Introduction to Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy

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s2smodern



IVP-UK has put the "Introduction" to Shapers of Christian Orthdoxy online at their web site.  In this introduction I walk through the goals of the book and give a sense of my own theological commitments and goals that shaped the book.  Shapers of Christian Orthdoxy has been published by IVP-UK, and will be released later this fall by IVP-US.  If you read it, I would love to hear your feedback.

Sharing the Gospel at the Society of Biblical Literature

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s2smodern

An interesting twist on the situation with Ronald Hendel and the Society of Biblical Literature (see my earlier post at bradleyggreen.com). The SBL leadership decided to respond to Ronald Hendel’s essay,“Farewell to SBL: Faith and Reason in Biblical Studies” (in the July/August 2010 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review). In Hendel’s article he claims that the SBL has removed the term “critical” from its moniker/motto, supposedly because the SBL is trying to curry favor with evangelicals and fundamentalists, and hence boost membership.

Another of Hendel’s claims is that at some SBL meetings some members have tried to share the gospel with other persons. Well, the SBL will have none of that. The “claim” and “clarification” below, from a letter sent to SBL members (yes, I am a member), makes clear that the SBL is a very sensitive and tolerant organization and by all means will not tolerate any lack of “tolerance.” Read: there shall be no attempt to “proselytize” anybody at an officially sanctioned SBL event.

So, be on the watch at the next SBL meeting, because “proselytizing activity is neither welcome nor permitted in SBL-sponsored events and publications and is inconsistent with the SBL’s core values . . .” Make sure and quickly contact your nearest SBL staff member if you see anyone trying to share the word of life, the precious gospel, with any other person.

Here is the language from the SBL’s e-mail to SBL members:

'Claim: The current SBL environment, which includes instances of proselytizing activity as well as veiled theological denunciations of certain individuals or groups, is hostile to a critical approach to biblical studies.

Clarification: Although SBL invites vigorous discussion of all relevant topics, proselytizing activity is neither welcome nor permitted in SBL-sponsored events and publications and is inconsistent with the SBL’s core values: accountability, inclusiveness, collaboration, leadership in biblical scholarship, collegiality, productivity, commitment, responsiveness to change, communication, scholarly integrity, efficiency, and tolerance. Consequently, any instances of proselytizing activity should be reported to SBL staff. Further, we are unaware of any RBL reviews that even “hint” that anyone is “going to hell.” If any SBL member can point us to such a review, we will immediately remove the review and disavow its sentiments.'

In short, the prophets, the apostles, Paul, and Jesus would all be very unwelcome at the world's largest society of academics committed to the study of the Bible.

Faith and Reason and Studying the Bible

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I have just read Ronald Hendel’s piece in Biblical Archaeology Review, "Biblical Views: Farewell to SBL: Faith and Reason in Biblical Studies" (July/August 2010). Hendel laments that the Society of Biblical Literature appears to be pandering or catering to "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" groups.As Hendel sees it, the SBL has dropped the word "critical" from its motto in order to attract more conservative biblical scholars. Traditionally, SBL’s motto included the language, "founded in 1860 to foster critical biblical scholarship."  Recently the language which appears is ". . . to foster biblical scholarship"—"critical" has dropped out. This displeases Hendel. The word "critical" should be reinstated—on Hendel’s view—for the SBL should be committed to "reason" not "faith."  I do not really have a dog in the hunt over whether to include the word "critical."  But Hendel's piece is interesting because it is as sterling an example of modernist and dogmatic enlightenment thought that one is likely to find.

There are many things that could be said about Hendel’s piece, but let us note his use of Blaise Pascal.  Hendel quotes Pascal: "The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”  Hendel comments: "Pascal's Pensées draws a wise distinction between religious faith and intellectual inquiry. The two have different motivations and pertain to different domains of experience. They are like oil and water, things that do not mix and should not be confused. Pascal was a brilliant mathematician, and he did not allow his Catholic beliefs to interfere with his scholarly investigations." He continues: "...facts are facts, and faith has no business dealing in the world of facts. Faith resides in the heart and in one’s way of living in the world."

This is a wonderful example of the mindset of modernist and dogmatic enlightenment thinking.  It is, in short, dogmatism parading as free-thinking.  It is classic pietism, the type of pietism that sometimes follows a trajectory to an anti-intellectualism and sometimes follows a trajectory to old-school liberalism.  For Hendel, faith has to do with what goes on in the human heart while reason or intellectual inquiry has to do with what goes on in the human mind.  Classic pietism.

Pascal might be read in this way at points.  But a fuller reading of Pascal will likely point us in another direction.

For Pascal, our intellectual inquiry and deliberation is shaped all the way down by the state of our hearts.  That is, our intellectual abilities are always thoroughly shaped by our relationship to Jesus himself, and whether we are in submission to him.

