Re: [asa] A question on morals (OT and NT)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed Nov 04 2009 - 10:18:48 EST

I echo Pete's last paragraph.

If someone were to say: "I don't understand Clerk Maxwell's equations, and I don't have time to read textbooks in higher mathematics and physics, so just give me a pithy, three-paragraph explanation of them", we would say to such a person: "I'm sorry, but there is no royal road to advanced theoretical physics. If you aren't willing to put in the study time, you aren't going to grasp the results."

It is the same in theological study. The thoughts that some of us here have on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, on the notion of Law, on the nature of Jesus's teaching, on the relation between text and tradition, etc., have arisen as the result of years (in some cases decades) of formal study of Greek, Hebrew, ancient history, ancient literature, narrative theory, philosophy, philosophical theology, comparative religion, history of Chrstian thought, history of Biblical interpretation, etc. Some people would prefer a shorter path to insight into deep and difficult questions, one that does not involve reading even a single scholarly book from cover to cover, and one that allows one to rest satisfied with the yes-or-no, right-or-wrong sort of answers that are typical of subjects such as engineering. (Either the crane is strong enough to lift the load or it is not; either the wiring diagram is correct or it is not; either the process will achieve 87% efficiency or it will not. Analogously, either the Old Testament or the New Testament is wrong; Genesis must be true or false in a certain narrow sense in order for Christianity to be true; God must be either one or three; etc.) But theological questions are not like that. They are more like questions about how to raise a child properly, or how to build a strong marriage, or how to cope socially and politically with technological transformations that are creating massive unemployment, or how to hold together the truth that one finds in the novels of Dostoevsky with the truth that one finds in the novels of Jane Austen, or how to decide whether listening to the music of Mozart is better for your soul than listening to "Christian rock". They involve not only a correct assessment of a number of technical matters (Greek and Hebrew grammar, textual transmission, ancient chronology, etc.), but also a level of human judgment, in which the theologian or Biblical scholar brings his or her whole person -- insights into religion, literature, art, politics, history, and everyday human nature -- to the task of understanding texts and traditions.

For people who tend to take a mechanical approach to Scripture, and who eagerly look either for crude historical and scientific proofs that the Bible is literally true, or for evidence that the Bible is factually false or has contradicted itself and so on, there is no solution other than a complete re-orientation of approach. One way of getting re-oriented would be to go to secular department of Religious Studies and take a couple of courses from the better teachers there, on the Bible, on ancient Judaism, or on the history of Biblical interpretation, to flush all the sub-intellectual guck (built up by focusing on atheist versus YEC debates) right out of one's system. Once one realizes that top-flight Biblical scholarship doesn't even acknowledge the existence of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or Duane Gish or Ken Ham, that it treats all of them with equal contempt, one might then be in a position to consider the Bible and Christianity from a fresh perspective. I would also suggest tossing one's entire library of programmatic atheist and YEC works, and picking up something like Samuel Sandmel's *The Enjoyment of Scripture*, or Robert Alter's *The Art of Biblical Narrative*. Another thing that could be very helpful would be to take one summer completely away from theological reading of any kind, and spend it devouring classic European novels, plays and poetry. Some general reading in history and philosophy wouldn't hurt, either.

The notion of reading something longer than e-mails and blog posts may put some people off, but there is no royal road to theological insight. I haven't yet met a deep theologian who isn't also an avid and disciplined reader. And I for one don't intend to dispense free theology lessons to those who aren't willing to make a substantial effort of intellectual preparation, and hope to get to theological truth by playing "twenty questions".


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Pete Enns
  To: Dehler, Bernie
  Sent: Wednesday, November 04, 2009 7:55 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] A question on morals (OT and NT)

  OK. Yes, this was civil legislation mean to be followed to to make restitution for wrong-doing, and is reflected in other ancient law codes.

  This is going to sound VERY self-serving, but Bernie, have you read my book Inspiration and Incarnation or some of my essays on my website? I am not claiming to be the final word, but I am beginning to suspect that I am going to start simply reiterating what I have said in those places.

  You are asking for simple and direct answers. I appreciate that fully, but the questions you are asking are "5 year answers," meaning it will take time for you to unlearn your assumptions about the nature of the Bible and adopt more coherent paradigms.


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Received on Wed Nov 4 10:23:00 2009

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