January 17, 2021

Noted: The Critical Conversation That Never Happens

gander.jpgJohn Armstrong questions the concept of Christian hedonism, and interestingly, is immediately told that conversation shouldn’t happen. Sound familiar to anyone?

BTW- I heard the confrontation of Colson’s talk on “Duty” by Piper that Armstrong refers to. It was at a Ligonier Conference years ago. The room went into shock at Piper calling out Colson, and at a Q & A session later, R.C. had to sooth a booing section of the crowd. I mention that to say that John Piper isn’t adverse to confrontation. Odd that those who identify strongly as his theological team regularly call out anyone critical of Piper as being needlessly divisive in the reformed faith. I’m sure that will all be clear if I just think about it enough.

I’m still waiting for that book of essays critically engaging the theology of John Piper. Everyone on the Piper side agrees it was a good thing for him to take on N.T. Wright verse by verse. In fact, we can’t seem to have enough books critically engaging the NPP, FV, emerging church, Wright and so on. Is there another foot for that shoe? Is what’s good for the goose good for the gander? Why is “Christian hedonism”- a purposefully provocative and controversial reshaping of the faith- not generating critical scholarship?

Seriously, it’s entirely reasonable to ask why publishing houses and legitimate scholars have not combined to facilitate at the least a single volume of essays devoted to a critical engagement with Dr. Piper’s highly influential theological system. Is someone afraid this won’t sell? 🙂 Is there some reason this discussion won’t be helpful to all concerned?


  1. Mr. Monk,

    Piper’s is only a small part of a larger problem among American Evangelical Christians. There is this silly notion that there must be some overarching paradigm, sort of a ‘christian theory of everything’ that governs the way we present ourselves (and the Gospel) to the world. It has worked itself out in ideas like Purpose Driven Church, The Signs and Wonders Church, the Health and Wealth Church, The Breakout Church, The Megachurch, Seeker Sensitive Church, Best Life Now Church, 30 Days to Live Church, and, not least, the Christian Hedonist Church; ad infinitum. And it will likely never stop because human beings have this insipid notion that we must dress up the offense of the cross. The short and long of it is that we simply do not trust the word of God to do what God has said it will do when it is faithfully proclaimed. (This has been spawned mostly by megachurches, but that’s another topic altogether.)

    Everyone has an idea for how we can wrap the Christian message into a neat, tidy package so that the lost, hopeless souls of this country can get on board. Everyone seems to have a better idea–as if Christianity can be summed up in a mere word or two: Purpose, Power, Seekers, Hedonism or anything/something of that sort. Then we package it by throwing the word ‘christian’ in front of it, inscribing a verse or two on the label, and waiting for the returns. I think all those who do this stuff have the silly idea that the only way for there to be a unified evangelical church in America is if we all subscribe to the same paradigm (haven’t others suggested that, for example, part of RW’s plan is for every church in America to be Purpose Driven, preaching the same sermons every week, etc.?) *If all churches would just be hedonism driven we would be united.* I think it stems from an unbiblical understanding of Christian unity.

    I may be a bit naive, I have only been ‘in the pulpit’ for 13 years or so, but it seems to me that all of these configurations and ‘highly influential ideas’ are nothing more than attempts to alleviate boredom. It starts with preachers who are convinced that people simply are not disciplined enough to listen to the Word of God unless in our infinite creativity we dress it up with a pretty wrapping paper. Preachers have the responsibility to change the expectations of people by preaching the Gospel, by motivating people to the things of God as opposed to the things of men. I may be too naive to preach in this world, because I don’t see how any of it is meaningful since the Scripture is quite clear that it is only the Words of Christ that will last. All of this stuff is doomed to fail, and in many cases I actively pray that it will. I’m 37, but I am old enough to know that the great movements of God in the history of the church have come from a return to Scripture, not from a backing away from it.

