Sunday, September 11, 2016

How Scholarly are Evangelical Academics? (1 of 2)

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The other day on facebook a reader of this blog ask me to comment on his post about evangelical academics. Specifically he asked is this is  an oxi-moron? How academic are they? In course of investigation I found tons of sites that list accomplished evangelicals, many of these figures we all known. There is no doubt that there are many accomplished intelligent evangelicals in the academy. The problem is most of them tend not to innovate and they don't really raise the level of thinking in the evangelical church, although, there are notable exceptions!

The major problem with this topic is the ambiguity of the term "evangelical." They come in all stripes from moderates who just believe in the atonement and resurrection to  far right wing legalistic and literalistic. One standard measure might be the classical definition defined by the Chicago statnent [1] includes those who accept inerrantcy of scripture. Others site five points such as  Evangelicals are defined by belief in inerrancy, literal interpretation of scripture atonement, resurrection, conversion experience, and the like. [2] Some tend to equate evangelical with fundamentalist, I tend to think of fundamentalists as evangelicals on steroids. For this article I'll be using evangelical in a broad sense. Another aspect that must be understood is that the "lite" version tends to be foreign, evangelicals in UK and Netherlands tend to be more "rational," more "liberal." more on that in part 2.

I am going to begin with evangelicals who I would think are great and excellent in their fields, who clearly exemplify the best of the academic tradition. Then I'll move to show a middle group who are accomplished but who have not really contributed to scholarship in a significant sense. Then I will discuss those who I feel are only pretenders to the title of academic.

There are a couple of great theologians I would label as evangelical but not many. A great theologian advances the understanding of the field in some ground breaking way. It's hard to do that if your major messages is "stay the same." There is actually a site called Super Scholar and their list of great theologians includes only liberals: lists Crosson, Hick, Kung, Pannenberg, Ruther (counting theology proper not Bible scholars).[3] There are some evangelical theologians who I count as great. The Best Is William Abraham (aka "Billy"). He was my professor at Perkins and we were coffee buddies. He's very conservative although Methodist. He's brilliant, studied positivism with Rawls at Oxford. His work Canon and Criterion [4]I think is brilliant and ground breaking. I have a singed galley copy he gave me years ago. One I suspect is evangelical is Herman Dooyeweerd, the most prominent Philosopher of the Netherlands,. Dutch evangelicals are very rational and moderate.(see more)[5] In the crazy fanatic column I would place Rushdooney the Christian Reconstructionist, it is not ground breaking theology it's just insane.[6]

There are more philosophers than theologians who are evangelical, or that I count as such. The first I will name is really a social scientists, the only great Christian social scientist I know of (living at least) Peter Berger.He's brilliant, ground breaking, and is regarded as the Noam Chomsky of sociology of Knowledge.[7] He writes a lot about secularization, saying society is secularizing but that does not mean decline of religion. He doesn't claim to be evangelical but says, "I am evangelisch [emphasis his] "I'm...Luthern, but I'm very comfortable with evangelicals," I call that "evangelical lite." [8] see more [9] Of course we would have to include William Lane Craig. He get's a lot of  hate and criticism from atheists and even Christians especially us liberals, but even though Secular Outpost guys are always harping on him one of their top thinkers, Jeff Lowder, proclaims his brilliance and his competence as a philosopher. Lowder admires his sophistication, Crai is definitely evangelical. There is also Alvin Paltinga, I'm pretty sure we can call him evangelical. He is head and shoulders above Craig as far as I am concerned. Plantinga is probably the greatest living metaphysision of our times,(see more)[10] There is William, Alston (see more) [11] and others. The evangelicals are strongest in philosophy, all of these thinkers have contributed to the field of philosophy in ways that even atheist philosophers acknowledge. The one exception might be Craig, I don't think he;s acknowledge as ground breaking in philosophy (although they know he's competent) yet from an apologetic view point he is, having saved the Cosmological argument and he dig up the Kalam argument from obscurity in the iddle ages. Together with Palantinga and Alson they have made reformed philosophy a force to recon with. I would tend to think of these ground breakers as evangelical lite. Another philosopher whose main contribution is in apologetic is Victor Repeert with his work C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea, the best treatment of the arument from reason.

