Sunday, January 04, 2015

NEWSWEEK on the Bible - Mohler on NEWSWEEK - and the elephant in the Catholic room

I broke open the wax seal on the envelope handed to me by the tuxedo-clad courrier who had, moments before, pulled up to my door in a chauffeur-driven limo. (No accompanying bottle of Scotch or Bourbon this time. He must have blown his Christmas budget on book shipments to yours truly.) It was my second message since Christmas from the undercover correspondent we keep on retainer in an Atlantic seaboard city that knows how to keep its secrets, Guy Noir - Private Eye. It read as follows:
I had missed the NEWSWEEK cover story on the Bible ["The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin"]. I don't know if you saw it or not. That's partially due to the magazine's quiet decline, and I suppose, partially due to the fact I was not in the grocery store much this month. Earlier NEWSWEEK pieces have disturbed me. Now I simply expect bad things.

But Al Mohler responded to it like a woman scorned or a scrambling debate opponent. He called it "an irresponsible screed of post-Christian invective."

And you know I am very predisposed to champion Mohler's position here. And yet when I googled the web looking for other responses to the piece I was dismayed. Is this the best that we can do? And is NEWSWEEK deserving of surprised umbrage?

Mohler misses an obvious point. Even repsonsible liberals in an increasingly liberal culture will fumble the ball on this topic. Go back and read ANY NEWSWEEK piece on the Bible, especially from the past five years. A disaster. So Mohler sounds like a naive bested Republican negotiator in the Whtie House when he writes,
"When written by journalists like Newsweek‘s former editor Jon Meacham or TIME reporters such as David Van Biema, the articles were often balanced and genuinely insightful. Meacham and Van Biema knew the difference between theological liberals and theological conservatives and they were determined to let both sides speak. I was interviewed several times by both writers, along with others from both magazines. I may not have liked the final version of the article in some cases, but I was treated fairly and with journalistic integrity."
Meachem is our friend?! In any way, shape, or form? Please. The man who single-handedly transformed NEWSWEEKs religion coverage into an arm of the Episcopal gay marriage machine? And if Mohler feels compelled to make so much of the peripheral garbage in the piece, you know he is in fact scrambling more than a little.

But for me this is all like Republicans trying to fit in on SNL... or like insisting that Catholic Scripture scholar Raymond Brown is the Church's friend. Anyone who has read Brown's THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIAH will realize that Kurt Eichenwald sounds a lot like him if you'd strip away the caustic tenor. The bottom line is that liberal Biblical scholarship and Higher Criticism can be ballyhooed all one wants for their "undeniable insights." In the end, they dissolve faith. And without patent, clear answering, they also diminish credibility. But view the websites for any Catholic publisher, and you'll find no good responses to modern skeptical scholarship. The tactic seems to be to avoid, and then decry, versus thoughtful answering. The previous Pope surprises at points by attempting engagement, but beyond that I do not see it. But the center will not hold if the Biblical foundation is gutted. I think that what Mark Steyn from 2008 about politics holds for the Church in 2015.
...pulling the lever for a guy with an R after his name every other November isn’t going to fix it. If the default mode of a society’s institutions is liberal, electing GOP legislators eventually accomplishes little more than letting a Republican driver take a turn steering the liberal bus. If Hollywood’s liberal, if the newspapers are liberal, if the pop stars are liberal, if the grade schools are liberal, if the very language is liberal to the point where all the nice words have been co-opted as a painless liberal sedative, a Republican legislature isn’t going to be a shining city on a hill so much as one of those atolls in the Maldives being incrementally swallowed by Al Gore’s rising sea levels.
And crying hate is not going to fix the problem of attacks on the Bible's accuracy, any more than saying there are some good conservative books, too!, if the default mode of Scripture scholarship and clerical disposition is liberal. If the very language used about the Bible's accuracy is hedged by nods to Higher Criticism, if the entire Old Testament was essentially a committee project, we will be swallowed by tides that think truth is the result of committees and Living Tradition. And good, plainspun folk like Pope Francis who insist we send everyone off to universities for education are kidding themselves if they think those same students will graduate and be satisfied by homespun homilies, any more than will the Jesuits whose sophistication has led them past Biblical stories. Eichenwald went to Swarthmore and has his own band. He is a perfect example of an Obama voter, and yet Mohler expects him to be anything but incredulous to Christian doctrine? Decades and decades of policy and culture have consequences. On the Bible, Mohler wants to be outraged by the conversation. Catholics want to ignore it, even in their parochial schools. I think it is obvious that neither approach has worked. Meanwhile we are busy encouraging everyone to "Dare to Hope" that all will be saved. Dreams of our fathers....The audacity of hope...indeed.

[Hat tip to G.N. and L.S.]

Related: At last, a decent Catholic rejoinder: "Ben Eitherington, "News Weak -- The Problems with Mr. Eichenwald's Article" (Patheos, January 6, 2015).