    The main question is: Why do so many preachers convince themselves that their ideas are more potent than the simple proclamation of the Gospel? As boring as that may be to preachers, should we do anything less? (Isaiah 55:9-11)

    I think Piper, for all the good that comes out of his ministry in the Word, is merely trying to capitalize on the success that others have had by coming up with something provocative, kitschy, and clever. Ultimately, however, it is nonsense. And do you really think anyone is going to criticize Piper? That is, pardon the pun, a pipe dream. He is far too influential in the evangelical market right now. However, in conclusion, I’m a big fan of each church, in each locale, being a church and a part of the church. I don’t think that we all need to be Purpose Driven. I don’t think that we all need to be tuning into what any one particular preacher has to say except the local preacher who is paid, week in and week out, to faithfully proclaim the Word of God. The local church is sufficient for local people.


  2. On the one hand, scholars might not see the necessity for confronting Piper is that his theology is nothing new. Christian Hedonism is simply a provocative name put on the ideas of the latter continental Puritans. Piper is a modern day Whitfield, and there are plenty of modern day Wesleys.

    On the other hand, I think the “scholarly” types immediately read Piper and realize that the bulk of his writing is quite often simply long quotes from Edwards and the expounding of Edwards ideas along with scriptural support for those ideas. Therefore, I would guess that scholars don’t see a need to respond either because they respect Edwards and don’t see a need for response or because they realize that Edwards theology has been critically challenged for hundreds of years.

    Furthermore, I think the discussion is leaving the “realm” of seminary students and young pastors and entering the realm of scholars. I think the ongoing discussion that began between Witherington and Schreiner’s new work would be a fine example. Piper brought himself into the discussion through the response on his website, but ultimately the discussion was between Witherington and Schreiner’s NT Theology.

  3. I agree with what Ranger said, Piper’s theology is a re-hash of Puritan ideas. Piper is not going for a complete reshaping of the New Testament understanding of salvation based on new understanding like NPP. Plus, who “needs” to write a book saying “you shouldn’t delight fully in God” basically… versus the need for books examining if justification is forensic or not. There are just certain subjects scholars gravitate to. Religious emotions aren’t one of them.

  4. Thanks for the slam dunk, jmanning. You’ve said all that needs to be said to demonstrate my point exactly.

    One team can’t be critically engaged because it has everything right, but that same team can have as many James Whites and Phil Johnsons as needed.

    Do you actually believe that Piper’s idea of Christian hedonism is just a “rehashing” of the Puritans? Or that the Puritans were always right?

  5. Religious scholars don’t gravitate toward Piper because he isn’t influential outside of the Evangelical sphere, a sphere whose theological (and, as a result, scholarly) program isn’t respected in the halls of mainstream academia. Case in point: The whole conversation between Piper and NT Wright is absurd to most mainstream biblical scholars. Wright isn’t near the most liberal person on the issue of Paul, nor on contemporary Jesus scholarship. He gets painted as if he was, though.

    Piper and his crew can’t even get with the program enough to reasonably debate the most theologically liberal scholars on any issue, which illuminates perfectly how far the decline of the early neo-evangelical (i.e., Henry, Ockenga, etc.) re-emphasis on scholarship has come in only about a half century, especially philosophically.

    Piperites, along with most people coming out of Southern Baptist and Reformed seminaries today (SBTS being the most notable example), are biblicists who know very little about doing critical scholarship, because critical scholarship, for one, requires that you leave your biblicism at the doorstep. The proof in the pudding? Very few, if any, are accepted any more into prominent Ph.D. programs in any subdivision of religious studies, theology or otherwise. Instead, they create their own enclaves where they can continue being biblicists as if in the 17th or 18th century.

    That, in the end, is why Piper, and most people who are in the conservative, Reformed camp, aren’t thought to deserve any serious air-time academically by those who are in the mainstream.