There are evangelicals who tried to tap into the world of though through philosophy and social sciences but one must wonder if they knew what they were doing, In the Case of Tim LaHaye (April 27, 1926 – July 25, 2016) it's pretty obvious not. LaHaye was mimicking Francis Shaeffer. Shaeffer did not know philosophy, Anyone who does know that field and reads The God who is There will see that immediately, He thought Kierkegaard was trying to destroy christianity. One could only think trait by not having read any references works and not having read anything than the Attack on Christendom and that not having read carefully. [12] The Reagan supporters looked to Shaeffer as vindication of their own world view and raised him to a position as "missionary to the intellectuals" he had no chance of filling that role. LaHaye was mimicking him and had no Philosophical learning,LaHaye says: "Kant was a thought bomb." Yes, whatever. Shaeffer and LaHaye are more from the fundamentalist end of the spectrum.

Finally there is Biblical scholarship. Unfortunately the evangelicals don't do well here either. They have a lot of component people, some great ground breakers, mostly from the past. By competent I mean they have the degrees the work they do is good but they are not ground breaking. It's unfortunate because Biblical scholarship is where they should excel, but I find most evangelical bible scholars I come across do not impress me. From the past Sir William Ramsey,Albright, Kenyon,are legends in the field of Biblical scholarship. Lightfoot, Wescot and Hoart I would count as legends and as evangelicals but they've been disowned by modern evangelicals due to the propaganda of the KJV only crowd.

In contemporaneity era among living Biblical  scholars who are excellent and evangelical scholars include Mark Goodacre and N.T, Wright."Mark Goodacre is a New Testament scholar and Professor at Duke University's Department of Religion. He has written extensively on the Synoptic Problem; that is, the origins of the gospels of Matthew." [13] I am impressed by Goodacre. He has made strides in dealing with issuers of synoptic problem while defending the faith. I think N.T. Wright is overrated. I woud not put him on apar with the greats of the past but he's certainly light years ahead of me.(more on him)[14] He;s more than just component he;s probably the best to hold up against Koester or Crosson. Alistar McGrath I give high marks does good work ,he may be ground breaking I have to read more of his work. I give him a gold star foro stadning up to the atheist whiz kid Ricahrd Carrier. I give another gold star for making Carrier so angry he threw a temper tantrum just because McGrath argumed against Bayes.

In the middle ground I spoke of above,where they are comportment and accomplished and do good work but not ground breaking I put Carl Henry, F.F.Bruce, James I Packer. They had the degrees they did the work but they did not push the field forward. I use Bruce's work in apostolic. he did good stuff, His New Testament Documents are They Reliable? is good as  apologetics but not on par with Koester or Crosson. In terms of the "pretender" category I put Grudem and John Piper whose "scholarship" is only done to support their doctrines (facsimileing women). Most Bible scholars don't impress me, I don't demand that one issue silly way out ideas to be "ground breaking." Most evangelical Bible scholars I find are repeating the Orthodoxy of their camp and passing that of a learning, There are numerous exceptions as I've named but the typical thing I find is mediocrity, I will give examples in part 2

 Baukhaum (Jesus and the Eye Witnesses) is considered evangelical. As a matter of standards I use him as an example of ground breaking for a believing scholar. He does not propose some way out idea that reduces Jesus to less than divine or reduces  the Bible to unless scribbling. He actually defends the faith and he does it in a way that moves forward our understanding of Gospels and the eyewitness to Jesus. His idea about the names is brilliant work. He figures out a pattern for when names of people are used or when they just identified namelessly and shows that at certain junctures the names must have been eyewitness who were important to the community that produced the Gospel,, It is possible to put the field forward while defending the faith but most of them don't hit that mark,

Peter Enns quotes Kenton L. Sparks in saying that the evangelicals have tried to give their sons credentials to make them able to counter liberal scholarship but their attempts are not successful, 

[I]t was impossible for bright, young fundamentalist students to avoid noticing that the biblical and historical evidence created, or at least seemed to create, substantial difficulties for their conservative doctrine of Scripture.  As a result, while their fundamentalist forefathers tended to reject biblical criticism with anti-intellectual fideistic responses, this new generation of fundamentalists from the 1950s and 1960s–now called evangelicals–intended to use their intellectual and critical skills to prove that fundamentalism’s view of the Bible was correct all along.
Consequently, a common characteristic of conservative, evangelical scholarship during the 20th century, and now at the dawn of a new century, is that it attempts to use accepted critical methodologies to demonstrate that certain conservative theological positions–such as the Bible’s inerrancy and historical accuracy–fit the biblical evidence and are intellectually satisfying.

