Sunday, June 04, 2006

Future of evangelical scholarship

As pointed out in Biblical Studies Carnival VI, Andreas Kostenberger (aliter Köstenberger) discusses the future direction of evangelical scholarship. He bemoans the way the agenda is often set by non-evangelicals, citing Ehrman’s Miquoting Jesus and Brown’s Da Vinci as examples. See here. The two books, though both popular, are in rather different categories. It doesn’t take a scholar to refute Dan Brown. But though some of Ehrman’s arguments should appear flawed to any careful reader, much of Misquoting Jesus can’t be evaluated properly by a lay person and therefore requires a scholarly response.

I agree wholeheartedly with Kostenberger that we should seek to set the agenda and not be merely reactive. But alas, the panel that my learned friend was on recently did not see textual criticism as one of the four tasks in which evangelicals most need to engage. I can’t say I’m very enthusiastic about the first three.


  1. Inevitably Kostenberger's vision of agends for evangelical NT scholarship is basically a slightly filtered form of Kostenberger's vision for the future of his own scholarship.

    I don't see anything wrong in principle about reactive scholarship - I'm thinking of Paul, John, Irenaeus, Augustine, Luther etc. as at least partly functioning as theologians of a reactive type.

    Titus 1.9 maps out proactive and reactive elements to the task of the Christian leader.

    Realistically, on what level of importance would we put textual criticism as fundamental to the future of evangelical scholarship?

  2. It has only been recently that I've come to understand the importance of text criticism. I wholeheartedly believe that it is a key issue for evangelicals to understand. Although I have hardly put my toe in the waters, I am finding tc to be incredibly profitable.
    My hope is that through constant exposure, Christians will soon realise its importance. I think what Wallace and his Reinventing Jesus co-authors are on the right track by doing popular level books and seminars, allowing lay-people to engage in the task. I would love to see more of that for the churches.

  3. I agree that reactive scholarship is important. However, one risk this entails for evangelicals is that, while we engage the scholarship of those holding lower views of Scripture on their own turf, we might allow them to set the rules for what scholarship is supposed to look like. I agree with the basic idea of Kostenberger's post (I think) that evangelical scholars could stand to fill a few more pages clarifying what the biblical principles are that determine their understandings of the goals and methods of evangelical biblical scholarship. For example, evangelical scholars of the Synoptic Gospels have thoroughly criticized Robert Thomas' book, The Jesus Crisis, on the grounds that they were misrepresented. But a big part of the problem was that few had taken care to work out in writing how their approach to source criticism related to their view of Scripture.

    I think one reason for this lacking is that New and Old Testament scholars who tend to engage detailed textual analyses often deliberately avoid systematic theology. This disconnect is pretty understandable in non-evangelical academia. But for those who hold a high view of Scripture, the idea that Scriptural Truth holds together in a coherent system is axiomatic. All evangelicals, especially those involved in exegetical work, are obligated either to acknowledge this axiom or to explain theologically why not. So, in addition to explicitly reactive evangelical scholarship, where an apologetic agenda is present (and hopefully not hidden), we should also be able to advance biblical studies in clear ways according to the biblical directives that guide our work.

    As to the level of imporance of textual criticism in evangelical scholarship, I observe with tongue only partly in cheek that textaual critical studies remain a sanctuary within the more critically oriented academic settings. Evangelicals who want to write a dissertation about the biblical text while both following the expectations of their professors and not compromising their respect for the truthfulness of Scripture on some introductory or historical matter can do that in a text-critical study more easily than alot of others. Practically speaking, this could be viewed as fairly fundamental to some. But my hunch is that PJ will reply with chastisement for any questioning of TC needing to be one of the top rated tasks, together with multiple reasons in favor of his assessment and proof that the variants in Galatians between the readings of Cephas and Petros are theologically important to evangelicals.

  4. OK, Pete, put your money where your mouth is. What would you see as the top four priorities for a non-reactive evangelical NY scholarship?

  5. Steve,
    Thanks for the challenge. I was waiting for the invite! Here I offer my very immature attempt (given the fixity of the number four).

    My proposed four key tasks of evangelical theology:
    1) Defining what is scripture (textual criticism)
    2) Hearing what scripture says (exegesis; biblical theology; systematics)
    3) Demonstrating the truth of what scripture says
    4) Educating people in regard to ##1-3 [probably along similar lines to Kostenberger]

    Of course one could express these aims in more fundamental ways relating to glorification of God.

    My definitions are much broader than those of the panel mentioned by Kostenberger, but perhaps I can explain what I mean by these tasks and how I think I differ from Kostenberger’s panel.