  6. Let me make a comparison in a different direction. In Barbara Branden’s biography of Ayn Rand, she takes a few pages to mention people whose work was influenced by Rand. John Piper was mentioned. Piper’s work DOES seem to take the idea of the virtue of selfishness and apply it to God. His use of the term “hedonism,” however, would be problematic in Rand’s world of thought. So Piper seems to be borrowing conceptually but without the precision from the original source. If he is more of a borrower than an originator, then it is clear why he has less scholarly work dedicated to his thought. Ayn Rand herself has not—especially until recently—received much scholarly attention. One of her second-handers should rightly receive less.

    This is not to belittle Piper’s work. The level of books he writes should exist. They may even do people a world of good. (When I was in college, Franky Schaeffer’s book Addicted to Mediocrity did me a world of good. But I don’t expect it to receive scholarly rebuttals where it is wrong.) But the appropriate venue for dealing with them is a book review.

    Nothing that I wrote above addresses the question of whether Piper’s followers should allow him to be criticized. That is a separate question from whether scholarly treatments are called for.

  7. Michael,

    Your anti-Reformed claws need to go back in and you need to “read carefully” what I said in context of what had been said.

    I did not say: You shouldn’t critique Piper, and in fact can’t because He (notice the caps) is always right.

    I did say: The reason why scholars don’t attack Piper’s work is because it is a re-hash, nobody feels the need to critique a movement that has for the main point: desire God more. People do feel an urge to engage re-writes of the whole paradigm we interpret the gospel through (NPP) because its implications for our assurance are phenomenally huge and altering.

    Scholars for the most part don’t write on the subjective aspects of doctrine, but objective. That is what I said. Calm down. I am not making a blanket statement of Piper. I think his debtor’s ethic is helpful, but problematic with the treatment of thankfulness, etc. He is not God, he is a scholar, although a very thorough one (and I’ll say I disagree with 99% of the people who write against him on here because I think they misunderstand what he is saying) but my post was not a blanket endorsement to “silence” the opposition. And James White is no Puritan or Christian hedonist advocate as far as I know, I think he’s just an angry Reformed guy.

  8. I like how Andrew defines “mainstream” according to his own terms, and then sidelines anybody who obviously doesn’t agree with his “academic” take on higher criticism (which is the most absurd joke that it is called scholarship to speculate 2000 years after the fact on what some dead guy said, which the parts we keep always end up looking exactly like the current vogue liberal ideas of morality)

  9. So how should we define “mainstream”? I think it is best defined by a healthy distance from the biblical text, beginning with a repudiation of inerrancy and infallibility, without also totally losing one’s faith in the text to still move and inspire one spiritually because, in some sense, it is understood to still reveal a portion of religious truth (i.e., that we still “see through a glass darkly”).

    That’s a quick definition of “mainstream.” (At least, it is the beginning of such a definition.) Call it “moderate” if you want to, even.

    I’ll propose that jmanning doesn’t like my definition of “mainstream” because it likely puts him outside of such a definition’s boundaries. It does the same to Piper. This is, again, the reason why Evangelical, and specifically Reformed, “scholars” make pains to hold their own meeting (i.e., ETS) while the AAR and SBL meetings are going on every year, for example.

    I don’t simply hate evangelicals (though I do find myself in disagreement with much of Evangelical theology). I do believe that Evangelical Christianity (and most importantly the Reformed movement), though, is clearly outside the scholarly mainstream when it comes to religious studies in academia, especially theology. And that isn’t a definition I’ve created. It’s one that Evangelicalism has created for itself over the past half century (cf. my first reply post, in which I referenced the neo-evangelical movement of the 1950s).

  10. Andrew,

    Does Piper even write for an academic audience? I’m not a huge fan of Piper or Reformed theology (Lutheranism is far, far better IMO), but “Desiring God” is clearly more aimed at lay people.
    I would also like to echo jmanning’s question about what you define as “mainstream,” or indeed why what is “mainstream” should be taken as seriously as you seem to imply in the first place. I’m a historian by profession. While I believe that scholarship is a very valuable endeavor, it’s worth pointing out that many ideas that have been and are currently fashionable as “mainstream” in academic circles are pure rubbish. Just because an idea is outside the “mainstream” doesn’t mean it is right or wrong.


