Can Believers Be Bible Scholars? A Strange Debate
- Monday, March 27, 2006
But, back to believers engaged in biblical scholarship, Berlinerblau is concerned "by the degree to which explicitly confessional researchers sit on editorial boards of major journals, steering committees, search committees, and the hierarchy of the Society of Biblical Literature."
In contrast to Michael V. Fox, Berlinerblau does not appreciate believers who attempt to compartmentalize their faith and their scholarship into separate worlds. "It is another category of Biblicists that, to my mind, is far more problematic" Berlinerblau explains. "It is comprised of researchers who in every facet of their private lives are practicing Jews or Christians but who--somehow--deny that this may influence their professional scholarly work (which just happens to concern those documents that are the fount of Judaism and Christianity!)"
Sounding slightly less alarmist than Fox, Berlinerblau warns of "a collective ideational drift in the field" of biblical studies--"one that makes it difficult to think or speak about the Scripture in certain ways."
Berlinerblau must be given credit for a finely-tuned sense of humor. Consider this paragraph: "Assume for a moment that you are an atheist exegete. Now please follow my instructions. Peruse the listings in Openings [a listing of academic posts looking to be filled]. Understand that your unique skills and talents are of no interest to those institutions listed there with the words 'Saint' and 'Holy' and 'Theological' and 'Seminary' in their names. This leaves, per year, about two or three advertised posts in biblical studies at religiously un-chartered institutions of higher learning. Apply for those jobs. Get rejected. A few months later learn--preferably while consuming donuts with a colleague--that the position was filled by a graduate of a theological seminary. Realize that those on the search committee who made this choice all graduated from seminaries themselves. Curse the gods."
In his indispensable work, The Soul of the American University, George M. Marsden explains how academia came to embrace this degree of secularism: "One way to describe the current state of affairs, however, is that, in effect, the only points of view that are allowed full academic credence are those that presuppose purely naturalistic worldviews. Advocates of postmodernist viewpoints have, as a rule, been just as committed to exclusively naturalist premises for understanding human belief and behavior as were their turn-of-the-century predecessors who established evolutionary naturalism as normative for academic life. One must wonder, however, whether there are adequate grounds for most academics to insist on naturalistic premises that ignore the possibility of fruitful religious perspectives."
Evidently, Professor Fox needs to read Professor Marsden's book. Then again, I hold little hope that it would make much of a difference. If nothing else, Professor Fox's essay, published by the Society for Biblical Literature, indicates where the debate in those circles is headed.
All scholarship is based in some faith and deeply grounded in some set of presuppositions. For the vast majority of those engaged in academia today, that faith is some form of ideological secularism. Christian scholars should always be absolutely transparent and clear about their confessional commitments. As a matter of fact, this should be an absolute requirement of their confessional institutions. At the same time, we should never allow that those who hold alternative worldviews are any less ideologically or intellectually committed. The radical nature of Professor Fox's proposal indicates just how committed he is to his own faith--and how blind he is to his own faith-based perspective. Watch this debate with interest--it is not going away any time soon.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. For more articles and resources by Dr. Mohler, and for information on The Albert Mohler Program, a daily national radio program broadcast on the Salem Radio Network, go to www.albertmohler.com. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to www.sbts.edu. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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