Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Peter Enns, 'aha' moments, and reading the Scriptures

Peter Enns is running a very interesting series over at his blog, starting here, of ex-conservative (sometimes still mostly conservative) scholars who had a moment of awakening when they realised that the paradigm they had for the Bible was fundamentally challenged by the work of actually reading the Bible. It's partly a response to an article by Greg Carey, "Where do 'Liberal' Scholars come from".

I think it's very *right* that liberals continue to emerge from evangelical backgrounds, in fact it is only really possible to get this kind of protestant liberal out of this kind of protestant backgrounds. That is, only a high value on Scripture actually generates the kind of problems that occur when people actually read the texts.

What concerns me is the equation, "I was taught to believe the Bible unequivocally says X, but I just don't see it." So often these narratives are of discovering difficulties, discrepancies, inconsistencies in the Bible that were not acknowledged, were not dealt with, were swept aside by teachers/pastors/leaders. This is, in my view, a terrible shame.

It's also a great difference between classical definitions of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. I had the (mis?)fortune to grow up in a ecclesial and theological context that was accused alternatively of being fundamentalist and overly-intellectual, which is difficult since fundamentalism as a way of thinking tends to be anti-intellectual. Throughout my time in churches and seminary, no one ever shied away from highlighting difficulties in the text. These were not taken to be problems to smooth over in favour of some pre-set paradigm of how Scripture works, but investigated and studied because of their very difficulty.

That is why I haven't had an 'aha' moment of this type. And it's why I'm saddened when people have narratives that run like this: I was taught a flat view of the Bible, I read the text for myself, I realised it was all a lie, I rejected confessional Christianity. Especially when there is an assumption by some critics that believing Christians do not/have not/have not ever wrestled with these questions/are ignorant of these issues.

It is similar to the arrogance of some critical scholarship, that seems to assume the Ancients were stupid and had no knowledge of Greek, let alone literary criticism, until the Germans invented everything in the 19th century.

So, yes, I hope evangelicalism keeps producing liberals. Because it's a sign that the text of the Scripture is valued enough that people are reading it carefully! But I would hope that evangelical scholarship continues to engage at a level that makes it clear that these straw-man paradigms are not the be-all and end-all of confessional Christianity.

Irrelevant post-script: why does Patheos run so much click-bait advertising, and why do the 'evangelicals' blogging there trade that off for presumably larger readerships?


Nick Norelli said...

Patheos pays its bloggers.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Thanks Nick, I am unsurprised, but it is a particularly ad-heavy platform, which makes me less sympathetic, especially to click-bait!

Seumas Macdonald said...

Thanks Nick, I am unsurprised, but it is a particularly ad-heavy platform, which makes me less sympathetic, especially to click-bait!

Nick Norelli said...

I can't read Patheos blogs except through an aggregator like Feedly. I refuse to click through and be inundated with popup advertisements.

Paul Nitz said...

Thought provoking and a bit provocative. I like it.