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Friday, December 07, 2007


I had tooth problems all week (that’s all the personal life you’ll get) so I didn’t get to responding to Court’s Church Times piece and that very annoying pompous tone. I wasn’t actually going to because I was never expecting to be the pin-up boy of Church Times. But, for some reason, I decided to respond. I couldn’t help but feel that there was something more to the tone than merely religious issues, something more, let’s say…generational and social… I couldn’t help but feel that there was something of a pith-helmet-and-khaki-shorts feel to it. In that case I guess this is a Burberry-cap-and-tracksuit-bottoms-tucked-into-socks response (for non-British readers this may help explain the cultural reference).

I say tone because some comments are not exactly wrong (or right) but are worded in a dubious way. E.g.
Crossley blames Christians, and especially New Testament scholars, for impeding advances in the historical study of Christian origins, and being preoccupied with the history of ideas.
Blame isn’t quite the word I’d use to summarise. The point (apologies for repetition) is that a group dominating a discipline (in this case Christians) will, in general, probably provide results that are generally reflective of its interest. This doesn’t prevent advances of course and I was quite explicit that Christian perspectives have provided plenty of their own particular advances. Of course this means that other views and approaches can be put to one side. I gave plenty of evidence that historical methods in history departments were different to those in the historical study of Christian origins in the C20. It is a basic point and one with which is pretty difficult to disagree. It is also fairly clear that the reasons for the differences were because there were certain interests in history departments and certain interests in theology departments. That’s no big deal, is it? Blame: hmmm, not sure that is fair. It’s kind of like saying I blame the secularising nature of history departments for not coming up with masses of very useful close theological readings of texts. Well, yes, but…

So, is this tone saying more about the reviewer?

Then this:
His “secular” approach is supposedly more “down-to-earth”.
Ok, this is what I said:
What I would want to add to this [secular approach developed by Davies and Berlinerblau] are the very down-to-earth social, economic and historical reasons for the spread of earliest Christianity as opposed to a grand theological explanation associated with many of the works which come under the bizarrely named genre ‘The New Testament History’
Now it seems I have been taken far too literally. I was just providing an admittedly playful way of differentiating my approach from the kinds of theological approaches that have dominated ‘NT History’. It was also, fairly obviously I’d have thought, designed to contrast the heavenly with the earthly etc. etc. (again in a playful kind of way). Again, Court’s tone is a bit of an unfortunate way of representing this kind of rhetoric in the intro. Can’t say I’m overly impressed by this use of tone.

This I really liked:
This is a skilful and lucid presentation, which sometimes drops into slang, and can occasionally be hostile and somewhat abusive.
Er, slang? Not, slang! Example please? I can only think of the intro off the top of my head. But that was aimed at people like my family. It would be just too weird if I started to use academicspeak in the intro to people who couldn’t care less about the academic world. But even so, I simply do not see what the academic relevance of this point is (social relevance should be obvious) and here, I think, that we really see the interests and context of the reviewer. Leaving aside what might just be the outraged voice of Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells [non-British readers look here]), what is he talking about and why else did he bring it up?

Perhaps Court also pointed this out because it is important to warn readers of the Church Times? Are they particularly sensitive to slang? I’d be surprised but you never know. If they are, should it have been mentioned that I sometimes used “can’t” instead of “cannot” (or perhaps that was the ‘slang’)?

Hostile and abusive (in places)? Come on! Off the top of my head, and for what it is worth, I don’t think, with one exception, I was particularly hostile to any individual. Previously, I’ve been pretty polite when I disagree over exegetical issues etc. I may have been aggressive towards the ideological make-up of the discipline (i.e. a collective group and not specific individuals) but polemic is fairly standard in such reviews and many have been far more aggressive than me. Still, if he thinks this one is hostile in places, I dread to think what he’ll make of the next…

Or are there some connections to be made with the slang and my perceived tone...

And then there’s this:
Although I can claim to have studied the New Testament, with social-science methodologies firmly in view, for more than 40 years…
…therefore…be convinced…? Or are we meant to applaud? Gasp in awe? Contrast with those with under 40, 30, 20, or 10 years of experience? I’m not sure. I must admit, it is a real pet hate of mine when academics do not bother to give arguments but think that personal reputation or age is enough. My first reaction is to immediately distrust what they are saying or shrug my shoulders and say ‘so what?’ If no argument can be given then I see little point in paying too much attention. Though many do enjoy the opinion of their elders, heroes or the famous, I don’t. And the above quotation is very interestingly worded. It is a pity that in all those years he hasn’t really produced anything significant on the topic so his claim could be tested in detail.

Another bit I liked:
And readers of Church Times may not find congenial Crossley’s advocacy of a shift from exegesis to macrosociology in the historical approach to Christian origins.
Well that’s an understatement! Presumably they will not and I agree with Court here. The reason is, of course, obvious: church audiences are, presumably, much more interested in exegesis. And quite right too you might add.

My apologies to Jim West for the excessive Wikipeding.