Thursday, August 6, 2009

On the inerrantists' fideistic attempts to keep biblical studies at bay

"First, and above all, historical-critical judgments are products of academic expertise, in which intellectually gifted scholars apply their respective trades to very complex linguistic and archaeological data from the ancient world. This means, of course, that in most cases the average person is in no position to evaluate, let alone criticize, the results of critical scholarship. Such a dictum applies not only to Assyriology but also to every academic discipline, both of the sciences and the humanities. Consequently, a certain humility is warranted when those outside a scholarly discipline wish to inquire about and evaluate the tried and tested conclusions of scholars in that discipline. " (K. Sparks, God's Word in Human Words, 70.)

Yet the average person often feels forced to the sidelines as they helplessly watch their sacred scripture be shred to pieces by those who have little to no sympathy for the Bible as scripture. In fact, it is not uncommon for communities of faith to convey their sense of helplessness by getting so bothered over the agnosticism that appears to them rampant in critical scholarship, agreeing with Jenson's remarks, for example:

"Where the church's calling to speak the gospel is not shared, the binding of these particular documents between one cover becomes a historical accident of no hermeneutical significance. The drasticially misnamed Society of Biblical Literature is not essentially more interested in the documents in the canon than in similar documents outside the canon. For them, the formation of the canon was the project of an ancient religious movement, through which these valuable objects of historical research and opportunities for hermeneutical virtuosity were luckily preserved for scholarly ex-Christians from which to make a living." (R. Jenson, "Hermeneutics and the Life of the Church," in Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, 89-90.)

Yet Sparks optimistically insists that there is a middle way available to believers between the two horns of "traditional" responses to biblical criticism and "secular" responses. Secular responses are the ones that Jenson refers to above; traditional responses are those that refuse critical findings simply because they upset traditional understandings of scripture. Ironically, it is the traditional response to biblical criticism that can drive many to secular responses. I think Sparks is rightly strident in his opposition to the fideistic response to biblical criticism. In my view, it is a number one culprit in turning thoughtful scripture readers away from the faith:

"The difficulties are broad and comprehensive, a veritable avalanche of data that is far too substantial to be swept aside with the flimsy theological broom [of insisting that everyone learn deductively what the Bible explicitly teaches about itself]. So far as I can tell, the only conclusion one can draw is that [Carl Henry, a prime example of the position Sparks is criticizing] was unwilling to allow the biblical data itself to seriously challenge his own beliefs about the Bible. His response to biblical criticism was essentially fideistic because he used his deductive theories about the Bible as a shield to exclude inductive insights based on the Bible's actual content." (Sparks, 139)