Embarrassed about the Bible?

In a recent article for First Things, Gerald McDermott writes about the reluctance of some evangelical scholars to identify with their own tradition:

“Evangelical theologians, like other orthodox thinkers, are susceptible to the peculiarly academic sort of ambition that seeks acceptance and recognition by their liberal colleagues. We want the academy’s approval, and so we are tempted to write and teach a theology that will be consistent with its moral and theological sensibilities.”

The spirit of the age has little room for evangelical distinctives like inerrancy, soteriological exclusivism, the doctrine of hell, etc. So it is no surprise that McDermott observes that the evangelical left tends “to reject the idea that the actual words of the Bible are inspired.” Such a confession simply doesn’t mesh well with the ideological mores of modern people. Evangelical scholars who are willing to swim against this powerful stream seem to be few and far between.

That is why I love Jim Hamilton’s recent blog post “Why I believe the Bible.” The post is a brief narrative from a scholar who isn’t afraid to put his flag in the ground and say “here I stand.” Jim writes:

“I think that my belief that the Bible is the word of God was probably most strongly challenged during the PhD program. It wasn’t challenged, though, by arguments so much as by the ‘peer pressure’ of the academic guild. That is, the initiates in the guild weren’t producing evidence, logic, and an overwhelming case against the Bible. It was more like an unspoken entrance requirement: if you want to join the ranks of the real scholars, you can’t believe that the Bible is inerrant, and you can’t hold that the attributions of authorship are accurate. Those ideas aren’t allowed here. I actually had an editor of a semi-evangelical journal tell me that I needed to become a real scholar and stop betraying so many evangelical assumptions about the Bible in my writing. Never, mind you, was any of this actually argued. The strongest pull seems to come from things so deeply entrenched that they don’t need to be argued. I was disgusted by the ‘peer pressure’ from the esteemed guild to reject the Bible.”

Read the rest of Hamilton’s post here. And if you haven’t done so yet, go buy Hamilton’s new book, The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. It’s a must-read.

24 Responses to Embarrassed about the Bible?

  1. KnutTheBear March 30, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    Many academic evangelicals accept evolution for the same reason, career protection.

  2. Donald Johnson March 30, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    I do not think science and faith are in conflict, except that some atheists might try to take science too far into scientism, which is to be rejected; and some people of faith are unwilling to change their interpretations of some texts, despite what science indicates.

    So there is this strange agreement between some atheists and some people of faith that science and faith cannot co-exist, except that it can.

  3. yankeegospelgirl March 30, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    Donald has it in a nutshell.

  4. RD March 30, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    I’m working my way through Jim’s book right now. I don’t use the term “working” lightly. God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment is a serious work by a serious scholar. It is not something you sit and read while eating your breakfast cereal. Jim requires that you bring your best game to his book. More importantly, you’ve got to bring your best game to the study of scripture. Like Denny, I highly encourage everyone to order a copy of Jim’s book!

  5. Kevin March 30, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Maybe RD, the problem is with your choice of breakfast cereal. Which kind were you eating?

  6. Charlton Connett March 30, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    Dr. Hamilton was one of my favorite professors in Seminary. In every one of his classes you were challenged to take scholarship seriously, and to have a passionate love of the Word of God. I have not had the opportunity to purchase or read Dr. Hamilton’s book, yet, but I look forward to the day I can do so.

  7. Christiane March 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    I found this statement to be of interest, and it resonates of some of the more controversial changes that occurred when the 63 BF&M was ‘re-Worded’ in the 2K BF&M, to do with the Words of Christ in the Bible:

    “Because the meaning of the Word is found not in the words of the Bible but in the theology of the Meliorist interpreter, sola scriptura can become—despite the best intentions of its leading thinkers— sola theologia, with the charismatic theologian the final authority.”

  8. Oh-Jay Lackmon-Bay March 30, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    That change was made in the BFM so that moderate christians could no longer say “Oh, I know Paul said that about homosexuality (for instance), but Christ would NEVER be that exclusive so Paul couldn’t POSSIBLY have meant that.”

