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I’m not trying to pick a fight or even be controversial here. It’s an honest question.

I’ve been thinking about this for several years, and what has brought it back to mind is the all-too-common phenomenon of professors “resigning” (wink, wink) from their positions (e.g., see herehere, and here).

Here is the problem in a nutshell. Many evangelical colleges and seminaries in America were founded in no small part as centers for defending and propagating earlier traditional positions against forces that coalesced in the 19th century, such as European higher criticism, biblical archaeology, and Darwin (evolution).

The issues that get at the heart of evangelical concerns remain – when the Bible was written, by whom, and whether it is historically accurate.

To be sure, evangelical institutions of higher learning have their own flavors, but a defensive posture is nevertheless self-evident in one degree or another. And this raises a question for me:

Can an institution claim to be fundamentally academic while at the same time centered on defending certain positions that are largely, if not wholly, out of sync with generations of academic discourse outside of evangelical boundaries?

It is common for evangelical institutions to have as part of their statements of faith clear articulations about biblical inerrancy and how that dogmatic starting point (either implicitly or implicitly) dictates interpretive conclusions. The question, simply put, is whether such a posture can be called “academic” by generally agreed upon standards—which are standards that evangelicals would quickly agree to in areas that do not touch evangelical dogma.

To put this another way:  Can evangelical institutions maintain a credible academic reputation when they officially promulgate positions that are only held among a small group of “sister” institutions of similar ideology and not the academic discipline of biblical scholarship in general?

Adam as the first man; the essential historical reliability (rather than mythic content) of the creation stories, the Patriarchs, the exodus, and conquest; the fundamentally early authorship of the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and Daniel. These are well-known issues that evangelicalism has tended to defend along traditional lines.

By contrast, these issues are either largely settled or at least engaged along very different lines in academic contexts outside of conservative Christian circles.

I am not suggesting everyone outside of the evangelical world has the same answer to all of these issues. But the diversity of views in academia as a whole does not include the apologetically driven answers we tend to see in evangelicalism.

In response, it is often claimed that the “guild” of biblical scholarship is too blinded by its own presuppositions to handle the word of God well, or there is some conspiracy afoot, or the better scholars reside in the evangelical camp.

These are not hypothetical responses. I have heard them for many years and still do.

At what point does the reasoned exposition of an evangelical theological tradition cross over to an unreasonable, idiosyncratic—unacademic—rejection of positions that are essentially non-controversial outside of those boundaries?

An analogy with mainstream science and creationism is apropos. At what point are creationists just plain as day not “doing science” and making things up to defend views that are by every other measure implausible if not impossible?

Let me put the question differently: At what point, if ever, would it show more integrity for a school to say the following:

“Our center of gravity is not academic integrity or engagement but the defense of our theology by either mining the academic discourse of biblical scholarship where useful or condemning it where harmful. We do not see ourselves as primarily an academic body but an ecclesial one.” 

Should such institutions publicly acknowledge that they are centers of theological apologetics and therefore not places of academic training? Should they even be allowed to grant academic degrees?

I really meant what I said earlier about not wanting to pick a fight, but I think the questions I raise here are legitimate and recurring.

I have a feeling some of you (I can feel the heat and see the smoke rising from a distance) will be quick to say that people like me have just bowed the knee to the pagan altar of “academic integrity” and the supposed “assured results of academia.”

But that criticism only holds if you can truly show others that the academic discipline of biblical studies is fundamentally misguided and that an evangelical model of some sort explains the data better.

Ironically, that case would need to be made in a recognizably academic manner to have any persuasive force.

***The original version of this post appeared in January 2013. If you want to read more about what I think about Bible—and who wouldn’t, really?—check out The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014), The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne, 2016), Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker 2005/2015), and The Evolution of Adam (Baker, 2012).***

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

62 Comments

  • ynreee says:

    you are throwing a grenade here

  • ynreee says:

    you are throwing a grenade here

  • Iceflow says:

    Hi Pete,
    If you’d care to hear from the viewpoint of a Liberty University alumnus, I take your meaning well. Theology and other academic disciplines that are immersed in a medium of faith bridging the gap two diametrically opposed schools of thinking. Perhaps the most faithful study of the Judeo-Christian God is fideistic, requiring only academic processes such as organization and communication. Polar to such a discipline would be a strict, secular, scientific method approach to treating the evidence of God.

