Monday, July 11, 2005

Clapp-trap

There is an ongoing fight between Communio Sanctorum and Real Clear Theology. Tim Enloe has chosen to illustrate the Oedipal complex by trying to slay a former mentor. But there are larger issues at stake.

This is in some respects a replay of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The key question is what supplies the interpretive framework of Scripture: tradition or original intent? Church history or ancient history?

Do we interpret the Bible by a context future to Scripture—by tradition and church history? Or do we interpret the Bible by a context contemporaneous with Scripture?

Do we interpret the OT with a view to ANE history? Do we interpret the NT with a view to both the OT and Hellenistic history?

Which past and present supplies the framework? The past and present of Scripture? Or the past and present of the interpreter—subsequent to the terminus of Scripture?

That is one key question. Another key question which is tacked onto this is the modernist/postmodernist controversy.

As a historical convention, modern philosophy dates from Descartes. And Descartes is the favorite whipping boy of postmodernism.

But let me put in a few good words for Descartes and modernism. To begin with, Descartes was trying to become epistemically self-conscious, to become aware of his social conditioning, and subject his social conditioning to rational scrutiny.

Now, we may criticize his efforts in various respects. But surely there was something worthwhile in his aim. Should we not take stock our hereditary beliefs? Should we not ask ourselves if what we believe is merely a historical accident of our chronology and geography?

Is there not a point at which tradition can smother and suffocate intellectual inquiry? The danger is that the way we answer a question depends on how the question is posed. And the first person to pose the question tends to cast the die. The problem is not only with the traditional answers, but with the traditional questions—with the way the questions are framed, which tends to prejudge the answer.

Another thing to be said in favor of Descartes is that he was the founder of analytical geometry. Just as Leibniz was the cofounder of Calculus and a pioneer of symbolic logic. Just as Newton made signal contributions to astronomy, optics, physics, and mathematics.

Indeed, we can go down the line here. Modernist epistemology has a very impressive portfolio of intellectual achievements in technology, medical science, computer science, horticulture, &c.

Now, this is one reason that folks like me don’t take postmodernism very seriously. Like the birds of the air, that sow not, nor reap; or the lilies of the valley, which toil not, nor spin; the pomos have nothing to show for their words except more words. Did Derrida invent fractal geometry or discover the double helix? Is he even a decent chess player?

By what metric do we judge the intellectual achievements of postmodernism? In what way can it be shown to have advanced our intellectual mastery of the natural world? And, if not intellectual mastery, at least our practical mastery of the natural world?

One other thing I’d say before moving on. It’s not as if NT scholars don’t know their way around postmodernist hermeneutics. If Enloe had every bothered to read Thiselton or Carson or Poythress, to name a few, he would see that they operate with a very sophisticated and self-conscious hermeneutic.

And yet, when all is said and done, this has not had a revolutionary effect on the interpretation of Scripture, for sound methodology must adapt itself to the nature of its subject-matter. Historical revelation has a historical context proper to its own time and place. The interpretive tools and rules of evidence must vary accordingly.

Moving on, Tim Enloe chose to take an article by Rodney Clapp as his latest launching pad. Eric Svendsen contacted his friend, Timothy McGrew, for a professional evaluation. Then Kevin Johnson responded with the following comments:

<<
These criticisms of Tim Enloe regarding recent comments he made at Communio Sanctorum are filled with the sort of academic hubris that ought to be unwelcome in any circle. >>

Even if that were true, couldn’t the very same thing be said of the pomos?

<< I know smarter folks (as opposed to mere lettered academics) can see through this sort of thing. I just think it’s a shame that Tim’s exceptionally bright and appropriate take on the matter in question (foundationalism, etc) is neither read graciously or charitably by men who call themselves our opponents. >>

Notice that Kevin substitutes ad hominem invective for a reasoned response. If Kevin had a reasoned response to offer, he’d offer it. It is just because he had no rational rebuttal to offer, much less a constructive alternative, that he resorts to demagoguery.

<< Communio Sanctorum is not intended to be an academic journal where men wax eloquent about the technical details of this or that piece of information valuable only to men who spend their entire lives out to pasture chewing on such irrelevancies. To the extent that you find language or ideas on our site acceptable to the various reigning academies of the day it will be the exception and not the norm. There is a time and a place for higher education but it certainly shouldn’t be used to tear down our brothers and the academy has deceived itself all too long to think that it is merely the accurate detailing of information that is important for us to consider. It is a limited view caused by a limited ecclesiology–doubtless hampered by a limited epistemology. >>

Now Kevin is trying to make a virtue of desperate necessity by suggesting that he and his cohorts could answer Dr. McGrew at his own level, but are constrained by the popular format of Communio Sanctorum.

You know, it would be a simple matter to arrange a formal online debate.

He then, streaming with crocodile tears, deplores the way in which his opponents are “tearing down our brothers” in the faith. You mean, like the way in which Enloe compares the Baptist members of his own denomination to medieval heretics?

<< Communio Sanctorum is a website that purports to be a serious theological and communal effort at examining our contribution to Reformational catholicity and what that entails. Part of that effort is most certainly about being charitable both to those who are our brothers and those who are not. >>

See the double-tongued reply? After the false modesty of the paragraph about how Communio Sanctorum is not an academic journal and all that, Kevin immediately reasserts the intellectual pretensions of his “Reformed Catholic” cohorts. The problem here, as always, is that there is nothing to justify their affectations to intellectual superiority. They say they hold all the aces, but all they ever show us are deuces.

Like a little cheat who hides in the bushes a few yards from the finish line, then cuts in to claim the prize, Kevin manages to come in first because he never ran the race in the first place, leaving all the sweat and exertion and preliminary exercise to intellectual athletes like Dr. McGrew.

There is nothing wrong with being an autodidact. But that’s no excuse to despise the professional scholar.

<< If and when it ever becomes merely academic or it represents the sort of scathing critiques made famous by those all too impressed with the letters they find after their last name, I hope we don’t do anything but bring it down and let someone else take the battle forward. >>

Notice, once more, the hypocritical oscillation between anti-intellectualism and intellectual pride. The dilettante naturally hates the academic. It reminds me of the Maoist thugs who used to murder surgeons in the operating room.

5 comments:

  1. McGraw or McGrew? I suppose we should start another online debate. :)

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  2. Definitely McGrew, with an E.

    PP

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  3. But then again I've caught Mr Hays referring to a certain sophist as "Anderson" too!

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  4. Eric and the PP are assuming that there is some objectively true way of spelling names. This reflects their sad bondage to Cartesian gnosticism! :-)

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  5. Steve--

    You made an error of category in your post, and I wanted to point it out as a friend.

    You said:

    {{
    If Kevin (Johnson) had a reasoned response to offer, he’d offer it. It is just because he had no rational rebuttal to offer, much less a constructive alternative, that he resorts to demagoguery.
    }}

    I'm afraid that the issue is not whether Kevin has a reasoned response or not: Kevin is actually a demagogue. He would say "demigod", but then again he can't say "shiboleth", either.

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