  11. a simple bloggTRotter says

    I am by no means a theologian,nor am I a scholar(mainstream or otherwise). But, I gotta say, if I, as a christian, have to be called something, “biblicist” and someone who is guilty of “rehashing” (of) the Puritans” is sounding pretty strong.

    Maybe its just me.

  12. Gentlemen,

    I am always up for a good debate, especially about the finer points of theology, movements, etc. There is certainly a season for that. The issue at hand however reminds me of something that has been nagging me for some time now. Maybe we all need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and give some room for differences. I am fairly certain that Piper, NTW, Sproul, and many others love God and his Word. I am also fairly certain that there is some element of error in their teaching. If that error strikes at the core of Biblical theology then lets call it out truthfully and graciously. Otherwise, I wonder if we should not forbear with one another a bit more. Just a thought.

  13. Joshua Manning says

    I don’t care if I’m out of the umbrella of “mainstream”. I just think it’s ridiculous to say a healthy study of the Bible comes from disavowing a good portion of it. The portion that gets tossed is always the bit we don’t like. The portion that remains always looks exactly like the presuppositions we approach the text with. It has happened for all of church history that the “mainstream” comes along and reinterprets the Bible, whether gnostic, Arian, modern liberals, or some postmoderns. And history sweeps them away. I like “my Jesus” to be a bit bigger than I, I’ve never seen a “liberal Jesus” that inspired me to do anything. Maybe that’s why he’s so popular, he’s just like us…neutered. He can help us reduce our carbon footprint, but he can’t change our hearts. And the theology that stems from such a pint-sized deity, whether it is academic or not, never can satisfy us. Look at where Europe’s academic doctrines left them…with empty churches, pagan cultures, and ghettoes full of angry mobs ready to rend their governments into pieces. You can have all the mainstream you want.

    If that position you espouse is moderate, I’d hate to see the new liberal.

  14. Piper is, to be sure, still known more for his less “academic” writing on religious matters. In leveling a critique against Wright, however (and I am by no means defending Wright), he is stepping more noticeably into the realm of “academia.” I think this illuminates, and serves as a crest point of, a larger transition for Piper in the last five to seven years to talking about weightier issues of theology, especially those which deal with justification and the atonement.

    The problem is that Christians in the Reformed movement think that such critique is “scholarly” and “academic,” which is their first misunderstanding. As I said before above, most academics who are in the “mainstream” (and here, again, one might substitute the word “moderate”) within religious scholarship today, at the least, have an understanding of the biblical text that steers clear of believing in and trying to defend inerrancy and infallibility, as a product of keeping a safe scholarly distance from the text which they propose to objectively analyze in an historical-critical manner. Biblicists like Piper (and, dare I say, most evangelicals) can’t do this.

    That’s why evangelicals aren’t hired to teach religion in most major universities in America today, and why they won’t be anytime in the near future. The question isn’t simply one of “right” versus “wrong.” It is over the use of historical-critical method, philosophy and logic, etc. in the field of religious studies in general. Because many evangelicals wouldn’t fully make use of these in religious scholarship, and instead chose to be staunch biblicists who would at best simply proof-text to build their arguments, they gradually played themselves out of having any significance in an academic setting over the last century.

    This is why few, if any, “mainstream” academics today feel the need to directly respond to people like Piper. (And Piper probably couldn’t care less about responding to them, either, because he likely thinks they’re all heretics, anyway, people whom all “good” Christians already know are too crazy to warrant a serious argument outlining their unorthodox beliefs.)

  15. Mr. Manning,

    Have I used the word “liberal” at all yet? Isn’t that a bit too hasty? Does it, possibly, betray your “conservative” sensibilities?

    I’ve tried so far not to caricature, but to represent the Reformed paradigm/theological program, its adherents, and their views on religious scholarship, with honesty and only a slight degree of subjectivity.

