diagnosing conservative evangelical biblical scholarship

One of the chief marks of conservative evangelical biblical scholarship is that it claims to accept the validity of historical criticism but limits or adapts the critical method in order to avoid or reverse the standard conclusions of modern biblical scholarship….

[C]onservative evangelicals claim to be as interested as anyone in playing the academic game with historical-critical rules. They fully believe that the historical critical method, when employed properly, will sustain the Bible’s integrity and undermine the problematic results of modern biblical criticism. This is the essence of [what Mark Noll calls] “critical anti-criticism.”BFAC

From whence comes this anti-critical perspective, and what scholarly results does it produce?

….In their efforts to confront the threat of liberal modernism in the church, academy, and society during the early twentieth century, fundamentalists sent their young men (and occasionally, women) to universities where they could be properly credentialed and suitably trained to understand and then refute the work of modern biblical critics. 

In many universities, however, fundamentalist perspectives were so academically unpalatable that it was almost impossible for the theologically conservative student to study the Bible and graduate with his or her religious views intact, as was evidenced, even then, by the many conservative graduate students who surrendered their faith during their pursuit of a doctoral credential….

GWHW[I]t was impossible for bright, young fundamentalist students to avoid noticing that the biblical and historical evidence created, or at least seemed to create, substantial difficulties for their conservative doctrine of Scripture.  As a result, while their fundamentalist forefathers tended to reject biblical criticism with anti-intellectual fideistic responses, this new generation of fundamentalists from the 1950s and 1960s–now called evangelicals–intended to use their intellectual and critical skills to prove that fundamentalism’s view of the Bible was correct all along.

Consequently, a common characteristic of conservative, evangelical scholarship during the 20th century, and now at the dawn of a new century, is that it attempts to use accepted critical methodologies to demonstrate that certain conservative theological positions–such as the Bible’s inerrancy and historical accuracy–fit the biblical evidence and are intellectually satisfying.

[Over the next 25 pages, Sparks argues that these attempts are unsuccessful, cataloging 8 strategies commonly used by conservative evangelical scholars to adapt or limit critical biblical scholarship.]

Kenton  L. Sparks

God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship, 144-46

(additional paragraph divisions added)

"aha" moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (7): Christopher M. Hays
7 problems with a recent evangelical defense of the historicity of Genesis 1-11
another article on inerrantist biblical scholars and "protective strategies"
"aha" moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (14): Lindsey Trozzo
  • Jake Enns

    I only attended denominational schools to earn my Masters in Theology and have since found that most of what I had been taught cannot stand up to the critical method. Even though I was not directly exposed to the critical scholars, I have found that my reading of the Bible is very quickly becoming less and less fundamental every day and actually becoming fun.

  • Daniel Fisher

    “Over the next 25 pages, Sparks argues that these attempts are unsuccessful, cataloging 8 strategies commonly used by conservative evangelical scholars to adapt or limit critical biblical scholarship.”

    OK, you piqued my interest but left me in suspense…. are you going to let us in on what any of those 8 strategies are and/or why he finds them unsuccessful??

    • peteenns

      Maybe, or you can but the book. I think you owe it yourself to hear it from the horses mouth.

  • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

    It strikes me that a strength of fundamentalists could be a refusal to kowtow to falsehood introduced by [e.g.] Enlightenment thinking. For example, Alistair McFadyen in Bound to Sin argues that the Enlightenment perspective of the person as an autonomous self has resulted in severe contortions of original sin, moving it from a condition which infects the very construction of personhood (see his The Call to Personhood), to the contingent decisions of beings with non-corrupt “choosers”, to use a contemporary word.

    Another example can be found in Alister McGrath’s Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal:

        Brunner opened his analysis by acknowledging the importance of philosophy as a critical tool—a way of asking good questions, of probing the foundations of knowledge. Yet it must be recognized to have limits (Grenzen); limits that are defined by human reason—more precisely, human nature—itself.

    Philosophy, which fundamentally wishes to call everything into question, because it is only by doing so that it can be a basic discipline, dares not call into question one point, one certainty—namely, reason itself. It argues that reason is the only drilling tool with which we can work, and that we cannot drill into this tool itself. We cannot use reason to call reason into question.[4]

    Yet how can the foundation of a critical discipline also be its object? Is this not tantamount to epistemological circularity? While insisting that theology must welcome the critical questions philosophy raises, Brunner points out that philosophy itself has limits placed upon it by the very nature of its method. In effect, Brunner develops a critique of philosophy which affirms its critical role, while denying its foundational role. Philosophy is about the refinement of knowledge. But how is such knowledge to be attained in the first place? How can human beings gain access to the truth? (32)

    Emil Brunner describes distortions of personhood in his Man in Revolt; one can also see this in the secular literature, such as Donald E. Polkinghorne’s Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, Douglas and Ney’s Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, and F.A. Hayek’s Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason.

