Featured A Rebuke of Modern Christian Scholarship

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by Ed Walsh, Nov 4, 2018.

  1. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    With some trepidation I post the following:

    As tears of sorrow poured from my eyes as my heart grieved over the unfruitfulness of my life and the wasted time in sin and vanity that plagues all true Christians to one extent or another, I began to read a commentary that I had never read before. Below is a paragraph or two that brought fear in my heart of what I too often sense in modern Christian scholarship. And I think that this tendency is nowhere more prevalent than in Reformed scholarship. And yes, too often the case right here on the Puritan Board. "I" dotting and "T" crossing is excellent and necessary if, and only if, it leads to a more profound humility and a heartbroken discovery of the complete bankruptcy of each of our hearts that in turn leads us to our only hope in life and death being in God's mercy and patience and genuine love for us his dear adopted sons and daughters of dust. To be correct in our theology is of use only in as far as we are corrected by it in the deepest recesses of our hearts.

    From the Introduction of:
    DAWN OF A KINGDOM
    The message of 1 Samuel
    by Gordon J. Keddie​

    Note: I thank God for the notable exceptions to the absoluteness of Keddie's evaluation below.

    The goal of all Old Testament study ought to be a more perfect discipleship to the Lord. All of God’s Word is directed towards the moulding of heart and mind and the transformation of behaviour, to the end that we might be holy as God is holy. Sad to say, modern biblical scholarship has all but abandoned this calling in favour of a kind of technical exegesis which, while meticulous in its dissection of the text and abounding in ingenious and intricate theories of its origins, is strangely arid and virtually devoid of any contemporary application. The secularization of modern life, having banished the Bible from every sphere of human existence except the realm of private faith, has now succeeded in expelling faith from the Bible itself! It seems hardly possible, I know, but a half-hour study of many of the modern commentaries—even those that are ostensibly conservative and evangelical—will reveal a disturbing unwillingness to make concrete application of the teaching of the Word of God to our lives. Biblical scholarship has ceased to be devotional both in its very nature and in its thrust. Secular methodology has hijacked biblical study. It is academically unacceptable today to expound Scripture in terms of its redemptive, devotional and prophetic purposes. A chasm has been opened between ‘serious’ study (‘scholarly’ commentaries) and ‘devotional’ or ‘layman’s’ exposition. And here’s the rub: the life-changing power of the Word of God has been relegated to the realm of the non-scholarly, the private and the relatively uninformed!
    Current studies in the historical books of the Old Testament are particularly blighted with this plague of secular intellectualization. If you are looking for commentaries that will warm your soul and stir you to refreshed discipleship to Christ, you will look in vain. I cannot whole-heartedly recommend even one, although Keil and Delitzsch, now over a century old, does include some directions and exhortations. The older evangelical commentators, like Charles Simeon, Thomas Scott and Matthew Henry were, of course, committed to pressing home the message of the Word—they knew that scholarship was nothing if it did not point people to Christ! Of the modern writers, R. P. Gordon’s 1 & 2 Samuel is the most recent and the best. But you will need to go to Matthew Henry and A. W. Pink’s Life of David for something to touch your soul.
    Keddie, G. J. (1988). Dawn of a Kingdom: The Message of 1 Samuel (p. 11). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.

    How much more I could say about the beauty of brokenness and true humility before God. Words fail me to express how he has led feeble me, after so many years, to yearn for, love and fellowship with this adorable tripartite being. It would be too intimate to express any more publically.

    Nehemiah 9:5
    "Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise."​
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
  2. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    @Ed Walsh

    My dear brother:

    I think that something indeed does afflict us as confessional, Reformed Christians: a sort of intellectualism that allows us to think that doctrinal soundness suffices ("I love the Standards, but not my neighbor").

    That's not quite what GK describes here. He's getting at the all-too-common approach of biblical scholarship, including much conservative and evangelical scholarship, that contents itself with the technical aspects of exegesis while ignoring the heart, divorcing the devotional from the academic, missing the "redemptive, devotional, and prophetic purposes" that truly lie at the core of the Word.

    I think that your concerns, as I gather them in your first paragraph, are quite legitimate; perhaps what I describe in my first paragraph here gets at them. We never want to handle the Scriptures in a way that we content ourselves, as Edwards argued, with "purely theoretical speculative knowledge." GK is talking about something a bit different, I think. Look at many modern commentaries: much about history, archaeology, linguistics, sociology, etc. yet perhaps little about what the text actually means, especially neglecting its "redemptive, devotional, and prophetic purposes."

