James Barr on Evangelical Biblical Scholarship

James Barr on Evangelical Biblical Scholarship July 17, 2013

A friend of mine–currently writing his PhD dissertation while in a witness protection program for knowing me–recently passed on the following quotes from James Barr. Barr, who died in 2006, was a world-renown Old Testament scholar, known for such linguistic classics as The Semantics of Biblical Language and Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament as well as theological and exegetical works (The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective, The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality, and Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism).

But Barr may be best known among evangelicals as an blunt, take-no-prisoners critic of evangelical biblical scholarship–both in terms of its content and politics (Escaping from Fundamentalism, Beyond Fundamentalism: Biblical Foundations for Evangelical Christianityand Fundamentalism)

In the second edition (1981) of Fundamentalism, Barr responds to various criticisms of the first edition that had appeared four years earlier. One of the main criticisms was that Barr was responding to a caricature of evangelical scholarship. He had failed to take note of evangelicalism’s movement beyond old fashioned fundamentalism; he wasn’t giving enough credit to the existence of more nuanced and sophisticated scholarly and semi-progressive evangelicals.

Though now over 30 years old, Barr’s comments below responding to these criticisms are still pointed–even prophetic. I am posting these comments because, from my perspective, they still carry a lot of weight in addressing the phenomenon of evangelical biblical scholarship. 

But are things much better now? The suggestion that they are in fact much better now, and that conservative evangelicalism today is quite different, free from the stains of the older fundamentalism, is one of the most interesting responses that my book has evoked. Conservative propaganda has, it seems, convinced some that this improvement has taken place. Undoubtedly the total evangelical scene in recent years has come to display some excellent features of openness, freedom and variety. But the very success and numerical strength of evangelicalism has through the same process greatly intensified the obscurantists, backward-looking and extremist aspects in which the core of fundamentalism resides. The student fundamentalism of today may perhaps be more gracious and kindly in its manner than that of earlier generations; but, on the other side, it seems to have systematically lost or eradicated the major features that a generation ago softened the rationalism of pure conservative ideology, brought the movement closer to the currents of general theological thinking, made it much more biblical, and also made it really evangelical. On the institutional scene, the use of ecclesiastical power-politics to achieve a fundamentalist take-over of the great Concordia Seminary, with the use of inquisitional methods upon the former teachers and finally the enforcement of their exile and withdrawal into a separate institution, is a clear modern demonstration that the motives and methods of fundamentalism haven’t changed. The use of heresy hunts against scholars and theologians, which was a normal weapon of the older fundamentalism, is being tried again in some denominations and is more likely to succeed than fifty years ago. Intellectually, the improved quality of conservative scholarship has to be balanced by an appreciation of the enormous influence in the evangelical world of pseudo-intellectual gurus like Francis Schaeffer, of semi-educated evangelists and leaders of all kinds, and of rubbishy partisan literature. On the social side, the presence of interesting and open-minded evangelical groups with positive, promising and sometimes radical social ideas, which should be gladly acknowledged, does not alter the fact that at the same time we have a much more massive and effective social-right in American politics. Thus in all respects, as I see it, the notable elements of progress, to which conservative apologists gladly call attention, are balanced by even greater elements of regress, of which they generally say nothing (xiv-xv).

I included a section (pp. 145–9) on the use of argument about presuppositions by fundamentalists but now think there is more that I should have said about this. Academic conservative controversialists seem now to spend more and more of their time talking about presuppositions. In part of this they are trying to take the discussion about presuppositions in non-conservative theology, which arose with reference to quite other matters, and adapt it as a mode of defense for an essentially fundamentalist position. Somehow, they seem to think, if it can be agreed that there is no exegesis without presuppositions (and Bultmann, because he said something like this, has received a rather incongruous respect in these circles), this will justify the claim that conservative presuppositions are just as good as any other (xvii).

Fundamentalism emphasizes the guru, the teacher, with his following. Studies of the social dynamics of leadership within fundamentalism are much needed. It is probable that the needs of leadership support the continuance of a fully conservative or fundamentalist position. Leaders may make all sorts of concessions from time to time in fact, but if they do not profess support of the most completely conservative position about the Bible their position of leadership is itself in danger…The chief concern of fundamentalists, it often seems, is to avoid being perceived and classed as fundamentalists; but this is purely tactical, for they will not affirm any non-conservative position (xix).

Such facts are in agreement with my general argument, namely that fundamentalism is not basically concerned with the Bible and what it says, but with the achievement of dominance for the evangelical tradition of religion and way of life (xiii).


What are your reactions to this? Do you concur with Barr, take issue with him, or something in between? A central component of his critique is that evangelical biblical scholarship and fundamentalism are more or less cut out of the same cloth.  Do you agree? And what definition of evangelicalism is he operating with? (Remember that he was Scottish, and the evangelical scene in Britain is of a different nature than it is on this side of the pond–namely it tends to be more progressive intellectually and less tied to conservative social issues.)


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  • Evidence2Hope

    I appreciate its not totally on topic but on this side of the pond (UK) we just don’t bundle up issues and attach theology to politics as much as seems to happen in the US, I find the dynamics of it all quite bizarre

    Back to what Barr is saying, again I’m not sure most of what he’s saying would apply to the UK today overall. I wonder if the invention of the internet has blown everything wide open in terms of “evangelical world of pseudo-intellectual gurus like Francis
    Schaeffer, of semi-educated evangelists and leaders of all kinds, and of
    rubbishy partisan literature” being much more available; though the more outspoken fundamentalists do seem to be in positions of power (Southern Baptist Seminary comes to mind)

    I’m still relatively new at engaging with different theologies so not sure if there has been an improvement but I find I agree with his last statement; “fundamentalism is not basically concerned with the Bible and what it says, but with the achievement of dominance for the evangelical tradition of religion and way of life” – its the general attitude of those I’ve encountered (maybe its just the internet)

    • I can assure you it’s more than just the internet!

  • Appreciated the blast from the past. Having grown up a fundy while being told we weren’t, I can resonate with the claim that many fundy’s project their insecurities onto lower others. The two things that jump out to me is the justification for mediocrity and the professionalization of mediocrity – these seem to be features of fundamentalist schools of thought. There is a rampant infantilism that looks for forms of folk religion born our of immaturity and a fearful evaluation of knowledge at the root of this issue, but again, it ends up being a professionalization of mediocrity because it’s too difficult to play with the big dogs.

  • wolfeevolution

    I’m not sure I agree with this statement: “fundamentalism is not basically concerned with the Bible and what it says, but with the achievement of dominance for the evangelical tradition of religion and way of life (xiii).” At least, if this is true, I don’t feel that the desire for dominance is what drives fundamentalism; it may be a byproduct.

    Instead, I feel what drives fundamentalism is fear, a deep-seated fear of that if all of life is not evaluated on the basis of certain external, black-and-white, unchanging, Biblically derived values, it does not make sense at all. Call it existential slipperyslopeophobia, if you will.

    This was my experience as a fundamentalist. I wonder if others have felt the same?

    • Andrew Dowling

      I think you are right on point.

    • Joykins

      If you take at Altermeyer’s work on right-wing authoritarianism into account, I think I would conclude that fundamentalist leaders (or would-be leaders) are more concerned with dominance and the typical “follower” is driven by fear and black-and-white thinking So they’re both true to some extent.

      (NB: not all fundamentalists are right-wing authoritarians but there is a very great deal of overlap.)

    • I love that long “slippery…” Germanic construction term… apropos. It’s out of fear, with absolutism, false sense of certainty, that comes the desire to dominate so the “right folks” can be in charge (issue of control) of the direction of society… keep it from going “godless”, etc. and carrying them (maybe especially their kids, grandkids) with it.

      • Guest

        The problem is that the very fundamentalism they teach is what drives their kids away from Christ and makes them atheists When you lie to people about history, science, and sexuality, and they learn they’ve been lied to, they will conclude that you have lied to them about God as well.

        • You got it, for sure!

        • joe

          curuious what the ‘lied to them about sexuality’ you are referring to? it seems to me the lies about sexuality come originate more in popular culture than in any church.

  • Dan

    Wow, that definitely is “blunt, take-no-prisoners” criticism, but spot on.

  • Norman

    The problem is that there is too much information required to become fully conversant by the typical layman or church minister. Therefore the knowledge needed to allow more freedom of exploration is inhibited by the overwhelming educational process needed for rational discussion. The masses will be moved slowly over time and all that can be done is to continue to chip away at the inconsistencies that are being held, hoping that ideas take root.

    Having said that though I think scholars like Barr should be a little more careful in wearing their frustration on their sleeve. There comes across an arrogance that makes the dialogue even more difficult. Also the tension between historical biblical criticism and what many if not most faith believing Christians adhere to reflects over stepping by both groups IMO. Scholarly biblical criticism tends to discount the miraculous aspects of Christianity and that exploration and tendency although needing examination essentially neuters the building block of a prophetic and resurrected Christ. I see scholars who believe that Christ body was simply moved and misplaced and that is why the early Christians believed he had risen. If that idea were to be true then as Paul says we are to be pitied and are possibly wasting our time. It possibly serves a purpose to have that tension to not overstep conclusions.

  • Karen K

    I am not sure the root issue is about dominance–although that is a piece of it. Fundamentalism is very much about what the Bible says, but perhaps not so much with what it means in different contexts. Having grown up in Baptist fundamentalism, I would say there are three primary root issues 1) a particular form of literal interpretation that is wooden and prescriptive 2) fear of angering God and 3) perfectionism. The latter two are related. Fundamentalist culture is very, very concerned about doing what God commands (as they understand it). Thus, fundamentalists are consumed with the biblical text and following it in a prescriptive manner. There is a fear that people will be deceived and so leadership/dominance is emphasized in order to protect the flock from deception. This also drives witch hunts. If one does not understand that there is genuine fear and concern about deception, then the witch hunts will not be fully understood or rectified.

    The natural result of fear of angering God by going astray is perfectionism with its resulting pride, pretense, and judgment of others. Its hard to be merciful and flexible when other people become the measuring rod to assure oneself of right standing before God. I was reminded recently while reading Luke about how the ability to love is tied to the ability to admit imperfection and weakness–the one who is forgiven much and knows her imperfections is the one who loves much. Of course, imperfection also implies one can be wrong and so less self-assured certitude. Accepting imperfection requires an image of God that is capable of handling our weaknesses. Fundamentalists will say the right things about how God is merciful, but they don’t actually believe it. Jesus is the smoke screen keeping God from having to look to closely at us rather than being the gift God gave because of God’s pre-existing love right in the middle of our sin. So, I guess perhaps the bottom line root really comes down to the image of God held in fundamentalism and other issues stem from that.

    All that to say to suggest that its not about what the Bible says and that its about dominance is to miss significant root issues. I am at a loss for how to bring about change in this area but I would guess a part of it would be helping fundamentalists gain a more accurate image of God using their own language—the biblical text. Also, scholars who can make the case that different ways of interpretation are faithful to the text, and even more so, using the language of fundamentalists will make the most inroads. Its a cross-cultural endeavor–and not an easy one. The most success I have had with fundamentalists in debate or discussion is when I am able to make my case from the biblical text itself–using a close reading that makes it hard for them to object. That requires knowing the text really well. But, it takes a lot of energy to have those discussions and I often don’t feel up to it. And, probably more successful than debate on interpretation and such would be fostering a greater understanding of who God is–so more of a spiritual formation approach. With a more accurate understanding of God comes less fear and more openness to mystery.

  • “Leaders may make all sorts of concessions from time to time in fact, but if they do not profess support of the most completely conservative position about the Bible their position of leadership is itself in danger…The chief concern of fundamentalists, it often seems, is to avoid being perceived and classed as fundamentalists; but this is purely tactical, for they will not affirm any non-conservative position ”

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. And it’s not just restricted to leadership. In my experience I’ve found even fellowship to be at stake.

    I don’t totally agree with the paragraph about achieving dominance though. I think that for the most part, fundies truly believe that they are in the right and any power plays are unconscious byproducts.

    • Rondall Reynoso

      In my experience, there are two types of Fundamentalists. Many truly believe the positions some from a thoughtful place and others from a reactionary place. But, there are also many for whom (whether they believe the doctrine or not) use the doctrine as a tool for power. They may well believe the doctrines but their motive for wielding it as a weapon is not a commitment to their doctrines it is a lust for power.

      • I do observe that but it’s something that I rarely experience these days. I myself attend a small fundamentalist evangelical church and the people there are some of the most sincere people I’ve ever known. But I have been in churches in the past where power and authority was definitely underpinning practically every sermon and church activity.

        I guess while sympathetic to the sentiment, I don’t particularly like the current trend in the Christian blogosphere to outright bash and dismiss fundies. I’ve known and loved many fundies and they love me back and dismissing them is out of the question. In that spirit, I’m very hesitant to say that all fundies are power hungry manipulators.

        • Rondall Reynoso

          I agree. When I lived in NYC I attended an IFB church which was actually the healthiest church I have ever attended. The pastor was humble and open to debate. Recently, I worked at an SBC school and the fundamentalism within that state convention was all about power. They had many of the same talking points but they sought to glorify themselves not God…though they always claimed it was for God. Unfortunately, I was able to see behind the curtain enough to realize the heart of those leaders. Now there were good and loving people in the churches but the leadership was rotten and power hungry.

