an obession with first principles

A (Condensed) History of Race

Posted: Wednesday Dec 3rd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Historical Method, Sociology, Uncategorized | View Comments

Modern Method

Posted: Wednesday Jan 5th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Historical Method, In the News, Philosophising | View Comments

Despite what conservative fundamentalists and liberal fundamentalists have said in the past about the high theological stakes of historical research, the central concern of modern scholarship is not history. The issue turns not on the historicistic intellectual program that animated modern scholarship in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries but rather on the cultural character of modern criticism as an institutional outgrowth of the progressive German Enlightenment
Legaspi at The Bible and Interpretation

Michael hits upon something so central I cannot express how many conservative friends I have seen step right into it. The idea that the only way of talking, or knowing what we’re talking about is the historical-critical approach to biblical studies. And because of that we must fight the (according to them) so-called experts who deny what we profess. We must come up with alternate explanations on which to base, even prove, our faith.

(Tangentially, as a programmer this reminds me of Joel Spolsky’s Fire and Motion article in which he states that large companies continue to come out with *Shiny* *New* and *Better* versions of things that already worked as cover fire in order to get smaller companies to waste time implementing things they don’t have to. In this case, some of the faithful are entirely distracted by another task which they ought not to be bothered with.)

What actually happened is the wool is being pulled over the Church’s eyes:

As the eighteenth-century roots of modern scholarship show, the real point of separation between modern biblical criticism and the confessional modes it was designed to replace is not an intellectual evaluation of what history says the Bible is but a political and cultural orientation toward the question of what the Bible is for.

His argument continues that the inability of the Catholic, and Protestant (he doesn’t mention Orthodox, but we might as well) churches to retain a shared hermeneutic and central meaning for the Bible allowed the Bible to be spoken of by another, the enlightenment scholar. And many of these scholars were involved with the Church directly, indirectly, or clergy. All this brings us down to our present day.

Modern biblical criticism is not a rival to the kind of religious faith once invested in confessional Bibles; it is a successor to it.

Factually, I must agree with this assessment. On the ground, however, I must disagree. Especially within conservative circles, the modern critical method is glanced long-side, waiting for the moment it betrays them. Within the more liberal theologically, a theistic viewpoint is either presumed or left behind – but the approach to a solution of society’s ills is to be found within a modern critical method (whether it be liberation, gender issues, or sexual issues). I can say this from first-hand experience being in a program recently. There is very little confessional biblical study (and if there is, I haven’t seen it be very interesting. Most people just talk at one another than actually dialogue [see the problem in the Anglican Communion]). And this growing divide leads to an inevitable question for society:

The question today is not ‘What is the real cultural valence of the Bible I grew up with?’ but rather, after the decline of Christendom and the long, slow deconversion of elite culture in the West, “Why have a Bible at all?”

To this question theologians no doubt have differing answers. Historical critics, I fear, have no answer at all. As Max Weber said in his lecture on science as a vocation “academic prophecies can only ever produce fanatical sects, but never a genuine community.”

When I have to answer this question I return first to the early traditions of the Church. I cannot support the modernist hermeneutic. The Church, always and everywhere, has remained solid in her hermeneutic based on allegorical interpretation of Scripture, apostolic tradition, the self-checking of the Church in her teaching (which is a fantastic apparatus in such a diverse body) and the experience of her members in life and religion. The modernist approach (as I have argued before) cannot impart value as the teachings of the Church have done from the beginning:

If Weber is right, then the social ambition of the modern critical project has largely failed: Wissenschaft cannot sustain a genuine community because, unlike traditional religious belief, it cannot decide what is ultimately worthwhile for us to know