[15] Unfortunatley Enns says Sparks argues they were unsuccessful but Enns does not include that information.
As a conclusion I call attention to a book by NT Wright Written with Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament 1864-1986 (see more)[16] This is a perfect metaphor for the way I feel about Biblical Scholarship and all of theology. This books is reprint of a book wreitten in 1964 by Stephen Neill (I have it) it went 1864-1964 then N.T. Wright added to it and published it again under that title. Turns out Wright was student of Neill and was working with is guidance before he died,Neill is one of my favorites.That may have been necessary because a lot come down the pike in those years, such as Ray Brown and the importance of non canonical Gospels that wasn't even thought of in 1964. Yet Wright is still hitchhiking on a the shoulders of a giant. There was a whole generation kn the 20th centiry of sincere believing liberals and moderates who were great scholars: Goodspeed, Canon Streeter, Neil, A.D. Knock, D.E.H.Whiteley. That's all gone, The next thing today is Koester who does't believe in the resurrection. There are believers trying to build on their work. They are pretty unknown to the evangelicals.

next time part 2:specific issues that I feel mark the weakness of most evangelical Biblical Scholarship

all sources acessed 9/9/16
[1] "Chicago Statement o Biblical Inerrancy With Exposition." Bble Research, Onlime URL: 

[2] Traci Schemaker "Five Beliefs That set Evangelicals Apart From Other Christians." News Max online resource, 2 April, 2015 URL:

[3] "0 Most Influential Christian Scholars," Super Scholar: best ideas im the world on line URL:

[4] William Abraham,  Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology,: From the Fathers to Feminism.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

[5] , On Dooyeweerd: a bibliography 10 page pdf All of Life Redeemed,Christian Philosophy or Al.l of /Life. On line Url:

He has been described as one of the foremost philosophers of the Netherlands.  Dr. P.B. Cliteur, [1] wrote in 1994: ‘Herman Dooyeweerd is undoubtedly the most formidable Dutch philosopher of the 20th century. ... As a humanist I have always looked at “my own tradition” in search for similar examples. They simply don't exist. Of course, humanists too wrote important books, but in the case of Herman Dooyeweerd we are justified in speaking about a philosopher of international repute.’... Giorgio Delvecchio, an Italian neo-Kantian philosopher, viewed Dooyeweerd as ‘the most profound, innovative, and penetrating philosopher since Kant’...Dooyeweerd’s father was greatly influenced by Abraham Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, who became a Christian at a young age, was immersed in kuyperian thought and neo-calvinism.  He would have heard Kuyper’s newspaper articles read aloud at home and he attended a Christian school whose headmaster Dr J. Woltjer was an associate of Kuyper.
He was a modern Christian Humanist and Evangelical. 

[6] from Wikepedia
Rousas John Rushdoony (April 25, 1916 – February 8, 2001)was a Calvinistphilosopherhistorian, and theologian and is widely credited as the father of Christian Reconstructionism[3] and an inspiration for the modern Christian homeschoolmovement.[4][5] His followers and critics have argued that his thought exerts considerable influence on the evangelical Christian right.[6] [North, Gary (Feb 10, 2001). "R. J. Rushdoony, R.I.P."]

[7] Gregor thuswaldner, "A Conversation with Peter L. Berger, How My Views Have Changed," The Cresset,: A Review f Life,Art, Publkic Affaiors. (Vol LXXVII, No. 3,2014 pp 16-21) on line Resource, URL:

[8] Ibid

[9] Berger in Super Scholar Op. cit.