    • http://littlegreenfootballs.com/pages/freetoken freetoken

      In other (and fewer) words, you’ve constructed a strong enough of an epistemological wall that none of the discoveries of modern science will ever get through.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        Would you be willing to support that bare assertion? I see no reason, for example, for why we had to spend so much time believing in ‘economic man’. I see no reason for why we had to be so shocked by the results of the Milgram experiment. I see no reason we had to be so blind to what Hitler was doing. But hey, people like telling themselves pretty stories about themselves.

    • Stephen W

      Some would say that what you describe as the “strength” of fundamentalism is anything but…

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        So it’s a good thing we adopted models of human nature which hamstrung the “human sciences” for decades? I’m confused. Perhaps you could offer an argument instead of an assertion? At least cite some sources?

    • Rick

      I think this is a healthy perspective, helping take a more holistic approach, if done in a proper balance with the other factors and influences.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        Agreed. For example, Calvinists need Charismatics. The body of Christ needs unity. Without that, the various parts will fall prey to their characteristic sins.

    • peteenns

      Luke, fundametnalism’s modernist/Enlightenment substructure is often discussed. They didn’t transcend or resist it; they participated in it.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        You don’t think they did any successful resisting? I didn’t mean to say it was all successful. They fell prey to positivism, which was (and is) pretty terrible. But what about e.g. keeping belief in the supernatural alive? And if one has to swallow the philosophy + science of ‘evolution’, rejecting both seems better than accepting both. It is, of course, better to be able to discern—Heb 5:14.

        • peteenns

          No, they support these things on modernist terms. And (for heavens sake) fundamentalists did not keep “belief in the supernatural alive”. Really, Like.

          • Stephen W

            This ^

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Do you have suggested reading on this matter? See, I am extremely suspicious of anyone who has nothing good to say about a particular group. In my experience, God doesn’t work that way. Now, you didn’t give an exhaustive statement on fundamentalists, but in general, I have looked for what they may have contributed. Belief in the supernatural seems like a good candidate; perhaps you have another?

            There’s also this, from Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter Between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought:

            The burden of Wright’s contribution to the seventh volume of The Fundamentals was to discriminate between evolution as a scientific theory of species transmutation and evolutionism as a metaphysical worldview. The word evolution, he noted, “has come into much deserved disrepute by the injection into it of erroneous and harmful theological and philosophical implications. The widely current doctrine of evolution which we are now compelled to combat is one which practically eliminates God from the whole creative process and relegates mankind to the tender mercies of a mechanical universe the wheels of whose machines are left to move on without any immediate Divine direction.” Clearly Wright’s dissatisfaction with evolutionary theory centered less on exegetical questions about the early Genesis narratives than on the materialistic reductionism that had shorn natural history of any teleological element. (148)

            Volumes 1–7 of The Fundamentals are freely available. These are the books which give ‘fundamentalists’ their name. The above isn’t supernaturalism, but it does expose a keen ability to separate between the evidence and how it is interpreted—a distinction that those in the Vienna Circle later attempted to collapse.

            P.S. My name is ‘Luke’.

          • Joseph

            “In my experience, God doesn’t work that way.” – Luke Breuer

            In your experience? Are you a prophet?

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            LB: See, I am extremely suspicious of anyone who has nothing good to say about a particular group. In my experience, God doesn’t work that way.

            J: In your experience? Are you a prophet?

            Nobody has called me a prophet and I wouldn’t take that label on myself, although I do think that the Charismatic gifts are still in full operation. The word ‘prophet’ is also ambiguous: I am told by a reputable source that ‘prophecy’ often involved merely inspired preaching, and not new revelation. So you’ll have to be more specific if you want a better answer from me than the one I give.