    Real Christians, in contrast, realize that the entire Bible is God’s word, all the words in it are God’s words, and that the gospels are not more authoritative than Paul’s epistles.

  9. Joshua Wooden April 3, 2011 at 2:21 am #

    Here is my full response to Hamilton’s post:

    I’ve just finished carefully reading the article all the way through. I wanted to make sure that my response was both fair and accurate.

    I agreed with Dr. Hamilton at points, but I think that his article was incomplete at other points and unfair altogether at others. I liked his personal story, and I can find similar parallels to my own experiences.

    Before going on, I want to state where I am coming from, knowing that might shed light on my own review of Hamilton’s article. I am born-and-raised in Orange County, California, considered by many to be the birthplace of modern Evangelical Fundamentalism and a huge contributor to the early momentum of the Religious Right (for a useful book on that topic, I highly recommend Suburban Warriors: the Origins of the New American Right. It can be found in Google Books here: http://books.google.com/books?id=9a1yiZm1z2oC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Orange+County+the+birthplace+of+modern+evangelical+fundamentalism&source=bl&ots=yMJbQ9tTgc&sig=qHPnYvsEjpLnwQt2CZ_PK5yQyUI&hl=en&ei=0wWYTf-mD8zpgAfDi52uCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false).

    I am raised in a conservative Republican, Evangelical family, in a church of the same persuasion. The word “liberal” was used in my home, school and church, dismissively, as though it was good enough to say that something was “liberal” in order to not give it a fair hearing (though nobody would say this; it was simply assumed).

    I say all of that to say this. For my own part, Hamilton is probably correct in his assertions that liberals can be dismissive of people who believe the Bible is God’s Word, but the reverse is equally true, and equally unfair. There are many who dis-believe that the Bible is God’s Word with no argument, and there are also many who believe that the Bible is God’s Word without argument. Both are foolish. Both are ignorant.

    When he says, “I get the impression that at many liberal schools, you only hear the liberal (unbelieving) side of things, and no one even bothers with the conservative (believing) scholars,” I think he is being unfair, and he seems to be unaware of the conservative institutions who do the exact same thing (http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-04-09-IHE-evangelical-endorsing-evolution-forced-out09_ST_N.htm, or try this one: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/04/the-end-of-reformed-old-testam.html).

    Furthermore, Hamiltion seems to be implying in the quote above that because conservative institutions read believing and un-believing scholars that his education is more well rounded and fair-minded then liberals who only read liberal scholars (a caricatured view of liberalism; one that, by-the-by, liberals believe in turn about conservatives. And they may be just as correct depending on the institution in question). However, this overlooks the reality that many conservatives and liberals alike don’t read with the intention of being enlightened (because they think that they already are), but with the intention of refuting people whom they disagreed with to begin with. This strangely reminds me of a quote by Andrew Lang (talking about statistics, but equally applicable for our own purposes): “He uses [education] as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.”
    My point is to say this: I applaud Dr. Hamilton’s faithfulness to God’s Word as God’s Word, but I think he is sorely misguided to pit this against liberalism as though conservatism isn’t equally guilty (and sometimes more) of the same attitude, posture, or mentality (whichever you prefer), then what this article seeks to criticize.

    Also, when he says, “I was disgusted by the ‘peer pressure’ from the esteemed guild to reject the Bible,” I am sure there is truth to this statement. But I’m equally certain, that there are many Christian scholars who keep from saying things they truly believe about the Bible because of the “peer pressure” that exists in liberal circles. Hamilton’s remark leaves little room for those who genuinely believe what they say, and say what they believe, quite apart from any perceived peer pressure.

    Finally, when Hamilton says that arguments against inerrancy are “un-critical because the argument is so insulated by the unbelieving claque that the merits of the case aren’t ever really heard,” I have to say, I suspect there are many good arguments by Christian scholars who don’t believe in inerrancy, but don’t speak up for fear of being repressed through the peer pressure Hamilton endured in turn.

