is there payoff for the church in reading the Bible critically?

is there payoff for the church in reading the Bible critically? November 25, 2014

At this year’s annual “help me I’m wearing tweed in San Diego” conference (a.k.a. Society of Biblical Literature) I was part of a panel discussion on “Reading the Bible in the 21st Century: Exploring New Models for Reconciling the Academy and the Church.” On the panel with me were N. T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Lauren Winner. John Dominic Crossan was scheduled to be there but his flight was delayed.

At any rate, we were each given 10 minutes to address the topic and here is what I said.


About 10 years ago a friend of mine, who teaches systematic theology at an evangelical seminary, told me of a faculty meeting held to discuss my recently published book Inspiration and Incarnation.

During the faculty discussion, a biblical scholar pointed out, “You know, there’s really nothing new here”—which, of course is not only true, but largely the point of the book: well known and widely accepted things like the presence of myth, contradictions, and numerous historical problems in the Old Testament, not to mention the New Testament’s midrashic use of the Old, have not been handled well within evangelicalism.

My friend chimed in, “Wait a minute. There’s nothing new here? I never heard of this stuff—and I graduated from this school and had you as a teacher.” The Bible professor replied, “Our job is to protect you from this information.”

Or consider the following: it’s been known within the evangelical community to encourage promising seminary students to pursue doctoral work at major research universities, but for apologetic purposes: infiltrate their ranks, learn their ways, expose their weaknesses. Or, related, they are told to “plunder the Egyptians”—a phrase actually used. To appropriate whatever in critical scholarship can aid the cause and either ignore or fight against the rest.

And so you have three postures by this faith community toward the threat posed by the academic study of the Bible: gatekeeper, spy, or plunderer. What lies beneath these postures is a deep distrust of the academy.

But the academy isn’t just a problem for evangelicals or other conservatives. On the other end of the spectrum we have the mainline church and theological interpretation—which is a movement to recover scripture for the church (the mainline church) in the wake of the historical critical revolution, which has not always been friendly to life and faith.

This is no rejection of the academy, though. What’s done is done. We’ve passed through what Walter Wink calls the “acid bath of criticism,” which has done the necessary job of stripping us of our naïve biblicism. But now, what’s left? What do we do with the Bible? How does it function in the church? What does it say about God? What should we believe? So, whereas evangelicalism distrust the academy, the mainline has felt a bit burned by it.

What binds both groups together is the problem of the academic study of scripture for the church—though there is also an important difference between them that goes beyond simply their different attitudes toward biblical criticism. Let me explain.

Evangelicalism’s suspicion of the academy appears to be justified by the mainline church’s embrace of historical criticism at first only to wind up advocating for theological interpretation as a corrective to it. “See, I told you so. Biblical criticism is a dead end. Look at the mainline churches and their shrinking numbers. They’re on life-support. Let’s learn from their mistake, not repeat it.”

I can see the point, but not so fast. Evangelicalism can’t simply adopt as its own the mainline response to historical criticism. The mainline embraced historical-critical insights; it’s had its acid bath and is working toward, as Gadamer and others put it, a second naiveté that acknowledges the critical revolution. In other words, the mainline church is postcritical, and there is no going back to the way things were before.

Evangelicalism, by contrast, hasn’t gone through the acid bath of criticism, nor does it seek the second naiveté. They are certainly willing to acknowledge that critical scholarship has shed some light on scripture, but the overall critical “posture” as it were is largely a mistake that one should be suspicious of, guard against, infiltrate, or plunder. In a sense, the evangelical reading of scripture is more at home in the precritical world, lamenting the slow erosion of biblical authority and inerrancy at the hands of biblical criticism.

If I had to pick, I’d rather be postcritical and wounded than precritical and defensive, but this is not to say that the mainline project of theological interpretation holds the key to binding together church and the academy—at least I don’t see it yet.

For example, I remember 25 years ago reading Brevard Childs’s excellent commentary on Exodus, but feeling frustrated. He acknowledges throughout the undeniable insights of historical critical methods, and even explains the text’s incongruities on the basis of source critical analysis. But when it comes to the theological appropriation of Exodus, all his learned critical analyses is left behind—because source criticism won’t get you to theological reflection. In fact, it gets in the way.

