Saturday, January 19, 2008

When is enough enough?

"It is a strange by-product of recent trends in biblical scholarship that opposing forces have now joined in the effort to crush so-called "radical" critical scholarship. Now it is common that traditionally minded (meaning accepting critical results of the past) scholars, who cannot accept recent ideas and trends in biblical studies because of their own critical opinion-an absolutely legitimate position-resort to the same kind of polemics as formerly found only in conservative literature.

There may be a number of explanations for this strange fact. One may be that the majority of critical scholars originate within a religious milieu and at the bottom of their hearts are conservatives without probably realizing this. Thus, critical scholarship represents a kind of breaking away from one's own background. The changing attitude towards even more critical scholars questioning, e.g., the very existence of King David, may have to do with the fear of totally losing the tradition-after all Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem so the new David could be born there! Somehow there seem to be questions that we are not allowed to ask... is never understood that we did not start with ideology. On the contrary, as historical-critical scholars of the old school, we started with critical scholarship as it used to be-trained in the European academic tradition already described-but we did not stop when the results were disconcerting and bewildering. The demolition of the history of ancient Israel proceeded along a logical line of advance from the patriarchs, via the Exodus and the conquest, over the Period of the Judges to David and his time, and the center of discussion has now moved on to the late pre-exilic, the exilic, and the post-exilic periods. It is correct that havoc followed in the wake of progress, but it was certainly not because of a preconceived ideology different from the one shared by the majority of historical-critical scholars." (Niels Peter Lemche, "Conservative Scholarship-Critical Scholarship: Or How Did We Get Caught by This Bogus Discussion?"

So let's say one finally finds the strength to confess, "Ok, inerrancy is not for me." How does one decide when enough is enough? For example, one might come to the judgment that six day creation schemes do not hold any water and that the appearance of humans in evolutionary history seems to have happened in more than one geographic place at about the same time (let's just say). Is one permitted to begin asking questions about whether there really was an Adam and Eve or whether there really was a Garden or even a Fall at all? And then what does one do with the gospel story that we have taken for granted since our first days in Sunday school that Christ came to repair the consequences of Adam's (=humanity's) sin?

We already know the ire inerrantists will raise about a legendary slippery slope. But among non-inerrantists, how does one decide when enough is enough, or perhaps more importantly, why would THAT enough be enough? Does it come down to one's personality or to some personal, arbitrary critical threshold that each of us will have at very different places? Or does it all boil down to one's historically-conditioned, sociological and political moment? How much do the evolutionary developments of our brains play a part? These are the frightening discussions that very few evangelicals are presently ready to have, but "When is enough enough? (and why?)" is the only one, I think, that will allow evangelicals to existentially be able to perceive, as if for the first time, what their faith is really made of.