    But most everything you just posted, from the straw-man “liberal Jesus” to your quip about reducing “carbon footprints” but not “changing hearts,” is a caricature of not only “liberal” Christians but “moderate” ones as well.

    What is the “presupposition” I approach the biblical text with? That it was put together in the third and fourth centuries after Jesus’ death by men with social and political power who defined “orthodoxy” for not only themselves but for those who disagreed with them? If this is a presupposition, it is only based on historical fact.

    Please, let’s dispense with the caricaturing in general, and especially before we know what people personally believe theologically.

  16. Michael,

    Hi, I’m a missionary in Brazil and just want to say that I have appreciated visiting your blog while I was on my furlough in the States and now that I am back on the field. The subjects dealt with are very informative and I am stimulated to keep current and challenged in my faith and walk with Christ, as well as gleaning ideas to help me in my defense of the faith, etc.

    I am learning a lot from you and the ones (scholars and the like). 🙂

    Take care, and keep ’em coming!

  17. Yes Andrew,

    That is “the” presupposition. You approach the text as if men put it together, and it is full of truth and error mixed. God is captive to man’s falleness in the matter of preserving salvific truth.

    My presupposition is that God put the text together through the agency of man. There may be unclear and conflicting areas of the biblical texts (due to manuscript divergence), but God is sovereign enough to preserve what is necessary for our salvation.

    I will be honest and say that is my presupposition. And yes those men defined orthodoxy, and it has been more clearly defined progressively ever since through the centuries. But it has been a change in definition as we understand more clearly the biblical text, not as we continually and progressively show more disregard for them as in your tradition. And yes I believe the Reformed tradition has more allegiance to biblical truth than any other tradition, though I know it is not perfect.

    When I use the word liberal I am using it to classify a position you hold, I am not using it as some emotive word to insult. I assume you to be a proponent of common principles of liberalism from the early 20th century. You may have some views different from them, but your main views on inspiration and text criticism are the same as that of liberalism. If the shoe fits….why are you scared of the word? I am not scared of the word conservative.

    About academics…
    The religion department at UF was full of “academics” who taught about the Christian religion. They taught that Christianity was made by males to subjugate women to the slavery of wifedom. Paul was a male pig who didn’t like Jesus’ teachings on the equality of women, so he wrote theology to keep the status quo. If that is mainstream count me out. I’m sure they were philosophically sound, and could quote at length from all the best “moderate” scholars. Unfortunately your ordo salutis becomes rather bland to the common man when the point of your religion is to resist authority. You can’t feed people with that garbage. And you can’t take it on the mission field. That’s why the more liberal a denomination becomes, the number of missionaries dwindle to almost nonexistent and less and less “new work” minded. Europe’s churches are empty, and a great deal of the more “academic” endowed denominations are leaking members because people realize when you reduce religion to materialism, you don’t hurt God, but your own soul starves.

    Higher criticism is not about finding the proper evidence from history to “uncover” Christianity. Any serious “scholar” knows that. It is about suppression and muting God by whatever philosophy is currently en vogue. Whether it is rationalism, gnosticism, materialism, or postmodernism, it’s all the same. And God speaks by His word. Mute that and truth dies in that community.

  18. “is immediately told that conversation shouldn’t happen. Sound familiar to anyone?”

    What sounds all too familiar is the fact that when you click on the link you provide to substantiate your accusation; low and behold, no such claim can be found! You make it sound like the piper patrol is actively searching out and stifling any questioning or conversation. Maybe that happens but it did not in this case. Do you have some sort of “issue” with this? Did you have a bad experience or something? I’m just wondering why you seem so hyper sensitive to the point where you read things into peoples statements that simply ARE NOT THERE?

  19. >Shouldn’t we be encouraging each other (Piper and Armstrong) to love and good deeds and encouraging the other to do the ever important work of the kingdom and not get muddled in the details of our differences? “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

    -from the linked second post at Armstrong’s blog.

