Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Autistic scholarship

I said:

***QUOTE***

The problem with this charge as it bears on the case for Calvinism is that, to judge by Witherington’s discussion and bibliography, he is almost completely ignorant of the exegetical literature in favor of Calvinism. For example, he attacks the Reformed reading of Rom 9-11 without a single reference to the commentaries by Schreiner and Murray, or the monograph on Rom 9 by Piper. There’s no interaction with the two-volume work on The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, which has a number of exegetical essays in defense of Reformed theology. No reference to Beale’s article on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exod 4-14. No reference to Carson’s commentary on John, or Silva’s commentary on Philippians, or Murray’s monograph on the imputation of Adam’s sin, or Vos on “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” or Warfield’s article on predestination. These are just a few of the gaping lacunae.

***END-QUOTE***

Witherington replied:

***QUOTE***

I have read most all of those sources you have mentioned but this is quite beside the point. I said quite clearly at the outset that I was dealing with these different Evangelical theologies as they are found at the popular and most widely disseminated level. This means unlike most of my work I deliberately avoided spending much time debating other scholars. The issues was the ideas, not who said what.

***END-QUOTE***

Just in case I was unfair to Witherington, I decided to order his recent commentary on Romans: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Eerdmans 2004).

Unlike his popular-level book The Problem with Evangelical Theology, his commentary is supposed to be pitched at a more scholarly level.

It is de rigueur that commentators interact with other commentators—especially commentators who represent an opposing viewpoint. And Witherington says in the preface that he is writing from a self-consciously Arminian or Wesleyan perspective. So you’d expect him to defend his interpretation in response to the traditional Reformed reading.

So what do we find? Perhaps the better question would be, what don’t we find?

Murray’s commentary on Romans is passed over in silence. Schreiner’s commentary on Romans is passed over in silence. Piper’s monograph on Rom 9 is passed over in silence. Schreiner’s article on Rom 9 is passed over in silence. Beale’s article on Exod 4-14 is passed over in silence. Murray’s word-study on “foreknow” is passed over in silence. Baugh’s word-study on “foreknow” is passed over in silence. Murray’s monograph on Adam’s sin is passed over in silence.

In the annotated bibliography there is a passing reference to the commentaries by Calvin and Hodge. That’s the first and last time you ever hear of them.

You get the picture. We have, once more, a studied disregard for the opposing viewpoint. Zero interaction with its best representatives.

At the risk of stating the obvious, you cannot rebut a position whose existence you don’t even acknowledge. Before you can mount a counterargument, you need to present the opposing argument. To judge by these two titles, Witherington’s scholarship is a study in insularity and obscurantism.

9 comments:

  1. Sadly, this type of lack of interaction with the Calvinist position is far from rare coming from circles such as Witherington's. It is interesting how someone can clame to respond to the position without interacting with it.

    Nice title.

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  2. Excellent post. How can Witherington claim any credibility in his scholarship if he does not interact with scholarship of opposing views?

    Calvinists are all the willing to do so. So what gives? Simple: Reformed scholarship is solid.

    Cheers,
    Alan

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  3. http://www.boarsheadtavern.com/archives/2005/12/13/18036366.html

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  4. To judge by these two titles, Witherington’s scholarship is a study in insularity and obscurantism.

    That's quite a sweeping statement to make based on reading two books, one of which was based for a more popular audience.

    Believe it or not, many if not most scholars have little interest in the sources you cited because they themselves tend to be insular and obscurantist. And do you really think a world-class New Testament scholar is going to interact with John Piper in a scholarly work? He's not even on the radar in the vast majority of the academy.

    How about dealing with Witherington's arguments instead of trying to find a way to be able to ignore what he has to say without having to actually deal with it?

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  5. Michael,

    I am sure Steve Hays' will critique Matthew's post. All I have to say is that if Witherington takes Arminian interpretations in his Romans commentary, then how is that relevant to a supposed SBL audience! You can't have your cake and want to eat it to ;-)

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  6. Keith,

    Are you serious? Allow me to juxtapose your logical fallacy if you have not seen it yet:

    Compare this statement of yours,

    "And do you really think a world-class New Testament scholar is going to interact with John Piper in a scholarly work? He's not even on the radar in the vast majority of the academy."

    With your very next statement,

    "How about dealing with Witherington's arguments instead of trying to find a way to be able to ignore what he has to say without having to actually deal with it?"


    Keith, how about dealing with Piper's arguments instead of trying to find a way to be able to ignore what he has to say without having to actually deal with it?

    Cheers,
    Alan

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  7. I actually stumbled across Witherington's Bible Buying guide from the BHT. It was biased, agenda-driven, and misinformed. While a blog is not a scholarly work, it is telling to see his approach. He makes claims about & ultimately dismisses the ESV, it appears, not because he's studied it, but because he knows "the process that went into producing it and was not impressed."

    Thanks for your piece.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. ALL work done by anyone is biased... just at varying degrees. We are simply much more aware of our opponents bias that our own because it's easier to see fallacies in things that we already disagree with in the first place.

    In fact, if we can't see our own bias... there's a big problem.

    And Keith was not making a judgment about Piper's work, he was saying that Witherington might not feel that Piper is the one he needs to respond to - perhaps in the same way that Piper wouldn't feel he had to respond to Olsteen.

    So yes, I think the criticism of this arguement (Witherington being a bad scholar because he isn't interacting with people the blog's author values on the subject - based on the reading of two books) is not well grounded.

    I think the critical response to Keith was based on inference, assumption, and offense... in addition to what was actually said

    ReplyDelete