According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 13 - Carlos Bovell

Carlos Bovell

“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (13): Carlos Bovell

by Peter Enns
August 4, 2014

Today’s “aha” moment is brought to you by Carlos Bovell, a frequent contributor to this blog (for his last post go here and work backwards). Bovell is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and The Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. He is the author of Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (2007), By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblical Foundationalism (2009), an edited volume, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (2011), and Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear (2012).


I can very definitely remember that “aha” feeling in my spiritual journey. But truth be told, I doubt it was really just a moment, or if it was, it had to be a moment that was years in the making.

Before attending Westminster Theological Seminary I audited courses in Old Testament studies at Philadelphia College of Bible (later Philadelphia Biblical University, and now Cairn University). I eventually graduated with a math degree at The College of New Jersey, but I had had a life-changing religious experience before enrolling here, which is what prompted my sitting in on courses at PCB. I enrolled as an M.Div. student at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. It was as a result of studying at PCB and Liberty that I had learned a really valuable lesson.

(Side note: My spiritual counselors at both PCB and Liberty insisted "I disregard my religious experience—even though it changed my life—because God doesn’t do those kinds of things anymore. He rather makes provision for us through holy scripture.")

While at PCB my OT professor, Brian Toews, was teaching us about the “canonical approach” to scripture of late Yale professor Brevard Childs. To help us understand how it would look when done by evangelicals, my professor had us work through numerous readings by John Sailhamer–a well known inerrantist OT scholar who had taught briefly at PCB but moved on to Western Seminary by the time I took classes there.

A quote from Sailhamer’s Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach illustrated for me just how much preliminary work a student of the Bible is actually doing, philosophically, before thinking about how and whether the Bible is inerrant:

Thus the world that one stands before as a reader is never more than a representation
of the “real world.” In the case of the Bible, the text is a true representation and an
accurate representation. However, no matter how true or how accurate the text is, the
accuracy of the Scriptures should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the text is,
in fact, a representation of those actual events.

Now I should make clear that “what the Bible represents it always represents accurately” was not something I had any interest in criticizing at the time. I had wholeheartedly believed that. It was just that there was something about the way Sailhamer mentioned it here that seemed forced, contrived. What is he so worried about here?

Then, after spending a semester studying at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, I read a book by Liberty faculty that talked about the nature of Christian scholarship. The book was a compilation of essays and bore the title, Opening the American Mind: The Integration of Biblical Truth in the Curriculum of the University.

Each chapter gives an overview of a specific university discipline and was written by a professor who was active in that specific field so that the mathematics chapter was written by a mathematics professor, the economics chapter by an economics professor, the arts chapter by a music professor, and the biblical studies chapter by . . . a philosophy professor!

What’s wrong with this picture? Why is it that for every other field a practitioner of that field can explain how it relates to faith, but when it comes to biblical studies, a philosopher (none other than Norman Geisler) has to be called in to tell students in biblical studies what biblical studies must ultimately look like?

Both the Sailhamer assignments and the Liberty book got me thinking more intently about evangelical spirituality—particularly how it is shaped by evangelical philosophy—and cumulatively contributed to an “aha” moment for me: evangelicals, at least some, use philosophy to shield them from the “threats” of biblical studies.

Why the need to emphasize what inerrancy “requires” from biblical studies—ahead of time—before actually doing any biblical studies? I found this to be a very troubling question. Why are inerrantists going to settle matters for students before they gained some familiarity with the discipline of biblical studies?

It seems that the reason is to protect students from drawing “dangerous” conclusions. Even Sailhamer, a biblical scholar, felt the need to put on his philosopher’s hat while he did his biblical studies.

This raised a larger question for me: Where does biblical studies begin and inerrantist philosophy end? Is inerrantist philosophy driving the evangelical engine?

As much as I did not want to, I had to answer this question with a “yes.” An inerrantist historical Jesus scholar, for example, is not able to say that the early church put words into Jesus’ mouth in various portions of the Gospels, or that a number of events recounted in the Gospels never really took place, being made up by a later generation of well-meaning disciples. Evangelical philosophy will already have decided these matters ahead of time. Thus evangelical, historical Jesus scholarship would have no choice but go through the motions of “discovering” that the Gospels are actually “true.” And this pattern carries over to other aspects of biblical studies.

I sensed a clear and widespread pattern among evangelical writers:

The Liberty book I read thought that it would be best for an inerrantist philosopher to explain to students what biblical studies is and what it cannot find.

Sailhamer wanted students and others reading him to know upfront that their researches in biblical studies would never come into conflict with inerrantist philosophy.

What I came to understand is that when inerrantist, philosophical pre-commitments of this kind are at work, the kind of scholarship needed to be done most by evangelicals would never get done from inside of evangelicalism.

Index to Series -

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change

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