    Take your diagnosis of my motives for daring to differ with you and have a nice Christmas Eve.

  20. Andrew,

    If the “mainstream” for you is acceptance of nonsense like the historical-critical manner, then it is to Piper’s credit not to be in the “mainstream.” And I say this as someone with pretty serious objections to Reformed theology.
    In my field of study, Marxism, radical feminism, post-modernism, etc. have at one time or the other been “mainstream.” I don’t find any of these ideologies useful for understanding the human condition or the human past. While fundamentalism certainly has its problems, I don’t see how the historical-critical manner is any more credible than the ideologies I listed above. The fadish “mainstream” of academia is no standard to judge the veracity of ideas.


  21. I can see that the word “mainstream” can sure be evasive. Add a cross-cultural element to it and it even becomes more tricky. Oftentimes what is considered mainstream in our good old USA is very strange overseas. I am always impressed at how our precious Lord is building his church in such an interesting way around the world in spite of us, and yes even using us… It sure humbles us to think that some of the great things God is doing today may be in wrappings that some of us would think quite strange. But then, God is God, and He doesn’t always fit in our scholarly boxes. Let’s all remember that He is the great scholar after all. All of what we call scholarly in theology is really trying to know Him better through His precious Word.

    A great Christmas to all

    Missionary Roger

  22. Andrew, please keep sharing your perspective. You are a more patient man that I at this moment. I picked up a copy of a Piper book at my in-laws recently, a devout Baptist household, and was shocked at it’s level of writing. I cannot see him as a learned man.
    I write from a place of ignorance here because I have not seen the work of Piper that challenged NT Wright. I find NT Wright to be a bit literalistic himself (not liberal at all) especially for an acclaimed scholar. I am curious what the mind of Piper, (now I’m just sounding rude) could have produced that could cause any bright theologian in 2007 to take notice. I think most scholars would think, “Where do I start?” if they were to consider addressing his work.

    To Monk’s fine question, I think it is important that there be a voice that directly addresses the work of Piper because of his popularity. Popularity implies credibility to many and that is dangerous. Unchecked popularity is even more dangerous. Piper seems to propogate the type of thinking that provides shelter for intolerance and disrespect for anything outside of popular fundamentalist language.

    If I have overstepped my proper bounds I apologize; I know less of Piper than many, but I know the thinking of those who are fans of Piper and I have seen some of his work so I stand by the belief that it would be helpful for someone (an academic scholar or an independent one) to directly address his work.


  23. To rr and jmanning:

    I’d hardly consider the historical-critical method “nonsense.” It has helped us learn immense amounts about the social context of first century Palestine, the editorial perspectives of the various authors of the biblical text, and much more. Because of the historical-critical method, we have a clearer understanding of what the authors of the text both intended and did not intend to say with what they wrote. But most importantly, we have a more accurate understanding of the places in the biblical text where ambiguity persists, where we cannot accurately figure out what the authors were trying to say.

    Compared to biblicism, which too often raises the mantle of blind dedication to the words of the text themselves and the meaning they evoke for us only in the present context, the historical-critical method is in my opinion quite comforting, and much more spiritually encouraging and authentic. Biblicism, and its offshoots inerrancy and infallibility, hold the Bible’s authority over and against that of science, for example, at times when science clearly contradicts the biblical text. That’s not very logical or comforting to the intellect, which I believe God said we were created with to use to God’s glory because we were created “in God’s image.”

    I submit that you likely don’t find philosophies like Marxism and postmodernism, among other “ideologies,” useful for understanding “the human condition or the human past” because you’ve already given over that part of your intellect to the “ideology” of biblicism. And biblicism, along with inerrancy and infallibility, is indeed an ideology, because it is a human-made philosophy imposed upon the biblical text that simply isn’t there.

    (And just to presuppose a possible reply: let’s please not quote Paul saying “all scripture is God-breathed,” etc., etc., because “scripture” as we know it in its final form wasn’t finished until three hundred years after Paul’s death. There is absolutely nowhere where scripture, as in the complete Bible as we have it today, claims its own authority. To do so is to impose human, and philosophically modern, standards on the words of the text itself.)