    I do agree with Hamilton’s last remark (being that it is a Biblical one): the Word of the Lord will most certainly stand forever. Let’s just pray that it is able to do so without conservatives having to stereotype liberals in order to affirm ourselves in it.

  10. yankeegospelgirl April 3, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    What’s wrong with stereotyping liberals? They ask for it.

  11. Christiane April 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    “What’s wrong with stereotyping liberals? They ask for it.”

    ‘gospel’ truth? What ‘gospel’ teaches stuff like this?

  12. Joshua Wooden April 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    @ yankeepospelgirl

    “What’s wrong with stereotyping liberals?”

    The same thing that’s wrong with stereotyping anyone else of any other persuasion- it’s unfair and ignorant.

  13. Joshua Wooden April 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    @ yankeepospelgirl

    “What’s wrong with stereotyping liberals?”

    The same thing that’s wrong with stereotyping anyone else of any other persuasion- it’s unfair and ignorant, which is the point of my post.

  14. yankeegospelgirl April 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    It’s not unfair when a certain group of people has consistently proven that everything we criticize them for is true.

  15. Joshua Wooden April 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    @ yankeegospelgirl

    I said more in my critique of Hamilton’s essay then your response allows for. What do you make of the whole of my response, not just the last sentence.

    Even still, you may be correct to say that “it is not unfair when a certain group of people has consistently proven that everything we criticize them for is true,” but that begs the question- is that true? And even if it is mostly true, there may still be exceptions, which would mean that a vast generalization would be unfair to those who are exceptions to that stereotype. Furthermore, I can’t imagine that someone who’s blog explicitly says, “I have zero patience with postmodernists, liberals, and people who pretend to be much smarter than they really are. But I repeat myself,” has anything fair or reasonable to say about liberals or postmodernists (or even people who pretend to be smarter than they are). So even if it was possible for a person to be fair (given your remark), I think it is also accurate to say that you are not that person.

  16. Joshua Wooden April 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    By-the-by, what college do you attend and what do you study. Just curious.

  17. Christiane April 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    Since when is it ‘gospel’ to treat a whole group of people poorly ?

    I honestly think this:
    that the Holy Gospel is for people ‘of good will’ who try to follow Our Lord’s Great Commandment.

    If there IS a ‘gospel’ giving approval for people to show ill-will towards their fellow men,
    can that ‘gospel’ be identified as having any credibility among Christian people ?

  18. yankeegospelgirl April 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    My intended major is philosophy, but for privacy reasons I would prefer not to say where.

    I don’t want to get mired in a long debate here, but I will just say that you can only give people so many chances. I don’t think it’s necessarily true that everybody MUST have something good or valuable to say. If you really take time to understand a (for example) liberal perspective, looking at the kind of material they have put out consistently through the years, then you will realize just how much they have wrong. I have zero patience with them not as a knee-jerk reaction from having heard the label used in a negative way, but because I’ve studied their positions on many vital issues. My conclusion is that they have dangerous and incorrect ideas that careful Christians should oppose.

    I think that being dismissive should not be viewed as automatically bad—Jesus and the apostles could be very dismissive and even what some might call rude when they saw something that called for sharp criticism. Christians need to be thoughtful, careful, and alert, keeping in mind that there is such a thing as objective truth. If once we allow ourselves to fall into the idea that one man’s truth is as good as another’s, we are falling into a trap that is inconsistent with Scripture.

  19. Joshua Wooden April 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    You’ve mis-characterized a very broad and diverse group of people. Not all liberals have the same arguments in the same way that not all conservatives have the same arguments, and disregarding liberal arguments simply because they are liberal (which is what you’re doing) is simply foolish (and I don’t think there is a more appropriate word).

