Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Denying that nagging undercurrent of tension": The minefield of current Biblical studies

Here is a gem from our underground correspondent and trusty researcher, Guy Noir - Private Eye. One way for Catholics to alert themselves to the changing views of Scripture currently found in various quarters of the Catholic world is by looking at to see what contemporary liberal Protestant scholars are saying about the Bible -- sometimes even the more "conservative" ones. There is an historical pattern here. Numbers of Catholic Bible scholars began drinking the cool aid of liberal Protestant "higher criticism" back when the Protestant scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, was talking about "de-mythologizing" the Bible, and even earlier. The same pattern, ostensibly, can be seen today for those with eyes to see it:
Peter Enns, to me, articulates a very close parallel strain of thought to what passes for a Vatican II-endorsed "Limited Inerrancy" that now goes unchallenged across the Catholic world.

What people ignore is that these same ideas were central to the gradual loss of faith of Loisy and Company a century ago. Scholars like Marie-Joseph Lagrange at the Ecole Biblique, and and later English-speaking apologists like CS Lewis and Frank Sheed, may have been able to entertain a loosening of literalism without consequence in a world where the Church was always more conservative than its members, the Pope was always the most Catholic of Catholics, and even secular society had a well-developed ostensible moral code. But that was a whole different world. In today's atmosphere, questions of Biblical authority are closely bound up with all of our most contested stances, and they are not about to go away. Catholicism is not a religion of a book, we are told as we glibly dismiss Fundamentalists. But Catholicism is a religion inescapably bound to a book. Thankfully, the cadre of more conservative Biblical scholars is growing, and allegiance to the implicitly skeptical approach to Scripture is not nearly as much part and parcel of the Guild's baggage as it was a generation ago. That's an especially good thing considering the forceful re-imagining of the old -- and quite toxic -- liberal scholarship.

Which brings me to Peter Enns. Who will at some point be coming to a conversation near you.

In 2006, I read a review of his ground-breaking book, Susan Wise Bauer's "Messy Revelation: Why Paul would have flunked hermeneutics" (Books & Culture).

It made him sound sound so reasonable. And like theological Houdini who might have at last achieved the impossible fusion of orthodox brief and modern Biblical scholarship. Almost like a Protestant Ratzinger.


But from the vantage pint of eight years, it is obvious that these early ideas, heard so often and from so many well-intentioned voices, are at root opposed to Tradition. They plant seeds of doubt that inevitably take root and grow into trees bearing faith-stunting fruit. That is what this new and helpful review makes plain:
Peter Enns. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It.New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2014. 288 pp. $25.99. Reviwed by Michael J. Kruger.

... Although endorsements aren’t everything (and are sometimes even misleading), they can reveal quite a bit about where a book is headed.... perhaps most illuminating was the inside flap, where the publisher describes the book’s purpose: “In The Bible Tells Me So, Enns wants to do for the Bible what Rob Bell did for hell in Love Wins.”

Not until after I read the book in its entirety did I realize how accurate this comparison actually is. Of course, Bell’s book (also published by HarperOne) challenged a core historical tenet of the Christian faith, namely the belief that hell is real and people actually will go there. Christianity has just been wrong, Bell argues, and we finally need to be set free from the fear and oppression such a belief causes. Bell positions himself as the liberator of countless Christians who have suffered far too long under such a barbaric belief system.

Likewise, Enns is pushing back against another core historical tenet of the Christian faith: our belief about Scripture—what it is and what it does. The Bible isn’t doing what we think it’s doing, he argues. It doesn’t provide basically reliable historical accounts (instead, it’s often filled with myth and rewritten stories). It doesn’t provide consistent theological instruction (about, say, the character of God). And it doesn’t provide clear teaching about how to live (ethics, morality, Christian living). Although Christians have generally always believed these things about Scripture, Enns contends that scholars now know they simply aren’t true. And when Christians try to hold onto such beliefs, it only leads to fear, stress, anxiety, and infighting. Like Bell, Enns is positioned as a liberator able to set believers free from a Bible that just doesn’t work the way they want it to.

Of course, Enns, professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, isn’t the first to make such arguments. In addition to following Bell’s modus operandi (and much of his writing style), Enns relies on standard arguments from Christianity’s critics over the years. There’s little new here, academically speaking. In many ways, portions of the book sound like Richard Dawkins (especially part one) and even Bart Ehrman (especially part two). But here’s what makes Enns different. When it comes to the death and resurrection of Jesus, Enns doesn’t follow either. He affirms the resurrection of Christ and, in a broad sense, affirms that Jesus gave his life on the cross as “a sacrifice for sins” (217).

Enns’s case for why we should change our view of Scripture is divided into three parts: (1) the Old Testament (OT) God is portrayed as a genocidal tribal deity; (2) the Bible’s historical accounts aren’t, well, historical; and (3) its ethical commands are confused and contradictory....


In the end, The Bible Tells Me So is a book about contradictions. Enns intended it to be a book about contradictions in the Bible. But it becomes quickly apparent that the contradictions are really in Enns’s own worldview. He claims the Canaanite conquest is immoral, yet argues the Bible provides no clear guide for morality. He claims the Bible presents a diabolical genocidal God, yet insists we still “meet God in its pages” (3). He argues Scripture is filled with reworked stories, many of which are made up entirely, yet seems to know which ones really happened and which did not. He claims the Bible provides no clear moral instruction, yet says people are “disobedient” to God and in need of the cross. He claims he’s the one reading the Bible in an ancient manner when, in fact, people in the ancient world didn’t read it the way he does.

All of these inconsistencies stem from one simple reality: Enns has fully adopted the methods and conclusions of the most aggressive versions of critical scholarship, and yet at the same time wants to insist that the Bible is still God’s Word, and that Jesus died and rose again. While it’s clear to most folks that these two systems are incompatible at most levels, Enns is tenaciously trying to insist both can be true simultaneously. While his desire to retain the basic message of the cross is commendable, it stands as a glaring anomaly within his larger system. Somehow (and for some reason), Enns has put a box around the message of Jesus (or at least parts of it)—he protects the integrity of that story while not protecting much else.

For all these reasons, Enns comes across as a man divided. By the end of the book, one senses he’s trying to live in two worlds at once. Such a scenario is ironic in a book purportedly trying to help those who are “holding on tooth and nail to something that’s not working, denying that nagging undercurrent of tension” (7). One wonders if Enns is describing others or whether he is really describing himself.
[Hat tip to G.N.]


Pertinacious Papist said...

I've always considered the area of Biblical studies one of the minefields in Catholic scholarship since Vatican II. There were subterranean movements in the direction of historical critical biases already then, since some theologians were permitted to read (or sneaked) the works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which wasn't abolished until 1966.

Even thought the Catholic Biblical Association was formally under the patronage of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the direction of Catholic biblical scholarship over the last half-century has been almost nothing but bad news.

Never have so many scholars managed so quickly to imbibe all of the tendentiously modernist assumptions of historic Protestant liberalism so uncritically as Catholic Bible scholars over decades immediately following the Council. Even some of the reputedly "better" Bible scholars, like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, John Meier and Luke Timothy Johnson are seriously problematic. The "resigned" and subsequently married Catholic priest, John Dominic Crossan, like the fellow members of the notorious Jesus Seminary, Robert Funk, Marcus Borg, etc., are not even possible to take seriously (as even Luke Timothy Johnson demonstrates in his little book, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospel.)

Pertinacious Papist said...

Excuse the typs.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Darn it, typos!