    Respectable historians in academia use the historical-critical method on the texts they have available. That methodology isn’t limited to religious scholars. It is used throughout the various fields of academia. If you, rr, are a historian within academia (which, if I remember right, you are), using the historical-critical method and other empirically sound methodology should be a central element of your work.

    If you don’t use such methodology, like you seem to say you don’t (since you equate it with other “ideologies” as “fadish”), then it would seem that you likely betray your place of employment as a religiously conservative institution, whose work in religious studies (or in many other disciplines) would already not be considered very worthwhile to behold by the mainstream. That may sound harsh. But that’s just the way it is in academia. If I’m wrong about you, which I very well could be, then please clarify that for all of us.

    To Aaron:

    You are right in many ways, in my opinion. Piper’s work is really just not worth the time of day for mainstream religious scholars, because his forays into academic writing (as with his book on justification) just don’t provide anything that would be considered well-written and scholarly persuasive arguments because of the staunch biblicism that lies underneath them.

    He is very popular, however, and likely does deserve well-written, scholarly arguments outlining how ill-conceived and ill-informed his positions really are. But that kind of response could very well be aimed at the Reformed (and, as some say, neo-Reformed) theological program in general, of whom Piper is one of its most known representatives.

    Personally, I do think it should be responded to, because when stripped bare, it really is the theological fundamentalism of the mid-1920s re-conceived for a new generation of evangelicals, mixed in with a heavy dose of Puritan pietism, read through the voice of Johnathan Edwards and John Owen here and there, to make it go down easier. The reason we should be aware of it and respond to it swiftly, even more so, is because it is becoming more militant (another comparison with early 1920s fundamentalism) in its attacks on those who try and critique it for its shortcomings.

  24. There you go again….”respectable historians”….

    The text is prime.

    I have read too many pieces outlining the “intent” of a text as illumined by the historical-critical method that directly contradict the text a few paragraphs down.

    It is only useful as far as it helps us understand the text, it is “ridiculous” to chop the text up with this method and make it fit one viewpoint, so as to make the book or paragraph lack inner cohesion. This is often times the result.

    In most scholarship, research is prime. Source documents are prime. Assumptions are prime, and the text takes second chair to the scholar. How that can pass as biblical scholarship is amazing.

  25. I’m with Andrew on critical methodology being a neutral. It can be used well or poorly. We owe much to scholars who have used it well.

  26. Sorry jmanning. This isn’t teampyro. I’m not sponsoring an examination of Andrew’s view of Jesus.

  27. Andrew,

    For the record, I’m a historian of Modern European political History. I teach at a public college, and all my degrees, including my Ph.D. are from public schools. None of my research deals with religion or the Bible, so I’m not a “biblicist.” I am, however, fairly conservative politically and religiously.
    If the historical-critical method (a term not used at all in my field BTW) is what you say it is with respect to putting the Bible in its historical context, then I don’t have any problem with it. And I apologize if I have misunderstood this term or have somehow misconstrued your ideas as presented here. My impression, however, was that in theology the historical-critical method mainly consisted of works that cast Jesus as a proto-Marxian revolutionary leader or Paul as a woman-hater. Perhaps I’m wrong on that or have lumped people together wrongly, and I’m certainly not an expert in the field, but that is the impression I get. It wouldn’t be remarkably different from my field though; a student where I received my dissertation wrote her dissertation on the question of what gender the Russian revolution was.
    While I could be wrong about the historical-critical method, I continue to be suspicious of fadish ideas that become popular in academia from time to time, especially those driven more by leftist ideological agendas instead of evidence. And again, why put so much stock in the “mainstream?” In science, eugenics was all the rage and defined the “mainstream” in the 1920s and 1930s. The fact remains that the “mainstream” can be badly wrong.
    I’ll let this be my last post on this. Merry Christmas to all.


