"The Fundamentals" Rebooted

A few weeks ago, Standpoint Conference began to actively promote our conference for 2011, entitled “The Fundamentals II.” There are actually a number of compelling reasons to “reboot” The Fundamentals,* re-analyzing good doctrine in light of certain attacks of our time.

Before listing those reasons, let’s allay any fears regarding this subject.

Some might fear that we are suggesting that major doctrinal formulations need to be changed or adjusted. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire!” Or is it mirrors? The suspicious always imagine a conspiracy. We do not propose that orthodoxy needs any kind of re-definition or adjustment. But we believe that the doctrines so well defended in the past need to be more clearly defined in the light of modern challenges, not altered in keeping with the spirit of our age.

Some might cynically suggest that we may have difficulty finding the quality of scholarship among conservative theologians that was available for the original Fundamentals between 1910 and 1915. But we believe that the scholarship exists for another set of great works on doctrine. And we believe that this will be borne out in the next few years as we take on this important project.

For those tempted to yawn, complain about doctrine being boring, roll over, and renew their slumber, we suggest that most of our problems in the church today can be traced back in some way to the apathetic approach to doctrine that has characterized much of the church (at least in America) for the past 60 years.

Why have a conference called “The Fundamentals II”?

1. In some parts of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, doctrine does not receive the attention it merits.

As Fundamentalists in whatever sense of the word we embrace it, all of us at Sharper Iron surely revile the liberal conception that doctrine is divisive. But there are segments of Fundamentalism that lampoon doctrine as “boring,” a reflection of an anti-intellectual tendency that exists in their segment. In some parts of mainstream Evangelicalism, the belief is that doctrine isn’t practical, and that it does not promote church growth. Some strains of Fundamentalism have long ignored doctrinal development in the interest of pursuing endless debates on standards or resistance to modern culture, rather than analyzing culture in light of doctrine.

All such views are aberrant. Doctrine is simply “that which is taught”—eternal truth taught by the true church based on the Word of God. If it is divisive, it is necessarily so, as truth is a great divider from error. If it is boring, it is because it has been presented unskillfully. If it seems impractical, it is only because the correct connections have not been made between faith and practice. If it is ignored in preference for debate on topics of lesser or no importance, then this inversion speaks to the faulty judgment of those who do so.

Anything we can do to highlight the importance of good doctrine will benefit all of Evangelical Christianity, using “evangelical” in the historic sense of those who name Christ and believe in the transforming power of the gospel of grace.

In the case of the original Fundamentals documents, W.B. Riley and his cohorts created an excitation about theology and doctrine that helped birth a movement that we all now share in common. It is our hope that such interest can happen again, revitalizing our movement and correcting errors of emphasis at the same time.

2. Church history suggests that doctrinal understanding can increase in response to crises.

Good doctrine is more sharply defined in the crucible of the battle against false doctrine.

In the epistles we find clear references to a kind of proto-gnosticism that taught that Christ had not come in the flesh. The apostles plainly defined as heretics all who taught this.

In the early church era, the extensive debates about the nature of the trinity and the relationship of God the Father to God the Son gave rise to our current understanding of the Trinity. It is not that the church voted for something to become true (sorry, Dan Brown). It is that the church was driven to the Scriptures to more tightly define what is true based upon careful study of the Scriptures.

History is replete with examples of false doctrine forcing true believers to closely examine and better understand true doctrine.

It is clear that fresh attacks on good doctrine are occurring at every quarter. These attacks should be driving us to the Scriptures, forcing us to respond to these attacks from Scripture. While this has surely been happening informally, the process has been slow and spotty. We propose 3 conferences (1 per year) in which to address these attacks from a scholarly perspective but with practical application as well.

3. Postmodernism and even Modernism still require some appropriate Biblical and doctrinal responses.

Postmodernism is supposed to be the new paradigm. While it is clear that the triumph of postmodernism has been over-inflated (as a theory it works better with Literary Criticism than with Organic Chemistry, for instance), the younger generation seems to have embraced an essentially postmodern approach to theological, moral, and ethical truth. The fact that everyone is one Google search away from a well-written page defending something utterly foolish doesn’t help. In such a world, all ideas and philosophies appear equal to the unreflecting reader. If you do not believe that this has infected our churches, have a conversation about an ethical dilemma with one of your church’s teenagers. You will be suitably dismayed.

