Monday, July 9, 2007

It bears repeating...

Some of the comments relating to the resurrection posts have introduced a very unnecessary and troubling ad hominem element to the discussion.

Because I maintain an uncompromising historical approach to my work and find theological apology troubling when it is trotted forth as "history," I have been accused of saying that evangelicals cannot be scholars. I have been labeled a secular humanist and dismissed as anti-religious.

I have never said that evangelicals (or anyone of a faith) cannot be scholars. I have never said that one must be a secular humanist to be a scholar. As for the labels secular humanist and anti-religious, these are not terms I would use to describe my own religious heritage or leanings.

What I have said and maintain is that to approach the materials as a historian requires that the scholar leave behind the apology and the theology. If a scholar is worried about the outcome of his or her investigation - that it maintain, preserve, match, or explain his or her faith - then the investigation has been or will be compromised. I, in fact, have many close colleagues from a diversity of faith traditions (Baptist; Southern Baptist; Catholic; Methodist; Presbyterian; Pentecostal; Episcopalian; Anglican; Russian Orthodox; Greek Orthodox; Coptic Orthodox; Unitarian; Reform Jewish; Buddhist; Hindu; Mormon; Gnostic; etc.) whose scholasticism is historically praiseworthy and uncompromising in my opinion. In fact, my own work is better because of theirs.

I have also said and maintain that the field of biblical studies has been and continues to be controlled by faith concerns, which (among other things) manifests in the dominance of the biblical canon and the marginalization of other early literature. The marks of this are throughout the Academy, as well as the universities, whose classes and textbooks for instance are marketed as Introductions to the Old Testament, Hebrew Bible, or New Testament. Rarely do we find departments willing to post and hire positions in early Judaism or early Christianity without the OT and NT tags and expectations.

This does not mean that I think that the theological pursuit is worthless, as some have wrongly insinuated. I think that the theological pursuit is entirely worthwhile as a pursuit of its own. It is only when theology is marketed as history that I object.

6 comments: said...


Don't be put off. Compared to most in the academy that I have come across, you are a breath of fresh air. You are doing fine. The key to discovering history, which I believe you exemplify, is to be able to think freely, and to be free to change one's ideas when new information contradicts previously held positions.


Jim Deardorff said...

Don't worry, April, if some call you "anti-religious." Take it as a compliment, if you are pro-truth even when the truth is harsh.

Tim Henderson said...

I think a difficulty arises when someone, be they a scholar or not, concludes that God has somehow acted in history, thus making theology and history inextricably linked in such instances. Some "scholars" would claim that their theological beliefs are a result, rather than solely an a priori assumption, of historical inquiry. In such instances it is not possible to do as Dr. DeConick has suggested, which is "to approach the materials as a historian" and "leave behind the apology and the theology."

At the same time, an atheistic naturalist cannot entirely leave behind his/her (a)theology when conducting historical investigation, nor should they.

I guess I am swimming upstream in this regard, but I would rather that scholars of all stripes simply "show their cards" as it were and be forthright about their theological and philosophical framework from within which they operate. This is preferable to me than the current state in which scholars act as if it's possible to enter a mode of neutrality, or what Lonergan referred to as the "myth of the empty head." Why not let all ideas and theories and methodologies compete in the marketplace of ideas rather than to say that some are scholarly and others are not?

A statement such as "What I have said and maintain is that to approach the materials as a historian requires that the scholar leave behind the apology and the theology" would seem to imply that theology and history cannot associate with one another in any way. But this is a presupposition and cannot be, at least insofar as I can tell, demonstrated as the only appropriate way to be a "scholar."

Also, I think the following statement applies to everyone, not simply those *with* theological beliefs: "If a scholar is worried about the outcome of his or her investigation - that it maintain, preserve, match, or explain his or her faith - then the investigation has been or will be compromised."

I would contend that if a scholar is worried that the outcome of his or her investigation - that it might NOT maintain or explain a LACK of faith - then the investigation has also been or will be compromised. I'm not sure why it is only "faith" that can compromise an investigation. That assumes that non-faith is the only appropriate default setting for investigation.