    I think that you are right to say that we have a problem with praxology here, not so much theology. GK is saying that much modern biblical scholarship does not even arrive at a rich theology and, in any case, tends to sunder the academic and the devotional, something not done in earlier days when the Enlightenment had not come to dominate us all (and the culture was not so secularized).

    All this is to say that I think that you have right concerns as does GK, though I think that his are a bit different than yours, because what he describes is not the chief problem of those on this board.

    Peace,
    Alan
     
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  3. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thanks for posting this, Mr. Walsh.

    Over the past year or two, I have had many of the same concerns, especially while attending TEDS, a fairly conservative evangelical seminary. I remember expressing these very same frustrations to my church history professor (for whom I was also TA), telling him that I was astounded that throughout my four years of seminary, I still felt largely unprepared to tell a congregation what a passage of Scripture means, what bearing it has on them. I could talk with people about JEDP, textual criticism, and what many secular biblical scholars over the centuries have thought, but when it came to mining the text for rich application, I was still largely at a loss! (I am speaking only in light of seminary education, not my private study and preaching experience. I can apply a text, but largely no thanks to my seminary education.)

    This professor of mine is a Calvin scholar. It was actually through being required by him to read much from Calvin's commentaries that opened my eyes to this problem. Scripture was not a museum piece for Calvin. It wasn't a specimen to be dissected and examined dispassionately; it was a living, breathing text that had bearing on everything. Because of this, you never read a portion of Calvin's commentaries without learning what the text has to do with your life. The same applies with Matthew Henry.

    Unfortunately, we evangelicals have become so Platonic in our thought; everything is either part of the superior "ideal," or part of the inferior "material." Biblical studies and philosophy are part of the former, while "practical" studies are part of the latter, and thus often viewed as inferior endeavors, even if never explicitly labelled as such. I saw two very good examples of this in my seminary career. First, my very first semester, I was told by an older student, as a matter of advice, "never to quote Matthew Henry in an exegetical paper." Second, my good friend just this past year was docked on his exegetical paper for quoting Calvin's commentaries. These commentaries, besides being old, are "merely pastoral works, not exegetical ones," they said.

    What poppycock!

    Yes, what you have posted about is a serious problem, even and very much so in conservative evangelical circles.
     
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  4. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Indeed, this is a problem in the world of evangelical scholarship, but not quite so much here on the PB. This is not a scholarly forum, and the majority of folk on this board do not have this problem, but the more common one of the gap between our theology and our lives.

    We confess glorious truths that fail properly to grip us and render us profoundly humble, thankful and fruitful. We remain too full of ourselves and even use sound theology to advance our agendas rather than that of His kingdom.

    I think that Ed wants our theology fully to impact our lives. Amen to that! GK is addressing something somewhat related to that, but different as it plays out in the academy. No one here, I dare say, has any problems with someone quoting Calvin. Our problem would be adoring Calvin and thinking ourselves fine Calvinists while remaining deceived about how far short we fall in every respect from "practical Calvinism." Again, not quite what GK is getting at. Both are very legitimate, but if we are going to critique ourselves we want to make sure that the critique is as accurate as possible.

    To make it personal, my problem is not the one Keddie cites (though that is a real and pervasive problem in academic circles). My problem is that of Samuel Davies, who lacked no doctrinal content or even moral urgency in his preaching, but was often afflicted with a cool, languid heart when it came to the things of the Lord. He wanted to receive and express the glorious gospel of the grace of our God with due affections and to have a zeal worthy of its greatness.

    Peace,
    Alan
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
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  5. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Sophomore

    Of course. I did not mean to include PB in that generalization. I should have clarified: I use the term "evangelical" in the same way that I believe (unless I am mistaken) Van Til used it—i.e., non-confessional, non-Reformed Christianity.
     
  6. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Taylor,

    Perhaps you can see why I responded as I did to Ed's OP. Ed did, in fact, opine that he believed that GK's concerns and cautions found particular resonance in Reformed scholarship and was "often the case right here on the Puritan Board."

    I don't think so.

    Our problem is perhaps related to that but not quite that. No one here would have a problem with what chiefly concerned Keddie: biblical scholarship that failed "to expound Scripture in terms of its redemptive, devotional and prophetic purposes." That is a problem. That is not our problem here on the PB.