In such an environment, taking time to tightly define the absolutes of the faith, and the underpinnings of them (particularly the under-explored area of Christian Epistemology) is a very good idea.

Meanwhile, some of our theologians have adopted very Modernistic-sounding approaches to areas such as hermeneutics and apologetics. In an attempt to stave off the invasion of Post-moderns, they have succumbed to an old danger they once abhorred. Very few are talking about this in any comprehensive way. Some serious thinking has to take place, or we will find future generations in an intellectual cul-de-sac that blocks them from true orthodoxy.

4. The ongoing dispersal of theological/ministerial education requires that we revisit this soon.

Recent developments in distance learning at major Fundamentalist and Evangelical Higher Education establishments are just a beginning. Major changes in the distribution of theological knowledge are on the horizon. The availability of everything from blogs to recorded seminary classes on the internet will require a major change in the required discernment level of the learner.

There are several good things about this change, most notably that ministerial students can be mentored in their own churches by their own pastors while getting a world-class education in Bible and related fields.

The challenge is that there will be far more opportunity for seriously divergent viewpoints to gain popularity. An effort now, a century after the original Fundamentals, may do much to raise awareness of doctrinal accuracy and purity at this critical juncture. It will also help to nail down foundational issues that will help us to navigate through this morass.

We at Standpoint Conference beg of you all not to take this issue lightly, and to consider participating in our effort. We are now soliciting scholarly papers from like believers on foundational issues of doctrinal importance. Details can be found at www.standpointconference.com.

Notes

*The Fundamentals was a series of essays published in twelve volumes from 1910 to 1915. The essays focused on the core doctrines of the faith and their defense. The series greatly influenced the early fundamentalist movement. Sample it at Google Books.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
In the case of the original Fundamentals documents, W.B. Riley and his cohorts created an excitation about theology and doctrine that helped birth a movement that we all now share in common. It is our hope that such interest can happen again, revitalizing our movement and correcting errors of emphasis at the same time.

I think the challenge of recovering a widespread seriousness about doctrine and "excitation" about it in our day is immense. The need is great, but we do not have the kind of focused, direct assault on the faith that we did in the form of Liberalism in the early 20th Century.

The threats to doctrine today seem to be more numerous and subtle. So it's harder to achieve the kind of united passion we saw in the past against the new threat(s).

But I'm all for any effort to emphasize sound doctrine in our day.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Quote:
Recent developments in distance learning at major Fundamentalist and Evangelical Higher Education establishments are just a beginning. Major changes in the distribution of theological knowledge are on the horizon. The availability of everything from blogs to recorded seminary classes on the internet will require a major change in the required discernment level of the learner.

There are several good things about this change, most notably that ministerial students can be mentored in their own churches by their own pastors while getting a world-class education in Bible and related fields.


The technology to accomplish this has been around for awhile, and IMO it's about time that churches and seminaries take advantage of new tech instead of being hesitant and appearing fearful about it. The hard part is probably going to be institutions cooperating and merging as fewer students physically attend seminary and Bible college. I would also hope that more lay people take advantage of this as well- you don't have to have a call to full-time ministry to need to learn more about the Word.

Charlie's picture

What issues would be addressed?

Who would address them?

I'm not aware of any Fundamentalist who has significantly contributed to discussion concerning the following schools or issues: postliberation theology, narrative theology, Yale postliberalism, la nouvelle theologie, radical orthodoxy, philosophy of science (not creation science), beliefs and hermeneutics of second temple Judaism, ANE language and culture in relation to Hebrew religion, ontology and modernity, virtue ethics, New Perspective on Paul, open theism, process theology, medieval backgrounds to Reformation thought, speech-act theory and its competitors, analytical philosophy in theological reasoning, deconstructionism, Patristic creeds, secularization theory, the ontotheological critique, etc.

The point is that turning on the tap works only if there's water in the well. Are there a handful of fundamentalist professors who are willing to and capable of spending a year or two in postdoctoral fellowships at major research universities in order to acquire the skills and knowledge to undertake this project?

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Mike Durning's picture

Charlie wrote:
What issues would be addressed?

Who would address them?

Charlie,
There are many topics we have discussed in our commmittee, and the first 10 for this year are posted at www.standpointconference.com .
We have a loosely defined list for the next two years. Papers may be submitted, however, on any issue. We are open to change in our conference schedule if necessary.

