I sensed in the thread. I think much of your take on it should be a real encouragement to all as how to possibly proceed.

  • dopderbeck

    Oh dear, the word “stinky” got me in hot water! Fair enough, it’s a silly word in an effort to be a little funny. But at the end of the day, much as I agree that all knowledge is contextual and so on, I’m not a relativist.
    There is such a thing as Truth. We humans can’t ever express Truth perfectly, but we can move haltingly towards it. Given that, I think it’s fair to say that some “answers” “stink” because they simply, clearly, are not even close to engaging with Truth.
    If I look to a pastor to help me better understand Truth, and instead he insists that I accept something that is simply empirically not true, that “stinks.” If I look to a leader to model honest engagement with Truth, and what she does instead is suggest I recite some old formula and look the other way, that “stinks.” From the perspective of someone wrestling with difficult truths that produce cognitive dissonance with received beliefs, there’s no nicer way to put it.
    Maybe an extreme hypothetical would illustrate: imagine a young person raised in relative security who confronts for the first time the horrors of the Holocaust. She asks her pastor how a good God could allow that kind of suffering. The pastor responds, “you know, most of the claims made about the Holocaust are exaggerated. It wasn’t as bad as it’s made out to be, and most of those who suffered deserved it.” I think we’d all agree that this kind of answer would stink. Thankfully, I haven’t ever had to confront this one in real life (though it unfortunately does exist in some circles), but it seems to me that many of the prevaracations we do tend to offer are no less disingenuous.

  • Rick

    Dopderbeck-
    “Given that, I think it’s fair to say that some “answers” “stink” because they simply, clearly, are not even close to engaging with Truth….suggest I recite some old formula and look the other way, that “stinks.”
    From what I hear you and Rebeccat stress, is that pastors and leaders need to do a good job working through these issues with those who struggle. I agree.
    We just can’t immediately throw under the bus those who come to different, yet wise (not “stinky”) conclusions.

  • Rick

    that last line of #57 should conclude:
    …those who may come to different, yet wise conclusions (not the “stinky” ones).

  • RJS

    Rick,
    The problem is that all answers, even wise reasoned ones are not “created equal” – some carefully reasoned answers are better described as trash.
    I am a beginning amateur scholar of Greek – if I came to Scot with a translation of a passage that was total garbage he would be obliged to treat me with respect and to begin to explain where and why I went wrong. He would not be obliged to consider my translation as a valid interpretation to be considered on par with his own.
    My area of expertise is at the interface of chemistry and physics. If Scot came to me with a design for a perpetual motion machine I would be obliged to treat him with respect and to begin to explain where and why he went wrong. I would not be obliged to consider his proposal as potentially correct and worthy of serious consideration.
    In the church – on some of the issues relevant to this post and discussion (and all are not equal) we have a very real case of the blind leading the blind. I am obliged to treat all with respect and love – I am not obliged to consider the explanations as anything less than “stinky.”
    If this is arrogance, I submit that we are all arrogant in our areas of expertise. I also submit that we need humility, discernment, and a teachable spirit in areas outside of our expertise. And this goes for me as much as anyone.

  • Your Name

    RJS-
    Agreed. But cannot two experts in a certain field, say OT studies, come to differing conclusions on authorship, genre, etc…?
    P.S. I think you should change the title of this post to:
    “Conspiracy, or Stinky?” :)

  • Rick

    #60 was me. sorry

  • RJS

    Rick,
    Yes, experts can and do disagree – and the discussion moves to a whole different level in this situation. It can be hard for the non-expert to evaluate the discussion in some cases. But I think this is why we need open discussion among Christian scholars, with an agreement to treat each other with respect.
    Most (but not all) evangelical scholars have nuanced views of the kinds of topics considered here.
    But the views are not thought suitable for the local church and don’t filter down very well. Some pastors forget in the day-to-day grind of the job once course work is over, some may have come through seminary disillusioned that the school allowed such heresy to be taught, some are influenced by “job security” issues, and some may have even gone to seminaries where such views were not taught fairly and openly, whether assented to or not. Thus the pastor learned and perpetuates the “propaganda” referred to by Julie in #22.
    I think in some respects this is a “conspiracy of silence,” although I don’t really like that phrase as it indicates an intent to deceive, and I think that it is more a desire to protect than to deceive. But it damages our church and our ability to carry out some parts of our mission in our increasingly educated society.

  • Rick

    RJS-
    I am not sure what you are referring to in regards to open discussions between Christian scholars. Enns?
    My concern is that “conspiracy” seems to be claimed as an immediate reaction to certain answers or conclusions that may be given, rather than just in regards to the lack of discussion and conversation. It appears as if even when it is an “expert” who is giving a differing opinion, some will still claim “conspiracy”.
    That being said, and as stated before, I agree on the need to have local church leaders better prepared.
    You sentence, “But it damages our church and our ability to carry out some parts of our mission in our increasingly educated society”, is one of the best things said this entire thread. If church leaders see it in light of mission, they may be more apt to be better prepared.