    For advice, I go to Jesus Christ who, in John 4:24, told the woman at the well “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” I’m not alone in my belief that everything we do for the glory of God is worship, and that includes study. In seminary, we are studying spirit. There are truths that obviate the presence and understading of the Spirit we study; many of which are tangible and material. For the tangible and material, there are academic tools we can borrow from other academic fields and see the truths of God. For the spiritual, we have to use our own toolbox; the Bible. The Bible has been proven correct for 2000 years, used appropriately. It is not a science text. It isn’t history book written by modern standards. But it is the oldest, most authoritative history book ever written.

    Perhaps those who are uncomfortable with studying the Spirit and Truth of God as it is should find a new endeavor. We may study Him, but we cannot change God or adapt Him into our choice of academic application. I’ve found that people who are averse to the tension created when the natural and supernatural meet are ill-suited to approach this study with an open mind. I would hope they would reevalute their motives, process and faith and move forward strenthened by the God they study to understand the purpose He would have for them.

    Thanks for a thought provoking blog post.

  • Iceflow says:

    Hi Pete,
    If you’d care to hear from the viewpoint of a Liberty University alumnus, I take your meaning well. Theology and other academic disciplines that are immersed in a medium of faith bridging the gap two diametrically opposed schools of thinking. Perhaps the most faithful study of the Judeo-Christian God is fideistic, requiring only academic processes such as organization and communication. Polar to such a discipline would be a strict, secular, scientific method approach to treating the evidence of God.

    For advice, I go to Jesus Christ who, in John 4:24, told the woman at the well “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” I’m not alone in my belief that everything we do for the glory of God is worship, and that includes study. In seminary, we are studying spirit. There are truths that obviate the presence and understading of the Spirit we study; many of which are tangible and material. For the tangible and material, there are academic tools we can borrow from other academic fields and see the truths of God. For the spiritual, we have to use our own toolbox; the Bible. The Bible has been proven correct for 2000 years, used appropriately. It is not a science text. It isn’t history book written by modern standards. But it is the oldest, most authoritative history book ever written.

    Perhaps those who are uncomfortable with studying the Spirit and Truth of God as it is should find a new endeavor. We may study Him, but we cannot change God or adapt Him into our choice of academic application. I’ve found that people who are averse to the tension created when the natural and supernatural meet are ill-suited to approach this study with an open mind. I would hope they would reevalute their motives, process and faith and move forward strenthened by the God they study to understand the purpose He would have for them.

    Thanks for a thought provoking blog post.

  • danbrockway85 says:

    I think a place like Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena does this better than most. They’re thoroughly Evangelical and yet academically rigorous. The key seems to be: can an Evangelical institution take the Bible seriously enough to read it well (i.e. critically)?

    Disclaimer: I’m a PhD candidate at Fuller and have also taught there.

    • Pete E. says:

      agreed

    • Beau Quilter says:

      Yes the faculty and students at Fuller can read the Bible critically so long as they interpret it in ways that tow the line. For example, they may forfeit their employment or enrollment if they disagree in matters such as marriage equality:

      “Fuller Theological Seminary believes that sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman, and that sexual abstinence is required for the unmarried. The seminary believes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. Consequently, the seminary expects all members of its community–students, faculty, administrators/managers, staff, and trustees–to abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices.”

      • Pete E. says:

        I see your point, Beau, but that is a bit off topic. We’re talking about matters of historical-critical scholarship.

        • Beau Quilter says:

          Got it, sorry for going off-topic. So Fuller’s historical-critical scholarship is academically rigorous. It’s only their theological scholarship that’s bigoted.

          • Pete E. says:

            All the original comment said was that Fuller “does it better than most” and this is demonstrably true in the larger landscape of evangelical colleges/seminaries.. See, for example, John Goldingay’s work on the OT. In the

          • Beau Quilter says:

            Yes, sorry to intrude with an issue that is clearly beyond the scope of this discussion. I’m sure that Professor Goldingay’s OT scholarship is academically rigorous. Even when he uses it in published theological arguments against marriage equality in the Episcopal Church.

            http://www.collegeforbishops.org/assets/1145/ss_document_final.pdf

            I’m sure that any Fuller student would benefit from Professor Goldingay’s rigorous and academically sound teaching. So long as he or she is heterosexual.

