I just came across a blog that I won’t name so as not to make this a personal matter, but the author has, in effect, turned scholarship into an idol, forsaking the ministry for scholarship and seemingly treating scholarship as the pinnacle of all that is good and holy. Said individual has a very particular understanding of what constitutes scholarship, which according to him, can be pretty much boiled down to the historical-critical method. Any talk of of God turns the scholarship into something else altogether.
Anyway, aside from having a lofty view of scholarship, this person also seems have a naive understanding of what scholars can/should do and what scholarship is supposed to be. He said the following in a comment on his blog:
Facts only and no theological agenda; I have come to have a deep conviction that honest scholars should evaluate the data, absent of their own presuppositions, bias, and religious dogma. In my opinion, this is often the reason scholars come to different conclusions, despite the fact, they are all looking at the same data. This site is interested in factual data.
But if we’re gonna talk about honesty then honesty demands that we admit that there is no such thing as evaluating data absent of our presuppositions, bias, and religious dogma, whatever these may be. That champion of historical criticism Rudolf Bultmann wrote an essay ages ago called “Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?” in which he determined that it was not. Mind you, he distinguished between presuppositions and prejudice, which determines what the text is allowed to say before one ever gets to it, but he was not so naive as to think that brute facts existed and that any piece of information could be interpreted apart from prior commitments.
Of course Bultmann wasn’t an innovator in this regard. I can think of a number of Dutchmen who had come to the same conclusion before Bultmann, but they were theologians, so I dare not mention their names with respect to scholarship. I can think name a bunch of biblical scholars who have affirmed the same thing as well, but they’re all confessing Christians who reverence Scripture as the word of God, so I best not name those names either.
But I discerned a bit more of what seems like naivety of the Ehrmanian variety in poking around this blog. Readers of Ehrman’s popular books know that his discovery of textual variants in the NT manuscript tradition set him down the path of agnosticism (the problem of evil is what he says made him really lose his faith). But Ehrman was under the impression that if the Bible was truly the word of God then God would have preserved it perfectly. That’s a naive belief. One wonders if Ehrman would have apostatized had he had more realistic expectations.
The blog author to which I’ve been referring says that he had expected to find unanimous agreement on all things theological and when he discovered a diversity of beliefs in the first few Christian centuries it pushed him into his pursuit of historical-critical scholarship. But his expectation was as naive as Ehrman’s. And I can’t, for the life of me, see how this individual’s personal quest for the historical Jesus and the origin of early Christianity is ever going to actually help him out. It seems that he’ll just be adding another in a long list of diverse beliefs to the mix. It actually adds to the problem.
But like I said, my beef isn’t with this person, just his paradigm. He’s not unique. I’ve encountered the idol of scholarship repeatedly over the last decade. I nearly worshiped it myself for a time. And the myth of neutrality runs rampant among those who value historical-critical scholarship to such high degrees, but myth it is, and not in the sense that historical criticism talks about myth in biblical literature either. ;-)
With that said, I value scholarship. I thank God for the myriad of people who have given significant portions of their lives to the study of Scripture and everything that goes along with studying Scripture. I wouldn’t have my English Bibles without them. I wouldn’t have a thousand academic volumes lining my bookshelves without them. I wouldn’t be interested in half the things I’m interested in without them. But the best scholars are those who recognize their presuppositions rather than deny that they have them or try to suppress them. The best scholars are those who submit their scholarship to the Lordship of Christ rather than treating scholarship as a lord in itself.
And that’s that.