            My first response is:

            Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46a)

            I could easily see someone asking, “Can anything good come out of fundamentalism?” And yet, God routinely extracted a remnant from his disobedient people. I trust this pattern to continue. Furthermore, I trust Paul:

                For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
                The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12:14–26)

            The idea that I don’t need fundamentalists? I see that as utter violation of what Paul says, here. Furthermore, I see it as utter violation of Jesus’ words in Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23. I am not prepared to argue that fundamentalists are in no way pursuing the will of God, and that makes at least some of them my brothers and sisters in Christ, per Jesus’ words in Mk 3:31–35.

            Can you see errors in the above logic? Have I misinterpreted scripture? If you do want to call me a ‘prophet’, we could abide by the formula in 1 Cor 14:26-33a.

          • Joseph

            Thanks for your reply.

            “Have I misinterpreted scripture?” – Luke Breuer

            Your understanding of scripture may well be deeper than mine.

            May I ask what denomination you belong to?

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            I don’t associate with any denomination. I am troubled by the very existence of ‘denomination’, given 1 Cor 12, not to mention Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23. Emil Brunner’s The Misunderstanding of the Church (recommended to me by Roger Olson) has intensified my suspicions. Read Eph 4:1–6 and tell me how many times Paul uses ‘one’. Now, tell me how that reconciles with Christianity as seen, today. I cannot make it reconcile! And thus, I suspect something’s up. Additional clues may be supplied by Os Guinness’ The Gravedigger File, The Last Christian on Earth, and Jacques Ellul’s The Subversion of Christianity.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Luke, you say, “God routinely extracted a remnant from his disobedient people.” I know this is a popular concept. But I can’t see it as being either usable or actually helpful. For example, if you are very familiar with first century Judaism (which many scholars call “Judaisms”), I don’t see how one can ID one group as such a “remnant”, then or prior at really ANY period in Jewish history. Can you trace any such remnant through or even give criteria for who/what they were at any given period? I’ve personally not seen that even attempted although I’ve heard many USE the concept, and used to (long ago) accept it without much thought.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            For example, if you are very familiar with first century Judaism (which many scholars call “Judaisms”), I don’t see how one can ID one group as such a “remnant”, then or prior at really ANY period in Jewish history.

            Well, before Jesus started his ministry, there was Nathanael and Anna, not to mention Joseph, Mary, and those who flocked to Jesus’ birth.

            In the OT, you have stuff like Jer 21:8–10 and of course, the famous Deut 30:1–10.

            Can you trace any such remnant through or even give criteria for who/what they were at any given period?

            I’m not sure what you’re looking for, above what I have already said. I cannot give you an extensive genealogy, that’s for sure. Instead, I argue that this ‘remnant’ idea is very important for how we think of evil: how God deals with it, and how we deal with it. For example, I see many Calvinists mention the “dishonorable vessels” in Rom 9:19–24, while staying conveniently silent on 2 Tim 2:20–21. And let’s not even talk about the use of atimos in 1 Cor 12:23 (compare to atimia). But I digress.

            Much of this thought spawned from deep meditation on Heb 5:14‘s kalos vs. kakos, where I wondered whether kakos was being translated in the best way. Might it mean “not what it should be”, as if some agape, or perhaps ministry of reconciliation could transform it from kakoskalos? Then I saw Enns’ Richard Rohr’s interesting (though I don’t agree) take on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which really set my mind going (as one can see).

            Note that I haven’t come to anything like a systematic theology or even fragment of systematic theology on the topic of “how to fight evil”. Even the term “fight evil” is dangerous, unless you see yourself as not fighting a whole person, but only e.g. contradictions in the person. (See Emil Brunner’s Man in Revolt, with a title which is a bad translation from Der Mensch im Widerspruch; Widerspruch contains the notion of contradiction.) I post comments like these to see if others have thoughts to contribute to mine, and me to theirs. Our ‘leaders’ are clearly failing us, so I think it’s up to us ‘followers’ to plow forward in trying to understand scripture in a deep, meaningful, and applicable way.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            I would like to confirm: do you think fundamentalists didn’t do any better in resisting modernism than other believers?

          • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

            Fundamentalists resist modernity about as well as a homeowner defends his house by using a flamethrower against a perceived intruder. They’ll have succeeded in keeping criticism at bay, at considerable cost.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Would you be willing to give a more straightforward, clear, hard-to-misinterpret answer to:

            LB: I would like to confirm: do you think fundamentalists didn’t do any better in resisting modernism than other believers?

            ? What I’m going after here is very fine discernment—of the Heb 5:14-kind. Is it the case that some groups of Christians—perhaps fundamentalists, perhaps not—have done even a slightly better job at resisting the presuppositions of modernism, than the vast majority?