Alan Padgett, a systematic theologian, wrote a fine essay in an edited volume that I would recommend to scholars of all backgrounds:

“Advice for Religious Historians: On the Myth of a Purely Historical Jesus,” in The Ressurection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus, ed. Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Pr., 1997.

So I guess I'm left to wonder how a scholar who thinks that history has affected theology (i.e.,some sort of impact left on history by a god) can function as a scholar in such a paradigm as that outlined. Is theology, then, simply a-historical?

Anonymous said...

I must say I am disappointed and hurt about the direction this discussion has taken. No, Dr. DeConick, I was not making arguments for the sake of arguing. I am personally, passionately concerned to get to the truth about Christian origins, even if the results prove damaging to my faith. I have not called you anti-religious, though you do often refer to the work of believing scholars (such as N.T. Wright and with a nod of approval to a negative review of "Reinventing Jesus") as 'polemic' and 'apologetics', and I find your dichotomy between theology and history impossible to maintain. Tim Henderson has pointed this out.

All I was trying to do in response to your argument from 'dead bodies stay dead' is to demonstrate, from what I have learned so far in philosophy of science, why I find it unpersuasive. I did not see a coherent, convincing response to it, but no matter. I know most contributors to this blog are probably not philosophers of science. What offended me was the sudden assumption that I was attacking people and also the automatic retreat into a kind of dogmatic liberalism which I see so often when engaging with non-believing scholars. All of a sudden, everyone's patting themselves on the back on how they are the ones doing the 'scientific' work and how misguided those evangelical scholars are (okay, maybe you haven't done that so much, but many of the other commentators did, and on the Yahoo! Biblical Studies list as well).

That said, I want to apologize if I offended you, Dr. DeConick. Please don't be quick to type-cast me. I'm searching for the truth, just like you are. Please also keep in mind that I'm still a rising junior and still have a way to go in my education. Surely you must remember a time as a student when you were full of passion for the ideas you believed in and believed they were worth defending, even if some people thought they were wrong. And I know you still are, based on your responses to me here!

April DeConick said...

Mr. Walters,

The search for "truth" in which we engage is a search that is far more successful if a person listens to colleagues, as well as him- or herself. Scholarship is a collective enterprise. Graduate school should be as much about enculturation as it is about instruction.

Scholarship is also a search that is bettered if "idealism" is tempered (and yes, I remember this from my youth, although I am not that old now), so that it doesn't so thoroughly prejudice one's view and work, and even make enemies with people by putting them off for unnecessary reasons.

Scholarship relies on negotiation and networking. There are ways to offer criticism and then there are ways to offer criticism. The process of graduate education hopefully helps students make that distinction.

No one is "neutral." And I have never claimed to be so. Although we can't be neutral, we can be fair, with our sources and with our treatment of each other and with our assumptions.

Philosophy of science, as a field, is just that. It has its own goals and ways of thinking through those goals. History is another field. It has its own goals and ways of thinking through those goals. Theology (ditto). There is no trump card. I am not suggesting that there is never any advantage for interdisciplinary work, but there must be an acknowledgment that these fields may not be operating on the same page, and how the conclusions from various fields are transferred to others must be thought out with care.

My search for truth is not about offensiveness or defensiveness. It is about doing the hard nitty gritty historical work that I feel needs to be done to map what was going on in early Christianity.

As for the Yahoo Biblical Studies List Serve, this is something that I do not frequent. So I cannot comment on that band. said...

The study of the history of 'early Christians' is of course linked to their theology. These folk did believe that God intervened in their lives and influenced their behaviour. A fundamental question I asked myself quite a number of years ago was: What was the Spirit doing before Pentecost, i.e. before the Spirit was 'given'? My subsequent searches have revealed the complete nonsense of the orthodox Pentecost. In Acts it was simply a continuation of prophetic activity (in Rome, not Jerusalem). The nonsense: "are not all these ...Galileans?", was originally: "are not all these prophets?" For the history, I follow the theology.