Monday, January 23, 2006

An ecumenical project ...

It seems to me that there is room for some strategic co-operation between textual critics from various historic Christian groupings beyond the confines of historic evangelicalism. While there is particular benefit to be derived from discussing textual criticism with those with whom one shares all significant elements of a doctrine of scripture (as well as soteriology), there is also benefit from co-operation with those who may not share all elements of our doctrine of scripture, but who, nevertheless, take a positive attitude towards the orthodoxy and the orthodox in the early church. At the moment there is arguably a lack of representation within the academy of positive perspectives on the integrity and truthfulness of early Christians. Would such co-operation between groupings committed to Trinitarian orthodoxy be beneficial in textual criticism, and, if so, how might it best take place? Do we need an 'orthodox textual criticism' blog alongside an 'evangelical textual criticism' blog? Who might get involved?


  1. Pete,
    I for one would be glad to be involved in an ecumenical project, more broadly 'Christian.' I realise I am still working out my 'strategy' long term, but it seems to me that we might possibly be more effective in the pursuit of biblical research if we are more broadly inclusive. I do agree that this 'inclusiveness' would have to be controlled, but I think it is probably to the detriment of our cause if evangelicals seek every opportunity to find an enclave from which to do research from an explicitly evangelical framework. I think we will have to make some personal 'compromises' (not in a sinful way!) in order to do the most effective textual work

  2. Michael,
    I'm glad to hear this. In setting up an 'evangelical' TC blog, it was never my intention to suggest that good work could not be done outside this framework. It was rather because it seemed to me that, though many evangelicals were involved in textual criticism, they were not being encouraged to discuss their theology in relation to TC.

    It is not a question of either/or approaches. Ideally we would have a strong evangelical group and also a group that was seeking to align people who have compatible strategic aims within a broader Christian framework.

    I dare say that there are many scholars in non-evangelical churches who are not too impressed with the portraits of textual transmission that secularly dominated scholarship could paint. There are some very high up Catholic scholars, for instance, who might make good allies.

    The key thing that makes this sort of cooperation unproblematic within historic evangelical theology is that the co-operation does not have as its aim the bringing together, for ecclesiological purposes, of groups which have major doctrinal incompatibility (e.g. soteriology). Enterprises that dumb down distinctives in order to get agreement usually achieve nothing.

  3. PJW,

    I didn't mean to imply that there should be an either/or approach and I fully resonate with your thoughts on this. The question is, when are we going to do it? And what are we going to do? I would love to see more Catholic/Evangelical work on textual issues because, like you, I believe they would be more keen to work with the same objectives. So, what are we waiting for, you and Dr. Head aren't doing much these days are you? You arrange it, I'll join.

  4. The question of Ecumenism is an uncomfortable one. Certainly ecumentism can broaden both our support base and our prospecitve audience.
    But it also runs the risk of compromising our message.
    Yet from a long-range perspective, everyone's message is compromised in the end. The theological debates that rage today were not the ones that raged 500 years ago, or 1000 years ago, or 1500 years ago, even if the underlying principles are the same.
    That historical perspective drives me to seek dialogue, even cooperation, with those who are at once on my side of one issue, and at the same time on my opponents' side of another.

  5. Daniel,
    I'd considered putting 'ecumenical' in scare quotes, but decided to go for the catchier title without them. Of course, what I am talking about has nothing to do with normal ecumenism, which attempts to bring churches together. At the end of the day the churches would be as far apart as ever. What we would be doing, however, is utilizing the fact that, in relative terms, individuals within different churches may be much closer to each other than they are to secularists. This can mean that we have common approaches. Ideally evangelicals are both passionate about exact doctrine and catholic in spirit.

    On the other hand, there can be research with a truly ecumenical dimension. Arguably, my contention that the Peshitta NT was made from a Vorlage more closely aligned with extant Greek texts than previously thought means that the NTs of, for instance, the Greek Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox can be understood to be even more similar than previously thought. This is an ecumenical consequence of textual criticism.