We are headed into the fourth part of the book Caught in the Pulpit we are engaged in the wonderful world of seminary and how the New Transparency is affecting the faith of students as they hit those first classes. The first chapter of this part talks to three seminary professors and basically chronicles how the education of the historical critical method (higher criticism) has a tendency to make students feel betrayed by their churches and faith. The problem most of these seminaries face is dwindling numbers and less funding by denominations and in large part it is what they are teaching that is causing people to leave or stop supporting them. The theory the authors put forward s that this is the new transparency is what is causing this and it will ultimately lead to less religion in the western world at least. The three professors put forward a simply theory that people have trouble with the idea that people wrote the Bible and that it is a human work.
My thoughts on this part reading it cold are varied. I have to admit this is an old battle for me that started when I was in seminary and I can but give an example from my own seminary life. I was in Pentateuch / Old Testament Class when the JEPD theory of the books of Moses was put forward and I heard the case for the fact that the Books of Moses were put together by different scholars as there was a J author, E author and so on. The case for this is purely stylistic that the style of the Hebrew is different in different parts of Genesis according to some Hebrew Scholars. My hand shot up because my questions were not about how to hold on to my faith but about the JEPD theory: 1) Does every Hebrew expert see these stylistic differences? 2) Is there any textual evidence for such a theory such as a version of Genesis with only the J parts or E parts? The answer to both of these questions is No. Not all Hebrew scholars agree on these stylistic differences and No there is no textual evidence for the theory. So I then asked: why then is this taught as complete fact like there is no alternative? There was no good answer to that question.
I am going to tell you my scholarly opinion, I think most of higher criticism is based on these kind of things where some guy with a Ph.D. says something and then suddenly it becomes fact and everyone teaches it. The problem I am seeing at this point is this is not so much about the New Transparency as these theories have been around for a long time. It is only now that they are getting a lot of airplay. I would also say the new transparency cuts both ways on this stuff as now for every historical critical theory out there are also responses to them all over the internet as well. The fact is the one thing disturbing I find the most in some seminaries is that only one side is taught dogmatically and the other is only mentioned in passing or for a wise-crack. I have seen this first hand and this is scholarly bias at its worst. I didn’t buy it because the more I researched I found the higher critics theories were castles built on the sand of opinion and not the rock of fact.
The problem is that everyone likes to run to heroes that already support their previous position and don’t often listen very hard to people who support the opposite. Everyone does this but the higher critics seem to have this problem in spades. The term ivory tower was coined for them I think. The thing is the new transparency has provided responses to every one of these things as well and this is something seminarians should be provided as well so they can truly wrestle with the issues presented by these theories. That does not happen and that is the biggest flaw in many seminaries and these three professors are living proof of the problem. We will see where this goes as we continue but so far all they are doing is proving some point I would make about seminary myself.
Next: From the Ivory Tower to the People in the Pew (Part II)