A lot has happened since Childs, and I respect the larger project championed by Walter Brueggemann, for example, but my experience of theological interpretation in general is that the relevance of biblical criticism for the church’s life and faith can be hard to discern. It’s not always clear to me how the academy is brought constructively and intentionally into the theological life of the church.

In fact, at times I see little more than a bare acknowledgment of the “importance” or “necessity” of biblical criticism, but when it comes to theology, it’s sometimes hard to see the importance or necessity. Biblical criticism seems to be more of a negative boundary marker to distinguish the mainline from the religious right—“We’re not fundamentalists; we embrace criticism”—but where’s the payoff?

As I see it, the academy and the church have at best an uneasy relationship when it comes to the Bible, whether for evangelicals or mainliners. In my opinion, true reconciliation of academy and church must strive for a more intentionally a theological synthesis of the academic study of scripture and how that contributes theologically to faith and life, to seeing—perhaps in fresh ways– how God speaks to us in and through scripture today.

As I tell the story in The Bible Tells Me SoI’ve been captured by this synthetic idea since my first few weeks of graduate school—and some of how I put the pieces together has made its way into the book, albeit on a popular churchy level (which is exactly where it needs to be). For me, one payoff of this synthesis is a Bible that is remarkably dynamic and therefore personally meaningful.

For example, when I understand Deuteronomy as a layered work that grew out of the late monarchic to postexilic periods, I get happy. I see canonized a deliberate, conscious, recontextualizion, actualizion, indeed rewriting of earlier ancient traditions for the benefit of present communities of faith.

The same holds for Chronicles—a realignment and reshaping of Israel’s story for a late postexilic audience. Or taking a big step back, we have the Old Testament as a whole, which has woven into it the exaltation of the tribe of Judah, a theme that reflects the present-day questions and answers of the postexilic Judahite writers that produced it. Scripture houses a theological dynamic that is intentionally innovative, adaptive, and contemporizing.

Scripture’s inner dynamic provides a model for our own theological appropriation of scripture. As Michael Fishbane reminds us, within scripture the authoritative text of the past is not simply received by the faithful but is necessarily adapted and built upon. And this is a noble quality of the Old Testament that continues in Second Temple Judaism and, for Christians, the New Testament, where Israel’s story is profoundly recontextualized, reshaped, and re-understood in light of present circumstances.

And what the Christian Bible does is continued as soon as the church got out of the gate in the 2nd century and beyond: reshaping the ancient Semitic story in Greek and Latin categories, giving us creeds; and then through the entire history of the church, where everywhere we look people are asking the very same question asked by the Deuteronomist, the Chronicler, and Paul: how does that back there speak to us here? 

And answering that question is a transaction between past and present that always involves some creative adaptation.

I don’t see this dynamic as a problem. It’s a gift. What more could the church want from its scripture? Don’t make a move without it, but when you move—you may need to move, not just remain where things have been. This is what I mean throughout The Bible Tells Me So when I say that the Bible is not an owner’s manual or an instruction guide.

It is a model of our own inevitable theological process, because the question is never simply what did God do then, but what is God surprisingly, ForTheBibleTellsMeSounexpectedly, counterintuitively, in complete freedom, doing now?

Historical criticism doesn’t get a free pass—and I’m thinking here for example of Brueggemann’s critique. But it has nevertheless helped us understand something of this dynamic.

If I can put this in Christian terms, scripture bears witness to the acts of God and most supremely to the act of God in Christ. But scripture bears witness in culturally and contextually meaningful ways. This is where historical criticism comes into the picture—not as an enemy to be guarded against or plundered, and not as an awkward relative you don’t know what to do with, but as a companion, a means of understanding and embracing the complex actualizing dynamic of the Bible as a whole.

This is what I am aiming for in The Bible Tells Me So, albeit at a popular level, because that is where this discussion needs to be—with those who feel they have to chose between accepting academic insights or maintaining faith. I don’t believe that is a choice that has to be made, and miss out on a lot when we feel we need to.

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  • Jeff

    “…that is where this discussion needs to be—with those who feel they have to chose between accepting academic insights or maintaining faith. I don’t believe that is a choice that has to be made, and miss out on a lot when we feel we need to.”

