Thursday, March 20, 2014

I recently read a response by James McGrath to an evangelical pastor who said in an HBO documentary on creationism,

"If somewhere within the Bible, I were to find a passage that said 2 + 2 = 5, I wouldn't question what I'm reading in the Bible. I would believe it, accept it as true, and then do my best to work it out and understand it."
I suspect that LaRuffa probably understands his position to be something like the phrase  faith seeking understanding which has been used throughout Christian history, most notably by Anselm.  However, McGrath's response was right on, and in it he wrote that LaRuffa was not really defending the Bible or Christian faith. Rather, 
"What pastor LaRuffa was actually saying is that he would prefer to believe nonsense that he does not understand rather than allow evidence to show his doctrine of biblical inerrancy to be false."
The full response is fairly short and worth reading.  I wonder if sometimes biblical inerrantists are putting the cart before the horse, with faith in Christ being based on the Bible, rather than understanding the Bible through one's faith in Christ.  The result is that anything short of inerrency means that they cannot be sure in their faith;  a single inaccurate historical detail means that one cannot be sure Jesus was raised from the dead. This seems to me to sometimes be expressed through a strain of anti-intellectualism which runs through many Christian traditions. 

A recent article in The Atlantic discussed the problematic view of the humanities in the movie Dead Poets Society.   I think many of Kevin Dettmar's comments regarding the film's anti-intellectualism are applicable to biblical studies as well.  In this essay, he criticizes the view that poetry should be approached in an emotional way, but without methodologies and rigor, as though we should simply feel and believe rather than analyze.

"Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for passion in the literature classroom. Harvard poetry professor Helen Vendler uses two lines from Wordsworth’s The Preludeas the title for an essay about teaching: “What we have loved, / Others will love….” That second line concludes, “and we will teach them how.” That’s how I teach, or hope to teach: with my heart on my sleeve, perhaps, but with my brain always fully engaged...
But passion alone, divorced from the thrilling intellectual work of real analysis, is empty, even dangerous. When we simply “feel” a poem, carried away by the sound of words, rather than actually reading it, we’re rather likely to get it wrong."

Isaac M. Alderman
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