Sunday, March 15, 2015

"Protective strategies"

I was asked to comment on this article:
By way of background, I believe the author was a student of Peter Enns. Not just a student, but–along with Art Boulet–a Peter Enns loyalist and committed apologist for Enns. In this article, Young isn't laying his own cards on the table. 
In addition, the presentation is phony because Young feigns the pose of a disinterested observer who is simply offering an ideologically neutral or merely descriptive sociological analysis of inerrantist "discourse." But that's just a ruse to attack inerrancy while concealing his own agenda and ideological commitments. 
Let's take a few representative statements: 
…a protective strategy that privileges claims about the Bible's divine nature in order to shield it from historical, social, and other kinds of standard explanatory-reductionist analyses that would approach biblical writings like other human writings (22). 
First, inerrantist theorizing vigorously represents its projects as historical/academic study, buttressed by specialized epistemology and theory-of-religion frameworks…These protective strategies serve to block analysis of the Bible through ordinary historical, social, anthropological, and scientific academic methods should they yield findings about the Bible that transgress how inerrantists understand the Bible's claims–especially that the Bible is inerrant (24).
i) At the risk of stating the obvious, Christian scholars are expected to act as Christian believers. Naturally a Christian scholar will treat the Bible differently than the Iliad. 
Naturally Christian Bible scholarship will operate within a "theory-of-religion framework." Christianity is a religion. Scripture is a religious document. As Christians, our theological viewpoint will inevitably inform our engagement of Scripture–just as Scripture will inform our theological viewpoint. That's integral to the specific belief-system. 
ii) Apropos (i), Christianity claims to be a revealed religion. Its veracity is grounded in the revelatory status of Scripture. To be a Christian is, among other things, to grant the revelatory identity of the Bible. If you're not a Christian, you won't. 
There is no middle ground or common ground between these two positions. Scripture either is or is not divine revelation. Of course we don't expect a secular scholar to operate with Christian presuppositions. But by the same token, we should not expect a Christian scholar to operate with secular presuppositions. In the nature of the case, Christian Bible scholarship is…Christian. An expression of Christian faith. Both the individual faith of a Christian scholar and the corporate faith of the religious community to which he belongs. It is, in the first instance, scholarship by Christians and for Christians. We don't impose our outlook on unbelievers and outsiders. By the same token, they are not entitled to impose their outlook on us. 
iii) This doesn't mean we merely stipulate our position. We can and should argue for why the Bible ought to be "privileged." Likewise, we can and should challenge secular historiography. 
iv) Defending the inspiration of Scripture against naturalistic reductive explanations is no different than defending religious experience from naturalistic reductive explanations, viz. Freud's projective theory of religious belief. Defending Scripture is not in a class apart from defending Christianity in general. It's no different than developing a theodicy in response to the problem of evil. That's a case of Christians behaving as…Christians. That's how we think. 
v) Sound scholarship will treat a document for whatever it really is. If the Bible is divine revelation, then scholarship ought to take that into account. If scholarship fails to make allowance for the nature of the document in question, then scholarship will mischaracterize the document. If Scripture is divine revelation, then sound scholarship will treat it for what it really is. To ignore that fact will derail the analysis.  
vi) I don't think that Christians should accept every religious document on its own terms. I don't accept the Koran on its own terms. Or the Book of Mormon. Or 1 Enoch. Or Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia.
But what's nonsenesical about Young's position is his objection to Christians accepting the Bible on its own terms. If Young was logical, what he'd say is not that Christians should stop accepting Scripture on its own terms, but that Christians should stop being Christian. That would at least be consistent–albeit malignly consistent. 
vii) The way Young frames the issue is deceptively one-sided. He acts as though there's a value-free way of approaching the Bible. "Standard" scholarship should treat the Bible just like any other human document. But that only follows if, in fact, the Bible really is just like any other human document. So that's prejudicial.
Methodological atheism or naturalistic historiography isn't a value-free exercise. The question of Scripture's revelatory identity is not a methodological issue, but a substantive issue. A method can't prejudge the answer to that question, for that determination requires a scholar to evaluate the claims of Scripture. 
viii) Conversely, secular scholars have their own "protective strategies." Secular scholars "privilege" their own operating assumptions, viz. philosophy of religion, methodological atheism, naturalistic historiography. They presume that Scripture can't be what it claims to be. They don't think the miraculous events in Scripture did happen or could happen. Secular scholars are "insiders" in relation to Christian "outsiders." You're an insider vis-a-vis whatever constitutes your frame of reference. That's not unique to Christians. That's ubiquitous. 
It's duplicitous for Young to act as though Christian scholars have a "specialized epistemology and theory-of-religion frameworks," but secular scholars don't. He knows better. That's just an affectation to foster the illusion that "standard" historical, social, anthropological, and scientific academic methods are unbiased and evenhanded–unlike those tendentious inerrantists who demand special treatment. 
Given his reactionary mindset, Young may well be too hidebound to appreciate that he's swirling around in the same cyclical process. But he mirrors his current social circle. And his article is playing to a sympathetic audience. His hostility towards inerrantist scholarship disarms his capacity for self-criticism. 
ix) If Scripture is divine revelation, then it's proper to disallow interpretations that are inconsistent with its revelatory nature. Given the inspiration of Scripture, certain constraints are bound to follow. And for Christians, the inspiration of Scripture is a given.
You can try to say that's mistaken. Yet in that case, it's not the logic that's mistaken, but the premise. If Christianity is false, then that's not a given. But that's a different argument. And it's incumbent on a critic to actually make that argument. 
If you're going to attack the inerrancy of Scripture–don't attack the conclusion, attack the premise. Young's article is reactionary and intellectually confused. Just admit that you no longer share a Christian outlook on Scripture.