    This is so true! And I know that you say it a lot, but we need to keep hearing it. This is where my faith is right now. I had indeed been taught (and am still being told by many) that without an inerrant, verbally-inspired Bible upon which so much of evangelical teaching is hinged, our faith had no foundation. So when I began thinking critically about scripture, I felt my faith being dissolved. I never thought that I had to choose one or the other, but because my faith was so rooted in biblicism, I realized that my faith could not continue on unchanged. I won’t deny academic insights simply for the purpose of maintaining faith, because that feels incredibly dishonest to me. I also don’t want to throw away my entire faith and hope in Christ simply because the Bible might have turned out to be different that was I originally thought it was. This is where I am now: my faith was almost completely destroyed, and I’m seeking to rebuild it. I want to learn to read the Bible in a way that is honest about what it is and where it came from, but I still want to be able to see God at work in it, speaking to me through it.

    • Mike H

      Well said. I can relate.

    • Peter B

      Hi Jeff

      I feel for you, my brother. I felt a similar way as I reflected on the terrible reality of much Church History. I have come to understand that God often acts differently to what we expect. A dear friend of mine told me a story recently:

      She was cooking some scones and suddenly she felt the Holy Spirit tell her to go to visit a person she knew who was lived about three blocks away. She thought, surely not, I need to tidy up first, – but the impression was urgent she had to go at that instant. So in obedience she went with her apron on and hands covered in flour. She knocked on the other persons door saying, ‘I feel God wanted me to come and visit you’. The Lady who answered the door looked stunned, she said nothing, she simply hugged my friend.

      It was only two weeks later my friend heard the others persons perspective. This lady had been pacing up and down in her kitchen, her faith was in tatters she was saying to God, ‘Are you really there, do something that only you could do’. At that instant my friend knocked on the door saying she had been sent by God. The lady said that my friends face was simply radiant as she said that.

      I have experienced similar things myself, but God seems to respond in this way only when it is a desperate cry of the heart, not an attempt to “extract a sign”.

  • I think one of the sociological forces that’s helping bring this issue to the forefront is that we’re experiencing people leaving the church because they’ve been taught their faith is inextricably bound up with certain positions that, over time, seem increasingly untenable.

    We (and by “we” I mean conservative evangelicals) are sort of lying in the bed we made. We made a huge deal about how Genesis 1 has to be understood literally or our faith collapses, and when people come to the conclusion they can’t understand Genesis 1 literally, then they feel like they have to give up their faith. You could say this about any number of issues.

    I think the church has to learn to deal wisely and compassionately with critical readings. The higher we try to build the walls, ironically, the more people will be streaming out from the inside.

    • hoosier_bob

      When I was a law student, I attended a talk by Bart Ehrman at the divinity school. As I was listening to the talk, I kept thinking, “This is a guy who really wants to believe that everything he learned at Moody is true, but who ends up rejecting the Christian faith because he knows it isn’t true.”

    • Tim

      Absolutely Phil; good insight.

  • Pastor John

    Like Professor Enns, I am both a product of Westminster Seminary and the results of critical biblical scholarship. After I read his book Inspiration and Incarnation and the recommendation of an adjunct professor at WTS, I was more convinced than ever I was on the right track by embracing scholarship rather than tradition – or as I often said, “superstition”. Having recently discovered his blog, I am finding a better balance between scholarship (which has often led me to skepticism) and trust in God (as opposed to belief in a creed). Thank you professor Enns for your insights and encouragement along “the Way” – always new and always built on the old.

  • Ron Schooler

    I identify with your friend in that I graduated from Fuller
    in the late 70s when there was a furious battle for the Bible. What were we to do with biblical criticism? I
    was shocked to learn about almost 100-year old information about the Bible that
    had never reached the pew—even in my Presbyterian church. Those of us
    Evangelicals who felt the Bible should be what it is—not what we wanted it to
    be—lost that battle, but not the war because here we are again with your
    generation on the front lines of the Sword Drill.

    You’re The Bible Tells Me So and your talk at SBL offer a
    solution. Intellectually, I see it as brilliant. However, I don’t see how it
    could work in practice. Most Evangelicals want a magic Bible and would be
    greatly diminished in spirit if they had to give it up. I was reading The Bible
    Tells Me So on a plane from LA to Seattle. The young man sitting next to me saw
    the title and began Christian small talk with me. It turns out that he worked
    for a mega church and was completely enthralled by its pastor (who, it happened,
    was in first class on the same plane). Now here is the kicker for me. I felt that
    this young man’s faith, and it seemed to be great, rested on naïve notions
    about the Bible. I actually said to myself, “If you read this book, your faith
    would be diminished.” I hope I’m wrong about this assumption.