As for your second question/set of observations, the answer is complicated.
1). That's why we're trying to raise awareness.
2). Time will tell.
3). You will note that, like Sharper Iron, the doctrinal statement that must be agreed with over at www.standpointconference.com is rather minimal compared to say, a Fundamentalist Baptist Church. A scholarly paper from someone who agrees with that doctrinal statement and that supports an orthodox position on the issue at hand would be considered, whether the author considered himself/herself part of the Movement of Fundamentalism or not. While we do not desire to be as broad as the ETS, we believe there are many fine scholars and pastors, fundamental in doctrine and even in mood, who do not embrace the name "Fundamentalism". For purposes like this one, the issues at hand are far more important than the label.

Mike D

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie: What I've read of The Fundamentals (which is admittedly, not very much) suggests the series was popular-level work. I think much in the list you've mentioned would constitute a very different kind of series, although there are issues in all of them that would be profitable to boil down to some popular level literature.

Since the folks in the pews are the ones who fund education, generally choose the pastoral staff, etc., it really is the average "layman" we need to reach with a new doctrinal series. Though I do think we need to reach the college/seminary students in addition.
But how to get the "average layman" more than a little bit interested? ...a challenge of truly supernatural proportions.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Since the folks in the pews are the ones who fund education, generally choose the pastoral staff, etc., it really is the average "layman" we need to reach with a new doctrinal series. Though I do think we need to reach the college/seminary students in addition.
But how to get the "average layman" more than a little bit interested? ...a challenge of truly supernatural proportions.

Ditto this. Because the folks in the pew have for decades been convinced that any kind of specialized knowledge is only for those whose vocation requires it, it is (IMO) where much of the anti-intellectualism in churches has come from- they leave doctrine up to 'the professionals'. But since there is an ambivalence towards in-depth study in the congregation, it isn't a high priority when seeking to fill ministry positions. It is much easier for predators to pull the wool over people's eyes because their spiritual discernment doesn't receive much exercise. I can always spot a snake in the pulpit because they are offended and/or intimidated by an educated church member. You can't say "Shut up and trust me" to someone who knows as much or more than you do on a particular topic. So this kind of 'leadership' nurses the anti-intellectualism in the pew because it allows them to maintain control, or they only feed them with information and sources that agree with their interpretation and mindset on Scripture. Vicious cycle.

I understand the concern that technology has made it easier for seriously divergent viewpoints to gain an audience, but we can't underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit in leading and guiding folks to truth. I believe that those who desire confusion will be met with confusion, and those that at heart desire truth will find it.

Charlie's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Charlie: What I've read of The Fundamentals (which is admittedly, not very much) suggests the series was popular-level work. I think much in the list you've mentioned would constitute a very different kind of series, although there are issues in all of them that would be profitable to boil down to some popular level literature.

Since the folks in the pews are the ones who fund education, generally choose the pastoral staff, etc., it really is the average "layman" we need to reach with a new doctrinal series. Though I do think we need to reach the college/seminary students in addition.
But how to get the "average layman" more than a little bit interested? ...a challenge of truly supernatural proportions.

I agree that The Fundamentals was largely popular-level. I further agree that such popular treatments are desirable. However, the nature of a popular work is much misunderstood. Only a scholar (or at least someone who can produce scholarly work) can create a truly useful, accurate popular work. Only an expert knows what to include, what not to include, the most accessible order of ideas, how to avoid simplification, etc. When non-experts attempt popular works, the result is called "trash." The last fifty years of Fundamentalism has been bathed in trash - pamphlet rants with hideous bold and italic script instead of argument, narrow journal articles in non-refereed publications, hasty charges of doctrinal unorthodoxy from people who don't know the difference between "Arminian" and "Armenian," thinly edited sermon compilations passed off as academic works, etc. (I'm not sure why I'm using etc. so much today. I hope it's just a phase.)

