Thursday, April 7, 2011

How the Historical-Critical Method Usurped the Christian Faith

Although the seeds of destruction of the Protestant West were sown in 19th century Unitarianism, this movement itself fizzled out ingloriously within the 20th century Churches.  It slid into a stable minority position, as die-hards drifted from Unitarianism to Deism, Agnosticism and Atheism, and most left the Church entirely.

It soon became apparent that textual criticism as it was developed, could not produce the "rational, logical" Biblical text that those seeking 'Reasonable Christianity' imagined must lay behind the Christian Bible.  Those committed to 'Reason' had to simply abandon the project.  Christianity was a religion of 'Faith' from its inception and also at its core.   As Andrew Stirling so eloquently put it:
"Schweitzer's portrait of Jesus as a self-deluded apocalyptist was highly questionable, [but it] at least made the liberal-humanist Jesus appear to be the modern reconstruction it was. ..."
  From here the Unitarians could go no further, and simply abandoned Christianity entirely:
"By 1925, when the United Church of Canada was formed from Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist denominations, ...the same principles would open the way to the wholesale abandonment of doctrine and the importation of alien ideologies...."
 The remaining core of the Protestant Churches recognized the "faith" nature of Christian religion, but by this time were hopelessly addicted to the new 'scientific approach' to the Bible:  The "Historical-Critical Method".   This world-view and belief-system, born out of 19th century German skepticism, simply spread like a cancer, because of its close association with the 'Scientific Age of Progress'.   The previous faith of the original Reformers had been seemingly broken beyond repair, and this view inevitably filled the vacuum.
This new approach found its home in Britain and America, where it got support from all those left hanging between the faith of the Reformers and Modernism.

We must now look at the cost:  Here we cite Verne S. Poythress, Science and Hermeneutics: Implications of Scientific Method for Biblical Interpretation (Zondervan, 1988),  in his comparison of the history of theology and science through lens of Kuhn, gives us a remarkable picture of the impact of the Historical-Critical Method:
"Humanistic interpretation introduced a new disciplinary matrix...the late Medieval synthesis in theology broke down as philosophical reflection found more and more anomalies in theological reasoning itself. ...
A second revolution in biblical interpretation took place with the growth of the historical-critical method. ...First, the doctrinal differences within the Reformation ...did not disappear.   Moreover, the differences...were all the more painful because they were one factor in wars.  ... Second, of human nature and culture gave people awareness of religious differences between cultures.  ...human reason could be used to sort through religious differences... Philosophical reason... wished to dictate what God...and divine revelation was like.   Deism... was at odds with what the Bible claimed.
The historical-critical method an attempt to produce a scientific exegesis and an objective historical study of the biblical documents.   The same standards were to apply to the Bible as applied to any secular historical document.  The theological commitment of the practitioner was not to intervene.  By this means one eliminated the 'prejudice' contained in the interpreter's background...
The historical-critical method altered, sometimes subtly, sometimes radically, the entire framework.  Under the old framework, exegesis took place by comparing... passages, and trying to [find] an interpretation that harmonized them all.  Now, [commentators] found tensions and contradictions wherever they could, seeing these as clues to the different sources behind the final text.   The old framework ...inquired concerning the meaning in its final context within the canon.  Now the exegete inquired into the history behind the text, ..story telling, composition, combination, deletion, and the editing that led to the final text.  In the old framework, the exegete found guidance from the church's confession and doctrinal commitments.  Now the exegete was systematically to ignore such guidance.  In the old, the exegete accepted the supernatural claims of the Bible at face value.   Now the exegete sifted such claims in the same way as the claims of any other historical document were evaluated.   This position typically meant rejecting supernatural claims out of hand, because a scientific historian assumed ...natural causes. ...The canon was no longer separated from other religious writings.
The historical-critical method triumphed within academic circles.  As in the case of scientific revolutions, the people who were not willing to conform to th enew standards of research were gradually excluded from participation in the scholarly community.  Of course the method never triumphed so completely as did the Newtonian revolution...  Some orthodox, supernaturalistic theologians and biblical scholars remained... results differed from country to country.  Roman Catholic countries were for a long time little affected...Germany was more thoroughly antisupernatural than England, England more than The United States. ...
A revolution creates a divide between people who accept it and those who do not.  The two groups have different conceptions of the important problems, standards, and goals of research; they make different assumptions about the truths that are "assured results" and the kinds of evidence that are relevant. 
Once some people are sure that the revolution has triumphed, they waste little time debating with other people who are still not convinced.  Those who are convinced find that it is a waste of time to continue debating the foundations of the field.  It is time to go on with research on detailed problems.  ...
After the historical-critical method  had gained sufficient adherents, new faculty hired in university depts were... those who showed... adherence to the method.  People not adhering to critical method would effectively disappear... To some extent, students had to conform to pass courses and receive degrees.  The same is still true today in some cases [e.g. Dallas Theological Seminary!].  Evangelical students have sometimes been told frankly by a scholar, "You don't belong in the doctoral program here.  You can't be a scholar unless you are will to study the Bible critically." ...
...exclusion also takes place in scholarly publication.  Articles are accepted only if they conform to the standard of the method.  Today evangelical scholars often write... For the article to be accepted however, they must write about a subject in which sufficient methodological agreement is possible.  Some topics,...such as the authority of Scripture, the resurrection and Deity of Christ, are difficult to write about because... its important to appeal to a high view of biblical authority, which is just what the historical-critical method denies in principle, at its very foundation. 
Finally ...exclusion takes place in the publication...of scholarly books.  Adherents to the historical-critical method often think that reading evangelical books would be a waste of time.  Some books by Evangelicals ...use methods sufficiently close to the [method] to be of interest but a good many do not.  
This effect holds also for whole seminaries and university depts.  If a seminary is committed to the historical-critical tradition, it will have few, if any books by Evangelicals.  For this tradition, those books are a waste of time.  ... But of course most such books are bound to be 'less scholarly' becasue they are judged by the historical-critical standard.  
The result is that the next generation of students is mostly unaware that there is a reasoned alternative to the historical-critical tradition.  Even those who would like to be Evangelicals think that this position is intellectually untenable. ...
The triumph of the historical-critical revolution has meant that few Evangelicals were allowed to be scholars in the first place. ...Churches who still wished to hold the orthodox doctrine react[ed] to the situation with anger and withdrawal, which often produced anti-intellectualism.  Such an attitude discourages the next generation from doing scholarship.   Today, fortunately, we see a resurgence of evangelical scholarship of high calibre in the US, Britain, and South Africa.  Evangelicals have repeatedly refused to accept some of the crucial assumptions of the historical-critical method. ...even though this method has become the dominant disciplinary matrix in biblical interpretation. ..." (Verne S. Poythress, exerpts from chapter 4)


No comments:

Post a Comment