  28. Merry Christmas to you too Michael.
    If the bolding in your quote was supposed to be a slam dunk, I’m afraid all you have done is hit your head on the rim. (That’s gotta hurt) The private letter from Armstrong’s nephew (who BTW is not a Piper supporter) that Armstrong himself characterized as “thoughtful and helpful” did not in any way say that a conversation should not happen. He merely asked the question of the propriety of going after Piper on what appeared to him to be a minor point of disagreement. That is completely different from your characterization of issue as one in which rabid Piper patrolmen actively scour the internet in order to stifle and suppress any dissent from the teachings of John Piper. How on earth did you get that out of that letter?

    You have inappropriately blown this up into an issue that you apparently have some interest in fostering. Well enough, but don’t pretend to get it out of that letter. If the Piper patrol you denounce is so prolific why not just cite actual examples instead of finding imaginary slights in the comments of those who are not even among his supporters?

    I’m off to visions sugar plumbs dancing in my head.

    Merry Christmas

  29. Andrew,
    Thank you for your wonderful comments. On many points I completely agree, but I would like to add some thoughts and response to a few of your points if I may.

    1. You say, “Very few, if any, are accepted any more into prominent Ph.D. programs in any subdivision of religious studies, theology or otherwise.” Possibly your interpretation of “prominent” differs from mine, but I have had friends who have recently graduated (within the past 10 years) from Trinity, SBTS and Gordon-Conwell to pursue their doctoral work at what I would consider prominent theological schools (Princeton, Duke, Brown and Aberdeen). From what friends have told me, they did not struggle in the transition from evangelical to non-evangelical training as their evangelical training taught them a broad range of interpretive methods even though the schools themselves did not affirm those methods. Furthermore, the quality of work at their evangelical seminaries was consistent with the quality expected by the non-evangelical seminaries. They also have said that their evangelical perspective was respected at the non-evangelical schools as long as the quality of their work and research was strong.

    2. I would hope that you do not have this opinion, but your comments here seem to imply that you are of the opinion that evangelical and scholar are mutually exclusive. From my understanding of the term, N.T. Wright very clearly falls under the category “evangelical,” and he has consistently used this category to define himself in the past. Furthermore, there are still wonderful scholars within the evangelical camp who are regular members of SBL-AAR meetings and are well respected for their work by those outside of evangelicalism.

    3. Furthermore, you seem to imply that the historical-critical method and biblicism are mutually exclusive. Personally, I think the term inerrancy is unhelpful and carries much baggage with which I am not comfortable. I would rather take the view that Wright takes concerning Scripture which is “I’m not necessarily going to give a one-word theory, or even a five-word theory, but I am going to tell you that I am on my knees in front of this book day after day after day…I really think that if it’s in this book, I need to be doing serious business with it. If I say that I believe X but that the Bible says Y which is different, then chances are I’m making a mistake somewhere, but that doesn’t prejudge all issues of interpretation, you know.” I think that many of my mainline friends would consider having that type of perspective towards the Bible as biblicism, yet that view is clearly compatible with using the historical-critical method in interpretation. Furthermore, from my perspective, mainline scholarship has trended away from simply relying on the old standard of the historical-critical method. There has been an acceptance within scholarship that pure objectivity with regards to the text is impossible, if not often unhelpful. I think particularly of recent trends at Princeton and Duke, but I think I can more broadly say that scholarship has a renewed respect for subjective methods of interpreting the text particularly in regards to reader response.

    Thanks again for your insightful comments, I think they are very helpful to many who will read this board. Please don’t take my responses as overly negative, because they were not intended to be so. I believe from what you have said that if you and I were to sit down and talk things through, we would find agreement on the majority of issues, even though I still use the term evangelical in regards to myself, whereas you do not.

    Have a great day, and a merry Christmas.

  30. All I can say is, if you want a proper perspective on the value and the limitations of historical-critical scholarship, read the foreword to Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI.

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