GNW_Paul said...

Regarding the lack of Catholic books specifically addressing these issues I was encountering the same problem just this week regarding the new round of wild speculation about "what Constantine really 'imposed' at Nicea and how he created the Catholic Church in 325." And this was coming from a graduate of prominent Presbyterian seminary with an M.DA. who is going all gnostic. I did find this book by Protestant Authors!!! I haven't ordered it yet, but am hoping you know something of it or the authors, or that someone will comment as to it's value. The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity
by Andreas J. Köstenberger (Author), Michael J. Kruger

Pertinacious Papist said...


I don't know the authors, but I do know from the blurbs that the authors are reasonably conservative Evangelicals. On subjects like the Bauer-Eherman thesis on biblical hermeneutics, these Evangelical critics are generally first-rate. These are not specifically Catholic issues and I wouldn't let their Evangelical background prejudice you against the purchase.

Sed Contra said...

I, for one, am not prepared to run in fear of historical criticism. Rather I think we would do better to understand how it works and what are its limitations.

To my mind, the greater risk to Catholics is how the Lectionary decontextualizes Scripture, which facilitates some many off-the-wall homilies, such as the one I heard today which equated The Epiphany of the Lord to the gospel of inclusion. Forget about Davidic fulfillment.

Moreover, I wonder how many progressives are familiar enough with textual criticism to know that their favorite proof text The Woman Caught in Adultery John 7.53-8.11, to quote the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, "did not find its way into the mss. of the Gospel until the 3rd century". Or that it was excluded from the RSV and bracketed by the NRSV.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

this is worth a read

Pertinacious Papist said...

Sed Contra,

I appreciate (and agree with) your point about how the lectionary (especially the New Lectionary) decontextualizes Scripture. Unlike the Old Lectionary, which repeats on a familiar annual cycle, the New one extends over three years, so that no Sunday is associated by habit with any particular readings. Even more damaging are the "shorter forms" that are inserted by means of brackets into the readings, so that massive quantities of sometimes "offensive" texts are regularly omitted from the Sunday readings.

On the other hand, I have a few reservations about your remark about historical criticism, though I agree that we should understand how "it" works. The larger problem is the Positivist assumption that historical criticism is an unambiguous "it", a value-free tool for interpreting Scripture "scientifically."

I'm not ascribing such a view to you, but it does infect many of the entries in the Jerome Commentary as well as the "critical tools" found in the NAB "Study Bible," taken over wholesale from liberal Protestant sources, like the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis and its JEDP conceits, which have been soundly trounced by Umberto Cassuto's incisive critique, for example.

In fact, historical criticism is a patchwork of various hypotheses and strategies for interpreting the Biblical text that are freighted with the naturalist immanentist assumptions from the overheated speculations of Endarkenment philosophers from Lessing to Bultmann. Many of these, while seemingly "distinterested" and "value-free" to the tyro, are deeply inimical to Catholic sensibilities about the reality of the supernatural in redemptive history.

Kind regards, - PP

Pertinacious Papist said...

The key to understanding the animating genius of the entire development of the historical critical movement, in my opinion, is understanding the import of the "critical turn" in intellectual history that comes with Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Kant is as important as St. Thomas Aquinas -- though both are necessary: Kant, in order to understand modernity and the so-called "Enlightenment Project"; St. Thomas, in order to see how Kant went wrong.

JFM said...

Fascinating too to watch the 'gradualism' over in the camp of the Evangelicals. Books by Craig Blomberg and Michael Bird both made Christianity Today's year end Best of List, even though both scholars either espouse views or supported exponents of the same that only years ago the Evangelical Theology Society deemed problematic enough to drum out a member for. And yet the magazine not only gold-medallioned the books, it made not even fleeting reference to the progressive accommodation. And I thought that happened only in Rome!

PIETRO said...

Another interesting critique of the Enlightenment Project is "The Dialetic of Englightenment" by Horkheimer and Adorno. They assert that while Enlightenment Thought worksto eliminate myths by replacing them with rational ideas, there is an underlying force which creates another form of mythology. Perhaps that is a description of what happens when Historical Criticism is practiced?

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

..which facilitates some many off-the-wall homilies,

The one Mj has heard for years (purely heretical) is that we - me and thee - are the pearl of great price.

Nope. Jesus is, but since the triumph of modernity, He must decrease and we must increase and we have increased (Cult of man 12/07/1965) to the point of supplanting Him in our extraordinary heresies that are now an ordinary component of the ordinary Lord's Supper.

One does not hear such heresy at the Real Mass

Anonymous said...

sed contra, it is not true that the adulteress pericope is rejected by the RSV; it is printed in italics at the foot of the page, with the remark that "other ancient authorities" insert the text either here (between Jn 7 and 8) or at the end of John or at a point in Luke.

JM said...

The first decent rejoinder I have read....