Indeed, intellectual error is directly related to our moral character.  Pascal would write: “Those who do not love truth excuse themselves on the ground that it is disputed and that very many people deny it.  Thus their error is due to the fact that they love neither truth nor charity, so they have no excuse.”[1]  Indeed, writes Pascal: “The greatness of wisdom, which is nothing if it does not come from God, is invisible to carnal and intellectual people.  They are three orders differing in kind."[2]   What is needed, contended Pascal, is to see all things through Jesus Christ.  Apart from this, we would have no true knowledge. Hence, Pascal is a true Augustinian when he wrote:

"Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ.  Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or of ourselves.

Thus without Scripture, whose only object is Christ, we know nothing, and can see nothing but obscurity and confusion in the nature of God and in nature itself".[3]

Indeed, we know nothing truly if we do not know it in the light of Christ and Scripture.

Friedrich Nietzsche understood Pascal quite well when he summarized Pascal, even though Nietzsche disagreed with Pascal.  Nietzsche summarizes Pascal as follows: “Our inability to know the truth is the consequence of our corruption, our moral decay.”[4]

There is much more which could be said of Hendel’s piece.  But one thing should be said: Pascal and many like him did not drive a wedge between faith andreason.  On the contrary: our intellectual lives are inextricably linked to one’s relationship to Christ, and true knowledge requires that one bows to the risen Jesus.



[1] Blaise Pascal, Pensèes, translated by A.J. Krailsheimer (Harmondsworth:Penguin Books, 1966), 84.

[2] Pascal, Pensèes, 308.

[3] Pascal, Pensèes, 417.

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, translated by Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale (New York:Vintage Books, 1968), I.83.

 

David Jeffrey, the Bible and the University

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In the eighth and last volume in the "Scripture and Hermeneutics Series," David Lyle Jeffrey and C. Stephan Evans served as editors for The Bible and the University (Zondervan, 2007).  I have read several of the essays, but to me the stand out is David Lyle Jeffrey's "Introduction" (which was also published in Touchstone magazine).  The entire volume wrestles with the place of the Bible in the university.  This question will strike some moderns (and particularly thoroughgoing secularists) as extremely odd, put historically the question was a fair one, and not a particularly shocking one (even if folks have historically disagreed on the role of the Bible in places of learning).

But Jeffrey's "Introduction" is simply excellent.  As Jeffrey has written here and elsewhere, in the Christian West knowledge was always seen in relation to other and related goals like wisdom and virtue, and in relation to God.  That is, Christians--at their best--have always seen the acquisition of knowledge against the backdrop of God, man, the world, and God's relationship to man and the rest of the created order.  Man is a creature, and true knowledge must always be seen in relationship to the God who has created and rules over all things.

To forget wisdom is ultimately to cripple the educational enterprise, and we have been living amidst the ruins of this crippled enterprise for some time.  Jeffrey's argument is  radical and penetrating.  He certainly is saying that we should seek to understand the relationship between knowledge and the lordship of Christ, and he certainly is saying that we should seek to grasp how to think Christianly about the acquisition of knowledge, and that such knowledge is always to be submitted to the universal lordship of Christ.  But Jeffrey is saying a tad more than that.  It is tempting in Christian colleges and universities to speak simply of a Christian "worldview" or of the "integration of faith and learning" (both fine realities, properly understood).  But Jeffrey is also arguing that in the Christian West, the Bible itself was a central component of liberal learning.  He writes (p. 7): "But here is the point too often missed: classical learning, indeed all types of learning in the monasteries and other communities of Christian education, was  organized around a studium whose central preoccupation was with the bible as a foundation for all learning."  Jeffrey goes on to summmarize Bonaventure (p. 8): "all knowledge is a light, or means of understanding, but the highest of all lights--superior to philosophical knowledge, to the knowledge arrived at by sense perception, and to the mastery of the mechanical arts--is the light of 'Sacred Scripture.'"

In Western culture, even more non and anti-Christian folks often engaged in their intellectual deliberations and inquiries against a backdrop shaped and prepared by Christian thinking.  Thus, Jeffrey can write concerning Goethe (p. 10): "all Goethe's ambitions may be summarized as a wish not merely to translate but actually to rewrite the Bible."

Referring to the 12th century French thinker Hugh of St. Victor, Jeffrey writes (p. 14): "we cannot long thrive without a centering of our efforts upon the getting of wisdom."  For Hugh, "the instrumentality of the humane disciplines to an intrinsic and higher good, namely wisdom in the learner of an abiding, life-changing and personally transcendent gravitas."

Everything I have read by Jeffrey has been wonderful.  If you have not read this essay, I highly recommend it.