Faithful and Faithless Scholars
Prompted by a post from Danny Zacharias, James Crossley offers some wisdom about faith-based scholarship. Readers of this blog won't be surprised that I agree largely with what James has to say, though I would react a bit differently to Danny's opinion that "the best biblical scholarship comes from a 'faith-base'." I both disagree with this statement (as James does) and agree with it, meaning that the statement is entirely useless. Some faith-based scholars have done priceless work: Dale Allison, Philip Esler, John Meier -- even evangelicals like Scot McKnight and Richard Bauckham -- are all good examples. Others, while having made important contributions, leave too much to be desired: Tom Wright and Ben Witherington come readily to my own mind.
I suspect that Danny is applying the term "faith-based" to relatively conservative and/or evangelical scholars. But what about liberally faith-based scholars -- like Marcus Borg? Would Danny say that they have produced some of the "best biblical scholarship"? I wouldn't (just as I doubt he would), and I'd frankly be hard pressed to choose between a Wright and a Crossan.
Secular scholars can't be lumped under an umbrella anymore than the faithful. I consider Bart Ehrman to be one of the very best secular critics; Bill Arnal is quite sharp, but he either hits or misses with me altogether; and I almost never agree with what Burton Mack has to say. So what can I possibly say about secular scholars, who like me find the bible engaging without a faith-perspective? Not much meaningful.
One should be exceedingly distrustful of anyone who claims that biblical scholarship is best served by any group of people, whether traditionally faith-based, liberally faith-based, or secular. Each has its stars and lemons. Neither a Christian world-view nor an Enlightened one can possibly guarantee better results in the field of historical criticism. Come to think of it, that just strikes me as plain common sense.
UPDATE: See further posts by Alan Bandy, Tyler Williams, and the Blogger Cooler roundup at Deinde.
UPDATE (II): Stephen Carlson doesn't care for the vague and inconsistently interpreted term "faith-based". Some good points here.