Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Secrets of Critical Biblical Scholarship

The roots of modern biblical scholarship go back at least 200 years but I think it's fair to say that in the 20th century, there arose some new ways of looking at the scriptures that have changed the landscape of biblical studies forever. Source analysis, form analysis and redaction analysis are just a few of the disciplines that now play an indispensible role in contemporary exegesis.

A deeper understanding of how the Bible came into existence, the contexts in which various books were written and the historical realities of its stories has been a part of most seminary studies for more than 50 years now. So I'm still surprised that most of this knowledge has yet to find its way into our congregations. When you think of the number of sermons the average churchgoer hears in a lifetime, you might expect that somewhere they might have come across this fascinating new knowledge.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that those who are hanging on to this knowledge are also desperately hanging on to power. I am becoming increasingly attuned to the nature of power dynamics between people and within organisations. This is something that I've avoided for a long time because I have no desire for power myself. However, I've recently become aware that to ignore the power struggles that go on around us is to allow the powerful to continue to exploit the powerless. As a result, I am becoming more and more critical of structures and systems that are designed to keep people in their place.

When we stop Christian teaching after Sunday School, when we encourage people to just maintain a 'simple faith' and when we accuse people of heresy because they have a different understanding of Christianity to our own, we are not simply 'safeguarding the faithful'. We are maintaining our own positions of power and our sole right to be the definers of truth.


Anonymous said...

Having come from a denomination where theological issues were hotly debated and this debate took away from the spreading of the gospel message I found great joy when coming into TSA that we have a simple Gospel Message, Our Doctrines etc. and then we spend our time and energies (well in most parts) passing this simple message on. As a child I used to hate sitting by as adults hotly discussed things that seemed so unimportant to me, yet raised so much angst among the sdults.

I have been concerned in recent years as we have now started to cross the line. For those who are devotees of Liberal Theology perhaps you should find a church that supports your theology and not spoil our mission.

Anonymous said...

Churches make belief an important matter. The correct belief, within a tolerance boundary that will vary from church to church, is a barrier to participation by outsiders. The first problem with this is that the outsider then has to evaluate which version of beliefs is the best one - is it a matter of one being more correct or a personal choice of the "one that's right for you"? Or which church appeals more because of factors like the pastor/minister's personality and friendliness. A subsequent problem arises due to the fact that a complex belief system like the local church's version of Christianity is gradually learnt and absorbed over a period of time. This learning process might reveal disagreeable aspects that were not obvious up front.

A further observation is that church pastors/ministers and members are, in the main, not interested in critical examination and questioning of their faith and beliefs. Either that, or they are somewhat defensive and object to critical questioning.

Why is this?

JDK said...

Thanks for your comments - they have prompted me to blog on the theme of theological diversity today. Regards, JDK

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous,

It sounds to me like you're being a little bit hypocritical - I say this with the utmost care and respect for you - but your comments on this blog are a participation in theological debate. Paul says that we must have a mature faith, as we mature we hopefully gain greater insight. It wouldn't be the first time I've heard people from all theological persuasions say the older they get the less they know. Why do they say this? I think its because with maturity comes the acknowledgment that life is more complex, things aren't so simple or black and white. Its sort of like going through puberty, from childhood to adulthood, our ideas about the our world and the world around us change, the playground, while still a lot of fun, is not the main focus of our lives.

Similarly, while the Bible stories from our Sunday School days were simplistic, with images of children sitting on a blonde, white Anglo's lap, mature faith accepts the fact that Jesus looked more like a Palestinian than an Aussie Salvo and that's just common sense maturity, isn't it?

Just a thought.