What Fundamentalism hasn't had but needs to have for a project like this to avoid being so much more trash is engagement with diverse sources on the theoretical level. Frankly, we need people at least on the level of John Piper. Piper took a doctorate from a European university, his dissertation being published by Cambridge. He has written several scholarly critiques in the form of exegetical studies on New Testament passages - The Justification of God, Counted Righteous in Chris - and has been a noteworthy participant in the New Perspective discussion - The Future of Justification. I'm sure that in coming decades he will be better known for his more popular titles, but the reason he is able to write such influential popular works is that he is competent on the scholarly level. Occasionally, there is an exception such as Francis Schaeffer, but he had the twofold advantage of studying directly under very sophisticated and influential mentors and of being personally connected to the pulse of intellectual currents his whole life, two things that few Fundamentalists can claim.

So I don't see Fundamentalist ideas making much progress on the popular level until Fundamentalists take scholarship seriously.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

In my experience, true scholars that are capable of writing well on a popular level are extremely rare. More often, it's guys that are "in between" who build good bridges. What's required is the ability to sift through the heaps of scholarly rubbish and also the heaps of popular rubbish and harvest the best of both.

I wouldn't call Piper a scholar, myself. He'd be an example of someone in the middle... capable of adequate interaction with the work of scholars but in touch enough w/"the rest of us" to serve up alot of meat.
I believe Kevin Bauder is quite capable, though sometimes is also writing over too many people's heads.

Probably before what you've described can happen, fundamentalists (and mainstream evangelicals, too, really) need to reach some kind of consensus on where scholarship fits into the scheme of things. We've seen in many discussions here that there is a feeling among many that all forms of scholarship are toxic. And then we have others who regularly declare that fairly simple questions cannot be answered without reading 400 books first to even understand the question... and 400 more to answer it. (So the house burns down while we're catching up on ancient near east views of heat and flame and modern views of rapid oxidation)

But in fundamentalism, and non-fund. close cousins, we have just never really figured out what the brain is good for and what the work of "smart people" over centuries is good for. I'm not saying it very well, I think. My point is that fundamentalism's inconsistency on the intellect reveals that there is a void of theology there. We haven't thought through what it means to love God with all your mind. (Susan's post illustrates this and I think she's right about some major contributing factors there too)

Maybe this is a good place for something like "The Fundamentals II" to begin.

RPittman's picture

Mike wrote:
3. Postmodernism and even Modernism still require some appropriate Biblical and doctrinal responses.
Postmodernism is supposed to be the new paradigm. While it is clear that the triumph of postmodernism has been over-inflated (as a theory it works better with Literary Criticism than with Organic Chemistry, for instance), the younger generation seems to have embraced an essentially postmodern approach to theological, moral, and ethical truth. The fact that everyone is one Google search away from a well-written page defending something utterly foolish doesn’t help. In such a world, all ideas and philosophies appear equal to the unreflecting reader. If you do not believe that this has infected our churches, have a conversation about an ethical dilemma with one of your church’s teenagers. You will be suitably dismayed.

In such an environment, taking time to tightly define the absolutes of the faith, and the underpinnings of them (particularly the under-explored area of Christian Epistemology) is a very good idea.

Meanwhile, some of our theologians have adopted very Modernistic-sounding approaches to areas such as hermeneutics and apologetics. In an attempt to stave off the invasion of Post-moderns, they have succumbed to an old danger they once abhorred. Very few are talking about this in any comprehensive way. Some serious thinking has to take place, or we will find future generations in an intellectual cul-de-sac that blocks them from true orthodoxy.

Mike observes that Post-modernism "as a theory it works better with Literary Criticism than with Organic Chemistry, for instance." This is not entirely accurate. Organic chemistry is not as objective as one may think--theories have changed with paradigm shifts. Thomas Kuhn in The Nature of Scientific Revolutions effectively critiques these paradigm shifts of modern science. The problem here is that Christians have capitulated to the evolutionary paradigm of science as objective fact. We have failed to construct a Biblical paradigm of our own. Thus, Mike is right in that our epistemology is under-explored. We are still using the discredited epistemology of Modernism. The Christian's problem is that we only see the two choices of Modernism or Post-Modernism. Did it ever occur to us that there are other choices out there. Both Modernism and Post-Modernism are enemies of the Gospel and Biblical understanding. That is not to say, however, that we cannot use Post-Modernism to debunk Modernism. What we cannot do is use either Modernism or Post-Modernism to establish a Biblical view.

RPittman's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
In my experience, true scholars that are capable of writing well on a popular level are extremely rare. More often, it's guys that are "in between" who build good bridges. What's required is the ability to sift through the heaps of scholarly rubbish and also the heaps of popular rubbish and harvest the best of both.