    When you say, “My conclusion is that they have dangerous and incorrect ideas that careful Christians should oppose.”
    Maybe so, but the same is true of conservatives. I’m not sure either are viable options for orthodox Christians, and the fact that Evangelicals don’t see a third option speaks to Evangelicalism’s lack of creativity and discernment (cf. “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It,” by Jim Wallis; “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church,” by Greg Boyd; and “Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals,” by Shane Claiborne.

    When you say, “Jesus and the apostles could be very dismissive and even what some might call rude when they saw something that called for sharp criticism.”
    Really? Like when? And was it to their benefit? Barring Jesus, the apostles are not infallible guides- they sinned, too (cf. Gal. 2:11). Sharp criticism and saying rude things is not the same thing as dismissing other people, much less a group that includes several million people (not-to-mention people in other countries who agree with American liberals, but could not be classified as “Liberal” in the American sense).

    “Christians need to be thoughtful, careful, and alert, keeping in mind that there is such a thing as objective truth.”
    I agree, and I don’t think you are being either thoughtful or careful (though you may be alert). That is my original contention with you comment.

    “If once we allow ourselves to fall into the idea that one man’s truth is as good as another’s, we are falling into a trap that is inconsistent with Scripture.”
    I agree. And where, pray-tell, did I suggest or imply relativism in anything I’ve said here?

    I certainly hope that your education in philosophy will end with a more robust, less generalized, less caricatured views of other people.

  20. Joshua Wooden April 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Oh, and I almost forgot (actually, I did forget- hence the new post):

    http://www.amazon.com/Big-Sort-Clustering-Like-Minded-America/dp/0618689354

  21. yankeegospelgirl April 13, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    “Really? Like when?”

    Um, try reading Paul some time. To my recollection, I’ve never told anybody to castrate himself. 😉

    I brought up relativism because you said I was dismissive of postmodernists. And assuming that one man’s truth is as good as another is exactly what postmodernists are all about. I’m contending that this is inconsistent with Scripture and something that should therefore be avoided.

  22. Joshua Wooden April 14, 2011 at 1:32 am #

    @ yankeegospelgirl,

    If that is the only thing you have to say in response, and given the fact that you’ve had almost 10 days to think of one, then I assume you don’t have an actual counter-argument to anything else I’ve said?

    But you raise a valid point, so I’ll respond to what you’ve said, on account of the fact that you’re wrong. I want you to know: I have read the entire Pauline corpus, and everything leading up to it, and everything following it. I had a feeling that you were going to reference Galatians 5:20 (“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”) in order to justify your flippancy, which is really a mistake.

    Paul told members of “the circumcision” to go castrate themselves; ergo, we are justified in not listening to other people- is that your argument? Well, in fact, Paul wrote that after interacting with that group over a very long period of time, and many of his arguments against them, in addition to pastoral advice in light of them, can be found in other letters (cf. Rom. 2:25-29; 1 Cor. 7:18-19; Ironically, in the same letter that you cited: Gal. 5:5; 6:15; Col. 2:11-13; Phil. 3:2). Now, given that you can find his ideas and arguments in several of his epistles, demonstrating interaction with a group of people he later tells to “castrate themselves,” I wouldn’t say that this is a clear example of Paul being dismissive of other people. Out of context, you may have a point; in context, I don’t think so.

    But let’s bring this closer to home. What we are talking about, and what you seem to be advocating is a wholesale rejection of a prevailing philosophy, because it contradicts scripture (based on what that philosophy looks like in its extreme). So, what about Pagan philosophy? Did Paul (or anyone else) advocate a wholesale rejection of what Pagan’s believed in light of much of its clear contradiction with scripture, especially when it comes to idolatry? Interestingly, even though Paul confirms that idols are demons (1 Cor. 10:20*), he does not reveal this to the Athenian pagans he preached to on the Areopagus according to Acts 17:20-31. On the contrary, he makes use of their presupposing beliefs as a foundation for explaining the gospel to them!

