Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Evangelical and Secular Scholarship

Lately I've been lounging in Alan Bandy's café, thoroughly enjoying the interviews about faith-based scholarship. I find myself more on the same page with Crossley and Goodacre than the evangelicals (no surprise), but good points have been made all around. I want to comment on a couple of things in Mark's interview. I agree with most of what he said, but would add the following, where he explains the advantages of evangelical and secular scholarship in turn:

I would say that one potential advantage is that the evangelical often gives the benefit of the doubt to a given Biblical writer, and that can enable a good case to be made for something that might otherwise not have been noticed.

Even more importantly, it enables a good case to be made for something that is alien or repulsive to a modern way of thinking. Evangelicals are predisposed to accepting the antiquated world-view of the bible at face value, so they don't have the same level of "embarrassment baggage" others may have. It probably did take an evangelical like Scot McKnight to write a book like Jesus and His Death, which argues so convincingly that Jesus saw his own death in terms of a converted passover sacrifice -- that his "body and blood" would protect people from God's wrath at the apocalypse. It's a persuasive argument, but doesn't deal with terribly attractive ideas in today's world -- even to mainstream Christians.

As a Christian myself, I am conscious of wishing certain conclusions to be true, and so aware of the danger that I might give more credence to poor arguments than a non-Christian might. I sometimes envy the atheist and the agnostic here in that they don't have to deal with the same baggage.

Speaking for myself, it's admittedly nice to be free of such baggage, and I do wish (echoing James Crossley) there were more secular scholars in the field. Of course, there are plenty of atheists and Unitarians (my group) who go through life weighed down by a different kind of baggage, especially if they're fighting a grim Christian past. I was fortunate: there was nothing suffocating or oppressive about my Christian upbringing (I was raised Episcopelian and went to Roman Catholic grade/high-schools). Like the rest of my family, I gradually "grew out" of Christianity but have positive memories of what I learned from it.


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