    • I agree that the dominance part is unconscious for most. One exception may be the “dominionists,” or theonomists… Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen, etc. (I think only North is still alive, of these 3, Rushdoony having been North’s father-in-law…. Apparently they fought for “dominion” with each other, having a long period of being alienated.) They (and some of their Calvinist offspring/relatives) have a vision of governmental control that I think many other fundies have just below the surface, but are unwilling to admit. (Or maybe even to face the can of worms it would open).

    • Chavoux

      Well, I am a fundamentalist who grew up (sometimes still attend) a church where all theological training is in the liberal vein and rather the opposite is true. While most believers in the pews are basically fundamentalist in their views of Scripture, most theologians (at least the professors teaching the new leaders) are too scared of that “fundamentalist” brand to even consider it an option.

  • Rondall Reynoso

    “fundamentalism is not basically concerned with the Bible and what it says, but with the achievement of dominance for the evangelical tradition of religion and way of life”

    This quote really hit home for me. I consider myself relatively conservative theologically and call myself uncomfortably evangelical. I agree with many American evangelical presuppositions but often disagree with the conclusions that are drawn from those assumptions. I am uncomfortable with the evangelical ethos is the simplest way I can think to state it.

    However, I spent four years running an art department at an SBC school in the south. I had never been a part of SBC politics before taking the position and the narrative of returning the school to a more biblical position what what attracted me to that school. However, after spending time there I learned that the concept of “Biblical” was very limited and political. Further, I have come to the conclusion that for many in the SBC and certainly for those around this particular school and state that the push toward a conservative theology is less about theology and more about power. Theology became a tool to manipulate the masses. It had nothing to do with a pursuit of truth and everything to do with the “achievement of dominance” referenced in this piece.

    Predictably, now that they have vanquished the “liberals” (very few of whom could actually be considered liberal) they have now decided to go after Calvinists. But, it is all a smoke screen for power politics.

    • What do you see as the most effective (or a few effective) way to combat this, scripturally? I get that some interpretations of the scriptures will fall on deaf ears, but what have you come up with? For example, we could talk about Matthew 20:20-28 and whether folks in the SBC are “lording it over each other as the gentiles do”—even if said ‘lording’ is subtly hidden. Another example: what does the SBC see as a “mature Christian”? Does a “mature Christian” fall into line with what the denomination says? I’m not too worried about caricatures, as only some people will ever be convinced they are wrong—the rest will have to take their stubborn views to the grave, to allude to Kuhn.

      • Rondall Reynoso

        Sorry I didn’t see this previously. Honestly, I have not come up with a good way of navigating the issue. There are many in the SBC that see the issues and act in good faith even if they are not always consistent (who of us is). The real issue is that there are some who will not be swayed by arguments, biblical or otherwise, they lack the will to distinguish between their own politics and pride and the message of scripture. I think it is less an sue of doctrine than ethos. At times the actual doctrine of such people isn’t too bad they simply lack the discernment to see what others are actually doing of the reflectiveness to see what they are actually doing.

    • Chavoux

      Well, I would probably consider myself a fundamentalist (in the sense that I believe the Bible is the Word of God and that the fundamentals of the Christian Faith are true). But for me fundamentalism has everything to do with a personal relationship with the Living God and trusting that He will not lie to me in His Word and little to do with politics. It saddens me that apparently the greater body of Western fundamentalists are scared that somehow the Bible might turn out to be not true and not trustworthy (and the One Who inspired it not trustworthy either)… they are fighting so hard for believing the right things about the Bible that they forget to fight the good fight which the Bible tells us to fight, to do what it says rather than to argue about whether it is true.

      • Rondall Reynoso

        By that definition I would label myself as a Fundamentalist as well. I argue though that there are actually two types of Fundamentalism one is more about ethos and the other more about doctrine. The challenge is that the fundamentalism based on ethos uses doctrine…but doctrine isn’t really what motivates. There are a good many Fundamentalists who are sincere in looking for the truth. But, there are others who are really more interested in other things but use fundamental and secondary doctrines as tools. In the latter case, there is always a fight. But, the fight is often not about what they claim it is about.

        • Chavoux

          But is this really a fundamentalist fault rather than a general human (or Christian) fault? “Office politics” are found all over the place where all kinds of excuses are used by people in their fight for the top dog positions. Maybe the big issue with fundamentalism in this sense is that it is in opposition to the spirit of the very Bible which they claim to defend?

  • Adam Koontz

    I can’t speak much about British or American evangelicalism, but I do not think Dr. Barr’s example of Concordia Seminary is apposite, inasmuch as confessional Lutheranism isn’t the same thing as American evangelicalism or fundamentalism. The controversy to which he referred centered around historical-critical scholarship’s fit with the Book of Concord and the doctrine of the Missouri Synod, to which all the professors had subscribed in order to teach in a Missouri Synod institution. The ecclesial context of the controversy is missed when placed within the broader narrative of fundamentalism in America, which can involve isolated individuals or “ministries” promulgating their viewpoints and rallying or failing to rally people around them.

    The rallying did occur but around the men who left Concordia Seminary, not otherwise. They took most of the student body and a sizable portion of the church into a new seminary and new church. I don’t think fundamentalism has any particular purchase on the cult of the guru, but I do think Dr. Barr assumes the autonomy of the biblical scholar to pursue his findings beyond the bounds of his church body. So any correction on the church’s part comes as narrow-minded and constricting. To me this identifies truth too closely with this or that charismatic scholar’s most recent or deeply felt ideas and instincts. He does not seem to have a functioning ecclesiology, unless it’s that the scholar may lead the church wherever his thoughts lead him or her, now left, now right.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “To me this identifies truth too closely with this or that charismatic
      scholar’s most recent or deeply felt ideas and instincts. He does not
      seem to have a functioning ecclesiology, unless it’s that the scholar
      may lead the church wherever his thoughts lead him or her, now left, now
      1) Publishing something doesn’t mean it’s “truth,” it means it’s a viewpoint backed by (hopefully) well-grounded research and study. Once the hypothesis is out there, it deserves to be debated on its own merits.
      2) If you are confining what can or can’t be expressed under certain “ecclesiologal” constraints, don’t call it scholarship. Scholarship by definition lets the chips fall where they may and doesn’t shut the door on possible conclusions.

      • Bryan Hodge

        Andrew, you just expressed the problem of modern scholarship in our day. It does not just let the chips fall where they may. It determines first, both by its presuppositions within its methodology of inquiry and the acceptable boundaries provided by those presuppositions, where the chips can fall in order to obtain the most plausible conclusion, given those parameters. So the chips can fall where they may, in so far as, they fall within the predetermined boundaries set for them. Liberalism has as many constraints as conservatism does. It’s just a different ecclesiastical body than a conservative would recognize. Hence, by your definition, scholarship can’t actually exist.

    • Guest

      I don’t think fundamentalism has any particular purchase on the cult of the guru — you got that right!

