Re: analysis & synthesis (Was Hyers' Dinosaur Religion ...)

From: Roger G. Olson <>
Date: Sun Feb 22 2004 - 18:19:29 EST

Beautiful analysis of this issue, George!



> Peter Ruest wrote:
> ....................
>> What struck me most about Hyers' approach were two things: (1) he
>> assumed
>> that Genesis 1 was written by a "priestly" writer during or after the
>> Babylonian captivity of Judah in the 6th century BC, and (2) he assumed
>> that
>> a theological meaning (or even agenda) in Genesis 1 prevents it from
>> having
>> any historical-narrative basis, at the same time. Of course, this is the
>> usual dogma of liberal theology with its destructive source criticism
>> invented more than 200 years ago in Germany by "Enlightenment"
>> "theologians"..................
> I want to comment here on just 1 aspect of Peter's post, the phrase
> "destructive
> source criticism" - which he has used before. "Destructive" is a
> bad-sounding form of
> another term which we often use in math & science, "analytic." It means
> literally
> taking things apart.
> In the natural sciences an analytical procedure means taking things apart
> to see
> how they work. Newton "took apart" white light with a prism - a procedure
> that Goethe,
> e.g., objected to. He wanted a what today would be called a "wholistic"
> approach to
> nature. But science hasn't gotten very far by trying to study the world
> as a whole. In
> practice an analytical approach seems to be necessary for scientific
> advancement.
> But if that's all you do, the understanding you'll get will be
> incomplete. It's
> what MacKay called the fallacy of "nothing buttery" to claim that a living
> thing is
> "nothing but" a collection of the individual molecules into which it can
> be analyzed -
> just as it's wrong (to use MacKay's example) to say that an advertised
> sign is "nothing
> but" a collection of lightbulbs and wires and ignore the pattern of words
> and letters
> that those elements form. After analyzing something to understand its
> components you
> have to synthesize - i.e., put things back together (at least in
> imagination) and see
> the thing as a whole. That's where "wholism" comes in, at least for the
> scientist - at
> the end, not the beginning.
> Things are similar with the study of scripture. In order to understand
> it in
> the deepest way you have to be willing to take it apart & study the
> individual
> components, how they came to be where they are, how they fit with other
> components, &c.
> This is what the whole practice of the historical critical method of
> studying the Bible
> is about. & when you get a text chopped up into little pieces and are
> trying to figure
> out who may have written each piece & when & why, it doesn't seem very
> spiritual or
> edifying. It seems, in a word, just destructive.
> The negative effects of the historical-critical method are in large part
> the
> result of just taking the Bible apart in that way _and not putting it back
> together
> again_. It's like someone who has taken a watch apart to get a tray of
> wheels & screws
> & springs & doesn't put it back together. You may understand how the
> watch worked (past
> tense) but it's not a watch anymore.
> The error there isn't in the historical-critical approach itself but in
> stopping
> short at that point. What's needed is now to put the individual pieces
> together,
> recognize that the parts that may (N.B.) have come from sources labelled J
> & E & P &
> others are now a single Book of Genesis, and that that book is part of the
> whole of the
> Hebrew scriptures which is part of the Christian Bible. This is what
> "canonical
> criticism" is about. It doesn't just ignore what has been learned from
> the historical
> -critical approach (as "conservatives" tend to do) or stop short with it
> (as some
> "liberals" do), but engages in the process of trying to understand the
> various parts of
> scripture as a whole, as the canon of scripture.
> Why do we have to take it apart in the 1st place? With all the dangers
> of
> apostasy connected with the critical study of scripture (some will say),
> isn't it safer
> to take it as a whole & simply believe Genesis & all the rest the way our
> ancestors
> centuries ago did? I appreciate the feeling: It would be be better for a
> person to be
> a YEC who trusts in Jesus Christ as her/his savior than to have all sorts
> of detailed
> information about the sources of Genesis & think the whole Bible is just a
> lot of tribal
> legends which are of interest only to antiquaries.
> You don't have to take apart a watch if it's running OK. But if it
> stops, or
> otherwise starts going wrong, you need to "analyze" it & that means
> destroying it for
> the short term. If I may force the metaphor, the rise of historical
> consciousness in
> the west and the developments of modern science seem to many people to
> have shown that
> the Bible is out of synch with the way the world is. Even conservative
> Christians have
> to admit that a lot of traditional interpretations of scriptures are out
> of synch with
> reality. That being the case, it's necessary to do the dirty work of
> taking the Bible
> apart to see how it ticks, & _then putting it back together_.
> My point there (since I suspect some will jump at what I said) is not
> that the
> Bible isn't "running properly" but that the way Christians traditionally
> have thought it
> "worked" - how texts were composed, what their function was, &c - has in
> some cases been
> in error. & to fix that we have to get a better understanding of those
> matters.
> This isn't a job for the faint-hearted. The analytical study of the
> Bible can
> be challenging to faith at some points, as anyone who has been through a
> serious
> seminary curriculum knows. It is something that should be done with the
> support of
> Christian believers, in the context of a worshipping Christian community.
> OTOH, any
> so-called theological education that doesn't challenge students' faith
> probably isn't
> worth much.
> & the analytical process cannot be doen once & for all, so that we can
> just go
> back to a pre-critical stage & thing of the Bible the way people did in
> the 16th
> century. Each generation of Christians has to go through the kind of
> process I've
> described. But we can lessen the shock somewhat by not teaching young
> people things
> they should eventually unlearn - that early Genesis should be read as
> history "wie es
> eigentlich gewesen ist" &c.
> Finally, I realize that some people engage in the analytical process in a
> way
> that we refer to as "picking apart" the Bible - d.h., finding fault with
> it & trying to
> destroy the authority of scripture. But the fact that someone may take a
> watch apart &
> then throws away the pieces doesn't invalidate the whole practice of watch
> repair.
> (Again I'm forcing the metaphor & am not saying the Bible needs to be
> "repaired.")
> Shalom,
> George
> George L. Murphy

Received on Sun Feb 22 18:20:03 2004

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