            BTW, I don’t disagree with your “at considerable cost”; I think a body of Christians in deep violation of 1 Cor 12 would be expected to exhibit a great number of ailments and failures. I think there is a very good reason Jesus uttered Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23 as the only empirical evidence non-believers would have: unity amidst diversity is tremendously hard!!

          • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

            I’m not sure I can answer the question without more specifics about the particular fundamentalist movement in question. For example, I’ve been very critical of the neo-Reformed movement, but I’ve had some good things to say about them as well – and I can do this because they have a fairly well defined platform. But fundamentalism is more of an attitude than anything else. My point was that even if fundamentalists did something better than other Christians, they are doing far too much damage to make it worthwhile. And if part of your project is to increase Christian unity, I’d be surprised if you had an easier time achieving that among fundamentalists than most other Christian groups. On the issue of resisting modernism – I don’t even know how that is possible. We exist in the intellectual and cultural milieu we exist in. The more someone tries to set themselves back in a pre-Enlightenment mindset, the more sharply they’ll be defined by rooting out Enlightenment thoughts and concepts of “modernity.” Like a man standing in the rain with an umbrella declaring he is unaffected by the rain. Well, sure, the man has succeeded in keeping dry – but the fact he has an umbrella shows he is aware of the rain. In the same way, fundamentalists react to modernity and it shapes them in ways that they refuse to acknowledge.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            My point was that even if fundamentalists did something better than other Christians, they are doing far too much damage to make it worthwhile.

            See, I’m not convinced of this. For example, I think liberal† Christians have likewise done a tremendous amount of damage. What I truly believe is that a fractured body of Christ is an intensely sick and hurting body of Christ, and I’m not sure that anyone comes out much ahead of anyone else. I’m not sure it would make sense to God to allow anyone to do particularly well, without being in a state of unity with all other believers throughout spacetime. I truly believe that “If one member suffers, all suffer together”.

            † For some reasonable definition of ‘liberal’.

            And if part of your project is to increase Christian unity, I’d be surprised if you had an easier time achieving that among fundamentalists than most other Christian groups.

            I’m not so sure. See, for example, Francis Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian. Schaeffer is often seen as a fundamentalist, but that meant he really believed in scripture like Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23. He believed that those passages are true. I’m not sure how many Christians really, actually, believe that in such a way that it flows into their actions. What do you think?

            On the issue of resisting modernism – I don’t even know how that is possible. We exist in the intellectual and cultural milieu we exist in. The more someone tries to set themselves back in a pre-Enlightenment mindset, the more sharply they’ll be defined by rooting out Enlightenment thoughts and concepts of “modernity.”

            I am not arguing for any sort of “going back”. Instead, I suggest we subvert modernism, to bring it more inline with Truth. For example, I’m becoming convinced that the NT was subversive in at least two ways: (i) against authoritarian empires; (ii) against slavery. The first comes from NT Wright’s “empire criticism”; the second comes from asking the question: how does one undermine the reasons for slavery’s existence, in a way which doesn’t bring about a fourth Servile War?

            In the end of The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness talks about a kind of subversion, a kind of power working through weakness. I think that is the best option for today. See also James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World and Jacques Ellul’s The Subversion of Christianity.

          • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

            Luke: let’s take someone considered a very liberal Christian, say, John Shelby Spong. You think Spong has done tremendous amounts of harm to the church? Hey, I don’t agree with alot of his positions, but I’m not the one calling for his ouster from the community of believers – and I don’t believe he would do that to someone like me over matters of belief either. So it really depends on your qualifications for who stays and who goes. Have liberal Christians done tremendous harm by challenging the church? Or have conservative Christians done more harm by reacting to that challenge by divisiveness? You could make the argument that Christ was very “divisive” in his time – but this was almost entirely against the religious conservatives of his time who wanted to exclude people. So I’d argue that Jesus was actually inclusive – the religious leaders’ reaction to Jesus was the true divisiveness. (Of course it’s more complicated than that brief sketch, but I think in terms of attitude, Jesus set an inclusive tone towards the marginalized of society.) I think the issue the church is struggling with today is achieving *unity within a context of diversity and disagreement.* Disunity is coming from an inability to prioritize the heart of the gospel over lesser matters.