Peter L. Berger (b. 1929) is a sociologist, who, starting in 1985, was director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture based at Boston University. He is best known for his sympathetic treatment of traditional religious beliefs that have guided humanity for thousands of years. Accounting for a worldwide resurgence of religion, he noted that there is an intractable conflict between the certainties by which people have lived for thousands of years and the secularity of an elite culture advancing rapidly to power in the Western world. His best known work is in social constructionism, a school of thought that focuses on uncovering the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the creation of their perceived reality

[10] Alvin Plamntinga, Super Scholar Op Cit

Alvin Plantinga (b. 1932), professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, has led the way in the rational defense of Christian belief, turning Christian philosophy into a recognized area of academic scholarship. An expert in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion, he has authored many influential books, including God and Other Minds, The Nature of Necessity, and a trilogy on epistemology—Warrant: The Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function, and Warranted Christian Belief. Coming from a Dutch reformed background, he is a proponent of Reformed epistemology. His evolutionary argument against naturalism has placed him at odds with atheistic Darwinists.
[11] "William Alston" The Information Philosopher: solving philosophical problems with new infomratiomnm philosophy on line resource, URL: 

William Alston
William P. Alston was an analytic philosopher and epistemologist. With Alvin Plantinga, he founded the Society of Christian Philosophers and the journal Faith and Philosophy.
He argued for a blend of internalism and externalism. The fulfillment of one's epistemic duty (deontological justification) strengthenedfoundationalist justification on the internalist side. He argued for levelsof justification, first order, second order, etc. One need not be justified in holding a second-order belief in p, but still may be directly justified in believing p.
Alston tried to show the reliability of perception, despite circular reasoning, and thereby defended justified beliefs in God.
On the externalist side, he followed Thomas Reid in seeing justification as a certain kind of social practice.
Alston was a leader in the effort to create a "reformed epistemology" that could justify belief in God as a "basic belief" and defend faith as rational. Basic beliefs do not require explicit justification. They are self-justifying, according to some epistemologists. Alston did not care for the adjective "Reformed," as it refers back to John Calvin's Reformed theology, and the doctrine that God placed a sensus divinatus in the minds of men.
[12] Francis Shaeffer, The God who is There. Downer's Grove Il.: IVP 1968

[13] "Mark Goodacre" Wikipedioa

[14] N.T. Wright, Super Scholar,. Op cit

Nicholas Thomas Wright (b. 1948), widely known as “Tom” or “N.T.,” is the former Anglican bishop of Durham and presently a research professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is a preeminent New Testament scholar, best known for his works defending orthodox Christian belief. His book The Resurrection of the Son of God was so influential that even Antony Flew, the late atheist scholar turned deist, praised it in his own book There IS a God (2007). Wright has defended his practice of writing “god” with a small “g” explaining that “in the first century, as well as the twenty-first, the question is not whether we believe in god … but which out of many available candidates we might be talking about.”

[15] Peter Enns, "Diagnosing Conservatove Evangelocal Biblical Scholarship,"  Peter Enns:Re Thinking Biblical Christianity. October 14, 2014 blog URL

[16] Stephen Neill and Tom WrightThe Interpretation of the New Testament 1861–1986. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Stephen Neill (1900–1984) was a missionary, Anglican Bishop, professor, and linguist, andN. T. Wright (b. 1948), who earned his Ph.D. from Oxford in 1980, is now the famous and influential Bishop of DurhamThe Interpretation of the New Testament 1861–1986(henceforth, INT) attempts to summarize the major people and events in the vast field of NT interpretation over a 125-year period. Neill’s first edition, which was the outgrowth of his Firth Lectures at the University of Nottingham in 1962 (p. ix), was published in 1966 and covered one hundred years of NT interpretation (1861–1961). Neill began updatingINT for its second edition, but he died before completing it. He did, however, discuss the second edition with Wright, who edited Neill’s work (chapters 1–8, pp. 1–359) and replaced Neill’s previous conclusions with a final chapter that accounts for twenty-five more years of NT interpretation (pp. 360–449). The subject matter is almost exclusively British with some discussions of significant advances elsewhere (e.g., Germany), so the volume could be appropriately titled The Interpretation of the New Testament in Britain from 1861 to 1986.


David Anderson said...

Hi Joe. Thanks for working on this and posting your thoughts. There's not a whole lot I can say, as I agree with just about everything you write here. Philosophy has, I think, undergone an evangelical renaissance. Unfortunately the same can't be said about biblical studies. Much, perhaps most, of evangelical biblical studies seems to be 'pick and choose' i.e. accept and magnify the bits of biblical scholarship that uphold or at least are neutral to the status quo of evangelicalism, and ignore all the rest. As Peter Enns and others have pointed out, this isn't intellectually forthright and, as you say here, it produces no groundbreaking work.

I will be very interested to read Part II of this.

Joe Hinman said...

you will probably like part 2 I just wish i had time to really go into it,