October 28, 2009

What's driving Evangelical Anti-Historicism?

Why would evangelical scholars defend the historical reliability of the Gospels and then attack our ability to analyze the Gospels historically? (That really is quite a trick when you think about it.) My suspicion is long since on record that it provides flexibility for making theological arguments, but I have continued to wonder what else is going on.

The Gospel's defenders aren't driven by historical curiosity, that much is certain. As I showed yesterday, the issue of "what really happened" vanishes when there's a faster solution. But is it only speed and efficiency? Is it only to make the most indomitable defense of inerrancy? Or is it my latest theory - because Revelation says not to "add to" or "take away from" the words of "this book"?

Evangelical defense of the scriptures certainly does take square aim against those who try to "take away from" the Gospels. I'm starting to think anti-chronological dogmas (that refuse to even play out the historical possibilities, much less consider whether Gospel events "really happened") may be, on some level, nothing more than a fear of "adding to" what the Gospels tell us.

If that's part of the thinking, I'll admit it's a valid concern. We don't want people taking what scripture says and building it up into complex reconstructions of something that scripture does not strictly say, and then treating their work with the same reverence as scripture itself. No, we really don't. Man, that sure would be awful. Oh, wait. Isn't that what Theology does? Pretty much. So if that's okay, why isn't History?

My theory: because speculative, interpretative arguments are easier to defend, to control, and to get mileage from when they apply to abstract philosophy. Theology also happens to provide the political bedrock and boundaries of institutional christendom. Naturally, the same political process, applied to History, results in less than 100% "provable" results. TPTB can't have that. TPTB must be able to say they Know Truth. But in their ostensible efforts to extinguish doubt, they imply that some parts of the Gospels could well be purely fictitious. Oh, but non-contradictory! Oh, well, swell.

I continue to come back to one thought - that political needs are driving anti-historicism among evangelicals.

I keep hoping I'm wrong, but I don't know what else it could be. It's anti-academic. It's anti-faith. It's intellectually dishonest. It may not even be conscious. The propaganda machine for "historical reliability" has done such an incredibly great job squelching hope in chronological reconstruction, most believers buy into this totally.

Historical reconstruction of the Gospels' events simply doesn't work for their agenda. But that doesn't mean it doesn't work at all.


Mike Aubrey said...

To ask a question parallel to your title's?

Why would a blogger jump to the polemical response to evangelical scholarship rather than actually trying to understand what they're doing on their own terms?

Sigh...Bill, even *IF* they have an agenda, the chances are something like one in a thousand that they're actually aware of their agenda. Accusing someone of having an agenda (to again use your words) is the easier way to discrediting and arguing against their scholarship than actually trying to understand why they believe something.

You're absolutely right: "[S]peculative, interpretative arguments are easier to defend, to control, and to get mileage from . . ."

. . . just as much for polemically charged rants on blogs as much as the application of abstract philosophy.

So come on. Go write something constructive. Everything you have done here is speculative and holy crap interpretive. And you've sure gotten a whole lotta mileage out of it.

Bill Heroman said...

Now that's a worthwhile response! Thanks, Mike. :)

First of all, how have I failed to understand them and their terms? As far as I can tell, I understand them perfectly well. I'm just not being very positive or sympathetic about it. But if you disagree, then what am I missing?

I admit the rant factor has been a bit amped up on the blog recently, but I am at work on something more constructive. So just to be clear - when you say, "Everything you have done here", do you mean this post, this blog recently, or this blog for the past 18 months?

Anonymous said...

My gut tells me that some folks would fear that too much historical background would put limitations on what the scriptures actually mean.

This, in turn, limits what they are able to say with them.

If anyone thinks that there are not church leaders out there who manipulate people with scripture for their own personal gain, let me know and I will pray over your brains.

To me, the most realistic negative side effect in trying to recreate the historical context would be getting it wrong---thus resulting in muddled understanding of the text.

But then again, I guess the point in taking such a project on in the first place is in hoping to set right what is wrong already.

I can appreciate the work you are doing, Bill, if you get it all "right" or not.

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks much, brother Johnny.

It's worth doing. It's worth doing right, which means carefully. So it's worth doing slowly.

'preciate ya :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill, I wrote a brief critique on my blog. Here's the link:

Your friend and brother,

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