          • Pete E. says:

            Don’t be sarcastic, Beau. It makes people think there’s no substance to your argument.

            It sounds like the issue of human sexuality is getting in the way of your conceding that people like Goldingay or Hays in OT or Green and Thompson in NT are conversant with and work within historical-critical categories. Whatever views they might espouse on things that are not within the scope of h-c scholarship (what about human sexuality, does God exist, etc.) is neither my interest nor concern and–again–off topic. And h-c scholars come to all sorts of differing opinions and they are still h-c scholars.

            One can be traditional on human sexuality and thoroughly higher-critical in biblical scholarship.

          • Beau Quilter says:

            I agree that one can have conservative theological views on sexuality while engaging in rigorous biblical scholarship. I don’t agree with your statement on sarcasm, given that thinkers ranging from Jesus to Jonathan Swift to Pete Enns are known for using it. Far from lacking substance, I would have thought the “argument” behind my sarcasm was obvious: the LGBTQ community has no voice or place at institutions like Fuller.

            And I believe that scholars such as Goldingay have every right to voice (or publish) their theological convictions (and accompanying biblical studies) on such topics as marriage equality.

            But one can certainly question the rigor of such a theological view at an institution like Fuller, where the view is propounded, made into policy – and the opposing view isn’t even allowed in the door.

            I understand that you began this post as consideration of biblical scholarship; I rather thought that theological scholarship leading to policy discrimination at an institution is a pretty clear overlap.

      • danbrockway85 says:

        Good point, Beau — and I second Pete’s response.

        On LGBT equality, I too wish FTS was a bit more progressive (or at least created greater space for students who disagree with the policy you’ve cited). It’s worth noting that, even on this point, Fuller is still doing it better than most other Evangelical schools. Fuller is hosting conversations on human sexuality that many Evangelical schools would never dream of having. FTS is also home to the student-led LGBT group One Table, which I believe is the first of its kind at an Evangelical seminary.

        Could Fuller be doing a lot more? Of course. Are the small steps the school has taken the beginning of something bigger that could have a huge impact for LGBT Christians in the long run? I hope so. Is the school as a whole bigoted? No, not by a long shot.

        • Beau Quilter says:

          It is great to hear about progress such as conversations and student groups. I am particularly sensitive to this issue because I have numerous friends and family members who have suffered this particular kind of discrimination (including a lot of hateful vitriol).

          I am unafraid of using the word “bigoted” to describe people or groups who are intolerant toward those holding different opinions. The real measure of intolerance is not in what an institution says, but how it acts. Having an opinion about the LGBTQ community is everyone’s right; discriminating against them in practices such as employment and enrollment is bigotry.

  • danbrockway85 says:

    I think a place like Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena does this better than most. They’re thoroughly Evangelical and yet academically rigorous. The key seems to be: can an Evangelical institution take the Bible seriously enough to read it well (i.e. critically)?

    Disclaimer: I’m a PhD candidate at Fuller and have also taught there.

    • Pete E. says:

      agreed

    • Beau Quilter says:

      Yes the faculty and students at Fuller can read the Bible critically so long as they interpret it in ways that tow the line. For example, they may forfeit their employment or enrollment if they disagree in matters such as marriage equality:

      “Fuller Theological Seminary believes that sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman, and that sexual abstinence is required for the unmarried. The seminary believes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. Consequently, the seminary expects all members of its community–students, faculty, administrators/managers, staff, and trustees–to abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices.”

      • Pete E. says:

        I see your point, Beau, but that is a bit off topic. We’re talking about matters of historical-critical scholarship.

        • Beau Quilter says:

          Got it, sorry for going off-topic. So Fuller’s historical-critical scholarship is academically rigorous. It’s only their theological scholarship that’s bigoted.

