Monday, July 14, 2008

Whose job is it to get us out of this mess?

Carl Trueman observes: "Nonetheless the battle within evangelicalism today is once more focused on the divine authorship of scripture. It is not, I would suggest, the humanity of scripture which is generally being neglected by the guild of evangelical biblical scholars. Thus, while evangelical systematicians may need to think out their position on human authoriship more thoroughly, biblical scholars certainly need to be made to take account of divine authorship, and to do so sooner rather than later. The lack of critical reflection within evangelical biblical scholarship upon what the statement that scripture is God's Word actually means, what limits this places upon investigation, what implications it has for method is a worrying sign." (The Wages of Spin, [Christian Focus Publications, 2004], 100)

Whose job is it to get us out of this mess? Carl Trueman seems to say that it falls upon both systematicians and biblical scholars, but he also seems to come down especially hard on biblical scholars. Are biblical scholars in a position to do what Carl asks of them? Is the question, What does it mean for scripture to be God's Word? a systematic question or a biblical studies question? It would seem to me a theological question. So how explicitly involved in theology is biblical studies? Very, if biblical scholars are the ones who should answer this question. But there's a catch: only a restricted set of answers to this question will be accepted by the systematicians.

So now one might ask, How explicitly involved in biblical studies is theology? Considerably, but from whence does systematics get its primary materials for the work of systematizing? Biblical studies? Or is it already there in the theology itself? This is a dog chasing its tail. Each discipline apparently has its own set of tools and each discipline studies a very different sort of data set, yet somehow the systematic dimension is assumed to have priority (especially in the present context). Not only that, but Carl seems to imply that the discipline of biblical studies has not been holding its own and is now expected to fall back in line (with systematics, that is).

Yet biblical studies is theoretically what provides systematics with the materials for its theologizing. Without this data, the theology produced would not be scriptural, which is the ultimate goal. Theology also has as its resource all of what has come before in historical theology. Still, scripture is supposed to be given priority. But for the last 20 years or so the materials set forth by evangelical biblical scholars have increasingly become of such nature that suggests systematics should begin pondering whether it is in need of revision. But this is not what will happen, not in evangelicalism, that would go against evangelicalism's very raison d'etre. Instead, the biblical scholars will rather be told to go back and take another look at their work or they'll be pressured to sit on things awhile and keep things to themselves.

But in such a stalemate, who is the one who should go back and rethink things? Who is obligated to rework what it means to say that the Bible is the word of God? This has indeed really become some mess and it's only going to get worse with time. In fact, a new evangelical era is already upon us but culturally we're being forced to keep it under wraps.

Whose job is it to officially get us out of this mess?

It's up to the philosophers. Everybody's going to have to wait for them. I'm not sure if they've started yet, started thinking about a way out. I don't even know if they know about it, if they realize everyone's waiting for them.

Whose going to get us out of this mess? The philosophers. So if you know a philosopher whose still busy writing about material constitution, or the nature of universals, or the epistemological status of religious experience, or what it might mean to be an intelligent designer, go get their attention and tell them that we're waiting for them. Tell them that everyone needs them. Tell them there's an important job to do.

But there might be a small problem, though. The question we need them to answer is unabashedly parochial, it's not just religious, not just theological, but quintessentially evangelical. I'm not sure how in these kinds of questions are right now in evangelical philosophy, that is, conservative evangelical philosophy. So we might have to wait a bit for someone to give an answer. But hopefully it won't take too long to get their attention because I think they are the only ones who can get us out of this mess.