Recently, I read Peter Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam. I found it to be a rather interesting read, and a helpful addition to the field. One idea that Enns uses in understanding the Bible is the calibration of various parts of the Bible so that we can know what to expect from that particular text. For example, Enns calibrates Genesis 1-11 with Ancient Near Eastern mythologies. He shows similarities and differences and uses these other texts to help us understand what we can rightfully expect from Genesis 1-11. I think that from the perspective he starts with his work in this area is pretty solid. However, I found I didn’t know how to calibrate what Enns is doing in this book.
Growing up in a relatively conservative church and school, I didn’t end up hearing very much about any of the various forms of critical or historical scholarship about the Bible. If I did it was probably to say that it was just a liberal view of the Bible (liberal generally meaning anything less conservative than the beliefs of that particular denomination). In college I encountered some of this type of scholarship about the Bible but I just wrote it off as heresy and didn’t give it a second look. Now I’m in graduate school at Biblical Theological Seminary and I am paying more attention.
One particularly helpful lesson I learned is that there is a separation of scholarship about the Bible and theology. I always assumed that the same people that do translation of the Bible and the like were the same people writing books about theology. I thought that you couldn’t really have one without the other, but I see that it is more like a chasm with a few bridges for the adventurous to cross back and forth. As part of this divorce it seems a lot of the evangelical churches have gone towards the side of the study of theology. This does not mean that they don’t look into the Bible, but that they view it in a different way than the Bible scholar. Training for pastors seems to weight theology over study of the Bible.
People tend towards doing what they are trained for, so if a pastor is trained more in theology than in scholarship of the Bible then it makes sense that they would teach more from the perspective of theology. The downside to this is that much of the scholarship written about the Bible does not make it to people in churches. This poses great issues when students go from high school to college and take an Introduction to the Bible course that will most likely present a critical approach to reading the Bible. Part of the reason this can be dangerous is that students have not been given the tools to calibrate what they are hearing.
I think that it is time for churches to evaluate what is being taught and what is being ignored. It is my understanding that this has not happened for three reasons: changing how we read the Bible may necessitate changes in our theology, the idea that the average person will not be able to understand the scholarship, and that they may begin to doubt their faith and the Bible.
The first reason is not very complicated. I’ll take an example from Enns’ book (xv). The theological topic is, “What does mean to be made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26)?” There are numerous ideas of what it means to be made in the image of God, such as being endowed with reason, aspects of God or a number of other ideas. Enns states that rulers of the era would erect statues in their image to serve as a reminder that the ruler was always watching. He suggests, “In Genesis that means that humans represent God in the world, nothing less but certainly nothing more. This is not to dismiss the question of what makes us human and how humanity uniquely reflects God, especially given the challenge of evolution; but ‘image of God’ is not the biblical way of addressing those ideas.” Reading the text differently has led to a different theology. Obviously, this is something that would be difficult to do in church and may disrupt equilibrium.
The second and third ideas go together in that it involves shielding laity from what can “harm” them. These are inadequate reasons for not teaching what people are learning about the Bible. Those educated in matters of the study of the Bible should take the time to help people understand what the scholarship means.
On the third point, if someone’s faith appears to be weakened by the scholarship, then their faith may not have been as strong as it appeared. It is also quite possible that this will lead to an opportunity of growth. The idea that avoiding certain topics will bring strength is an illusion and only serves to harm people. As I stated before, the process of bringing in new ideas should be done carefully and in ways that the congregation can understand.
In the end, I think that the body of scholarship about the Bible will serve to strengthen churches and give Christians the tools to better understand the ideas they will most likely encounter in school, talking with others, reading, or on the internet. These tools are not to be used to fight against other views, but to gain a better understanding of the Bible and the scholarship surrounding the Bible. Perhaps this will even lead toward theologians and scholars of the Bible coming closer together.
Note from the Editor: Today’s post spun out of a Facebook conversation I had with Daniel and another Emerging Scholar regarding FactChecker: Does College Cause Young Adults to Lose Their Faith? (Glenn T. Stanton. The Gospel Coalition. 6/18/2013), Becoming a Thoughtful Christian in the Secular Academy (John Hundley. ESN Blog. 6/20/2013) and the ESN Blog series on the campus mission which interacted with Vinoth Ramachandra’s 2012 Henry Martyn Lectures. It’s so great to have Daniel join the growing team of contributors! If desire to join the team, please click here to learn more about writing and email me an inquiry here. ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN).