Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Attack of the Straw Men

I was annoyed with all of my teachers today at seminary. Not because they were liberal. Not because they argued against conservatism. Not because they didn't acknowledge the fact that "the scholarly consensus" depends on who you ask. No, my problem is that they presented two sides to the story -- the liberal side and the straw-man-conservative side. THAT is what really chaps my hide.

In Old Testament, the professor presented the choices as, basically, either accept the documentary hypothesis as true, or reject scripture because there are minor contradictions in the stories (no, I didn't understand it either). And more blatantly, the Torah could not have been written by Moses because (a) Deuteronomy talks about Moses' death and (b) there are many notes about current names of places after Moses in the Torah. Now, Mosaic authorship is a long conversation in and of itself. But let's just say for the time being that Moses was either the author or the primary redactor of the material in Genesis. Do EITHER of these claims do any harm to that fact? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! As for (b), there is no reason to think that Joshua would not have seen it fit to end the story after Moses' death. So what? As for (a), think of it this way. Look in your favorite study Bible. Do you see all those footnotes giving you reading helps and current place names and money conversions? Well guess what -- ancient documents DON'T HAVE FOOTNOTES! So what do the scribes do? The insert the footnotes into the text itself. Why is this so hard to imagine?

I am sure that there are good arguments against Mosaic authorship, but THESE AREN'T THEM. These are INTELLECTUALLY LAZY ARGUMENTS. The big problem is that this is shaping the way that the rest of the students in the class will perceive theology. They will think, "OK, things aren't quite as simple as I originally supposed, so therefore whatever solution the teacher is proposing must in fact be the only reasonable alternative." An additional problem is that even at the graduate level, people have trouble questioning the underlying assumptions of their teachers, and accept WAY too much uncritically.

For the NT, it seems that the only alternatives (according to the professor) is either the four gospels must tell the story the exact same way or truth is relative. What? Here was how he stuctured his argument:

1) The four gospels each tell their own story (OK, I'm with you on this one)
2) Putting them together in a single harmonized version takes away from what the other stories were trying to convey, and actually create a new gospel that is different from the other four (OK, I'm still with you -- no disagreement here)
3) Therefore, you can't conclude that these are historical accounts (what the #@$@#$?!?!?)

He then proceeded to give the most idiotic "problems" in the NT that any third grader _should_ be able to see right through, and should not even be _considered_ to be problematic if one admits the possibility that not all of the gospels were arranged chronologically. The number of times passover was eaten was actually brought up to be a point of contention! I mean, puhleease!

There seems to be a general consensus that harmonizing biblical accounts is an a priori wrong thing to do. I find that just plain idiotic. ANY time I have two different accounts of ANYTHING, ANYWHERE in life, my first idea is to try to find a way to give both people the benefit of the doubt, and find a way they both can be right. Life is more complicated than even the most detailed books could show, so ANYONE who gives an account of ANYTHING will necessarily have to gloss over some details, and might even be mistaken on a detail or two. So the heck what? The most charitable thing to do is to find the reading that makes them both correct.

Apparently, however, in seminary, the point is to stretch the text -- not to harmony, but to disharmony. It is almost a command, FIND DISHARMONY WHEREVER YOU CAN AND EMPHASIZE IT!!! It's almost laughable the kinds of things the professors come out with that in their view can't be harmonized, or can't be harmonized except by fanatics who refuse to face reality. It makes me wonder if they have ever thought about their own descriptions of things in their own lives. I know that if you asked me to describe an event on two different occasions, on each one you would get a completely different description, and both of them would probably be completely true! I can just imagine a liberal professor trying to reconstruct the historical cseminarian, and what they might come up with!

Anyway, stuff like this drives me nuts. "Either you can be a stark-raving-mad-lunatic-right-winger, or you can be scholarly -- that's your choice." Give me a freakin break.


At 9/27/2006 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I linked it in a post on my blog.

At 9/27/2006 5:53 PM, Blogger Dean McConnell said...

So typical. I think the liberals do what they do because they want a rational for not taking everything in the Bible seriously. They also have a preconceived Hegelian template that says everything must be evolving and getting better. If God's revelation was just fine as is 2000 years ago something would be wrong with the way they see reality - so that must not be the case.


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