Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Secular Academia and the Bible

There's an interesting discussion around my last post. The question is essentially whether Christians should read the Bible in the same way that secular academics tell them to. So here's my perspective on that.

I think it's important for some Christians to understand how and why secular academics approach the Bible. It's important for them to be able to speak the language of secular academic study, and to learn what they can from it. I hope I've done a bit of that myself.

It's also important that they don't accept all of secular academic conclusions about the Bible without critically examining them. There is no such thing as a neutral viewpoint when it comes to human academic endeavour, especially in theology. Some of the conclusions are helpful and valid. For example, recognising that a large section of the book of Joshua is in the same genre as a lot of Ancient Near Eastern victory lists, and therefore it doesn't necessarily all need to have happened at the same time or in that order, is important and helpful for understanding the book and its relation to history.

But a large portion of secular academic study of the Bible rests on the presupposition that God does not act directly in this world, and God does not speak in the way that Jesus (for example) claims that he does. I disagree with that presupposition on philosophical and experiential grounds, and therefore I feel at liberty to disagree with those conclusions of secular academia that rest on that presupposition. There are other bad presuppositions too, but that's the biggest one.

Because of that, and because Christianity is not fundamentally about getting a first at Oxford in Theology (though it's nice when that happens, it's really not very important!) but about being in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the priority of the Christian minister should be to teach what is true rather than just what the academics say.

That doesn't mean that what we do is at all academically irresponsible. The quotation I cited last time can be read as answering the simple question "Given the Christian understanding of Jesus as God, and the Apostles as inspired by God's Spirit, how should we read the Old Testament?" It was written by the former professor of Old Testament and hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia...

As a comment for my previous post, Speaker for the Dead made this good point.

If Jesus is the Son of God, our reading of the Old Testament should center around that fact... But if a Christian can demonstrate that the NT is an inspired document quite unlike any other, he is entirely justified in using it to analyze other inspired texts.

Post a Comment