I wouldn't call Piper a scholar, myself. He'd be an example of someone in the middle... capable of adequate interaction with the work of scholars but in touch enough w/"the rest of us" to serve up alot of meat.
I believe Kevin Bauder is quite capable, though sometimes is also writing over too many people's heads.

Probably before what you've described can happen, fundamentalists (and mainstream evangelicals, too, really) need to reach some kind of consensus on where scholarship fits into the scheme of things. We've seen in many discussions here that there is a feeling among many that all forms of scholarship are toxic. And then we have others who regularly declare that fairly simple questions cannot be answered without reading 400 books first to even understand the question... and 400 more to answer it. (So the house burns down while we're catching up on ancient near east views of heat and flame and modern views of rapid oxidation)

But in fundamentalism, and non-fund. close cousins, we have just never really figured out what the brain is good for and what the work of "smart people" over centuries is good for. I'm not saying it very well, I think. My point is that fundamentalism's inconsistency on the intellect reveals that there is a void of theology there. We haven't thought through what it means to love God with all your mind. (Susan's post illustrates this and I think she's right about some major contributing factors there too)

Maybe this is a good place for something like "The Fundamentals II" to begin.

Aaron, you and I are both skeptics. The difference is that we searching for answers in opposite directions. I don't think much of your faith in scholarship. A few weeks ago, Jay Adams in his blog on SI talked about the difference between scholars and thinkers. I pretty much concur with Jay. Scholarship is not the answer.

Furthermore, my skepticism runs even deeper. I'm not sure that the brain can work out the answer at all. It is something beyond reason alone.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Scholars are just experts in the work of those who have gone before, nothing more. Of course, there are good and bad scholars just like there are good and bad hockey players. It's silly to look at the worst hockey players and declare the whole sport to be useless... "I'm not much for hockey players; I prefer skaters."

So, for what it's worth, I have no more or less confidence in scholars than I do in doctors or ditch diggers. As a group, I trust them to do what they are best at doing and see them as making a contribution others do not and cannot make.

But it's a bit more important than doctors and ditch diggers... or hockey players.
Rejecting scholarship is simply rejecting the work of thinkers and writers who have lived before us over the centuries. It's basically saying "I don't need the help of those who have thought about these things before me. I'm smart enough to handle it myself." The word for this is arrogance.

RPittman's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Scholars are just experts in the work of those who have gone before, nothing more. Of course, there are good and bad scholars just like there are good and bad hockey players. It's silly to look at the worst hockey players and declare the whole sport to be useless... "I'm not much for hockey players; I prefer skaters."

So, for what it's worth, I have no more or less confidence in scholars than I do in doctors or ditch diggers. As a group, I trust them to do what they are best at doing and see them as making a contribution others do not and cannot make.

But it's a bit more important than doctors and ditch diggers... or hockey players. [emphasis added ]
Rejecting scholarship is simply rejecting the work of thinkers and writers who have lived before us over the centuries. It's basically saying "I don't need the help of those who have thought about these things before me. I'm smart enough to handle it myself." The word for this is arrogance.

Well, Aaron, many things can be rightly or wrongly called arrogance including the smug labeling of another's point-of-view as arrogance. And I disagree that rejecting scholarship is arrogance. It is no more arrogance than say those who disparage faith/reason as an epistemological method. Anytime one rejects a point-of-view, we cannot take them out of the conversation by impugning their motives or supposed attitudes--arrogance. No, I don't think that scholarship is as important as doctors or even necessarily ditch-diggers. Doctors and ditch-diggers add something to the material quality of human existence--scholarship does not. (BTW, please don't suggest that scholarship has given us computers and modern conveniences because its hasn't if we stick strictly to your definition: "Scholars are just experts in the work of those who have gone before, nothing more." Researchers, scientists, and engineers are not scholars.) Ditch-diggers? Yes, the lowly ditch-diggers who excavate for foundations of buildings, dig ditches for cables and pipes, cut canals and irrigations ditches, etc. benefit mankind at large.