    Do we have two groups of Christians? One, like me and many
    others who want to maintain intellectual honesty and still revere the Bible—we
    who live in that post-critical community. The other is—and they are the vast
    majority—those who need the façade of the Instruction Manual Bible. You have
    written a book that they can read and understand. What will the results be for
    those who read it?

    I would like to add to your notions about how a realistic
    reading of Scripture encourages the reader to be creative in interpretation.
    Even the most ardent literalists are creative in their interpretation. Their
    understandings of the text reflect their times more than the times of the
    writings. Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis is a biting
    commentary on how the Bible does not work for inerrancy folks in understanding
    Providence or to solve spiritual and moral issues. But, these folks are
    blithely unaware of this. I heard a sermon two Sundays ago where Acts 2:46-47
    was read. The pastor, as I have heard every time I hear this read in church,
    had to make a passing reference to “this doesn’t mean that God advocates
    socialism.” I’m sure a socialist would see it differently (perhaps literally).
    The crux of the issue is admitting to our innate proclivity to fool ourselves
    into thinking that we know what God wants, and it is the same as what we want.

    • Dean

      Echo your thoughts completely. I just sat through a youtube video featuring Al Mohler giving a speech at a convention regarding Biblical inerrancy. He spoke for an hour and a half but the thrust of his message was this:

      1. The literal reading of Genesis 1 suggests a 6000 year old creation.
      2. You can’t possibly have death and suffering of any kind before the Fall and still have the Bible make sense.
      3. Even though the weight of scientific evidence suggests that the earth is ancient, Christians need to believe in a young earth because it is the only framework which allows for a theologically consistent reading of the Bible.

      So essentially, he is saying that he doesn’t know why the earth looks old and he doesn’t really care, because the Bible trumps any other knowledge we have about the world and we have to go with that because it is a safer bet. In one sense, at least he is honest with the position he is taking. In another sense, you have to wonder if the Southern Baptists really want someone who has the same theological chops as Ken Ham heading up their institution.

      • Mark

        I am impressed at your ability to sit through an hour and a half of Al Mohler.

    • Mark

      Now well into my seventh decade, I am becoming more and more convinced that people don’t want to have to think. They want a rule book, they want an instruction manual.

      I will have to look up Mark Noll’s book. Sounds interesting.

  • John

    I suspect this is an evangelical problem. We want our Bible to be authoritative, but we want it so on our terms, not its own. You can’t have it both ways.

  • Daniel Merriman

    Too bad you spoke at SBL, not ETS. 🙂

    Your statements about Childs, Brueggerman, etc. are a little too much inside baseball to me.

    Not sure where you are coming from, though I’m sure your audience was.

  • Mark K

    My experience was opposite Ron’s (unfortunately): I was steered away from Fuller in the 70s by my evangelical mentors because it was, they said, on the wrong side of the “battle for the Bible”. While I lived 25 miles from Pasadena, they sent me and my young family 1000 miles away to a fundagelical school, where things did not go well, mostly due to the arrogance of some of the profs. (As Pete often reminds us, Jesus says I have to forgive them–well, Peter usually says I have to forgive him, but it’s the same idea :)). It turns out that the battle was not for the Bible, but for a propositional Bible, which is not the Bible as I read it at all.

    It took decades and a financially and ecclesiastically rocky path to overcome that experience and in my understanding and practice of the faith. I’m only now doing so with the help of books like Pete’s (and this blog; special thanks to everyone), with the care and advocacy of the Spirit, and in an Episcopal church setting. My former mentors would probably say today that I’m not “saved”; I would say I’m finally within the historic understanding of the church.

  • Tony Johnson Joncevski

    Excellent stuff, thank you for sharing. As former Evangelical (Theonomist actually) and now a pastor in a mainline denomination I enjoyed reading your reflection. I am one of those those who came in from the extreme right, swung to the extreme left and now I am somewhere in between.

    Any chance of us getting to read the other addresses?