  • residentoftartarus

    Although Barr makes some good points here and there, I largely disagree with him.

    My main gripe is that Barr is trying to belittle conservatives by calling them “fundamentalists,” which most people would take to mean an extreme form of conservatism and not conservatism proper. This becomes evident in his complaint that many conservatives deny being fundamentalists while never affirming a non-conservative position! This is a bit silly to me, water is wet and conservatives typically affirm conservative positions.

    In order for this kind of book to get any traction with me, it first needs to define what it means for someone (or some institution) to be “fundamentalist,” as opposed to being simply conservative, and then critique the relevant persons who fall under that category.

    • Bryan

      Barr is not necessarily demonstrating an incoherence. If we have to use the terms “liberal/fundamentalist/conservative” then I will say that some of my liberal professors do in fact hold to some conservative positions. This means they are free to be persuaded if they feel that the evidence warrants this without fear of losing their jobs.

      However, he may be characterizing evangelicals as fundamentalists due to their deeply entrenched positions that never permit them to shift around on issues for fear of exile from their own group. This should not be thought of any differently from the political world in which moderate positions are held; conservative Republicans supporting gay marriage or “soft Democrats” on certain issues.

      Although I have not read Barr’s books, it seems right to criticize evangelicalism (at least, in his day) for perhaps never demonstrating any moderate or what might be characterized as a liberal position outside of the job security of academia or on the popular level and be ousted from your local church.

      • Bryan Hodge

        A conservative hermeneutic is different than holding to some positions that are often viewed as conservative. If a liberal were to hold to a conservative hermeneutic, he would cease to be a liberal. Hence, there is no more openness in the liberal hermeneutic, and its subsequent conclusions, than there is in a conservative hermeneutic.

        • Bryan

          This is a very puzzling statement. I have never heard of a “conservative” hermeneutic or a “liberal” hermeneutic. This seems to be a bit absurd. An applied hermeneutic could fall into either camp and the evidence, if it persuades the reader, permits this to occur. For instance, John Goldingay is an evangelical and would give the book of Daniel a late date. I’m sure Pete would probably take this position as well; can’t speak for him. Does this mean he should no longer be permitted in the evangelical camp because, as you suggest, he used some sort of “liberal” hermeneutic? This is tantamount to saying that a different filter, “liberal” or “conservative” should or should not be applied to a given text. Not possible.

          • Bryan Hodge


            I think you’ve fallen prey to the idea that conservatism and liberalism have to do with historic questions. They do not. I assign a late date to Daniel. That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. If you want a good understanding of what I’m saying, Jon Levenson has a great book out entitled, The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament and Historical Criticism. A liberal hermeneutic has numerous elements at its core, but if I am to sum it up, I would say that it includes an overemphasis on the humanity of the Bible in an effort to undermine its divine voice when it comes to particular biblical teachings that are in conflict with modern sensibilities and experience. But I don’t want to oversimplify, so I would just suggest you read Levenson.

          • Bryan

            What you are suggesting here makes more sense and I am familiar with this. Perhaps what you mean to suggest is liberal fundamentalism, the fallout of the Enlightenment and the extreme atheistic assumptions of historical criticism. I suggested Daniel as an example because anyone who wants to maintain prophecy (narrowly defined as futuristic) then it must have an early date for the events it appears to indicate will occur. Some conservatives would label those who maintain a late date as liberal or perhaps using a “liberal hermeneutic”. Perhaps this is not at the core of your hermeneutic but historical criticism can be a rough subject.

            It seems very difficult to balance the divine/human elements in a sociological world that all too often conservatives ignore while only preserving divine elements. I suppose the latter is more of a “docetic” interpretation of the scriptures.

            In regards to the historic questions of liberalism and conservatism, I’m not quite sure what you mean. As for the these labels, I’m not a fan of either. The rigidity does not allow any latitude when there should be. If I follow you correctly, I do not see how they could not deal with historic questions. See Nancey Murphy, ‘Beyond Fundamentalism and Liberalism’.

          • Bryan Hodge

            Well, of course, what people label as “liberal” or “conservative” does not always have to do with what actually is liberal or conservative. So, for instance, Daniel could have been written yesterday by my four-year-old, and it would say nothing as to whether the truth communicated by Daniel is divine in origin. The historic question is not vital to the question of whether what it communicates is true, unless its purpose is to communicate its own history (or history in the particular at all for that matter).

            The point that I’ve been trying to make to evangelicals and liberals alike for the past twenty years is that these questions of higher criticism and whether the Bible is divine are two different questions. I was happy to see that Levenson has been trying to argue the same thing. Hence, seeing the Bible written and constructed through a very human process has really little to nothing to do with its divine origin. Because of this, conservativism doesn’t restrict the higher critical study of the Bible. The reason why conservatives often do is because they’ve been duped by liberals, as Levenson points out, into thinking that the historic questions should regulate the authority of the Bible by determining whether it is more or less divine or human in origin. And this canard has been perpetuated in order to give liberals a foothold to argue against less appealing teachings in the Bible that don’t accord with the morals of modern culture. But these are metaphysical questions, not historical ones, so the one doesn’t really undermine the other, as many often believe.

            The problem is that higher critics don’t just try and answer historic questions, but also then reconstruct a theology or ethic from their historical research. It’s the “therefores” with which conservatives often take issue, precisely, because those “therefores” are not a result of the historic question, but the presuppositions that oversee it.

            As for the idea that evangelicals are being docetic, I think we need to just rid ourselves of that caricature. The only people I’ve ever known to be docetic in their view of Scripture are KJV Only Fundamentalists who are dictationists. Every evangelical I know believes in the humanity of the Bible. The emphasis is due to the contention in our culture that the Bible is not divine, not because evangelicals view the Bible as solely divine at the cost of its humanity. That would be like saying that most evangelicals are docetic because they emphasize the divinity of Christ in a culture that wants to argue He is only human. I would label, instead, their view as a Monoergistic view of Scripture versus Synergistic view, the former emphasizing that, although God uses human agents who make real choices based upon their desires, these are ultimately guided by God to meet His purposes in what is said, and the latter emphasizing the joint work of Scripture between the two, where one party, namely the human, can fail the other in terms of what is purposed.

          • Chavoux

            You said: ‘Well, of course, what people label as “liberal” or “conservative” does not always have to do with what actually is liberal or conservative. So, for instance, Daniel could have been written yesterday by my four-year-old, and it would say nothing as to whether the truth communicated by Daniel is divine in origin. The historic question is not vital to the question of whether what it communicates is true, unless its purpose is to communicate its own history (or history in the particular at all for that matter).’
            But isn’t that exactly the point? If your four-year-old wrote the book of Daniel, and the book then claims to record the history of the actual Daniel and his prophesies, why should I accept a piece of fraud as divine revelation?