            In your example of Schaeffer, are you implying that only fundamentalists really believe those passages are true? I can tell you Christians living out the passages you mentioned (Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23) come from all over the board in terms of beliefs. I don’t know any secret formula, but I think we can isolate “correct” doctrine as a low impact factor in Christian formation here. I think it has much more to do with the heart and the response to God’s love.

            I have no qualm with “subverting modernism” in the way you are talking about. I think following Jesus is an exercise that will inevitably lead to confrontation with power structures that perpetuate harm. But issues like empire and slavery can hardly be considered only modern phenomenon. What I’m saying is that “subverting modernism” makes about as much sense as ancient Byzantine Christians “subverting Constantinople.” The specificity betrays the fact that we’re talking about power structures that have existed in one form or another for millennia, and may in fact be inextricable parts of civilization itself. That isn’t to say Christians shouldn’t critique and oppose aspects of modernism that promote violence, oppression and empire. It’s just that there’s nothing new under the sun, so to target “modernism” just seems too fixated on the present. Also, I think some parts of modernism are largely good things, as Andrew mentioned. We can all think of the downsides of science, democracy, and modern medicine, but few of us want to “subvert” those things. Modernism is too broad of a concept to be opposed without qualifying the specific aspects of modernism being addressed, and too imbedded into our daily lives to be subverted.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            You think Spong has done tremendous amounts of harm to the church?

            Well, you have articles like the Christian Post‘s Episcopal Church Continues Downward Trend According to Report and Beliefnet‘s Why is the Episcopal Church near collapse? and Wikipedia’s Episcopal Church (United States) § Membership. I do not have the time nor energy to trace Spong’s particular contribution or lack thereof to this downward trend, but I consider the [extreme] downward trend to constitute “harm to the church”.

            So it really depends on your qualifications for who stays and who goes.

            Let’s be clear: nothing I said had anything to do with “who stays and who goes”. Instead, I have asserted my belief in 1 Cor 12:26 and in particular, the first half (because of the current state of the ekklēsia).

            Have liberal Christians done tremendous harm by challenging the church?

            My understanding is that (a) liberal Christianity predominantly exists within mainline denominations; (b) in general, mainline denomination membership has dropped significantly since 1900; (c) in general, Evangelical membership rose greatly during at least part of the decline of (b). Is any of this incorrect? Do I have my facts wrong?

            In your example of Schaeffer, are you implying that only fundamentalists really believe those passages are true?

            No; I was asserting a statistical guess, that a fundamentalist, on average, is more likely to “really believe those passages are true” than a non-fundamentalist. This is based on my understanding that fundamentalists are more likely to accept that the Bible has true content which one must generally read ‘plainly’, instead of doing a lot of interpretive work. I understand that this is a minefield, but when it comes to passages like Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23 and Mt 5:23–24, Mt 18:15–20, Eph 4:25–27, I think that most of the twisting that goes on is sinful.

            What I’m saying is that “subverting modernism” makes about as much sense as ancient Byzantine Christians “subverting Constantinople.”

            I simply 100% disagree. For example, we can subvert the current domination, of Western civilization, by the clock. I suggest a deep read of U. Washington David Levy’s No Time To Think, or a watch of his Google Tech Talk of the same name.

            It’s just that there’s nothing new under the sun

            Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

            Also, I think some parts of modernism are largely good things

            I probably agree!

          • Andrew Dowling

            There is zero evidence the decline of mainline churches, mainly the 1950s, has anything to do with liberal theology. For starters, most mainline churches aren’t particularly liberal. The decline of mainline churches has much more to do with socio-demographic changes than any theological bent.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Then I abandon this tangent, for want of non-correlative evidence. I do, on the basis of your lack of any evidence, reject your assertion as unsupported. And so, we’re neither at ‘true’, nor ‘false’, but ‘unknown’.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            For Luke as much as you, Andrew: Your point is a good one, and important. In one sense (mainly forms of worship, education and community-building) mainline churches are MORE conservative than the many charismatic churches and evangelical megachurches (VERY few megachurches are “mainline”). Thus they mainly hold their older members and their lack of biological “growth” that results, plus lack of enthusiastic evangelism (or being “evangelical” in that sense), is probably more reason for decreasing membership than things directly “liberal” in theology.

            However, our cultural dumbing-down (decried from a different vantage point by conservatives as well as progressives like me), is likely to continue to make robust progressive views (such as my fav., Process theology) difficult to grasp for most…. While actually answering more puzzling issues and making better sense, it is not as “simple” as the common understanding of either strict supernaturalism (X’n orthodoxy) or strict naturalism (atheism, scientism and SOME theological liberalism, mostly the older “classic” type).