  • hoosier_bob

    I just want to express my immense appreciation for the discussion here.

    I grew up in a mainline church that largely accepted the insights of Biblical criticism. When I was in my mid-20s, I had something of a crisis of faith: I was sure that I was a Christian, but could articulate no cogent explanation for the basis of that belief. I stumbled my way into evangelicalism via a PCA church. I was impressed by the fact that people knew why they were Christians. I went along with the program. Even so, I always had a deep suspicion that Biblical criticism was largely right. But I didn’t see a way to connect Nicene orthodoxy with Biblical criticism. So, I accepted biblicism…but with my fingers crossed behind my back.

    That’s what excites me about this project: It provides a path for affirming Nicene orthodoxy while being honest about the deficiencies of biblicism.

    • Daniel Fisher

      Thanks for sharing – This is somewhat similar to my experience of a bit of cognitive dissonance – when first exposed to Biblical Criticism in my undergrad, I knew there was something to at least some parts of it and something about my (at the time) very simplistic view of the Bible that was at odds with obvious reality – but for me, at the very same time I had enormous problems with so many of their assumptions and conclusions (including their overarching anti-supernatural bias)… so for me, I was stuck; I found I could neither uncritically accept the conclusions of my critical professors nor maintain my simplistic view of the Bible, and had no answer for a while – I maintained my trust in the Bible as God’s word, based largely on my trust in what Jesus certainly seemed to think about the Bible, but put many questions on hold into the “needs further study” category. No one should fear genuine truth, regardless of the source.

    • peteenns

      “I always had a deep suspicion that Biblical criticism was largely right. But I didn’t see a way to connect Nicene orthodoxy with Biblical criticism. So, I accepted biblicism…but with my fingers crossed behind my back.”

      I hear you, but no need to cross your fingers. Just carry on, honest before God. You’re in good company, today and through the centuries.

      I went to WTS in the 80’s and there was no better place anywhere in the Reformed world (and throughout evangelicalism, I would say in retrospect) to hear patiently and engage sympathetically historical criticism.

      But even that wasn’t an adequate preparation to spending 5 years at a research university watching various methods of historical criticism worked out before you. What I thought I understood so well was so very simplistic. There is no substitute watching actual practitioners of historical criticism at work, especially if they don’t hold a grudge against conservatives (which was my experience at Harvard). It has been my experience that students who go no further than the level and kind of engagement I experienced at WTS are deluding themselves if they think that understand much at all. The self-taught can be insufferable at times. This actually is a discipline that requires some training, not just reading.

      • cken

        I would kindly suggest that what you call training is simply a form of indoctrination and it teaches you religious words that are absolutely meaningless to a lay person and contribute nothing to understanding. By your standards we should disregard everything said by Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul because they were self taught. Truth is religion is very simple. Education simply teaches you how to complicate it.

  • gingoro

    Outside of the fundagelical groups my guess is that more and more problems will surface with the inerrancy model of understanding scripture as answer to all our questions. Thus it would appear that as Pete says some new synthesis will be necessary and helpful. IMO too many thinking people will start to see problems with the existing paradigm. DaveW

  • Daniel Fisher

    The experience you shared about your friend in the theological school was very insightful, and rather telling – I share the frustration about evangelical scholars and schools not feeling the need to embrace and wrestle with the challenging information and questions. This is exactly the kind of approach that creates the (quite legitimate) impression that these folks are more interested in maintaining and defending their pre-packaged perspective than to pursue actual reality and truth.

    To stretch and give the benefit of the doubt, I could perhaps see where some people may truly think that these other perspectives are so erroneous or insignificant they simply aren’t worth mentioning – like a teacher of astrophysics feeling it unnecessary to address the competing theory of the faked moon landing. I heartily disagree with that, but I can at least see that’s where they may be coming from – and I could perhaps understand not feeling the need to share this from the pulpit; but in grad school?? why would we not want to dig into every possible avenue to uncover as much genuine truth as possible?

