More on faith based scholarship
This is a kind of response to Danny Zacharias (and not in complete disagreement I might add) at Deinde sparked off by the Michael Fox post on SBL forum and kind of further thoughts on the subject.
1) I think at bottom this discussion is arguing over which presuppositions are better. Faith-based scholarship (evangelical scholars don't just do study) roots its presuppositions in the Christian faith while secular scholarship roots its presuppositions in modernity and enlightenment thinking. I got the distinct impression in Fox's essay that, while he was aware of presuppositions, faith-based scholarship is seen as entrenched in them while secular scholarship is not- that is simply hogwash.
I'm not sure if this is entirely fair. But maybe it is so just as a general defence of certain secular approaches let me offer this. No secularist I know thinks they are working without presuppositions but I heard plenty of people claim they act in such a way. What certain secular minded scholars worry about (and I'm not saying this is necessarily right or wrong) is that certain faith based studies want an answer that they will get whatever and will never change their minds on the issue. Is that scholarship? Is scholarship all about being prepared to change views in light of evidence? Shouldn't it be possible to come to a conclusion about an ancient piece of evidence which runs clear contrary to your own personal political or religious beliefs? Just some thoughts really, not a definitive opinion and to be fair that problem is not just restricted to faith based approaches.
2) Practicing faith-based scholarship does not negate collegiality and exclude the ability to learn from people of different presuppositions, and the same should be said of secular scholars. Sometimes we need to get off of our high horse and recognize that anyone, regardless of presuppositions, can bring valuable insights to the discussion.
No, it doesn't have to and yes we can all learn from one another. But what happens when a faith based group dominates the subject? How can they possibly learn or even want to learn from a minority of secularists who will come to some very different conclusions. Example: what other academic discipline discusses whether it is valid to analyse whether the virgin birth happened or not, whether a virgin birth happened or not, or whether it should be taken in a more spiritual sense? We all know why such discussions happen and I think it is safe to assume that they would not happen in a coonventional history dept if they stumbled across similar kinds of beliefs some other place some other time. the ideals in dialogue are fine but they cannot be put into full practice as the discipline stands.
4) Who exactly are we talking about here? Are we talking about Pat Robertson, Charles Colson, Rick Warren, etc? Or are we talking about Luke Timothy Johnson, Michael Bird, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, Stanley Porter, (and the list can go on and on and on)? I recognize scholarship from people's of faith everywhere, and to be frank I think the best biblical scholarship is coming from a "faith-base". If faith-based scholarship is really a problem- then it is more of a pandemic. We are everywhere and -surprise surprise- we can do critical scholarship.
Well for a start I have to strongly disagree with the idea of the best scholarship coming from a faith base. I know this is to some degree subjective but for me at least most - not all- comes from non-conventional perspectives or those where I have no idea about the perspective. But even if we agree that the best stuff comes from a faith perspective that is hardly surprising if the discipline is dominated by Christians.
5) Fox talks about faith-based scholars and how they work towards a pre-determined conclusion. This is an excellent point- one that every scholar constantly needs to watch in their own assessment of their work. But are secular scholars really any different? I've read many a secular historical Jesus scholar who seemed quite intent on a pre-determined goal. Pre-determined conclusions are rooted in presuppositions, and since everyone has those (secular and religious alike) then pre-determined conclusions are a problem that every scholar faces. (Fox's assertion that scholarship is based on evidence-which I agree with- is itself a pre-determined conclusion).
This is an important point. I think here there is a problem for the more scripturally conservative rather than faith in general. For example, what is the point of doing critical study if you know that everything in the gospels is going to be 100% accurate, including miracles? I would go so far as to say that is bordering on the impossible for the historian on analogy with other ancient material. Why not have the narrative Jesus and work from there? There are very few secular historical Jesus works to analyse this problem but if we take the discipline of history as an analogy if there were more and more secularists (and yes with their won presuppositions) there would be views of the historical Jesus which directly contradict their own views and rightly so because Jesus lived in a very different culture with a very different worldview. Incidentally, as I said in the comments on an earlier post, I don't consider the Jesus Seminar to be secular. Individuals might be but as a whole I think it is fair to say that it reflects something like liberal Christianity. Funk and Crossan have both expressed themselves in such terms.
6) On a more basic human level, I simply despise the continual message that I need to live a fragmented life. I act and think one way at church, act and think one way in academia, and live differently in the real world. Our world is fragmented, people are fragmented and breaking apart from it. This kind of supposed opposition between faith and academic pursuits is the continuation of this kind of fragmented thinking. I try and make my faith part of everything I do- how I raise my children, how I throw out my trash, how I handle my money, how I blog, how I research and write academic papers. Faith certainly has its place- but not just in churches, synagogues, and religious schools, as Fox asserts. Faith finds itself in a community and an individual. That faith ought to go with that person wherever their feet and minds should take them.
Fair enough. My problem is when it dominates a discipline.
One of the interesting things about this whole debate is the impression that the religious and religious conservatives are under attack. Of coure in one sense they are. But let's also remember that these people dominate the discipline not only in arguments with a more or less religious perspective but in numbers also. So why worry...
Update: Ok, there's a good possibility I'll miss someone out because the debate has been running across the blogs. Loren Rosson has made comments which I would endorse. Alan Bandy has some disagreements but some agreements too. More from Danny at Deinde here. From the HB/OT side there is Joe Cathey edging towards Danny's view. Tyler Williams has a very useful detailed discussion here. Have I missed anyone out? Anyway, whisper it but for all the differences there is almost a consensus on the blogs concerning this issue.