          • Andrew Dowling

            “Modernism is too broad of a concept to be opposed without qualifying
            the specific aspects of modernism being addressed, and too imbedded into
            our daily lives to be subverted.”

            Thank you.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “I would like to confirm: do you think fundamentalists didn’t do any better in resisting modernism than other believers?”

            How do they resist modernism? Do they live in wooden houses without electricity like the Amish?

            As Justin points out . . .we are all modernists of one strain or the other; some are simply in denial that they live and have been shaped by the times they live in.

            As for as fundamentalists “keeping alive belief in the supernatural” . . .oh please. They have kept alive irrational fear and the paranoia that accompanies insulation and an inability to self-critique. Most people who aren’t strict scientific materialists are not conservative fundamentalists.

            And you speak like a belief in the supernatural is a good in and of itself. Which it is not. For example, ignorance of “modern” education and rampant belief in the supernatural has made the response to Ebola in West Africa much more difficult than it already is (given their horrible lack of basic infrastructure and healthcare resources).

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            How do they resist modernism? Do they live in wooden houses without electricity like the Amish?

            Do you think everything in my root comment is false/irrelevant to your question? See also this note on The Fundamentals. Os Guinness captures what resistance would be like very well in The Gravedigger File:

                The job then was to crack the secret of the workings of faith. Or as it’s put in the trade, to analyze their handwriting—trade jargon for their habits and patterns of behavior. As you know, the philosophical strength of Christianity lies in its claim to truth, whereas the social strength of Christianity lies in its challenge to tension. It was at this second point that the break came. Let me explain.
                Part of the root meaning of the word faith is “tension” or “tautness.” There in two words is an accurate picture of the faith required of Christians. And there’s the rub. Loyalty to the Adversary in a world liberated by us makes their lives a kind of “double wrestling.” Faithfulness to him has to mean foreignness in the world. As they put it themselves, they are to live in a way that is clearly distinct in terms of space (“in” the world but not “of” it) and in terms of time (“no longer” what they were, “not yet” what they will be). Their unenviable role, as one of them has it, is to be “against the world for the world.” Let them try telling that to their next-door neighbors.
                Such a high-wire balancing act would be precarious at best, even if the poise it entails were all that’s required of them. But that is not the case, and here a further element is introduced. The Adversary has actually commanded them to be identified with the world. From his perspective, there are still a great number of positive reasons for their being in the world, the most basic of which is to seek to reclaim it for him. (24)

            Does that make sense?

            As for as fundamentalists “keeping alive belief in the supernatural” . . .oh please.

            Are you saying this is false (if so, why?), or merely that a ton of bad stuff accompanied it?

            And you speak like a belief in the supernatural is a good in and of itself. Which it is not.

            I 100% disagree. To shut oneself off from the supernatural is to shut oneself off from God, such that the most one can worship is a false god or idol. Yes, there are dangers. But sharp knives are also sharp. Shall we ban all sharp knives, as a precaution? For fun, see the WSJ’s Look Who’s Irrational Now:

            “What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Your quote from the fundamentals is more jargon about being against “the world.” So what constitutes the “world?” . . .oh, it becomes whatever conservatives want it to be. How about you cite explicitly what in the “world” Christians should be rejecting? Modern science? Democracy? Human rights? Those are all post-Enlightenment tenets mind you.

            “Are you saying this is false (if so, why?), or merely that a ton of bad stuff accompanied it?”

            Yes, it’s a completely false narrative. You are talking like belief in the supernatural was EVER in danger of not being held by a wide majority of the population in the United States . . it never was and so far, never has . . particularly in “modernism’s” heyday of the first quarter of the 20th century. And Fundamentalists didn’t “convince” secularists to return to the faith . . they preached to the choir and always have.

            “I 100% disagree. To shut oneself off from the supernatural is to shut oneself off from God,”

            Well, you’re going to have to define “supernatural.” But I think that proclamation, given the standard definition, is incredibly simplistic.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Your quote from the fundamentals is more jargon about being against “the world.” So what constitutes the “world?” . . .oh, it becomes whatever conservatives want it to be.