  • Bill Payne

    Why no self-critical remarks? Is he not aware of the non-biblical assumptions upon which liberal theology and biblical scholarship move forward? Evangelicals begin with a commitment to revelation and a set of core convictions. We acknowledge that “flaw;” peccadilloes that the bible supports. For the life of me, I do not know why any denomination that wants to prepare men and women for effective pastoral ministry would send them to seminaries that embrace old-line liberalism. It is a spent force. It has been replaced by liberationist interpretations and a new universalism that attempt to take the scriptures seriously even though they are driven by cultural forces.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “Is he not aware of the non-biblical assumptions upon which liberal theology and biblical scholarship move forward?”

      They are only non-biblical if reading through a certain hermeneutic. The Bible never claims to be on the pedestal protestantism has historically placed it on.

      • Rick

        What pedestal is that?

        • Andrew Dowling

          Inerrancy would be the big one; I’d go farther and say the traditional ascription of all Bible passages as “the Word of God” is placing it in a category it was never meant to be in.

          • Bryan Hodge

            Andrew, the Bible doesn’t claim to be errant either, so we could argue the same thing in reverse. Your proposition that placing an ascription of the Bible as “the Word of God” is to place it in a category in which it was never meant to be is itself a presupposition not taught by the Bible. It dogmatically asserts that your metaphysic is true and the opposing metaphysic false. Why is your metaphysic more scholarly than theirs?

          • Chavoux

            So to what “All Scripture” would 2 Tim. 3:1 then refer? And Ps.119? I am just curious on how one decides whether a passage is the Word of God or not (if we do not accept the whole Bible). And is your faith and livestyle not going to be radically different when you can decide (or have some learned theologian decide for you) what you will accept and what you will reject from those who accept every iota and tittle as God’s Word?

    • Andrew’s point is important: “…a certain hermeneutic.” I’d broaden that to a certain “paradigm” and even a certain “worldview” that is more “received” than built up inductively. Mostly because of my intense curiosity and love of academics, I am among the relatively rare exceptions of people who have inductively built up enough data points related to “conservative” Christian starting points (fall, revelation, redemption, second coming, etc.) to begin to see from a whole different vantage point (worldview). That has become “panentheism” for me, which is careful to honor all data coming from all types of sources. To me, the change never passed through “old-line liberalism,” which I agree is a “spent force.”

      However, what you cite, Bill, are not its only replacements. Maybe you include Process theology within “liberationist” or “universalism”, but it certainly is not blindly or unthinkingly either of those, if the labels are suitable. It DOES take Scripture seriously, not operating in a cultural vacuum of course, but more circumspect and aware of cultural and other impinging forces than is fundamentalism, by far. (Fundamentalism precludes any depth of true intellectual reflection upon itself, unless and until an individual member is on the path beyond it.) Historical-critical study of the Bible, BTW, is NOT a spent force, and won’t be any time soon. We can’t even begin to rightly interpret any literature, including the Bible (and especially ANY claimed revelation), until we know about its genre, purpose, date and perspective of authorship, etc., etc.

      • Daniel Lobb

        It is a spent force at the pastoral level.
        I recall at seminary when liberal professors would urge ministry students to use “critical” scholarship in their weekly Bible studies at the pastoral level.
        Anyone with real experience would know that this is a kiss of death for a Bible study.
        I have not seen anyone do it successfully.

  • Hallvard N. Jørgensen

    “Fundamentalism” is one good book. I don’t have it before me now, but as I remember it, he spends a few pages in the beginning defining “fundamentalism” and why he uses that term.

  • rvs

    Thanks for calling my attention to this. There is still a lot of oddball proposition-mongering going on in fundamentalist evangelical culture, though most apologists of this brand know virtually nothing about the linguistic turn in philosophy and other such things that inevitably come into play when we try to define “proposition.” The heresy hunting–I’m sure–has changed “in name” in the past 30 years, as new forms of Christianese obscure the immaturity, paranoia, insecurity, cruelty, pride, etc., at the heart of the “hunting” disposition. Still, the Puritanical impulse to purge-purge-purge persists.

  • Daniel Merriman

    I have no idea what if anything disquis did with my prior comment, but the gist of it was that as a layman I find it odd and frustrating that the scholars I have learned the most from over the last several years receive almost no attention from the progressive Christian blogs. I only know about scholars like Tom Wright, Larry Hurtado, Martin Hengel, Richard Baucham and, yes, Peter Enns from reading American Evangelical blogs. I can find very little serious engagement with these scholars (other than an odd debate here and there between Wright and Crossan or Boyd).

    Professor Enns, do you think growth only happens in one direction- toward the mainline liberal end? Over the last ten years or so, my respect for the historicity of the NT has only increased because of my exposure to authors like the above. If I were a young professor at a secular or mainline confessional institution, don’t you think it would be batter for me to shut up and churn out a paper about say a transgender reading of the resurrection accounts until I got tenure?

    • Andrew Dowling

      “don’t you think it would be batter for me to shut up and churn out a
      paper about say a transgender reading of the resurrection accounts until
      I got tenure?”

      There seems to be this myth among evangelicals that mainline churches have become some sort of post 1960s, neo-Buddhist haven of people who are to the left of Che. In my experience with mainline churches I’ve found more pastors who trend to the NT Wright/Hurtado moderate conservative wing (and some much more conservative than that) than ones who would recommend books by Borg or Spong. Anecdotal evidence aside, you have pretty wide theological diversity/spectrum among the mainlines so I grow tired of people on evangelical sites, when debating what direction the church should go, kind of using throw-away lines a la “well, of course we don’t want to go to the crazy side of apostasy like those wacky liberal mainliners. . . “

      • Daniel Merriman

        As a member of a Cooperative Baptist Felllowship church, which would be considered a mainline group by many I am very familiar with the diversity that exists in the pews and the pulpits where the rubber hits the road, but I thought the topic under discussion was evangelical scholarship. I think the authors I cited are pretty fair scholars, in so far as my training as a lawyer can help me discern. But that is all I can go on. If you are at most mainline seminaries you aren’t going to get tenure, a promotion or invited to a conference by engaging in exegesis with Larry Hurtado. But your paper on a transgendered reading of the resurrection accounts would stand a good chance of being well received. Intellectual orthodoxy is rigidly enforced in the academic world, not just at denominational seminaries that take their confessions seriously.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Well, I can’t speak on the subject of tenure at certain mainline seminaries, but I do know a number of pastors who graduated from mainline seminaries who are fairly conservative and they didn’t feel their views were stomped down at all. But yes, some places are close-minded on any end of the spectrum, although I would argue you find that more in conservative seminaries by their very nature.

