Monday, January 28, 2008

Under the shadow of inerrantist apologetics

"Newman, after all, could argue his way to Rome without inviting real danger, since the Protestant tradition of liberty of interpretation gave ample freedom for a change of faith. The case was different with Renan and Loisy. They were members of an ecclesiastical institution insisting upon its divinely appointed authority in the realm of faith and morals and maintaining officially that the mere claim of reason to scrutinize its dogma constituted gross error...Their lives, until they made the break with Rome, were fulfilments of Renan's famous simile of the liberal theologian as a bird that has had its wings clipped...Both came to see, gradually, that the unfettered pursuit of scholarship was incompatible with the temper of organized Catholicism. 'My dream,' wrote Renan, 'was the peaceable life of a laborious ecclesiastic--Reid or Malebranche--attached to his duties, relieved from his parish work on account of the value of his researches. Not until later did I perceive--with that degree of certainty which soon was to leave my mind no room for choice--the essential contradiction between these metaphysical studies and the Christian religion.' A similar dream in Loisy was shattered by a similar recognition of contradiction. 'Being convinced,' he said, 'that theological orthodoxy could not in the long run prevail against scientific truth, but would be forced to reckon with it and acoomodate to it, I did not think that the fact of having lost confidence in the absolute value of traditional dogmas unfitted me for the teaching of exegesis in a Catholic faculty...The great--I might say only--difficulty, against which I was to be broken, was real, substantial and living; it was the authority, or rather the tyranny, which in Roman Catholicism has supplanted, not only the Scriptures, but even tradition, and which aims at the domination of thought, history and politics." (Gordon K. Lewis, "From Faith to Skepticism; A Note on Three Apologetics," The Journal of Politics 13 (1951): 185-186.)

I remember when I was at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary that the slogan for the school was: "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." But, as I argue in my book, it is a mission impossible to pursue scholarship under the shadow of inerrantist apologetics. Professors of religion have told me face to face at AAR meetings and elsewhere that the main reason they leave their variety of evangelicalism is that they eventually come to the realization that the only way they were ever really allowed to do scholarship of a serious kind was to research with surreptitious intentions of finding some new vantage from which to bolster the faith. That sounds like "aim[ing] at the domination of thought, history and politics" to me.

It's hard to pursue studies when one feels like he or she always has to remember to protect the faith from every noise in the wind. Inerrantism began to give me that Big Brother feeling: go ahead and pursue your studies, but be sure to perform the scholarship under the shadow of apologetics. It seems to me that if that mentality continues to be nourished in evangelical schools, then the forms of scholarship produced will differ little, each in their own way, from "thoughtful but semicritical paraphrase[s] of the biblical narrative." (Kenton Sparks description of Provan, et. al, A Biblical History of Israel. [Westminster John Knox, 2003],