            Here is a concrete example, from Jacques Ellul’s The Political Illusion:

            But to pretend that justice and truth are given their due is only a raid and a form of hypocrisy. Those who claim to do justice by condemning a man to death deserve the same accusation of hypocrisy that Jesus leveled at the Pharisees. What we find here is an ideological construct that man builds to justify his acts: these acts are useful so that society can function and survive. Bruckerberger’s argument was: If we pardon murderers, our society is done for. It is useful for the survival of a group to eliminate the nonconformists, the fools, the anarchists, the maladjusted, the criminals; and it is legitimate that the group should react in this fashion through its judges, its soldiers, its political men. It is the very role of politics to make this reaction more easily possible, for it is under such conditions that no one individual or group has to bear the responsibility. (90)

            So, an example of “the world” would be a society which harms ‘nonconformists’, for a great number of values of ‘nonconformity’. Certainly you want a society to do something with murderers, but what about e.g. political dissidents? I will point out that the OT was very intent on the Israelites taking special care for: (i) orphans; (ii) widows; (iii) oppressed; (iv) the poor; (v) foreigners. Compare that list with those Jesus describes as ‘himself’ in Mt 25:31–46. From this, one can derive a persistent care for those who cannot defend themselves, throughout the entire Bible. Well, one property of “the world” is that such people often slip through the cracks. And so, you have the emperor Julian saying stuff like:

            These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.

            I could continue, but have I perhaps convinced you that “the world” can be given a very concrete meaning that makes sense? I will say one more thing: sociologists, such as Peter Berger and Jacques Ellul, note how precarious the social order is. One can view one task of Christians as slowly transforming that order to something better, perpetually, but not in a way that would e.g. incite another Servile War.

            Yes, it’s a completely false narrative.

            I will note that you have given me no sources to look at, and move on.

            Well, you’re going to have to define “supernatural.” But I think that proclamation, given the standard definition, is incredibly simplistic.

            For a rough approximation, I would describe the ‘supernatural’† as the unknown. To shut ourselves off from it is to keep ourselves under a kind of ‘dome’, or to use one of Josef Pieper’s terms, a ‘canopy’‡. One way to do this is via pragmatism, whereby ‘truth’ is defined with respect to some particular conception of ‘utility’. Pieper warned of the disastrous consequences of this in his 1957 Knowledge and Freedom, which is also available at the end of his excellent Abuse of Language ~~ Abuse of Power. It is easy to lock ourselves into a world with a finite, relatively non-evolving conception of ‘utility’, such that we never ask for much more. Pieper wrote the original German version of Leisure in 1948, in Germany, during reconstruction. He was worried that the Germans would enter a world of ‘total work’, whereby they would get locked in a mode where they could never enjoy the best things in life, which critically includes philosophizing and “piercing the canopy”.

            Somewhere in The Closing of the American Mind (I can find it on request), Allan Bloom notes that this “locked in” happened to Americans. They worked so hard to reach a world where one wouldn’t have to work much, and look what we have: lots of work, not very much high quality leisure—unless you want to say that drinking a beer while watching pro sports is the high life. Note that I got turned onto all of this via U. Washington David Levy’s No Time To Think (there’s also a Google Tech Talk version). I think most Americans are, right now, locked under a canopy, unable to pierce it. I think this is a tragedy, and am doing everything I can to learn how to do my part in making things better. May it be that some day, we are no longer ruled by the clock.

            † According to Louis Dupré, the ‘supernatural’ only gained its current meaning in the sixteenth century (Passage to Modernity, 171).

            Leisure: The Basis of Culture, a few pages into the second part, “The Philosophical Act”

          • Andrew Dowling

            “an example of “the world” would be a society which harms ‘nonconformists’, for a great number of values of ‘nonconformity'”

            Sounds like the history of the Church. This certainly isn’t the “world” conservative fundamentalists revolt against . conservatism in its very nature revolts against the un-ordinary.

            “For a rough approximation, I would describe the ‘supernatural’† as the unknown.”

            Well then very few people don’t believe in the supernatural, and if anything fundamentalists have driven more people away from being able to believe in anything beyond the physical world.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Sounds like the history of the Church.

            Jacques Ellul would agree with you; see his The Subversion of Christianity. Here’s the smallest of windows into it. Take a good, long read of Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20. Tell me: how much wielding of power, throughout the history of Christianity, has really gotten anywhere close to the description of how to wield power, by Jesus Christ himself?

            This certainly isn’t the “world” conservative fundamentalists revolt against . conservatism in its very nature revolts against the un-ordinary.

