Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Beginning of a New Blog Cycle: Thoughts on Issues in the Theology of Scripture

Well, it has been a long time since I've blogged. Life became extremely crowded last semester, what with a 15-hour a week job, a 15-hour a week internship and three intense classes (oh, and living life and loving my wife as well). Right now I'm taking a month-long course on Issues in the Theology of Scripture, which meets for three hours in the morning, leaving a little bit more time on my schedule. I've decided that this class, which so far has been wonderfully thought-provoking, might provide some good fodder for blogging. What I'm proposing to do is to post thoughts on the course (which began on Monday and so far has involved writing a 1500 word essay) every day that I can. I've asked my professor -- who will be referred to as Shane in the posts -- if I can quote him, or refer to his ideas if they are the seeds of my thought for these posts, and he has agreed that I can refer to him as long as the references are not wholesale transcriptions of his lectures or audio files (which they won't be) and that I accurately represent his views.

I hope to ponder the theme of the course, which Shane put before us on Monday, of wandering around in the gap between theology and biblical studies. I will go more into detail of what this gap entails and why it exists as Shane explains it to us in class, but in brief, let's just say that in higher education there exists a separation of disciplines. In most higher ed institutions divisions are placed between the sciences and the arts and the humanities, and also within each of these between history and english or philosophy, for instance. In Seminary, you often see this division of disciplines into: Biblical Studies, Practical Theology, Theology and Church History. The difficulty that sometimes arises in pursuing these studies is that the folk in the Biblical Studies department take very seriously the questions that have come from a historical-critical way of looking at the Bible: reading texts in original languages, studying their cultural, historical and political contexts, trying to work out how the texts were written, formed, passed down, etc. This method is a product of the Enlightenment. Meanwhile, the Theology department spends perhaps a class period on a theology of scripture, often avoiding questions that deal with the difficulties presented by the historical-critical method. These problems sometimes involve the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible, the contradictions that can be found in the Bible (or seeming contradictions, I'm sure we'll get into this later), the grammatical differences between different copies of the Bible, what it means for the Bible to be divinely inspired and how this bears out when the Bible gets into human hands or when it is translated into different languages. So, the Biblical Studies department takes these questions seriously, but they are often in the background and understanding why these questions are important and what they mean for the life of faith and everyday living is not considered. Or, on the other hand, the Theology department discusses briefly a theology of scripture but does not consider how this might come to bear in practice or what a theology of scripture that takes into account the questions might look. This course tries to put these background questions into the foreground and to address them in a thoughtful and sensitive way.

It also attempts to equip students with tools to read what Shane calls the "Barnes and Noble School of Theology and Ancient Scriptures." By this he means the popular books that are widely available in major bookstores and have entered the general culture and conversation: Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, or Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, for instance. While these books bring up interesting points that speak to the Historical-Critical method, the outcomes of their discussion can be misleading and they do not always speak to the theological or practical outcomes of the difficulties they mention. If you want a good introduction to this debate, check out Stephen Colbert's interview with Bart Ehrman, which Shane used as a catalyst for his initial lecture. The video is embedded below:

So, now that you know a bit about the course, you can follow along on this blog for the next few weeks as I share with you what I'm learning and what I'm thinking. I'll begin with the essay that we had for the course, which answers the question: "What do we mean when we say that the Bible is true, and what methods of Biblical interpretation help us to appreciate its truthfulness." This essay will be revised at the end of the semester. I'll post it in a separate post from this.

Thanks, as always, for sticking with me faithful readers!

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