So, what has scholarship done? You may find some small benefit to man but largely it has brought more bad than good. After all, Christian scholarship, if it arguably exists, is minuscule in comparison to the secular and virulent anti-Christian variety. Most modern scholarship is antithetical to God and Biblical Christianity. If modern scholarship is somewhat compatible or neutral, it dilutes the Biblical position. The sum of this is my persistent assertion that you and those who reason like you are still holding the old Modern paradigm of thought. Scholarship is not a way to truth and many times is not a means of finding solutions or even workable answers. Scholarship has no certainty or closure, only a fleeting illusion of understanding. Ideas and theories proliferate to only be lost and forgotten in the ubiquity of more scholarship. Truth and logic have become the politically correct thought of the present.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There is so much in your post that is not relevant to the point.
Of course lots of people do scholarship badly. Always have, always will. Lots of people sing badly, too. But singing is what it is and scholarship is what it is regardless of how poorly many carry it out.

Scholarship is nothing more than the study of the work of those who have gone before.

So I repeat...

Quote:
Rejecting scholarship is simply rejecting the work of thinkers and writers who have lived before us over the centuries. It's basically saying "I don't need the help of those who have thought about these things before me. I'm smart enough to handle it myself." The word for this is arrogance.

RPittman's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
There is so much in your post that is not relevant to the point.
Really? What? Explain. Your point is inane if you can't specify and refute.
Quote:

Of course lots of people do scholarship badly. Always have, always will. Lots of people sing badly, too. But singing is what it is and scholarship is what it is regardless of how poorly many carry it out.

Scholarship is nothing more than the study of the work of those who have gone before.

So I repeat...

Quote:
Rejecting scholarship is simply rejecting the work of thinkers and writers who have lived before us over the centuries. It's basically saying "I don't need the help of those who have thought about these things before me. I'm smart enough to handle it myself." The word for this is arrogance.
Nonsense. Scholarship, as one conceives it, is viewed within a context. Modern scholarship functions within a framework of Modernity and Modern epistemology. Human reason is the sole methodology with the attendant procedures that roughly pattern the scientific method--peer review, documentation of sources, proscribed methods of research, etc. These methods are not necessarily bad or to be discarded altogether but one must remember their severe limitations and relative importance. And they do not provide an infallible means of ascertaining truth or even what is true. In modern scholarship, there is no place for faith and revelation. This alone makes it a sadly deficient basis for belief and life. BTW, scholarship is not a monolithic body of progressive knowledge. It is constantly changing and fluctuating. There is no consensus in scholarship, only the currently held prevailing view. Thus, you have overly simplified your definition and argument to the point of falsity.

Aaron, in another thread, you stated that determining the "why" of a particular thing is problematic. You are more right than you probably realize. The problem here is that you are determining the why of one's views--arrogance. Well, you would be a mind reader to know this and that falls, I believe, in the areas of superstition, hoaxes, or even sorcery, which I know you are not. You have failed to follow your own scholarly system of eliminating all the other possibilities. So, tell me what is the attitude of the guy who doesn't believe that scholarship is reliable or has the answers but he doesn't claim any special knowledge beyond anyone else except for his faith in a divinely revealed body of knowledge that is available to all? The false charge of arrogance is often leveled against Christians because they lay claim to certainty in revelation against all other beliefs. What can I say other than your assessment is wrong.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Roland, what I'm saying is really simpler than you are making it. First, note that the word "modern" in the phrase "modern scholarship" only appears in your posts, not in mine (up until this one Smile )

I'm just saying that the study of the work of those who have gone before is valuable, and rejecting it as a whole amounts to saying we are too smart to need their contribution.
(I use the word "arrogance" not to refer to a motive but to describe what the claim adds up to. There really isn't any humble way to say "All the thought and study of our forbears is useless." But if the word "arrogance" is distracting, let's throw it out. Putting it in the best possible light, rejecting the study of our predecessors' thoughts and writings is not a very humble or wise thing to do.)

RPittman's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Roland, what I'm saying is really simpler than you are making it. First, note that the word "modern" in the phrase "modern scholarship" only appears in your posts, not in mine (up until this one Smile )
Yes, I used the term Modern to specifically reflect the fact that scholarship as we speak of it exists in a paradigm of Modernity. Scholarship is not an universal concept transcending time and space. It means different things and takes on varying forms in different contexts. We're not talking about Hellenistic Greek scholarship. And we're not speaking of Muslim or Hindu scholarship. We are discussing a particular western concept shaped in the specific paradigm of thought that we loosely call Modernity. If your version is simpler, then you have glossed it.
Quote:

I'm just saying that the study of the work of those who have gone before is valuable, and rejecting it as a whole amounts to saying we are too smart to need their contribution.