  • dopderbeck

    In further defense of “stinky” — I have small children. My modes of communication sometimes spill over!

  • RJS

    Rick (#63),
    I am not thinking of any specific person or incident – but much more generically. My specific interest is science of course – this is my expertise.

  • http://www.theophiliacs.com Tony Hunt

    Left for a few days, coming back I noticed something which has oddly enough not been teased out yet. I want to keep the “conspiracy” word for now, and say that the professors are usually not the (only) ones to blame.
    The role of the Institution is huge. Generally, with few exceptions, the MONEY comes from those who want to be sure their teachers teach “inerrency/fallibility/reliability/historical/etc…” dogma’s. In addition, many, but not all Bible/Theology Professors have ministry credentials.
    In order to maintain employment, including the opportunity to write, research, and mentor students professors generally keep “in bounds” in the classroom, only venturing out in personal coffee breaks and moments of frustration. In addition, if they want to maintain their credentials in whatever denomination they are in they need to “toe the line” there as well.
    I have found that ALL of my well educated professors had issues with certain nuances and even doctrines. It is not rare by any account. Case in point, one of my prof’s, at a small Pentecostal school, was educated and taught at Harvard. He even did work for the Anchor Bible Dictionary. He would get in hot water for professing belief in “Three Isaiah’s” and the “JEPD” theory. These are, by most accounts, quite well established theories, even if the details are up for nuance.
    Most of my teachers were more than willing to have “off the record” conversations, but they felt that their chance/call to minister to students was worth more than what they lost by silence.
    For my part, I found this to be, in the end, a “betrayal” (in a soft way) of my trust. I felt that if I wasn’t able to find out “what really happened” then how could I ever expect my beliefs to stand up to critique by my non-Christian friends. Ultimately, it was the reason that I have left my mother denomination, because I felt that this honesty is absolutely connected to mission. That connection here on the posts is, as far as I can tell, the most profound insight so far. Honesty in these matters is going to be absolutely essential to mission in a post-Christian, well educated society.
    Sorry for the long post

  • Tony Hunt

    joey #12 actually did mention this. I’m less original than I thought!

  • RJS

    Tony,
    Thanks, I’m glad you came back and commented.
    I find myself backing off the term “conspiracy” somewhat because it carries a connotation of motive that doesn’t really capture the whole situation. Many factors and motives are at work.
    But it is a problem for our mission in the world. And you give an excellent synopsis of the situation in too many places.

  • Your Name

    i have a friend who has a graduate degree from a well-known conservative evangelical seminary, but he finds his studies have brought him to the place where he can’t hold to the definitions of inerrancy as commonly believed or taught, nor possibly even to the classic definition of the trinity.
    he realizes that he can’t sign the statements of faith in the churches he wants to serve in or for the journals/societies that might publish his papers.
    he believes, but is unwillingly to sign a “confession”/”profession” of faith that is a simplistic and reductionist and perhaps dishonest declaration or definition of, e.g., “inerrancy.”
    he doesn’t know what to do future-wise in terms of jobs and ministry. if seminaries and churches and pastors were more honest about these biblical difficulties and less adamant about portraying the texts and things like inerrancy in black and white terms, he might have a chance to serve in these churches.

  • http://www.theophiliacs.com Tony Hunt

    RJS,
    I don’t know if you take unsolicited requests for contact but I had a couple science related questions I would love to ask you. tonydhunt@gmail.com
    “Your Name #69″
    Your friend might want to look into some of the “mainline” denominations. I myself found a charismatic Episcopalian church and I haven’t been so excited in some years to be a part of a worshiping community.

  • Paul

    I don’t think the term “conspiracy” is too strong to use about this very common problem. It is a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation in many faith communities. Perhaps it is better described as conforming to the kind of conspiracy in dysfunctional families where everyone learns the rules: Don’t Talk (about certain things); Don’t Feel (what we don’t approve); Don’t Trust (we’ll use it against you and if you tell outsiders then you are a traitor).
    At one time it may have been possible to avoid sharing these “hard truths” about Scripture and theology to “protect” people from being discouraged who could not handle the information well. After all, how many of them would ever read anything about the issues anyway?
    But the internet and programing on the History Channel, etc. people in the pews are finding the information in ways that communicate effectively. So, what are they to do with this new information? Clergy can find themselves in triangled communication where to be honest with part of the congregation means to be threatening to another part less open to dialog about the issues.
    But is there an integrity issue for a clergy who knows that these “issues” exist but builds a life-time of ministry never being honest with congregations about them? Are we “protecting” them or ourselves? I for one am not longer willing to be part of the dysfunctional conspiracy and at the same time I have no desire to place information before people who are not ready to digest it.


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