            I think you may be unaware of how a given attitude and tradition can be ‘conservative’ in one temporal context, ‘radical’ in another, and ‘progressive’ in another. Keith Ward discusses this in Is Religion Dangerous? For fun, I point you to Islamic feminism § Early reforms under Islam. It might surprise you.

            Well then very few people don’t believe in the supernatural, and if anything fundamentalists have driven more people away from being able to believe in anything beyond the physical world.

            I’m not sure that I agree with your first clause (many people seem to seek stable society instead of “piercing the current philosophical dome”), and I simply cannot know if your “driven away”, without actual evidence. Too much is done with mere supposition. I randomly flipped open to a bit in The God Delusion and saw “the strong possibility remains” and “memes might plausible have”—Dawkins’ book is chock full of this kind of “just-so story”. For some real evidence, I cite sociologist Peter Berger:

                Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

            For more fun, see the 2008 WSJ article Look Who’s Irrational Now. Failure to respect empirical evidence? That’s everyone’s problem; I see no evidence that religionists are particularly bad at it. And fundamentalists? They might be bad in some areas, but I find they also believe in stuff like the truth of Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23 and the importance of doing Mt 5:23–24, Mt 18:15–20, Eph 4:25–27. So yeah, I’m not willing to ding them nearly as much as you and others seem wont to do.

  • Scot Miller

    Very interesting. Robert Gagnon is a perfect example of someone who wants to have it both ways: accepting critical scholarship and trying to use scholarship to defend traditional, dogmatic positions. In his magnum opus, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, he explicitly states, “I cannot be a biblical literalist or fundamentalist and still retain intellectual integrity” (p. 345). Unfortunately for him, his conclusion (God condemns homosexual practice) is also his premise. Because he already knew the conclusion he wanted to reach, he overstated the strength of his arguments and forced the Bible to say what he wanted it to say.

    • http://southridge.cc/ mjk

      I am only partly through said book and have had struggled through many moments of utter incredulity as I witness the stunning disjoint between Gagnon’s critical (and, I think, more honest) hermeneutical observations and his traditional, dogmatic summations and conclusions. I absolutely affirm your conclusion about Gagnon.

    • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

      I don’t know this author or book, but I imagine the same situation is multiplied many times over… It still boggles my mind that, among those who at least SEE the Bible-writing and interpreting process for what it is; see the theological premises of the authors dictate their stories (and supposed “history”, esp. in Acts), etc…. that THESE people (mostly men) conclude to the opposite of what their acknowledged data show. Part of human nature, along with the mystique of religion that they feel is NOT at work in THEIR particular cases.

  • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

    In some ways I prefer the position of fideistic fundamentalism over “critical anti-criticism.” I feel the former is a more honest position. If a person believes that the scholarly evidence doesn’t matter and won’t affect their outlook, then what is the point in grappling with any of it in the first place? I can understand the wholesale rejection of critical scholarship and intellectualism, in favor of a some perfect framework with divine authority. But the position of “critical anti-criticism” rings disingenuous because it acts like academic criticism brings up valid points – yet whenever those points fly in the face of a fundamentalist, inerrantist position, they are discarded. It’s depressing. . . in the same way I would be depressed if I was playing a game with a friend, and noticed him cheating – and even worse, failing to be consciously aware of his cheating. If you think the rules of a game can be bent because of outside rules you brought into the game, then you aren’t truly interested in playing the game. The euphemistic way of saying that scholarship needs to be “employed properly” . . . let’s unpack that. It means: let’s all twist and torture the evidence, tilt our heads, squint our eyes, and maybe in the right light – yes, just maybe – we can still affirm that the Bible actually works in the way our old country preacher used to say it did. The alternative. . . is we may have to think and grow up in our faith. (I Cor. 13:11)

  • James

    I suppose I should read Sparks book to see how these 8 strategies “to adapt or limit critical biblical scholarship” are unsuccessful. On the surface, it seems they attempt to do exactly what his book advocates–find a better place between “uncritical embrace” and “outright rejection” of the modern agenda. I take it Sparks leans more to the “uncritical embrace” side–which is fair. So, others then are free to lean more to the other side–fair too, right?

    • Andrew Dowling

      “a better place between “uncritical embrace” and “outright rejection” of the modern agenda.”

      So is “uncritical embrace of the “modern agenda” akin to following the basic tenets of honest scholarship and historical inquiry?