          • Pete E. says:

            All the original comment said was that Fuller “does it better than most” and this is demonstrably true in the larger landscape of evangelical colleges/seminaries.. See, for example, John Goldingay’s work on the OT. In the

          • Beau Quilter says:

            Yes, sorry to intrude with an issue that is clearly beyond the scope of this discussion. I’m sure that Professor Goldingay’s OT scholarship is academically rigorous. Even when he uses it in published theological arguments against marriage equality in the Episcopal Church.

            http://www.collegeforbishops.org/assets/1145/ss_document_final.pdf

            I’m sure that any Fuller student would benefit from Professor Goldingay’s rigorous and academically sound teaching. So long as he or she is heterosexual.

          • Pete E. says:

            Don’t be sarcastic, Beau. It makes people think there’s no substance to your argument.

            It sounds like the issue of human sexuality is getting in the way of your conceding that people like Goldingay or Hays in OT or Green and Thompson in NT are conversant with and work within historical-critical categories. Whatever views they might espouse on things that are not within the scope of h-c scholarship (what about human sexuality, does God exist, etc.) is neither my interest nor concern and–again–off topic. And h-c scholars come to all sorts of differing opinions and they are still h-c scholars.

            One can be traditional on human sexuality and thoroughly higher-critical in biblical scholarship.

      • danbrockway85 says:

        Good point, Beau — and I second Pete’s response.

        On LGBT equality, I too wish FTS was a bit more progressive (or at least created greater space for students who disagree with the policy you’ve cited). It’s worth noting that, even on this point, Fuller is still doing it better than most other Evangelical schools. Fuller is hosting conversations on human sexuality that many Evangelical schools would never dream of having. FTS is also home to the student-led LGBT group One Table, which I believe is the first of its kind at an Evangelical seminary.

        Could Fuller be doing a lot more? Of course. Are the small steps the school has taken the beginning of something bigger that could have a huge impact for LGBT Christians in the long run? I hope so. Is the school as a whole bigoted? No, not by a long shot.

        • Beau Quilter says:

          It is great to hear about progress such as conversations and student groups. I am particularly sensitive to this issue because I have numerous friends and family members who have suffered this particular kind of discrimination (including a lot of hateful vitriol).

          I am unafraid of using the word “bigoted” to describe people or groups who are intolerant toward those holding different opinions. The real measure of intolerance is not in what an institution says, but how it acts. Having an opinion about the LGBTQ community is everyone’s right; discriminating against them in practices such as employment and enrollment is bigotry.

  • Ragnhild Nyström says:

    I have ordered two of your books and I’m eagerly waiting for them to arrive (It’s a long way to Sweden!). I’m currently on sick leave, due to pneumonia, and it would be so good to have something to read. Is good to be able to read your blog while waiting!

  • Ragnhild Nyström says:

    I have ordered two of your books and I’m eagerly waiting for them to arrive (It’s a long way to Sweden!). I’m currently on sick leave, due to pneumonia, and it would be so good to have something to read. Is good to be able to read your blog while waiting!

  • Statements of Faith pretty much say it all, don’t they? “We want you to grow in your knowledge of the Bible, just so long as this is what you come up with.” Many seminaries would be a lot more honest if they just said, “Our mission is to give you the tools and knowledge to fully articulate and defend the items in our Statement of Faith. At some point, you might accidentally learn to exegete or pastor.”

    • charlesburchfield says:

      Power & control resident in the existing dynasty of a few founding pioneer families is how she rolls in a western evangelical university I know. Nepotism is the game on. Wish someone had warned us.

  • Phil Ledgerwood says:

    Statements of Faith pretty much say it all, don’t they? “We want you to grow in your knowledge of the Bible, just so long as this is what you come up with.” Many seminaries would be a lot more honest if they just said, “Our mission is to give you the tools and knowledge to fully articulate and defend the items in our Statement of Faith. At some point, you might accidentally learn to exegete or pastor.”

    • Power & control resident in the existing dynasty of a few founding pioneer families is how she rolls in a western evangelical university I know. Nepotism is the game on. Wish someone had warned us.

  • Jimmy Farley says:

    Fair questions.
    I’ve pastored, served in a private Christian university and now a public state university. At the private school, the president’s wife and faculty member said, “We teach them what to think not how to think”. What to think was clarified after Obama was elected. 1. Be a Republican 2. Believe in six day creationism 3.Teach Western Civilization is the savior 4. Look the other way if he is an athlete 5. Get on board or leave.
    The grenade was thrown and you wrote about the shrapnel, thanks!