    But this doesn't mean that we don't have a problem, we do: the problem between what we believe and cherish and how we live. This is our problem and may the Lord be pleased to revive and ever reform us according to the Word of God.

    Peace,
    Alan
     
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  7. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Just save space I didn't quote your whole excellent post. And thanks very much Alan for your usual clarification of things that I fall somewhat short of.

    Thanks,
    Your friend Ed
     
  8. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    @Ed Walsh

    Ed, I did so (offered clarifications/corrections/refinements) because I thought that I knew what you were really getting at and I think it's important to get at it clearly.

    I also knew that you would take it well, as I consider you a friend, and you are one of the sweetest guys around. Your passion for Christ and the advance of His kingdom always comes through in your posts. Let's all keep pressing on together!

    Peace,
    Alan
     
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  9. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I believe the distinction between the intended audiences is useful and valuable in commentaries and scholarship. Works of biblical scholarship are not meant to be a substitute for the means of grace. While ministers and theologians need the gospel no less than laypersons and applications can suggest sermons, scholarly works should assist building the framework of textual interpretation from which applications particular to their ministerial charges may be developed. That they are not an end in themselves does not mean that they are deficient when placed in their proper relationship to the ministry.

    Despite what the author writes, you do see a significant differences in, for instance, Calvin's commentaries as compared to his sermons through the same books. Matthew Poole's critical commentary has little application. Most Reformed systematic theologies have very little application (Brown of Haddington and a Brackel being notable exceptions). Works should not be judged on a basis alien to their intention. Perhaps this is where the modern loss of the office of doctor has caused some confusion. It seems as if the OP's author wishes to judge every work from the standpoint of the pastoral ministry--that every biblical work should be fundamentally pastoral.
     
  10. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    No, I don't think so, Chris, especially if you know GK. His observation about modern commentaries not only lacking but also eschewing a devotional element is well-taken.

    He's not talking about the earlier approaches at all. He is lamenting how Enlightenment notions and the secularization of the academic disciplines has impacted modern commentaries. He is not saying that everything should be pastoral simpliciter, but how can one handle the Word of God and fail to recognize that what one treats is different than anything else?

    I don't dispute what you're saying: different works have different purposes. I don't think that GK fails to understand that or to call for something that would undermine the most trenchant scholarship. But I do think that the most trenchant biblical scholarship can, and should, somewhere or another in it, insofar as it is done by a true Christian, betray a heart that worships, and have, somewhere there, a devotional tone.

    I don't think that GK is reductionistic and fails to affirm proper scholarship. I do think that he objects, as do I, to biblical scholarship that has no clear indication of faith in it.

    Peace,
    Alan
     
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  11. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Sophomore

    This, in my opinion, is the crux of the matter. Of course, we can have merely scholarly discussions about Scripture, and they can be helpful for something. However, in the end, because Scripture is different qualitatively than any other writing in creation, any discussion of it that does not point to the end which it assigns to itself (i.e., pointing to Christ and our conformity to his image) is by definition deficient.
     
  12. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    This is fair, then. I am not familiar with GK and was merely going by Ed's comments on the work. I do not read much in the way of modern commentaries and I had read into the quote the sort of attacks on (Reformed) scholasticism and systematics that were common in the last century. Certainly we can all agree that scholarship availeth nothing without faith.
     
  13. mgkortus

    mgkortus Puritan Board Freshman

    @Alan D. Strange

    Dr. Strange, I appreciate the point that you have made throughout this thread. This is something to which you have obviously given some thought. Have you ever written on this topic? If so, can you direct me to those writings?
     
  14. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Senior

    Maybe I'm a freak, but during an agonizing time lasting months with an erring child, all I wanted to read was STs. I spent a whole summer in Culver, reading and re reading the Christology. The more dry and nitpicky the better.

    When I get upset about sex abuse horrors in churches, I like to come here and read threads that might seem like intellectual wrestling. It pulls my mind and emotions back towards scripture. Piper talks about a series he did on the holiness of God where he worried it was too non-pastoral, until a family told him that when he started it they found out their girl had been molested by a relative and the only thing that got them through it was the weekly sermons about the holiness of God.

    My guess is the OP applies to most people, but if some folks gravitate to the technical theology that's ok. People are different and the Lord uses it all.
     
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