    This seems to coincide perfectly with what Paul says elsewhere in 1 Cor. 9:20: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” Given what Paul says in Acts 17:20-31, this “becoming all things to all men” (Rom. 9:22), included understanding and utilizing their own philosophies- their worldviews- as a platform to share the gospel with them! So, I’m not sure it is Biblical to simply reject an entire philosophy on the basis that it contradicts the Bible- ironically, that would contradict the Bible. Redeem what can be redeemed. Begin where people are, try and see the world through their eyes, and use that as the basis upon which you share the gospel with them.

    In regards to your comment, “assuming that one man’s truth is as good as another is exactly what postmodernists are all about.” Well, if that’s what you think, have you ever considered reading Paul? Romans 14 (especially vv. 5-6, 14)? Sounds a little bit like relativism to me. Why doesn’t Paul just pick a side?

    Even still, postmodernism is more complex than you present it. That may be an extreme form of postmodernism, but there is no one, monolithic postmodern philosophy anymore than there was a monolithic enlightenment philosophy or a single modernist philosophy that postmodernism reacted against. For example, if you were to argue that the philosophy of the Enlightenment were anymore in line with historic orthodoxy, then I would reply, “Which strand are you referring to, because Enlightenment thought in France largely entailed a rejection of religion, and much of the Didactic Enlightenment (that would be the predominant philosophy of early Evangelicals like Jonathan Edwards), tended towards liberalism in some cases as well.”

    Moreover, from a practical perspective, if you’re suggesting a rejection of postmodernism, then that’s pretty much impossible- you live in a postmodern culture that has affected you in ways you probably don’t even realize. Furthermore, we are not only influenced by postmodernism- we are postmodern. A close parallel demonstrates this point nicely in a recent book by John Walton: “[W]e do not borrow the idea of consumerism, nor are we influenced by it. We are consumers, because we live in a capitalist society that is built on consumerism.” To an extent, the same can be said of postmodernism.

    However, if you’re suggesting a critique of postmodernism, then I say in response, “Wonderful, that seems to be the point of Colossians 2:8 after all: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” But really, at what point has Rob Bell said, “Your truth is my truth is your truth.” (http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/04/08/rob-bells-confession/)

    To conclude then, not all strands of postmodern thought end in relativism- that is an extreme form of postmodern thought- not its entirety. More moderate forms simply advocate a diversity of views concerning a given idea, in order to better understand the whole of an idea- an idea that I think you would benefit from.

    But if you still disagree, then you can just go and castrate yourself. Or do you think that’s dismissive of me? I suppose if you did, then you would be agreeing with me anyway. 😉

    * He says, “No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.” However, this does seem to contradict what he says earlier in 1 Cor. 8:4: “We know that an idol is nothing….; emphasis mine, but that is besides my main point.

  23. Charlton Connett April 14, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    Joshua,

    I believe that you are guilty of error in your above post as it regards what YGG has said of herself and her attitude toward Liberalism. She said of herself that she has studied it and interacted with liberals for an extended period of time, and having a somewhat extensive familiarity with the literature and arguments they put forth, she now is dismissive of the position as a whole and rejects them. You then went on to cite that Paul is dismissive of the circumcision party only because he had spent a significant amount of time understanding and attempting to correct said party. Thus, according to your own logic, and based on YGG’s own statement, she has reason now to be dismissive of Liberalism, as she has studied it and found it wanting as a philosophy.

    Moreover, I submit to you that even Jesus encouraged that position. As Jesus and his disciples were traveling, as mentioned by Matthew, Jesus looked to his disciples and told them, “Beware of the leaven of the scribes and pharisees.” His point being that they should not be captivated by the teaching of the pharisees. Matthew makes clear that Jesus was warning his disciples not to be influenced by the pharisees, thus rejecting that whole school of thought in just a few words. Thus, Jesus was dismissive of those whom he knew to be in error, or at the very least saw no need to learn anything from them, or for his disciples to learn anything from them.