    • Gary says:

      Your list, in at least some ways, is Big Thing 5.

      Consider:

      1. The teachings of Jesus (e.g. the Beatitudes)
      2. The historic teaching of the Church, especially those that managed to survive the Reformation (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity, conceptions of the Devil or of Heaven and Hell)
      3. The Reformation’s distinctives (e.g. the Solas, the Protestant Confessions)
      4. The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy positions (e.g. as chiseled in these schools’ Statements of Faith)
      5. The Religious Right’s impact (e.g. abortion, race, sexuality)

      “Evangelicalism” has levels of commitments to each of these. Not only is there a difficult tension among these themes, it’s a time in which these commitments are extremely fragile.

      I’d suggest there are many Evangelicals (especially the kind that political pollsters tally) that find their beliefs more informed by the more recent cultural phenomena on this list than the more historic or informed or ecumenical. For instance, I think most Evangelicals in my family and social network have much better understandings of their conception of Christianity as it concerns to the relationships of human sexuality than the relationships of the Persons of the Trinity. Even the Fundamentalist-Moderist Controversy era’s positions are unskillfully internalized by most that I know that nominally profess them. Try these three questions out on someone:

      A. Do you believe the Bible literally? [which may solicit a “yes”]
      B. What are a few of your favorite verses? [which you may hear a few]
      C. What do these verses mean to you? [which you’ll hear the most creative and colorful interpretations, completely counter to A]

      This little five layer tower of Babel is set up for collapse. It will be interesting to see at which layers it breaks. How much of the teachings of Jesus are sufficiently internalized and made incarnationally present that much of anything can survive?

  • Jimmy Farley says:

    Fair questions.
    I’ve pastored, served in a private Christian university and now a public state university. At the private school, the president’s wife and faculty member said, “We teach them what to think not how to think”. What to think was clarified after Obama was elected. 1. Be a Republican 2. Believe in six day creationism 3.Teach Western Civilization is the savior 4. Look the other way if he is an athlete 5. Get on board or leave.
    The grenade was thrown and you wrote about the shrapnel, thanks!

  • Marshall says:

    When people can’t engage with the physical world as it actually presents itself, I am driven to the conclusion that they don’t believe that God is real. Jesus’ ministry happened in some purely literary space completely crossways to daily reality and the goal is to do some really sincere full-time cosplay.

  • Marshall says:

    When people can’t engage with the physical world as it actually presents itself, I am driven to the conclusion that they don’t believe that God is real. Jesus’ ministry happened in some purely literary space completely crossways to daily reality and the goal is to do some really sincere full-time cosplay.

  • Jordan says:

    I suspect the further from Biblical Studies you get the less this is an issue. My experience is that evangelical higher ed institutions are fairly unconcerned with academic areas such as business, education, nursing, science (other than Biology), and so on. The issue you talk about seems to be a real problem when you start “messing” with the doctrinal “essentials”. Of course what the “essentials” are tend to be up to the Board of Trustees and the big donors, etc. and not the Biblical Studies faculty 🙂

    • Gary says:

      Most of today’s big donors and board members grew up in the America of the 40s and 50s, not the America of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

      One big financial cliff is coming over the next twenty years, as this generation passes. An even bigger one is coming when today’s jaded, globalized, and over-exposed Internet era kids of a multi-cultural America are of donor age. They might have to be rebuilding from a scorched earth of prior generations’ culture warring. Rest assured, they won’t have the 19th- and 20th-century angsts that formed these schools’ confessional commitments.

      It’ll be eye rolling and jaw dropping as they mine through the archives of comment threads of today.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      It’s amazing how far afield evangelical biases can wander. Consider the engineering professor at Baylor, Robert Marks, who tauts intelligent design under the guise of bioinformatics. Fortunately in this case, the university disavows his website on the topic.

  • Jordan says:

    I suspect the further from Biblical Studies you get the less this is an issue. My experience is that evangelical higher ed institutions are fairly unconcerned with academic areas such as business, education, nursing, science (other than Biology), and so on. The issue you talk about seems to be a real problem when you start “messing” with the doctrinal “essentials”. Of course what the “essentials” are tend to be up to the Board of Trustees and the big donors, etc. and not the Biblical Studies faculty 🙂

  • “Our center of gravity is not academic integrity or engagement but the defense of our theology by either mining the academic discourse of biblical scholarship where useful or condemning it where harmful. We do not see ourselves as primarily an academic body but an ecclesial one.”

