2007-04-24

faith based “scholarship”

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by Neil Godfrey

Passing on here notice of an article currently being discussed on the iidb site.

The article is by biblical scholar Michael V. Fox and titled “Bible Scholarhip and Faith-Based Study: My View” posted on the SBL site. A breath of fresh air in this miasmic field. I find it encouraging also to see I’m not alone in detecting the strange partnership between conservative christian “scholarship” and postmodernism — as I’ve alluded to in my discussions of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

Some excerpts from Fox’s article:

In my view, faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship, whether the object of study is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or Homer. Faith-based study is a different realm of intellectual activity that can dip into Bible scholarship for its own purposes, but cannot contribute to it.

Scholarship rests on evidence. Faith, by definition, is belief when evidence is absent.

Faith-based Bible study is not part of scholarship even if some of its postulates turn out to be true. If scholarship, such as epigraphy and archaeology, should one day prove the existence of a Davidic empire, faith-based study will have had no part in the discovery (even if some epigraphers incidentally hold faith of one sort or another) because it starts with the conclusions it wishes to reach.

There is an atmosphere abroad in academia (loosely associated with postmodernisms) that tolerates and even encourages ideological scholarship and advocacy instruction. Some conservative religionists have picked this up. I have heard students, and read authors, who justify their biases by the rhetoric of postmodern self-indulgence. Since no one is viewpoint neutral and every one has presuppositions, why exclude Christian presuppositions? Why allow the premise of errancy but not of inerrancy? Such sophistry can be picked apart, but the climate does favor it.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • 2007-04-25 02:13:51 GMT+0000 - 02:13 | Permalink

    Can’t say that I disagree with anything in particular that he says. My only problem is, who exactly is he referring to when he describes faith-based scholarship? I know that conservative scholars like Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright are often accused of doing it, but they for the most part simply engage in critical scholarship like everyone else. I have never heard them argue something in the academy simply on the basis of it being found in scripture. Even if they think it’s important for the faith, they’ll try to back it up using arguments from the primary sources and secondary literature, just like Doherty and Price do from their angle.

    But this man definitely needs to take a course in cognitive psychology. His naive talk of simply following the evidence and not basing anything on faith reveals a profound ignorance of the way people actually think, and not just supposedly ‘religious’ people either.

  • 2007-04-25 12:54:51 GMT+0000 - 12:54 | Permalink

    You wrote: “Even if they think it’s important for the faith, they’ll try to back it up using arguments from the primary sources and secondary literature . . .”

    My response: You missed an essential point in that article. The very scenario you describe here is the problem. Fox wrote: “faith-based study . . . starts with the conclusions it wishes to reach.”

    So when you speak of a scholar trying to back up something important to his faith with arguments from the sources etc that is exactly the problem Fox is attempting to address. The faith-based scholar knows the outcome of his studies before he begins and then will select his evidence to support and justify whatever is important to his faith. So he can claim he is being scholarly — working with the evidence. And if there is any evidence that contradicts his faith? He will simply find a critique of that and push and elaborate that critique. It’s a “slam dunk” as you Americans say. It’s a foregone conclusion. It is not honest scholarly enquiry.

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