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Saturday, November 07, 2009

More of the same from BW3

Well it seems that BW3 did say those weird and inaccurate things about Sheffield. It's got a little weirder and we get more too. He's now added this (notice the lack of engagement with the questions raised) in his attempt to answer Steph Fisher's comments:
I doubt there will be a public apology. There are too many wounded in action to account for. Honestly Stephanie, Sheffield did not act wisely in not hiring folks like Loveday Alexander or Andrew Lincoln once they were gone, as they at least nurtured people in their Christian faith.

Then this:
You shouldn't be shocked. Do a little historical research. Start with F.F. Bruce and the original purpose and focus of the Biblical Studies Faculty at Sheffield. Then compare that to where we are now.

Well let's turn the BW3 methodology on himself and ask for some historical research. As it happens, and contrary to BW3, it would have been deeply unwise to hire on the basis of religious affiliation because hiring on the basis of religious affliation aint, erm, allowed. Like most places in the UK, and being a university and not a seminary/theological college, we have to hire on the basis of the best quaified person for the job in hand, irrespective of religious affiliation. But, as it also happens, the last hire was trained at the London School of Theology but, oddly enough, he was partly chosen because he was very strong on understanding the cultural context of the NT and a very good teacher of Greek. If fact, though I don't know the precise personal details of faith, I am the only remaining full time member of staff with no religious affiliation. I would also like to know how BW3 knows people were not nurturing people in their Christian faith (not that anyone emplyed by the University should be obliged to do so, of course) because I'm not seeing a lot of evidence here (yes, that is British understatement).

UPDATE: the comments have now been removed from the linked page

10 Comments:

Blogger John Lyons said...

It is also worth pointing out that Andrew Lincoln left in 1995 and Loveday Alexander (I think) at the end of 2007. That is a twelve year period when--in BW3's terms--those bereft of Andrew's support had the benefit of Loveday's.

This is such bullshit! But I guess we now know who *didn't* write to the VC on behalf of Biblical Studies in Sheffield.

November 07, 2009

 
Anonymous steph said...

It is also worth pointing out that it is illegal to appoint anyone on the basis of faith.

November 07, 2009

 
Anonymous Mike Koke said...

I would like to register my support for Sheffield University. It seems to me that it is the job of a public University to teach different theoretical perspectives and equip students with the tools to critically engage the biblical text and draw their own conclusions. There are always University chaplains and Christian organizations available to nurture faith.

November 07, 2009

 
Anonymous steph said...

He has made even more false accusations on his blog, to which I have responded, accusing Sheffield of 'deliberately avoiding hiring people of faith'.
http://blog.beliefnet.com/bibleandculture/2009/11/culture-making-part-ii----three-cups-of-tea_comments.html

November 07, 2009

 
Anonymous Keith Whitelam said...

We could not hire anyone like Loveday (apart from Loveday being unique, of course) because we weren't allowed to hire anyone.

I was trained by Fred Bruce as a student at Manchester and just as he encouraged me to be true to my convictions in my research and base my arguments on careful research, whether he agreed with the conclusions or not, so I always tried to apply the same principles in teaching and encouraging students.

He also taught me to check my evidence carefully and not base arguments on hearsay or prejudice.

November 08, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi James:

I thought I would respond directly here since second hand conversations can be misleading, at best, and taken out of context. The issue I am raising is an important one and it has to do with respect for some of the more conservative Christian students who have gone through Sheffield, and indeed have felt both their faith and the Bible and its historical substance disrespected. I am not talking about one or two disgruntled students.

Let me clear that I am not at all suggesting that no good scholarly work has been done at Sheffield. That would hardly be true or fair, and I have said as much to David Clines.

I suppose we may disagree on the issue that who is appointed to a faculty affects matters of faith when it comes to the students, at least if a faculty person takes an adversarial or hyper critical approach to the historical substance of the Bible.

All the positive testimonies of Sheffield students past and present attest that good things have happened at Sheffield. My own colleague Ruthanne Reese can attest to it.

But this in no way comes to grips with those Sheffield students over many years who found the denials of historical substance in the Bible, among other things, not merely disturbing but problematic.
Some students find such challenges invigorating, but others who are just learning the art of skillful scholarly debate and dialogue don't.

I am well aware that a secular university has no obligation to nurture people in their faith, and I am glad to hear about the hiring from London School of Theology. In fact I have said that I am glad that Sheffield has retrenched on the closing of the department.

Going forward one of the questions that ought to be seriously discussed is the issue of sensitivity to and tolerance of theological differences in the students and a thoughtful addressing of issues when students feel that pejorative comments about the Bible or about their faith are at the least not fair, and hardly value neutral.

Best,

Ben Witherington

November 08, 2009

 
Anonymous steph said...

Quite frankly I don't believe that. I'd like to know which of the academic staff at Sheffield are accused of making 'pejorative comments about the Bible or about their faith'.