    Maybe I was just lucky, but my experience at an evangelical (inerrancy-affirming) seminary was largely the opposite – my professors took a seemingly perverse pleasure in drawing our attention to all the absolutely most challenging items: the most divergent accounts in Kings and Chronicles, the similarities between the OT and other ANE stories; similarities between Jesus’ teaching and contemporary Judaism, the challenging way the NT uses the OT, etc. (such that little if anything in I&I was new to me), and they forced us to wrestle with all these things, eradicating any vestiage of the simplistic fundamentalism I came there with – but all done in a way that still affirmed the inspiration and innerancy of the Scripture as God’s word, and used these challenges for further illumination. I will always appreciate the way I had my nose proverbially thrust into the most challenging parts and made to wrestle with those…. and am a bit sad when I hear how so many Christians – especially those in grad schools – are “protected” from those very messy parts that have given me perhaps the most illumination.

    • Richard Anderson

      Interesting. Are you at liberty to identify this particular seminary? Just curious…

      • Daniel Fisher

        This was at RTS some 20 years ago. All three items that Peter outlines in I&I (comparisons with ANE, NT use of OT, and especially the Theological Diversity in the OT) were often large focuses of my OT classes with similar wrestling in the NT arena.

    • cken

      And do you teach/preach the lessons you learned.

      • Daniel Fisher

        Most certainly – just recently in fact I led a Bible study to examine the radically different account of King Manasseh from Kings and Chronicles. This allowed me to illustrate 1) in anyone’s life as recorded in Scripture, there will be things to emulate and things not to, but more importantly,2) what this helps us see about the author’s intent based on what details of Manasseh’s life he chose to write about, 3) These historical accounts are intended more as “sermons” than objective histories (and they repeatedly state as much), and 4) how understanding this helps us understand the purpose and message behind each author’s “sermon.”
        I tend to gravitate toward teaching these things, as these are the “mysteries” and challenges that force us into serious thinking and exploration and better understanding the mindset and intent of the original author – and the better I understand that all the human aspects and intent and perspective, the better I understand the message God inspired through those very real people.

  • cken

    It is easy to read the Bible and be critical. What is difficult is to read the Bible with understanding and without filtering it through your lens of indoctrination. The art is to read in context understand what is meant literally and what is allegorical and still sift out the essence of truth contained therein.
    I think the reason for the decline in church attendance is because most pastors still talk in religious cliches. Many who can think and read and are seeking become NONEs or SBNRs because there is nothing more to learn and no way to develop in a church environment. What is worse is you are ostracized for asking questions and not accepting the stock answer.

    Hey that is just my opinion. I found a small church (nondenominational) I go to with some regularity mostly because I like the people and discussions in Sunday School class. I skip the sermons because there is nothing new to be gained there.

  • Striker

    If followed to its logical outcome, historical criticism ought to make it untenable that scripture is inspired in a way that is qualitatively unique over and above other seminal works. The bedrock concepts of Christianity derive from scripture, and as scripture is not uniquely inspired, then neither are these concepts uniquely inspired. Having lost their purportedly unique origin, these concepts lose their automatic claim to authority. For those who wish to maintain their faith in the wake of this critique, the solution lies in reestablishing the authority of at least the essential concepts of Christianity. This is what I think your synthesis attempts. But ultimately you will have to go in the direction of justifying Christianity strictly as a system of morality created and maintained by the human, not the divine.

    • Bingo! That’s it exactly.

      However, Christianity still need not operate “strictly as a system of morality…”. And progressive Christianity, for all it’s typical tepidness, at least sometimes provides an “inspired” community of mutual care and serves as an anti-imperialist or prophetic movement supporting many of Jesus’ “upside down” personal/political calls…. “fulfillments” of The Law (i.e., its positive purposes).

    • Andrew Dowling

      “This is what I think your synthesis attempts. But ultimately you will
      have to go in the direction of justifying Christianity strictly as a
      system of morality created and maintained by the human, not the divine.”

      This is assuming that humans cannot ever capture or embody the divine, which is a little ironic since the very idea of the incarnation is the divine embodied in humanity.

      • Hezekiah Smith

        I was under the impression that Jesus was the Bedrock…

  • Great analysis and statement of “the situation as it is” — both Evangelical and Mainline. Neither have a consistent and powerful approach to and way of understanding the spiritual values and guidance of Scripture… tho I see some making good progress, especially the Process people (among whom I’d like to include myself, tho I’m not heavily into process thought or theology).

    My main appeal, having been educated in this way, is for a robust interaction with and gleaning from related disciplines… especially history, theology, philosophy, psychology and sociology or cultural anthropology.

