Re: [asa] Methodological Atheism in Biblical Studies

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 20:17:34 EDT

Hi David,

For what it's worth, the "David" in my post was David Opderbeck, not yourself - so I hope I'm wrong in feeling that you took my remarks as a critical response to (or even a "corrective" of) your own position.

I agree that scholarship is very important and that appeals to the Spirit in the absence of critical thinking are largely vacuous.

For me one of the overlooked things - and I think the chap to whom David Opderbeck referred makes this mistake - is that the study of Scripture is in some sense "sacramental" - by which I mean the Spirit works THROUGH the sacred text such that a poor understanding of the later can lead us to misconstrue the voice of the former. Here a "poor understanding" can fall both ways - either a naive disregard for it as literature, history, poetry, etc (as appropriate) or with too great a focus on the scholarly. One must consider scholarly issues to be sure. But one must also get past them at some point in order to actually READ Scripture AS SCRIPTURE. And this leads to the second potential error - that failing to EVER listen to the voice of the Spirit will leave us blind to the significance of the text - which probably accounts for so many biblical scholars being, frankly, so very dull - there is simply no LIFE in their scholastic exertions.

I suppose, then, that my contention is that a "correct" understanding of the text is impossible if one neglects EITHER the spiritual/devotional aspect OR the intellectual/scholarly aspect for the simple reason that a "correct" understanding of the text means growing holistically: intellectually, spiritually, morally, etc. This does involve an increase in knowledge, but I think we both recognize that it goes way beyond JUST an increase in knowledge.

The point is that I think Lenzi wants to paint it as an "either-or" proposition - or at least to claim that a religious commitment to the idea that God might speak to us through the text is somehow to distort truth. By contrast, I want to argue that it is precisely this ommission - the refusal to approach Scripture AS Scripture, as something through which God might speak to his children - is actually to invite, indeed to logically entail, the biggest distortion of all.

But then, my post-grad supervisor did one day remark that I am that greatest of abberations; a Christian amongst the Bible Scholars! :) (and, yes, he did seriously say this!)

My supposition in all of this is that most members of the list are probably struggling with such issues to a greater or lesser extent. Not so much in the context of biblical studies (although as Christian laity this will be the case for many), but in the context of the natural sciences. What does it mean to do science from a Christian perspective if by this we mean attempting a proper engagement of the the spiritual/theological with the physical/scientific WITHOUT an undue hegemony of the one over the other? No need to guess that THAT question will have a pretty broad range of answers of varying degrees of refinement!

Actually, now the point comes up, I'm preparing a paper related to this issue for presentation in a few weeks. It's provisionally entitled "prayer in the science lab" (and was inspired by a question on that topic by somebody on the list some months ago - I'd love the person concerned to identify themselves if possible, as memory doesn't serve). In any case, I'll have to post it for everybody's enlightenment, amusement, approbation, (other) ____________.

Murray Hogg
Pastor, East Camberwell Baptist Church, Victoria, Australia
Post-Grad Student (MTh), Australian College of Theology

D. F. Siemens, Jr. wrote:
> I wrote my response to Opderbeck before reading George's and your
> responses. I was thinking of pure scholarship, the question of what the
> text says, whether believed or not. The actual atheist is not dealing
> with the text in this way, but is importing his disbelief of miracles,
> for example, into the text. In contrast, I think of something I recall
> from J. B. Phillips. I think he was trying to express what the Greek text
> said as clearly as possible in contemporary English. But he noted that
> from time to time he felt as if he were rewiring a barn with the mains
> on. Getting zapped is not part of scholarship, but it happens with God's
> word. In contrast to the purely scholarly, pastors have to find
> applications of the scriptures to the lives of their parishioners--and to
> themselves. This is the emphasis on your responses. This should involve
> the work of the Spirit, for it goes beyond scholarship. Indeed, it may be
> practiced effectively by some who are incapable of interacting with the
> original texts. On the other hand, I recall a well-meaing brother who
> began a chapel message with a statement that he did not understand the
> text and proceeded to demonstrate his ignorance at length. It reminds me
> of President Woodrow Wilson's comment on the evidence for the truth of
> scripture, it has survived so much poor preaching. But that should not be
> the pastor's goal.--

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Received on Thu Oct 2 20:18:18 2008

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