In my books an apologist includes any academic who defends some sort of privileged status for the veracity or contemporary relevance of the narratives and teachings of the Bible. N.T. Wright uses the historical methods of New Testament scholars to argue for the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus. That ought to ring alarm bells to any serious academic. Evidently we need to question the reliability of methods that can be used to prove such nonsense; we also need to wake up to the confessional interests of a “scholarly” field that can even tolerate any of its members seriously arguing such a thing.
Scientists do not work with methods that allow one to prove God made Adam and Eve; and their guild would never give professional respectability to a member who member who argued dinosaurs were included on Noah’s ark.
Historians do not work with methods that allow for battles to be decided by mysterious angels appearing in the sky and nor would we expect them to grant professional esteem to a colleague who argued the angels of Mons decided the outcome of World War 1.
But it is quite common in New Testament studies to find scholars being highly respected academically even though their works amount to a litany of “proofs” for their personal confessional beliefs.
There are a few New Testament scholars who do speak out, however. One of these is Paul Holloway, Professor of New Testament at the University of the South. He protested against his university awarding N.T. Wright an honorary doctorate.
My complaint is that Sewanee has recognized Wright as a scholar in my discipline, when in fact he is little more than a book-a-year apologist. Wright comes to the evidence not with honest questions but with ideologically generated answers that he seeks to defend. I know of no critical scholar in the field who trusts his work. He contradicts what I stand for professionally as well as the kind of hard-won intellectual integrity I hope to instill in my students. I feel like the professor of biology who has had to sit by and watch a Biblical creationist receive an honorary degree in science.
For Paul Holloway’s commendable protest and for his defence of sound scholarship apologist Michael Bird of Euangelion writes:
Paul Holloway has written what can only be called a nasty and intemperate rant as to why Wright should not have been awarded such an honor.
Unfortunately this is not Bird’s first foray into somewhat intemperate language directed at those who take a stand at odds with his personal faith.
Bird acknowledge another colleague, Nijay Gupta, who likewise takes Holloway to task:
My concern is that Holloway is misrepresenting Wright, and mocking many of us who are in academic dialogue with him.
I can understand Gupta’s concern that Holloway’s remarks by implication condemn scholars who give Wright the time of day but his first complaint, “misrepresentation”, is based primarily on the reputation Wright already has. All the appeals to the recognition Wright has among other NT scholars is hardly debunking Holloway’s point. If anything it is underscoring the reason for Holloway’s indignation. Bird makes the same sorts of logically fallacious arguments in defence of Wright.
Happily there are a few (hopefully more than just a few) academics who agree with the principles espoused by Holloway.
Here is a comment by a now retired Professor of Old Testament studies, Niels Peter Lemche, who makes the point well, I think:
Another explanation may have to do with the change of gravity within biblical scholarship. A generation ago the center was definitely Europe, and here German scholarship was unquestionably the flagship. European scholars were all brought up in the shadow of de Wette, Wellhausen, Kuenen, Alt, Noth, and von Rad, and without accepting these scholars as leading stars; nobody would be allowed to enter the temple of academic biblical studies. It is true that some critical voices were raised . . . [But] no conservative, i.e., evangelical scholar would ever be allowed to contribute.
Now days, biblical scholarship is dominated by American scholars, presenting a much more colorful picture. Historical-critical scholarship has no monopoly like it used to have in Europe; academic institutions may be – according to European standards – critical or conservative, but in contrast to the European tradition, these very different institutions will communicate, thus lending respectability also to the conservative position.
This definitely represents a danger to biblical scholarship as an academic discipline in the European tradition. Entertaining a dialogue with an opponent who has different goals from the ones of the critical scholar means the same as diluting one’s own position: in the universe of the critical scholar, there can be no other goal than the pursuit of scholarship-irrespective of where his investigations may lead him or her. . . .
Critical scholars should be critical enough to realize the tactics of the conservative scholars: never engage in a serious discussion with the minimalists. Don’t read Davies, Thompson, and Lemche; read books about them! From Niels Peter Lemche, 2003, Conservative Scholarship-Critical Scholarship: Or How Did We Get Caught by This Bogus Discussion on Bible and Interpretation.
Oh yes. Never engage with the critical scholar. So Hurtado will never engage with Ehrman but will politely keep to his own trajectory. I made the mistake of attempting to dialogue with Hurtado recently and could not understand why every comment of mine was rebuffed with some sort of innuendo or even outright insult. Only in hindsight did I realize he was avoiding engagement in a discussion of fundamental philosophical and methodological approaches and putting me in my place from the outset.
It’s the same with mythicists. They must be insulted, denigrated, have their motives and character impugned. Yes there is an appearance of engagement but it is only an appearance. As has been demonstrated on Bible and Interpretation McGrath’s treatment of Carrier’s book is quite misleading. Presumably he does not expect colleagues to check the veracity of his comments.
And so we come to Bird’s shock that Holloway has breached academic collegiality. He should not expose apologists but pretend everyone is an equally professional critical scholar. This brings us back to the modus operandi of the apologist scholars as brought out by Stephen Young in Protective Strategies and the Prestige of the “Academic”.
James C. Hanges has likewise pointed out the apologetic nature of much NT scholarship that sets up barriers to protect Christianity from being like any other religion in the past. Its uniqueness must be preserved. (Except for Judaism. The scholars need to prove they are no longer antisemitic as their forefathers were so Christianity can be very much like Judaism.) In one of his books Hanges has further noted that even scholars who ostensibly attempt to argue for sociological explanations for Christianity’s rise do not avoid the trap of their “apologist” colleagues who always say Christianity began with something “unique”, “unknowable”, a mysterious “easter experience” whereby somehow followers of Jesus became convinced he was alive, etc. That is, Christianity is removed from the realm of normal historical explanations even by many who are trying to avoid the supernatural and the unique.
Not very long ago I wrote a review and critique of James Crossley’s efforts to find a secular and “scientific” historical explanation for Christianity’s spread and pointed out that I felt he was putting himself in a quandary by seeking dialogue with the N.T. Wrights.
This post has turned into a somewhat disorganized ramble. I hope to write something more specific with respect to a question of interest to many readers in the coming days.