November 08, 2009

 
Blogger metalepsis said...

Steph,

You can't win with some American evangelicals, you see, Keith, Phillip, and David have all called into question the historicity of much of the Hebrew scriptures, but even though each of them have done it with methodical and scholarly patience, it is polemical to evangelical "belief". So while no faculty would ever seek to destroy (deconstruct?) someones faith (no matter what that content of that faith), but because they are honest and good scholars and exceptional communicators they end up causing students to think through their beliefs, and naturally some can no longer reconcile them. This is education, it is not indoctrination.

American Seminaries, on the other hand, are much different, as they are seeking to train for the vocation of ministry. Very few seminaries would allow the freedom for faculty to follow F.F.Bruce's advice of staying true to ones convictions (can you imagine The Invention of Ancient Israel coming from a confessional school), and thank goodness we have places like Sheffield where faculty can follow that advice.

The world of biblical scholarship would be much the worse if we did not have the works that have benefited from the Sheffield ethos.

Ironically, evangelicals had much the same gripe with Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri, a few who ventured there lost their faith because after the serious introspective questioning they were unable to reconcile their beliefs. I am sure the same thing has even happened at Asbury.

It is still a completely outlandish statement by BW3.

November 08, 2009

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Hello Ben and thanks for commenting. In addition to noting the previous comments made, let me answer your points...

1. 'it has to do with respect for some of the more conservative Christian students who have gone through Sheffield, and indeed have felt both their faith and the Bible and its historical substance disrespected. I am not talking about one or two disgruntled students.'

I'd need some serious evidence to be able to respond to be fair. Our National Student Survey figures are very good and the students were united in support of the Dept. I have little to work with here but I guess you are implying a previous era (...?). But even so, there was strong support from Alums, many of whom, perhapsmost of whom, have a conservative background.

2. 'I suppose we may disagree on the issue that who is appointed to a faculty affects matters of faith when it comes to the students, at least if a faculty person takes an adversarial or hyper critical approach to the historical substance of the Bible.'

I'm not sure what a hyper critical approach is but just as we don't, and can't, discriminate who we take in as students, so we can't with staff. It is made clear the kinds of questions we ask at Sheffield (e.g. Open Days) and it is not a seminary or theological college. Any question is permitted and that's the nature of universities. Students can argue what they like and they will always be assessed on issues such as argument and use of sources and not on their religious persuasion.

3. 'But this in no way comes to grips with those Sheffield students over many years who found the denials of historical substance in the Bible, among other things, not merely disturbing but problematic.
Some students find such challenges invigorating, but others who are just learning the art of skillful scholarly debate and dialogue don't.'

Again, that's the nature of the beast (so to speak). In my experience, students are always made aware of the alternatives. Some of us have pushed what may be deemed 'radical' views (and indeed plenty of 'conservative' ones) in the classroom but this is always prefaced by the stress that all views can (indeed should) be challenged.

As it happens, it is the students who are more likely to ask the questions of faith about staff members (many of whom are a little nervy when asked). I wouldn't underestimate the students in all this.

Moreover, conservative students are typically in the majority in the classroom and Dept with well-organised groups (e.g. Christian Union) behind them. They get a lot of support and are capable of standing up for themselves.

4. 'one of the questions that ought to be seriously discussed is the issue of sensitivity to and tolerance of theological differences in the students and a thoughtful addressing of issues when students feel that pejorative comments about the Bible or about their faith are at the least not fair, and hardly value neutral.'

What happens when we find some of the violent passages of the Bible, can people not be strongly critical? Well, they can in universities, just as they can defend what may seem to others to be outrageous views. I don't think anyone believes in value neutral these days and if students are challenged by a viewpoint, they can fight back.

But, I add again, questions are questions and staff from a range of religious perspectives and none have been represented at Sheffield and I think that's a good thing.

BUT this is academic in some ways because I am really most concerned about the allegation that there is, or has been, some kind of *deliberate* policy about appointing staff on the basis of their religious affiliation (or not) and that staff have *deliberately* tried to do something to 'deconstruct' (ruin?) students' faith. That is something different and it is not a fair allegation. This is the heart of the issue.

Best wishes,

James

November 08, 2009

 
Blogger Greg Carey said...

It's unfortunate that what ought to be cause for celebration -- the survival of a thriving religious studies program in a major secular university -- has become cause for contention. Congratulations, Jim, to you and your colleagues!

I beg to differ on one comment about seminaries in the US, as I teach in one. Seminaries indeed differ from state universities, in that we ask questions pertaining to communities of faith. At the same time, I can assure you that faculty in seminaries explore questions of history, ideology, and the like just as do university faculty. Moreover, seminaries are extremely diverse. What one may find, say, here in Lancaster might not correspond to what one finds at Asbury.

Greg Carey

November 09, 2009

 

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