    I think this states the situation in many conservative institutions of higher education very well!

    • gingoro says:

      That is what I essentially thought back in the late 1950s when I choose to attend a secular school (UniWat) in preference to a “Christian” school. I did not want indoctrination but wanted an education.

  • “Our center of gravity is not academic integrity or engagement but the defense of our theology by either mining the academic discourse of biblical scholarship where useful or condemning it where harmful. We do not see ourselves as primarily an academic body but an ecclesial one.”

    I think this states the situation in many conservative institutions of higher education very well!

    • gingoro says:

      That is what I essentially thought back in the late 1950s when I choose to attend a secular school (UniWat) in preference to a “Christian” school. I did not want indoctrination but wanted an education.

  • Cameron Shaffer says:

    I don’t think that any evangelical educational institution that considers itself academic and that holds the views you listed would really ever be willing to say what you wrote. They wouldn’t/couldn’t if only because the majority of them do not believe that their views are truly the unacademic ones. Just as Ken Ham insists that only creationism really gets science, these schools will always insist that their academic approaches (broadly accepted are not) is consistent and necessary for their theological and ecclesial center of gravity.

  • I don’t think that any evangelical educational institution that considers itself academic and that holds the views you listed would really ever be willing to say what you wrote. They wouldn’t/couldn’t if only because the majority of them do not believe that their views are truly the unacademic ones. Just as Ken Ham insists that only creationism really gets science, these schools will always insist that their academic approaches (broadly accepted are not) is consistent and necessary for their theological and ecclesial center of gravity.

  • Rena Guerin says:

    Before attending a state college, I graduated from the one-year program at a Bible college where I was expected to think inside the box, memorize Bible verses to use when evangelizing those ensnared in false cults (Mormons, Catholics etc) and wrote a poorly received essay on the seventieth week of Daniel. My sister attended a different Bible college for three years, came home with her Bible all marked up with Dispensationalist theology, which she has discarded since becoming an Anglican. My college classes in biology and the humanities started my long process of evaluating what I had been taught in Sunday School, church and Bible college, but it wasn’t until I left the conservative denomination in which I spent the major portion of my life when I was in my 50s that I was able to find some intellectual satisfaction in the tenets of my faith. Conservative churches will not bring these ideas up for discussion and as a result are losing their young people who take a more open-minded approach to controversial issues, but also because the churches are afraid of antagonizing their older members who are the ones, after all, who pay the bills. Perhaps if the strictures are reformed in Christian academia, ideas will, over the space of years, trickle down to the local pastor and local church….

  • Rena Guerin says:

    Before attending a state college, I graduated from the one-year program at a Bible college where I was expected to think inside the box, memorize Bible verses to use when evangelizing those ensnared in false cults (Mormons, Catholics etc) and wrote a poorly received essay on the seventieth week of Daniel. My sister attended a different Bible college for three years, came home with her Bible all marked up with Dispensationalist theology, which she has discarded since becoming an Anglican. My college classes in biology and the humanities started my long process of evaluating what I had been taught in Sunday School, church and Bible college, but it wasn’t until I left the conservative denomination in which I spent the major portion of my life when I was in my 50s that I was able to find some intellectual satisfaction in the tenets of my faith. Conservative churches will not bring these ideas up for discussion and as a result are losing their young people who take a more open-minded approach to controversial issues, but also because the churches are afraid of antagonizing their older members who are the ones, after all, who pay the bills. Perhaps if the strictures are reformed in Christian academia, ideas will, over the space of years, trickle down to the local pastor and local church….

  • Derek Flood says:

    Pete,

    I totally agree with what you say here. I’d like to add that something I think you and I have in common with conservative evangelicals apologists is that we desire to help people to read the Bible in a way that brings then closer to God and helps them to live good/moral lives. This makes our goals in helping people to read Scripture different from a secular biblical scholar who approaches the Bible the way another scholar might approach the Egyptian Book of the Dead where their interest is purely academic and they have no intention of letting that book shape their life at all.