    • We’ll suffer from the definition problem as I seek to respond to your frustration/question, Daniel: as to what exactly “progressive” means (or “evangelical” for that matter, with most “Emergents” still claiming the label, etc.). A few thots from my blogging and observation: You may have a valid point, tho I do see some counterpoints. And I do share frustration that more structured dialog is not happening of the nature of the exceptions you site, such as Borg and Wright. There are a few blog sites also… for one thing, there is overlap (or inconsistency?) right here on Patheos.

      On it, some authors/bloggers who consider themselves, I guess, “progressive Evangelicals,” like Tony Jones and Brian McLaren (and a few others) are in the “Progessive Christian” category. Generally, in what I think is a clearer labeling, that term applies to non-evangelicals who are “mainline”, “process” (as am I) or somehow clearly “postmodern” or “Integral” (I see Integral as owning the positives of “modernism” without the blinders/hypocrisy of postmodernism in that regard, and transcending modernism AND postmodernism both intellectually and experientially…. being interested in spiritual phenomena, “worship”, etc., but not in a pre-modern or modern “liberal” way).

      One great beginning of real conversation began about 3-4 years ago and fizzled out (for now, anyway) just over 2 years ago… Big Tent Christianity Conferences. I don’t know the detailed history, but I think they were about equally an effort of the pres. of Claremont Sch. of Theol. (Phil Clayton with a couple others) and a few “Emergent/ing” folks with basically Evangelical roots/perspectives theologically.

      I do know (directly from him) that Phil felt he had to withdraw his involvement purely due to the high demand on his time by his primary responsibilities. Apparently no key people from either side stepped up to take leadership although both mainline and Evan. people I saw at the 2nd conf. (Phoenix, Feb., 2011) seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. It was a packed-out event with over 300 actively-engaged clergy and lay people, many presenters/discussions, etc. Seemed about equally attended and represented “up front” by these admittedly open Evangelicals (“progressives”?) and those who were/are progressive even by “mainline” standards. A positive, up-beat atmosphere but one in which differences were clearly acknowledged and engaged… not skirted around merely to “get along,” or find something in common.

      Main point: Progressives AND Evangelicals (of the sort who often site NT Wright, Greg Boyd, Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, etc.) sought out this engagement, in good (and about equal) numbers as well as organizationally, and I’m not sure all the factors as to why it didn’t continue, but seemingly not due to lack of interest on either “side” or the “sides” between, around, etc.

      • Daniel Merriman

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I am reluctantly coming to the view that, at least for now, folks who read the Bible as scripture and folks who read it as any other ancient text have nothing to say to each other, and probably should stop trying.

        • There indeed is a big and deep divide there. But people, as they mature, encounter problems, other people, etc., DO come to re-examine both received and early-adopted beliefs… Millions do, actually. IF they are engaged at that point, productive dialog is possible. (One reason young Mormon missionaries are so closely supervised, protected from serious ongoing challenge and kept “on focus”.)

      • Kepha Hor

        Actually, Howard, the definition of “Progressive” is easy. It means you’re moving in the direction where the current zeitgeist wants you to go. Hence, in the 1970’s, it was “progressive” to call a conservative a “fag”; today it’s “progressive” to think homosexuality cool (I’m over 60).

        Also, the definition of “fundamentalist” is easy. I figured it out reading the U. of Chicago/Georgetown U’s “Fundamentalism Project” in the 1980’s. In Christianity, a Fundamentalist is simply an Evangelical whom a liberal secular writer does not like.

  • Daniel Merriman

    Sorry, “Boyd ” should have been “Borg”

  • Ashleigh Bailey

    I have often struggled to make sense of the supposed break between neo-evangelicalism and fundamentalism and yet the decidedly fundamentalist-like streams of evangelicalism which seem to only be growing, particularly since the takeover of the SBC, various seminaries, etc. I thought this analysis was brilliant. I don’t think I’ve read anything that has made so much sense of my own personal experience with fundagelicals since I read The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I do think there is a drive to dominate, at least among the leaders—I certainly can’t think of any other explanation for their behavior. I also really appreciated his contrast between the increased breadth in evangelicalism coupled with the growth of its very conservative streams. I absolutely have experienced that and think it’s true. I know more and more moderate to progressive folks who still identify in some way with evangelicalism, but I think that even as these movements grow, the most conservative ones are growing much faster.

    • Ashleigh, if you get notice of further comments, here’s what I hope may be some encouragement. Several people who are in the midst of the “church life” of many churches and denominations and/or researchers who have looked deeper at the reported numbers are saying that the strength (and possible but questionable increase) among the more conservative is at least somewhat inflated… perhaps a LOT.

      Smaller churches are NOT tending to grow, conservative or liberal… large ones and truly “megachurches” often are, or new ones of the latter emerge… but the depth of belief and longevity of members there is hard to know or interpret. I think such churches are often a “way-station” for families and youth but that many of the members then either grow further (toward “progressive” beliefs and affiliations) or drop back into the “nones” (or unaffiliated) category — the fastest growing one, apparently, for a couple decades or so.

      • Kepha Hor

        A “fundamentalist” is an “evangelical” whom a journalist doesn’t like.

  • CalledtoQuestion

    As you made note, evangelicalism, on this side of the pond, seems to be dominantly more conservative. Having taken a look at the history of evangelicalism within North America, throughout the 19th century to the present, I am fascinated by its changes and the lack there of. The shift from ‘fundamentalism’ to ‘evangelicalism’ is quite fascinating. The reasons, the tactics, the ‘new’ approaches. While there has been many changes on an outward appearance the ‘fundamentals’ (Theological approaches) still remain including that ol’ fashioned fire and brimstone. It may just be more concealed. I am seeing more and more evangelicals becoming more and more ‘fundamental’.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • jfjoyner3

    I graduated from Bob Jones University (business) and have moved away from fundamentalism (but not faith). It is beyond argument (for me) that the F group is anti-learning.

    But I’m not sure about the thirst for political dominion. I agree it can be shown from recent leadership. But what I experienced seemed more of a desparate attempt to hold on to an imagined culture by super-literal readings of certain texts while glossing over others, all the while filtering out any critical scholarship.

    A simplistic account of an example: Jesus’ literacy. It’s unacceptable to recognize the human Jesus as possibly lacking scribal literacy based on classical studies of literacy (Harris) or social theory (Kebler). The tradition is that Jesus was the Son of God, and “He is the Word” so of course “He” was (is) literate. This is apolitical, but a truly representative example of anti-learning intended to preserve traditional culture of the F group. The core of the F culture is that is that received beliefs must govern and filter all learning.Scares me just thinking about it!

    I see the political dominion accusation as off the mark as a key feature of the F group. It is a tactic not part of the core mission.

    • Guest

      First-century rabbis may not have been cosmopolitan intellectuals, but the training was fairly rigorous. They were forced to work much harder than, say, contemporary American public school students or undergraduates in public universities. They had to be able to recite the entire Torah from memory.

