Eminent sociologist of religion Peter Berger has penned a very interesting post at The American Interest asking, parabolically, how gynecologists can enjoy intercourse. More to his point: how can a biblical scholar who examines the Bible according to historical-critical method also be a person of faith. Bart Ehrman has failed at holding these tensions together, as have several of my closest friends.
I have not. In fact, I would find it disconcerting if the Bible were less parabolic, obtuse, and paradoxical than real life is. And life is, if nothing else, parabolic, obtuse, and paradoxical (at least in my experience).
Berger goes on to muse about the Society for Biblical Literature, now under the leadership of my friend, John Kutsko. John is sailing the SBL through some choppy waters these days. There was the divorce and then impending remarriage with the American Academy of Religion. And now a high profile Jewish scholar has publicly resigned because he feels that the encroachment of evangelicals threatens the “critical” nature of the SBL’s scholarship.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. I tend to think that the majority of the subject matter at SBL and AAR meetings makes the medieval disputes over angels and heads of pins look downright relevant. However, Berger’s written a great and thought-provoking piece that deserves a read and a conversation:
How can a gynecologist manage to have sex? Presumably by resolutely switching from one mindset to another. How can a New Testament scholar manage to be a Christian? Presumably by a similar exercise of mental compartmentalization.
I don’t know whether there is a literature dealing with the sexual problems of gynecologists (I have no intention of finding out). But there is a huge literature about the problems raised by Biblical scholarship for faith and theology. The problems exploded with the rise of modern historical scholarship being applied to the Bible, beginning earlier but then progressing impressively in the nineteenth century. Much of this new scholarship took place in Protestant theological faculties, especially in Germany—a historically unique event of religious scholars applying the scalpel of critical analysis to the sacred scriptures of their own tradition. The meaning of “critical” here is clear: Biblical texts are analyzed in the same way as any other historical text, with the question of their revelatory status rigorously excluded from this exercise.