Aaron, you are carrying my position beyond my original statement and intended meaning. I have not said there is no value in scholarship. It is just that scholarship is not the court of final appeal as some think. As an educated man, I have read my fair share and gleaned from those who came before me. For example, I like and use the Confucian statement that "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," although I outright reject Confucianism.

Then we are in agreement if you are saying scholarship has some value but it is NOT the final arbitrator of arguments and debates.

Quote:

(I use the word "arrogance" not to refer to a motive but to describe what the claim adds up to. There really isn't any humble way to say "All the thought and study of our forbears is useless." But if the word "arrogance" is distracting, let's throw it out. Putting it in the best possible light, rejecting the study of our predecessors' thoughts and writings is not a very humble or wise thing to do.)

If so, then Christians are arrogant as accused because we lay claim to a final, infallible revelation of truth that denies and excludes all other claims. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12)." Aaron, by your definition, anyone who makes an exclusive truth claim with certainty is demonstrating arrogance.

The ironic thing is that scholarship displays true arrogance. As we study the writings of our predecessors, we find that there was no consensus or agreement among them. There were as many opinions and ideas as there were men. Yet, scholarship proposes to research their ideas and arbitrate among them. If our predecessors could not agree among themselves after much wrangling, how can scholarship pass judgment upon them without showing arrogance? Is it not arrogance to judge men and their ideas without having walked in their shoes? Do not the greater judge the less? Yet, scholarship presumes to sit in judgment of those gone before.

My original post that started this line of argument is as follows:

Roland wrote:
Aaron, you and I are both skeptics. The difference is that we searching for answers in opposite directions. I don't think much of your faith in scholarship. A few weeks ago, Jay Adams in his blog on SI talked about the difference between scholars and thinkers. I pretty much concur with Jay. Scholarship is not the answer.

Furthermore, my skepticism runs even deeper. I'm not sure that the brain can work out the answer at all. It is something beyond reason alone.


Read carefully. You will find that your statement that "[p ]utting it in the best possible light, rejecting the study of our predecessors' thoughts and writings is not a very humble or wise thing to do." I fail to find this idea expressed in my original post. Would you please point it out to me? It seems that you think in terms of black and white, all or none. I don't.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
scholarship as we speak of it exists in a paradigm of Modernity
Not "we," you.
There is no reason why scholarship cannot be done well today. Every age has had its weaknesses in this (as other) areas, some of them grave. But, in any case, I'm not talking about how it tends to be done in any particular age. I'm talking about what it is.

RP wrote:
I have not said there is no value in scholarship.

Well, we're agreed then.

You accused me having an excessive/misdirected faith in scholarship. But the value I see in it is pretty much this...

Aaron B. wrote:
Scholars are just experts in the work of those who have gone before, nothing more. Of course, there are good and bad scholars just like there are good and bad hockey players. It's silly to look at the worst hockey players and declare the whole sport to be useless... "I'm not much for hockey players; I prefer skaters."

So, for what it's worth, I have no more or less confidence in scholars than I do in doctors or ditch diggers. As a group, I trust them to do what they are best at doing and see them as making a contribution others do not and cannot make.

Charlie's picture

Aaron, your definition of scholarship I would call "antiquarian interest." Scholars are not primarily experts in the work of others. That would make a bibliographer or an abstract writer. Each scholar, in his dissertation (the entrance to his scholarly career), is expected to make a genuine contribution to a field. He is an expert in that field, both through first-hand research and the help of secondary sources. The goal is to dig a bit deeper than has been done before; however, to do so, you need to start where others left off digging. I think you know this, but your posts came across a bit demeaning.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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No demeaning intended. I think it's a great thing to be an expert in the work of those who have gone before.
As for contributing something original... well, my exposure is limited, but I think few who aspire to that actually achieve it. A larger number are just really well informed on the history of thought in their area of expertise. I think that in itself is quite valuable.
But I suppose a larger number make a new contribution to the field in the form of a fresh synthesis. I see value in that, too.

But I also have limited patience with scholars and I'm sure that shows at times. ... I know for a fact that some of them also have limited patience with me! It's OK. We certainly can't all be scholars, and we can't all be non-scholars either.

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