    Moreover, your position that postmodern philosophy does not all lead to relativity is also in error. The fact is that postmodern philosophy is very much built around the idea that there is no universal truth, or that there are no meta-narratives. In every major postmodern philosopher you find this same strand. Either the meta-narrative is rejected, or the terms are so redefined that the idea of “truth” no longer has an absolute value. (This stems from the fact that the loss of meta-narratives means that “knowledge” becomes compartmentalized, and what is true in one given system is only true for that system, there is no meta-narrative that exists that can combine systems and thus reveal true-truth, there is only the subjectivisation of truth, wherein I experience truth or reality but cannot put forth the experience in linguistic terms due to the break down communication, or the inability to form, comprehend, or articulate a meta-narrative. While you may argue that this then is not the breakdown of truth into subjectivity, in the fact that I cannot communicate this truth I am held to subjectivity in that for all I know your truth could be different from my truth.) If you disagree with this position then please give a citation wherein postmodernism is understood differently. For my own evidence I submit to you the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/. (Yes, this is an appeal to authority, but as we are arguing about an established school of philosophy we must rely upon some authority as the definition of that school, otherwise the whole conversation is meaningless.)

    Further, in your paragraph beginning, “But let’s bring this closer to home” you argue, apparently, that Paul did not recommend a complete rejection of pagan philosophies, because he did not explicitly tell the Athenians, “By the way, you’re worshiping a bunch of false gods that are really demons and you are all bound to hell.” However, if you note, in his speech before the Areopagus, Paul makes very clear that there is only one God, that he does not live in temples made by human hands, and that he has now come to put all things in order, permitting the past transgressions so that he might now reveal himself in full through Christ. Therefore, while Paul did not explicitly state that the Athenians were worshiping demons, he very clearly told them that their worship was false and useless, and that they needed to repent and come to the one who had been raised from the dead. That is a wholesale rejection of pagan religion and the philosophies tied to those religions.

    Just because Paul does not reveal to the Athenians that they are worshiping demons does not mean that he did not reject their system of belief. The point of telling them, “You are worshiping demons” would be what exactly? Paul’s desire was not to tell men about demons, but about Christ. There is no point in saying that unless Paul gave a full discourse on the evils of paganism he did not fully reject paganism. It is sufficient to say that Paul said, explicitly, that the only way to God is through trusting in the one God raised from the dead to recognize that Paul thus rejected all other religions.

    Your argument that we must “become all things to all people” is certainly inline with Scripture, and I commend you for that. However, you have created a false dichotomy, that in rejecting a philosophy, wholesale, I must also reject what few truths may be incorporated into the philosophy. The fact is I can utilize the worldview of another person without actually holding to that worldview. Philosophies can be rejected even while acknowledging that there are grains of truth within the philosophy that can point a person toward Christ. The fact is that any livable philosophy must contain at least some elements that correspond to reality, or else the person could not survive in this world. Thus, I think you take YGG’s word too far when you act as though her rejection of liberal philosophy means that she must reject every part of that philosophy as well. (Moreover, her position was, “My conclusion is that they have dangerous and incorrect ideas that careful Christians should oppose.” Therefore, according to her statement, she rejects the ideas and conclusions of liberalism, not every aspect of the philosophy.)

    YGG,

    I beg pardon for making assumptions of your meaning. Holding, I believe, similar views to yourself I have attempted to explain more in detail what I think your position is, and to defend that position. If I have articulated your position incorrectly, then you have my sincerest apologies.

  24. yankeegospelgirl April 14, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Joshua, I actually did not read your response until yesterday. So it took me a few minutes to think of my response, which could have been much longer and which probably would have been even less to your liking. 😉

    Thanks for the castration suggestion, but er, I’m afraid that’s impossible. I could return the favor, but I won’t. 🙂

    Charlton, I don’t mind at all, and you’ve given a very lucid summary and defense of my beliefs. Thank you. To clarify regarding my rejection of liberalism, honestly the most I could say for them is that very occasionally they come to the right conclusion for the wrong reason. For example, they believe the war in Iraq was a mistake. I also believe the war in Iraq was a mistake. But unlike them, I don’t demonize Bush for it.

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