  • Ross

    Okay, okay, enough already, I’ve bought the yellow book then.

    Being far from an academic and the academy, the above is a bit out of my control and World, but the central part for me is where those studying scripture in great depth effect me and plebs like me. I’m fairly happy to hold the contentious position that I’m fairly sure what scripture is not, but a lot more vague about what it is and its place in the church and my life.

    So far I’ve managed to reduce my Doctrine to a belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (and no, I won’t really be able to qualify/quantify what that means to any great depth) and the need to love my neighbour as myself.

    Do I really need to learn/believe more? It’s pretty difficult living that out, let alone anything else!

  • rvs

    “Our job is to protect you from this information.” I wonder if one of the economic motives goes like this: our job is to protect our donors from this information. Who, exactly, is being protected, and from what?

    • The pastors and potential clergy are being protected from anything that could cast the biblical narrative into doubt.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Peter, a question occurred to me… after reading “Bible Tells me so”… it strikes me (correct me if I’m wrong) that since you embrace a belief in Jesus’ resurrection, you must be rejecting at least some of the conclusions of at least some historical-critical academics. Many scholars who use similar critical see in the resurrection a story that simply mirrors other ancient myth, conflict in the historical accounts undermines historical credibility, an absence of extra-biblical evidence for this historical event, a historical development of the belief etc., etc., etc.

    I’m curious, then, if you might detail what factors have led you to conclude differently than so many of these scholars who would consider themselves to be following the historical-critical method in this case?

  • It strikes me that the following, from Alister McGrath’s Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal, is quite relevant:

        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)

    More colloquially: how can the Bible tell you that you are wrong? I’d prefer to say ‘Holy Spirit’ instead of ‘Bible’, but that opens a can of worms that might not need opening.

    • Daniel Fisher

      That is a great observation I’ve wrestled with myself…. If useful, I’ve come to the following analogy: The nuclear forces in the U.S. armed forces need to verify or authenticate that a launch message they receive really did come from the president (think Crimson Tide); They don’t just obey any launch message without serious authentication. So there is lots of “critical analysis” used by the officers involved, where, in one sense, they stand in judgment over the message to confirm its authenticity. But once they verify that it is an authentic message from the President, they are bound to obey whatever it says.

      I find that relatively analogous – we ought to use every critical method (philosophical, historic, etc.) at our disposal to be sure that what we have is confirmed as authentic communication from the Holy Spirit (weeding out textual errors, understanding the true intent of the communication clearly in its genre and context, historical setting, etc.)…. But if/when we recognize it as an authentic message from one in authority over us, then we are bound to obey and submit to the message’s content (and then, back to your question, the Bible can tell us we’re wrong about something.).

      Not exactly sure how you say that in more philosophical language, though.

  • Mark K

    This may seem off topic–or just off the wall–but I’m wondering where Lesslie Newbigin might fit in this discussion. I’m thinking specifically of Proper Confidence.

  • Norm Oliveau

    He said “jumping to the ninth plague” LOL! I didn’t catch that until my second read through…can’t wait to see what I find on my third read! Great book! Thank you! Peace at long last 🙂

  • Andrew Dowling

    “For me, one payoff of this synthesis is a Bible that is remarkably dynamic and therefore personally meaningful.”

    I agree, but at the risk of being negative, here are a couple of problems I see:

    i) A majority of pastors, and this holds true for those at more “enlightened” mainline churches, are illiterate in terms of historical criticism. If they have read any, it’s only bits and pieces and thus their vantage points are extremely limited. Many became pastors because of the personal, social dynamics . . if they weren’t pastors, they’d probably be in marketing in the private sector. One even told me flat-out that history “wasn’t their thing.”

    ii) Secondly, this dynamism is fairly difficult to “preach” (or at least more difficult than traditional arcs) and thus pastors have an additional disincentive to delving into HC. There’s no simple narrative; no clear line from A to Z. And frankly, probably most of the people in the pews don’t want to diverge from that simplified, straight-line of religious thinking. Church is their place of solace from the turmoils of the previous week; disrupting their view of biblical stories or shaking up their view of God is probably not on their church wish-list.

    That all said, I personally think it’s a duty of pastors to dive into it, because understanding the Bible is part of the job description.