    Where we differ from conservative evangelicals apologists is that — while the goal is still to help people grow in Christ — the approach to the Bible is quite different. The apologist wants the Bible to be right and to not have any contradictions so that one can appeal to it as an authority. We instead begin with the recognition that the Bible promotes lots of things that are deeply morally wrong, and does so because it does not contain one unified view, but rather consists of a collection of contradictory views. That makes it a lot harder to read such a book devotionally since one cannot just say “the Bible says it that settles it” and one must instead to lean the difficult task of finding God in a book that has lots of errors, including moral errors. That’s hard and takes a lot of work, including learning to tell right from wrong.

    Said differently, while the apologists needs to deny what is obvious to scholarship, we affirm what scholars and scientists understand, and attempt to begin there… with the world we have and with “the Bible we have”… and nevertheless learn to read it in a way that we can encounter the holy. This is the idea of inspiration in incarnation (to slighting modify your phrase). We don’t find God in a perfect flawless world, but as imperfect people we seek to find God in an imperfect Bible. In that context, good scholarship is not something to be opposed, but is rather a welcome partner.

    What I do want to stress however is that your aim (and mine) is not purely academic in the end. Rather academic pursuit is a tool to help in a larger project of discipleship. I think that’s important because while I would not want to have a pastor be trained by an apologist who denies reality, I also would not want a pastor to be trained by someone who only has a purely academic interest in the Bible. Both are ultimately not qualified to train seminarians IMHO.

  • Andrew Watson says:

    I love this. I like the term ‘Critical bible studies’ if mentioned in a syllabus it might be a good sign that the institution may have some academic credibility.
    I would hope critism means the text is treated as literature, rather than above literature. Then the fun can begin, without it it is just a familiarisation of a fully intact and completed theology – there is no room for discovery.

    • Gary says:

      Yes, literature. In a revealed religion long after an oral tradition, I don’t see how much can convince without a robust foundation of the skills of literary analysis. I have found nearly all clergy I’ve known to be very weak on literary skills, the stuff science does, other religions to any depth, and history to name a few. One of the reasons I have personally found church-going difficult is because the clergy frequently (read Donald Trump frequency) speak with an air of authority about things they don’t know that much about.

      You sit there in bewilderment wondering how others find inspiration in this.

      • hoosier_bob says:

        I agree. Evangelical seminaries tend to attract people who are dogmatic and unreflective, and devote three years to making them even more dogmatic and unreflective.

        • Gary says:

          Then conceive of acceptance, success, and righteousness in the eyes of God based primarily upon how many souls they can get to follow them.

  • Gary says:

    In related news, Hulk Hogan discovers that it isn’t really wrestling.

  • kfitting says:

    Overall, this post raises some very interesting questions and has made me think. My only question concerns the phrase “explains the data better.” This is a big assumption that I would like to see more explanation on. Current societal trends are fascinated with data (especially science, maybe the start of the fascination), but what limitations does a data-driven model give us? I’m not saying I can think of something better, I’m trying to better understand these arguments. Just as evangelicals are blindsided by their dogmatic assumptions scientists are limited by their data assumptions. How does data-driven biblical studies understand the benefits and pitfalls of its assumptions? Is data all there is? How does the Holy Spirit (or even the supernatural, more generally) fit into our data analysis?

  • kfitting says:

    Overall, this post raises some very interesting questions and has made me think. My only question concerns the phrase “explains the data better.” This is a big assumption that I would like to see more explanation on. Current societal trends are fascinated with data (especially science, maybe the start of the fascination), but what limitations does a data-driven model give us? I’m not saying I can think of something better, I’m trying to better understand these arguments. Just as evangelicals are blindsided by their dogmatic assumptions scientists are limited by their data assumptions. How does data-driven biblical studies understand the benefits and pitfalls of its assumptions? Is data all there is? How does the Holy Spirit (or even the supernatural, more generally) fit into our data analysis?

  • hoosier_bob says:

    I agree. Evangelical seminaries tend to attract people who are dogmatic and unreflective, and devote three years to making them even more dogmatic and unreflective.

    • Gary says:

      Then conceive of acceptance, success, and righteousness in the eyes of God based primarily upon how many souls they can get to follow them.

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