Monday, 7 July 2014

Peter Enns: “I was always taught the Bible says X, but I just don’t see it”

OT scholar Peter Enns, has recently commented on NT professor Greg Carey's HuffPo column in which Carey asserts that "[r]eading the Bible is a terrific cure for fundamentalism. That's exactly how many of us so-called liberal Bible scholars got our start", agreeing with Carey's claim that a sensitive reading of the Bible poses huge challenges for fundamentalism:
I have known many people, and heard of many others, who have come from conservative or moderately conservative backgrounds and whose earlier paradigms have been seriously challenged by the simply process of paying attention to scripture in context–whether the immediate literary context or the historical context. This is especially true of those who have done higher level academic work outside of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but is by no means restricted to this group.

Why does this happen?

I think it’s because scripture doesn’t line up very well with the conservative paradigm of scripture (some form of inerrancy). That’s why the paradigm needs constant tending and vigilant defending in order to survive.

I mean, there’s a reason why Carey’s phenomenon keeps rearing its head generation after generation. It’s not (as I hear far too often) that the offenders are intellectually naive (or dimwitted) and have been duped or are too spiritually weak kneed to “hold on to the truth.”

The recurring unrest with conservative readings of scripture from within conservative circles suggests that the paradigm is flawed.
(Emphasis in the original)
Enns is  definitely onto something. When fundamentalists study the Bible academically (I am not talking about going to a conservative theological seminary but rather going outside of a confessional institution and studying the Bible), as Greg Carey points out, quite often they end up seeing that a naive, fundamentalist reading  of the Bible is untenable once the doctrinal blinkers are removed. It is frankly insulting to accuse the former fundamentalist of being  'spiritually weak'. The problem lies entirely with the fundamentalists for keeping their flock in the dark, and failing to properly educate them about what contemporary scholarship tells us about the Bible. They have simply set up the next generation for failure. As NT scholar Dan Wallace - hardly a liberal - said in his review of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus when reflecting on the fact that Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53 - 8:1 are generally regarded as not being part of the original text:
One  lesson  we  must  learn  from   Misquoting  Jesus is that  those  in  ministry  need  to  close the  gap  between  the  church  and  the  academy.   We  have  to  educate  believers.  Instead  of  trying  to   isolate laypeople  from  critical   scholarship,  we  need  to   insulate them.  They  need  to  be  ready  for  the barrage,  because  it  is  coming.  The  intentional  dumbing  down  of  the  church  for  the  sake  of   filling more  pews  will  ultimately  lead  to  defection  from  Christ. [1]
When fundamentalists tell their flock that the Bible is literally true, that the Earth is 6000 years old, that all scientists are God-hating monsters, that the AV is the only trustworthy translation, and that modern Biblical scholarship is a liberal lie, they only have themselves to blame when people eventually discover that they have been lying to them on these issues, and leave Christianity.

Thankfully, not every fundamentalist who discovers this leaves Christianity - Peter Enns is currently running a series of articles from Biblical scholars from a fundamentalist / evangelical background relating the moment when they discovered facts about the Bible that their fundamentalism could not explain. I'll be linking to them over the next few days, if only to disabuse people that the only two options are fundamentalism and atheism.


1. Wallace DB  "The Gospel According to Bart: A Review Article of Misquoting Jesus" JETS (2006) 49:326-349