Can Believers Be Bible Scholars? A Strange Debate
- Monday, March 27, 2006
Fox does attempt to distinguish between "faith-based Bible study" and "the scholarship of persons who hold a personal faith." He explains, "there are many religious individuals whose scholarship is secular and who introduce their faith only in distinctly religious forums." Nevertheless, Fox never really explains how these persons are anything other than secular in their scholarly conclusions. Does he believe that persons live in separate intellectual spheres and can operate as authentic believers in one sphere but not in any other?
Fox's frustration is clear: "There is an atmosphere abroad in academia (loosely associated with postmodernism) that tolerates and even encourages ideological scholarship and advocacy instruction. Some conservative religionists have picked this up. I have heard students, and read authors, who justify their biases by the rhetoric of postmodern self-indulgence. Since no one is viewpoint neutral and everyone has presuppositions, why exclude Christian presuppositions? Why allow the premise of errancy but not of inerrancy? Such sophistry can be picked apart, but the climate does favor it."
Fox may dismiss these arguments as "sophistry," but he never answers his own questions. Why should the premise of biblical errancy be considered ideologically neutral, but the assertion of biblical inerrancy is considered to be evidence of distorting bias?
"The claim of faith-based Bible study to a place at the academic table takes a toll on the entire field of Bible scholarship," Fox laments. "The reader or student of Bible scholarship is likely to suspect (or hope) that the author or teacher is moving toward a predetermined conclusion. Those who choose a faith-based approach should realize that they cannot expect the attention of those who don't share their postulates. The reverse is not true."
Get it? In Fox's scheme, the secularist wins the coin toss whichever side turns up. "The best thing for Bible appreciation is secular, academic, religiously-neutral hermeneutic." That is an astounding claim, and one that demands a far more developed argument and series of definitions. Does Fox actually believe in the myth of a "secular, academic, religiously-neutral hermeneutic?" Does he believe in the Easter Bunny?
He cites with appreciation the work of Jacques Berlinerblau, who also argues for a secular hermeneutic. In a response to Fox's essay, Berlinerblau stated that he read Fox's essay "with appreciation and glee." Berlinerblau, who teaches at Georgetown University and Hofstra University, is the author of The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously, published by Cambridge University Press. Berlinerblau congratulated Fox for calling "attention to a topic that is virtually taboo in biblical scholarship."
Berlinerblau criticizes the world of biblical scholarship for its "demographic peculiarities," most specifically the fact that the vast majority of Bible scholars are members of some church or synagogue. He sees this as historically understandable but academically unsustainable. "They continue to ignore the fact that the relation between their own religious commitments and their scholarly subject matter is wont to generate every imaginable conflict of intellectual interest," Berlinerblau asserts. "Too, they still seem oblivious to how strange this state of affairs strikes their colleagues in the humanities and social sciences." Significantly, Berlinerblau seems to understand that this imbalance is overwhelmingly in favor of the secularist. "Before this response begins to sound like the prelude to a class-action suit, permit me to observe that the type of discrimination encountered by secularists in biblical studies is precisely what believers working in the humanities and social sciences have endured for decades. The secular bent and bias of the American research university is well known. It is undeniable that many of its workers are prejudiced against sociologists, English professors, and art historians who are 'too' religious."
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