      • jfjoyner3

        Are you thinking of post-70 rabbis, or pre-70 when the designation was not formal and even a semi-literate teacher like Jesus could be thought of as a rabbi?

        • Chavoux

          What do you mean by literate? Did He know Torah? He quoted from Scripture by heart (e.g. Matt.4, Luk. 4) and He surprised learned rabbis with his knowledge and wisdom at age 12. Surely this would indicate more than just listening to the Torah reading on shabbat? He could read: He read from the Isaiah scroll when introducing himself to Nazareth (Luk.4). And He could write: He was writing on the ground when the group of scribes and pharisees brought the adulterous woman to Him (John 8). Did he have the “full yeshiva” training of most later rabbis? Probably not (and this was probably a contributing factor to Him being rejected by the Jewish leadership).

          • jfjoyner3

            You are into another discussion. Jesus’ literacy was an example, in service of a different topic, and the details of my definition of literacy is irrelevant to the original point I was trying to make. The “Guest” response (above) to my comment was trying to describe pre-70 rabbis as if they were identical to post-70 rabbis.

          • Chavoux

            Yes, OK, maybe my answer was more to your original post (the claim by Harris and Kebler that Jesus was not literate). I simply find no evidence for that in the primary sources (Scripture) unless they meant something totally different by “literacy” or I misunderstood your post of their views (since I have not read their original publications).

          • jfjoyner3

            I can’t quickly locate their original point but I can guess the issue to hand is that there is barely any clear historical information in the primary sources indicating Jesus’ level of literacy. He wrote nothing that any ancient person knew of. In the Nazareth synagogue he read a selected biblical passage (according one primary source – Luke), but did not read one contiguous passage: he combined two passages from Isaiah that would not have appeared in the same column of the Isaiah scroll. No reasonable person would doubt Jesus knew the scriptural compositions comprising the (later) Hebrew Bible. However, there is little to go on in the primary sources about Jesus’ level of literacy. Many Christians ignore the primary sources and simply say, “Jesus is God, He wrote the (Protestant) Bible so of course He could read it.” I’m sure you will agree, this approach is far removed from what the primary sources report.

          • Chavoux

            I would agree with your last statement, if that was indeed the majority fundamentalist view. As a fundamentalist myself, I do not share that view, since my default view would have been that Jesus need not have been literate, since He got His knowledge of Scripture from the Holy Spirit and not through human learning… that was one of His distinguishing marks, that He taught with authority, unlike the scribes of his time. But it is the primary sources (Luk.4 and Joh.8 – which I accept as authentic), which convinced me that He could at least read and write.

          • Daniel Lobb

            Hasn’t all this been analysed in Martin Hengel’s work, showing the typical education in Jesus’ day in Palestine for Jewish students?
            More to the point for source criticism, that it is probable that Matthew and John were literate, multilingual and capable of assisting Jesus as personal secretaries.

          • Kepha Hor

            As a matter of fact, in my own travels in Asia, I’ve found that people in “borderland” sorts of areas (such as the Golden Triangle) are often multilingual, even when only barely literate. It seems to be a near-necessary survival skill. Given the interplay between diaspora and “urheimat” Jewry in NT times, I would not be surprised at multilingual Galilean fishermen; and given the stress the Jews have always placed on the book, I would not be surprised at those same fishermen being literate.

    • jfjoyner3

      I should have written anti-scholarship rather than anti-learning, sorry.

      An anecdote: the religion teachers at BJU (I refer to it as F Un, meaning Fundamentalist University) declined to meet with a friend of mine who is a prominent DSS scholar, working on a new critical edition, because they perceived no relevance of his work to their biblical studies. I believe this incident fairly reflects their lack of interest in authentic scholarship.

  • Gene Chase

    “pseudo-intellectual gurus like Francis Schaeffer”

    I’d prefer the word “amateur” to “pseudo-intellectual guru,” for a multitude of reasons, Mr. Barr.

    * Name-calling is never a good move in discussion.

    * An amateur theologian is a lover of theology, which Schaeffer was, regardless of his intellectual credentials.

    * Schaeffer’s legacy includes many people who came to faith in Jesus through L’Abri Fellowships, including friends of mine.

    * Although Schaeffer was more of a journalist reporting on the cultural scene than a theologian in his own right, I think that he got right the influence of postmodernism on culture before most Christians had even heard of the term.

    • I like the measure of judging a tree by its fruit. I believe a guy named Jesus said something about doing that…

    • DMH

      Schaeffer was my first mentor. Although I have gone on to embrace a more “progressive” (for lack of a better term) type of Christianity and have even embraced some positions which might cause him to roll over in his grave, I still carry many good things which I first learned from him- love for God, loving engagement with people, love of culture, open home hospitality (to name a few)

      I think I understand why Barr would mention Schaeffer, so many in the conservative “pew” put him up on a pedestal. I still think he was a little different from the rest.

  • As a former long-time, seminary-educated Evangelical (attended both a dispensationalist seminary, Talbot, and a progressive one, Claremont), I’d concur basically throughout. While from the UK, he must have studied American Evangelicalism also, as his political comments have proved ahead of their time, altho the first wave of the Moral Majority and such may have begun when he wrote this.

    I have no doubt that the “presupposition” problem, and circular reasoning, coupled with reaction against the pure naturalism of science has prevented most Evangelical scholars from, as he implies, a genuine, open pursuit of what the Bible is really about, its origins, etc.

    And yes, I believe Evangelicalism and fundamentalism are “cut out of the same cloth”… different in degree and emotionality more than in mental style or core premises. Formerly as an Evangelical, I thought they were clearly apart, but even then not in core theology.

  • gary

    I’m one of those amateur, pseudo, and in my neighborhood, wannabe theologians. Alas, late maturation, ministry and now kids will probably take precedent over further formal education. Never the less, I have a hypothesis (yet to be flushed out).

    First, I have always been astounded at the processes that led to the 30 Years War in Europe (Germany). How could anyone think that what we confess absolutely determines a position / side. I am not sure if this was a symptom of the enlightenment or some innate characteristic of the reformers, but either way it wasn’t godly.

    Anyhow, the powers (Eph 6.12) latched on to that form of confessionalism, lines were drawn, and battles fought. Near desolation resulted. In response, Pietism emerged, and, in a sense, a movement away from doctrinal conflict and into a personal, warm, Christian experience was born.

    Great streams of renewal/revival spread across Europe and America as a result of Pietism. (the Great Awakenings) Strange enthusiasm and passion for God were reported. However, those amazing events were marginalized by the extreme criticisms of the more academic elements of the church. Enthusiasm and passion waned. Now those great movements, seek to find the vibrancy of an earlier time.

