« Topic #3: Evangelicalism and the Modern Study of Scripture »

Launch Date for the Conversation: July 1, 2013


Modern biblical scholarship has broadened interest in studying the Bible from a work of the church to also having a legitimate place within the academic work of the secular university.  This movement has also transformed the way Christians approach their Scriptures. Modern biblical scholarship has expended considerable energy studying both the history behind the biblical text we now have and the way readers, who sit in front of the biblical text, construct meaning from it. These movements have raised concern among many American evangelicals about diminishing the Bible’s unique status as God’s authoritative, clear, and relevant revelation. On the other hand, many evangelicals contribute significantly to such biblical studies and find them useful for hearing and obeying God’s voice today. In response to some of these movements, some evangelicals are working to develop more explicitly Christian modes of engaging the Bible. In light of these issues, some “leading questions” are:

 

  1. In what sense is the Bible authoritative for American evangelicals? What does it mean for Christians to use the Bible properly?
  2. What are the implications of the belief that the Bible has both human and divine authors?
  3. How relevant to evangelical use of Scripture are historical inquires into the authorship of the various biblical texts and into the events recounted in the Bible?
  4. How complicated is the process of reading? Is it a relatively straightforward process of information extraction or something more? Is reading Scripture different from reading other literature?
  5. Is Scripture without error? What does this mean? Is a claim of inerrancy falsifiable—at least in theory—through scientific inquiry?
  6. What does it mean to apply Scripture to one’s own life and the life of the church? What are the boundaries for properly doing this? How are bygone hermeneutical approaches, such as patristic readings, to be judged? Should we imitate the way the New Testament authors read the Old Testament? How do we know that our hermeneutical procedures are correct?
  7. To what extent can Christians and non-Christians work together on reading the Bible well? Can the study of the Bible within secular settings be helpful to American evangelicalism? Can evangelical Bible students be properly trained at non-evangelical institutions?

 

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Reader Comments (2)

I feel it would be more accurate to say that biblical studies have always been a part of universities, but over the past 150-200 years that has changed as the older, humanities based model has secularized, and new models have emerged that exclude or marginalize religious and humanistic studies in general. In other cases religious and/or biblical studies have found a place within the philological, historical, humanistic concerns of more and less secular institutions.

There has not been a single "movement" at work in these developments, and neither is that the case with changes in the methods, theory, and practice of biblical scholarship.

The rise of modern textual criticism and historical-critical methods came in response to an enormous amount of new information about the ancient world as well as the world itself -- its origins and age, as well as the chronology of human civilizations. This all occurred within the context of industrial, scientific modernity's optimistic ascent and the establishment of evolutionary theory as the narrative within which the human story is framed. Now with the wreckage of early and high modernity in the rear view mirror but its core intellectual achievements intact, American Evangelicalism is unique and alone within the larger Christian world for remaining in reaction to historical and scientific knowledge that it can't reconcile with its view of scripture.

A key question to ask is whether Evangelicalism has moved or can move past Fundamentalism, specifically the positions articulated in 1910 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church as the "Five Fundamentals." This position brought Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism into a highly positivistic, evidentialist frame where questions about "falsifiability" and so on become central within popular apologetics and polemical writing. Biblical scholarship seems to have largely moved past this concern, and theology proper has never been concerned with proving the facticity of events in order to believe in revelation, but Evangelicalism/popular conservative Protestantism remains intensely concerned with rational and even scientific verification.

Is that itself a problem? Are Evangelicals required to remain within the intellectual parameters of 100-150 year old Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies? All the other you've questions posed will elicit radically different answers based on how people position themselves in relation to these.

July 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan

In an attempt to add a layman's perspective to this discussion, I'd like to try to answer question 4: (The fact that I am a layman in attempting to answer this question is evidence that question 4 needed to be asked.)

How complicated is the process of reading? Is it a relatively straightforward process of information extraction or something more? Is reading Scripture different from reading other literature?

I am a musician and composer and I read the Bible most every day. My experiences with both music and the Bible have led me to believe that they both have many similarities. There are many genres, forms, levels of depth, even purposes of music. Cognition of music and all of its various characteristics is dependent upon one's knowledge of the art, the history of the work, one's place in history, the purpose of one's listening, even the mood one is in when listening to a performance.

When one reads the Bible, similar things are in play. The Bible is comprised of individual "books" of different genres, forms and purposes. Certainly one does not read Leviticus in the same way that one reads Psalm 23. There are times when I read to agree with and pray along with the author's intent (yes indeed, the Lord IS my shepherd) and other times when I am reading to comfort a friend (What can I learn about shepherding here to that will help bring light to the meaning of this text so that I can help my friend).

When I was younger, I knew nothing about Sonata form and the versatile method it provides a composer for expressing himself. However, I still enjoyed works written using that form, just not in the same manner that I do nowadays— now that I understand the beauty of sonata form. I believe that this is also true of Bible reading. I don't read Hebrew, so I don't understand all of the beauty and creativity of the poetry in the Psalms that I am told is there—nor can I do any research that could be taken seriously by scholars who know the language.

Yet, that does not mean that I cannot read and enjoy the Psalms, even do some cursory research into their historical and cultural contexts in order to bring more light to their meaning. I understand that I cannot perceive all that is included in the original language, yet I can still read them for many different purposes.

As to whether or not I read the Bible in the same manner that I read other literature, I agree with the Bible when it speaks of itself as being "God Breathed" and has the purpose of making us... more like Him (2 Tim. 3:16). If I believe this, I cannot read the Bible in the same way that I read "Hunger Games." This too is where the metaphor with music breaks down.

It seems to me that there are an infinite amount of ways to listen to and understand music. Most people love music and enjoy it at different levels depending upon who they are and what the music is. It doesn't mean that they understand everything about it, but certainly that doesn't prohibit them from enjoying it. For me to insist that others perceive music in the same way that I, —a trained musical professional, certainly not a "layman"— do, would seem to me to be arrogant and short sighted. The same is true of the Bible.

How can one insist that Bible reading be for one purpose only? Yet the "composer" of the Bible, using many different forms and genres of literature, tells us in that work that he did indeed have a purpose in its creation: that ultimately we might become more like Him.

July 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn A Pickett

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