    Kostenberger’s third task:
    "(3) New Testament Greek: In light of the arrival of rather sophisticated computer resources, we should see more definitive works and studies in the area of New Testament Greek. This should include syntactical and grammatical studies and reference works as well as explorations of the uses of the Greek verb (including further testing of Greek verbal aspect theory)."

    It seems to me that, though linguistic research is important, the results of text-critical research will probably have more effect on the meaning of the OT or NT than linguistic research. Text-critical research, as understanding of the original languages, has a foundational role in the interpretative task, but, though foundational, it is not central. In response to Peter Head, I am not wishing to claim that textual-criticism is even a major task in proportion to other theological tasks (though I think it does beat verbal aspect theory!).

    I would put #2, hearing what scripture says, as central. This task will, of course, involve biblical theology and hermeneutics (Kostenberger's ##2-3). However, I think that study of genre will not deliver the vital goods. After all, most books within scripture are in genres that are not closely paralleled outside scripture. Parallels that do exist usually are found within scripture. The meaning and genre of scripture thus emerges from hearing and re-hearing (which for us is generally by reading and re-reading) in the light of other scripture. Scripture creates initial impressions of genre, which are deepened and refined as the text is further understood. However, the interpretative task is meant to start with the act of hearing not any prior decision about genre.

    Practically this will be achieved through having more people steeped in the scriptures, who can do exegesis, biblical theology and systematics all in one, while living in the light of the scriptures.

    The third task which I envisage, namely demonstrating the truth of what scripture says, entails the task of showing the coherence of scripture and its right relationship with all that is outside scripture. This would include research showing correspondence between the historical accounts in scripture and what is known from outside scripture. This can be an apologetic task, but is also deeply theological, since all texts within scripture come within a matrix of scripture’s historical narrative.

    Practically this will be achieved through having more people with the knowledge of #2 who apply that deeply in other areas of human knowledge, especially in those which scripture explicitly addresses or implicitly touches on.

  6. Eric wrote:
    'But my hunch is that PJ will reply with chastisement for any questioning of TC needing to be one of the top rated tasks, together with multiple reasons in favor of his assessment and proof that the variants in Galatians between the readings of Cephas and Petros are theologically important to evangelicals.'

    Eric, you need fear no chastisement. Though I think that all textual criticism is important, and the form of names in Galatians is 1x very important, I'm prepared to concede that other theological tasks are yet more important (2x very or more).

  7. Pete,

    Don't you think that your four points are really so broad as not actually to constitute any clear agenda for research? Pretty much anything (even verbal aspect) could be incorporated here.

  8. Fair point, though application of the first three will quickly uncover subjects for research. For instance, if (#1) we really do discover that there is no text-critical ground for reducing the large numbers at the Exodus and the plain understanding of that is established by #2, then there will be an awful lot of research to do under #3.

  9. PJW wrote

    "... though linguistic research is important, the results of text-critical research will probably have more effect on the meaning of the OT or NT than linguistic research."

    Well first of all I don't think Kostenberger's notion of linguistic research is very well defined. He seems to have a solution going in search of a problem to solve. To do linguistic research one needs to be a linguist and that will disqualify a lot of folks ...

    If we define linguistic research to include things like Helma Dik's functional approach to word order in Herodotus or Stephen H. Levinsohn's work on discourse analysis then I would have to disagree with you. I think this sort of work can have an enormous impact on our understanding of the biblical text.

  10. Clay,
    I'm certainly open to persuasion that there are more goodies to be delivered by linguistic theory than has been my experience to date. I have even toyed (for the one week of my life when I understood it) with the idea that X-bar theory could help explain variants in the Syriac NT. I'd be interested to have an estimate of how many goods have been delivered to NT studies through linguistic research and of how many are yet to be delivered.

  11. PJ,

    For example we find some challenging syntax in Peter's speech at Corneilus' House Acts 10:34-43. Parsons/Culy (Acts 2004, Baylor p.210) suggest that TON LOGON in Acts 10:36 can be understood as the topicalized direct object of hUMEIS OIDATE in v.37. This eliminates the need for "long shots" like Fitzmyer's (Acts AB p.463) inverse attraction of TON LOGON to hON. It also sheds some light on the textual variant hON in v.37.

    There appear to be two or perhaps three more topicalized constituents in Peter's speech; IHSOUN v38, TOUTON v40, and TOUTWi v43.

    This is just one small example of how the analysis of information structure can be of assistance in understanding NT Greek word order. Outside of SIL publications you will not find many NT reference works which employ the analysis of information structure. We might hope that Parsons/Culy indicate a trend for the future.

  12. So if it's SIL research that's helping TC then I guess we could count that as another evangelical contribution to the discipline.