    In like manner, at the personal level, it is the experience with Christianity that people fall in love with, but as relationships go, passions can wane. It is that fear of lost passion (diminished relationship) that drives power moves in many Evangelical circles. Academic pursuit, even at the most noble, seems to prefer the arid atmosphere for the living waters of faith.

    It is fear then that ultimately drives fundamentalism. In an attempt to capture vibrant relationship, Evangelicals are trying to codify relational elements. Love and passions are sacrificed for the sake of protecting the God they love. Instead of pietistic maturity, we wind up with doctrinal/confessional conflict – now we’re back to war.

    I wish my academic and denominational brethren would look to love as a way to overcome (cast out) fear. Planned responses and forgiving spirits that seek to reconcile relationship in spite of confessional differences would be so appreciated by those of us who do not have a real means to interact with the theological/academic guilds.

    • Fascinating! Your identification of [late] church history with the vicissitudes of [romantic] relationships is apropos. After all, the church is the bride of Christ! Having just gotten married, I’ve thought a lot about the so-called ‘infatuation period’ and subsequent ‘romance period’. My wife (and then-fiancee) occasionally got worried that the feelings would subside—as everyone seems to say they will—even though they hadn’t for three and then four years. After all, don’t the feelings ultimately subside?

      I disagree almost-violently with the idea I espoused in my previous question. I know that it is supported by most of the evidence, but I also know that what is is not what ought to be. My wife and I continue to love each other more and more, and I think the reason is exceedingly Biblical:

      I will run in the way of thy commandments when thou enlargest my understanding!

      I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.

      The first is RSV, the second KJV. While I need to study what the ancient Hebrews meant by ‘heart’, I’m pretty sure it’s more than just intellect, which is what Greek conceptions of ‘understanding’ would have one believe. I’m not sure if Calvin even had a place for emotional understanding. Anyhow, I claim that a necessary element of perpetual romance is obeisance/belief in Ps 119:32. My wife do this by both learning more about each other, and pushing each other to grow closer to God. Critically, we generally stay away from specifying the what and the how of “grow closer to God”, unless specifically asked. Instead, we urge each other to grow closer somehow. This protects us from shaping the other in his/her own image.

      How often have Christians continually been increasing their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual understanding of God? I know they’ve done this for a few decades at the time, but what about longer? I’m not so sure!

  • Susan_G1

    “Fundamentalism emphasizes the guru, the teacher, with his
    following. Studies of the social dynamics of leadership within
    fundamentalism are much needed. It is probable that the needs of
    leadership support the continuance of a fully conservative or
    fundamentalist position. Leaders may make all sorts of concessions from
    time to time in fact, but if they do not profess support of the most
    completely conservative position about the Bible their position of
    leadership is itself in danger.”

    SGM, etc., anyone?

  • I’m uncomfortable with a characterization of a group of Christians that refuses to admit some meaningful, important strength that they possess—a strength or skill or whatever which other Christians need. In short, an evidence of this:

    If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

    Did Barr think we are suffering by not paying attention to the strengths of fundamentalists? If not, reading him will be very painful. I don’t like “filter out the good and see only the negative” glasses.

  • Bryan Hodge

    Barr, as usual, is left with pure assertion and posturing. He doesn’t actually make good arguments against the criticism. He just denounces it, as though he has an already established justification for doing so. The only justification is to presuppose that his positions are true and those of fundamentalism/evangelicalism are false. Hence, when the scholarship of the latter don’t match up with the scholarship of the former, due precisely to those presuppositions, it must be that they’re practicing bad scholarship. I just viewed this whole diatribe as proof of the criticism rather than a rebuttal of it. It’s too bad that liberal scholars often side with this sort of empty rhetoric in search of an argument.

    • Bryan

      You seem to suggest that a presupposition is a bad thing. Everyone has
      one and is impossible to eliminate. Your conclusions simply need to meet
      the criteria of your presuppositions.

      • Bryan Hodge

        No, not at all. I completely agree with you. Barr’s problem, however, is that he thinks his presuppositions are scholarly and those of evangelicals are not. Presupps have nothing to do with scholarship, but you would never know that by the way liberals often try to corner the market on it by their rhetoric.

  • Kepha Hor

    And aren’t people like Pagels and Ehrman “gurus” to liberal scholars, even when the former resoundingly flunks ecclesisastical history 101?

  • Kepha Hor

    Sorry, gang, but for me, “liberal, open” scholarship also includes the likes of Walter Grundemann, who became a catspaw of the Nazis purveying an “Aryan Jesus” in the 1930’s and then a catspaw of the Communists of East Germany in the 1940’s and ’50’s. That’s what pandering to the culture rather than lovingly confronting it when it needs it gets us.

  • Ben

    No more Trinity: Great blog which sets out to refute the Trinity in plain language


  • James M

    “Do you concur with Barr, take issue with him, or something in between?”

    ## I think a few of his arguments aren’t entirely compelling – ISTM that one may be able to have an inerrant Bible as long as one situates the inerrancy in the Bible as a whole, rather than in its constituent parts, for instance. I think a totally inerrant Bible’s totally inerrancy is useless, that does not settle whether the reader is take the Flood as geographically universal, or as geographically local. It cannot be both – so if different Christians who believe in its plenary inerrancy in all matters of hydrodynamics, geography, astronomy, history, mathematics, etc., take different meanings from the same inerrant texts, the inerrancy isn’t working; it is failing to provide the God-intended meaning to both sets of readers. Maybe I’m missing something – but what ? I don’t agree with the statement that predictive prophecy implies determinism, either. But his description of Fundamenalist reliance on harmonisation as “laughable”, though severe, seems all too well justified.

    My own belief is that the doublets & variants – such as the three Goliath-slayings, or the two deaths of Judas, or the variations in the details of the Resurrection accounts – have a positive theological function; that because they tell different stories, we learn more about God than if they were in perfect literal agreement. IOW,the Bible is better – not worse – for giving us different traditions as to where Jesus was brought up, different dates for the Ascension, different accounts of the healing/raising from the dead of Jairus’s daughter, & so on.

    I totally agree with him in his rejection of the idea that the Resurrection of Christ is historical – and for the reasons that he gives in “Fundamentalism”. I firmly believe that Christ was indeed raised from the dead – but to call the Resurrection historical is to demean it. To borrow from C. S. Lewis, it is far too heavy, too big, to be accommodated in anything as feeble and ridiculous as history; for history is the continuum man lives in. It is our environment. The Resurrection OTOH is a not human, not part of creation, an unmediated Act of God with no causes or analogies in history. But historical research depends upon our being able to trace causes or analogies in history. The Resurrection, as Barr points out, is a Unique Act of God – as Unique, AFAICS, as God. To call the Resurrection of Christ historical, is to drag it down to being no more important than WW1, the assassination of Julius Caesar, the rise of the Persian Empire – ephemeral stuff like that.