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Frustrations from the Front: The Myth of Theological Liberalism

Last week nearly 10,000 people invaded the French Quarter of New Orleans for a three-day conference. It wasn’t a convention of Mardi Gras mask-makers, a congregation of Bourbon Street miscreants, or an assembly of Hustler devotees. No, this was the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. This is a collective of the world’s religious scholars. SBL is the largest society of biblical scholars on the planet. The program of lectures and meetings is the size of a phone book for a mid-sized city. Too many choices! So many great biblical scholars were there: N. T. Wright, Jon Dominic Crossan, D. A. Carson, Bart Ehrman, Stanley Porter, Frederick Danker, Alan Culpepper, Craig Evans, Robert Stein, Joel Marcus, April Deconick, Elaine Pagels, John Kloppenborg, R. B. Hays, Peter Enns, Buist Fanning, Harold Attridge, Luke Timothy Johnson, Peter Davids, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington, Rikki Watts, Robert Gundry, Emanuel Tov, Walter Brueggemann, Eric Myers, Eugene Boring, J. K. Elliott—that’s just a small sampling of the names. Liberals and evangelicals, theists and atheists, those who are open and those who are hostile to the Christian faith—all were there.

Overall, the Society of Biblical Literature is comprised of professors who teach religion, humanities, biblical studies, history, ethics, English literature, and theology at virtually all the schools in the nation that offer such subjects. Not just the United States, but a multitude of other countries are represented (although because of the long distances and short conference, many scholars did not come). Private schools, public schools, elite schools, and unknown schools—all were represented. Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Tübingen, Chicago, Duke, Dallas Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Fuller Seminary, Princeton, Yale, Biola, Claremont, Manchester, Durham, St Andrews, Westminster Seminary, Wheaton, Gordon-Conwell, Emory, TCU’s Brite Divinity School, SMU, University of Texas, Northwestern University, Rice, Brandeis, London School of Theology, Münster University, Notre Dame, community colleges, even unaccredited schools were represented.

As remarkable as it may sound, most biblical scholars are not Christians. I don’t know the exact numbers, but my guess is that between 60% and 80% of the members of SBL do not believe that Jesus’ death paid for our sins, or that he was bodily raised from the dead. The post-lecture discussions are often spirited, and occasionally get downright nasty.

The annual SBL conference is a place where young scholars can present their papers, meet senior scholars, and talk to publishers about book projects. Great opportunities are at SBL! Master’s students meet with professors whom they’d like to study with for their PhDs. They make appointments, go out for coffee, or just happen to bump into them at the conference.

Now, what I’ve said about SBL so far sounds like an exciting, positive event in which a good exchange of ideas occurs, and people grapple with what the Bible is all about. To a degree that is true, but a darker underbelly to the conference, never far from the surface, shows up often enough. It has to do with the posture of many liberal scholars toward evangelicals.

One of my interns, a very bright student who is preparing for doctoral studies, met with one scholar to discuss the possibility of studying under him for his doctorate. The scholar was cordial, friendly, and a fine Christian man. He encouraged James to pursue the doctorate at his non-confessional school in the UK. (We have found the UK schools to be far more open to evangelical students, since they are more concerned that a student make a plausible defense of his views than that he or she holds the party line.) Later, James met a world-class scholar of early Christian literature and engaged him in conversation. James demonstrated deep awareness of the professor’s field, asking intelligent questions and showing great interest in the subject. Then, the professor asked him where he was earning his master’s degree. “Dallas Seminary” was the response. The conversation immediately went south. The scholar no longer was interested in this young man. James was, to this professor, an evangelical and therefore a poorly educated Neanderthal, a narrow-minded bigot, an uncouth doctrinaire neophyte—or worse.

This was no isolated case. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. There is an assumption that students from an evangelical school—especially a dispensational school—only get a second-class education and are blissfully ignorant of the historical-critical issues of biblical scholarship. Many of the mainline liberal schools routinely reject applications to their doctoral programs from evangelical students who are more qualified than their liberal counterparts—solely because they’re evangelicals. And Dallas Seminary students especially have a tough time getting into primo institutes because of the stigma of coming from, yes, I’ll say it again—a dispensational school. One of my interns was earning his second master’s degree at a mainline school, even taking doctoral courses. He was head and shoulders above most of the doctoral students there. But when he applied for the PhD at the same school, he was rejected. His Dallas Seminary degree eliminated him.

The prejudice runs deep—almost as deep as the ignorance. Yes, Dallas Seminary is a dispensational school. But it’s not your father’s dispensational school. Progressive dispensationalism, engineered by Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, et alii, about twenty-five years ago has tied a dispensational hermeneutic to a more nuanced appreciation of the biblical covenants. Gone are the days of seeing two New Covenants, of distinguishing the ‘kingdom of God’ from the ‘kingdom of heaven’ in Matthew, and of seeing eschatology as not-yet but not already. The differences between other hermeneutical systems and the dispensationalism of today are not nearly as great as they used to be. But much of liberal scholarship has simply not kept up. There is widespread ignorance about what dispensationalists believe along with what seems to be an unwillingness to find out.

Further, the great irony is that so many liberal scholars don’t even realize that Dallas Seminary not only has only one unit on dispensationalism, but it has never required its students to adhere to this system of interpretation. So much more could be said here; I would simply invite those who are interested in learning more to read Progressive Dispensationalism by Bock and Blaising.

I can speak to issues in New Testament studies at Dallas Seminary, which I know best. Our NT faculty have degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dallas Seminary, and Glasgow. We teach a historical-critical method of interpretation, tempered by our presuppositions that the universe is not a closed-system but one in which God has been active. Our students are trained extensively in exegesis of the New and Old Testament, are conversant with the secondary literature, and are able to interact with various viewpoints. Something like 80% of our doctoral dissertations are now getting published—and in prestigious, world-class series no less. (The same, by the way, is true of our master’s students who earn their doctorates elsewhere.) When Harold Hoehner was alive, there were three members in the department who were members of the prestigious Society of New Testament Studies. Now, down to two, we are anticipating several others getting voted in, in due time.

What irritates me is that so many so-called liberal scholars have already predetermined that DTS students get an unacceptable education. They are closed-minded themselves, thinking they know what is taught at the seminary. A genuine liberal used to be someone who was open to all the evidence and examined all the plausible viewpoints. Now, “liberal” has become a hollow term, invested only with the relic of yesteryear’s justifiably proud designation. Today, all too often, “liberal” means no more than left-wing fundamentalist, for the prejudices that guide a liberal’s viewpoints are not to be tampered with, not to be challenged. Doors have been shut in the students’ faces, opportunities denied. Spending $100 on an application is too frequently a waste of time and money, since applications coming from DTS students are routinely chucked into the round file. 

If we’re to judge liberal vs. conservative by one’s method, then the new liberal is the evangelical and neo-evangelical who is willing to engage the evidence, examine all sides, and wrestle with the primary data through the various prisms of secondary literature. He’s open. I tell my students every year, “I will respect you far more if you pursue truth and change your views than if you protect your presuppositions and don’t.” And they know my mantra, “Go where the evidence leads.” Sadly, some of the most brilliant scholars in biblical studies have become radically intolerant of conservatives. When conservative professors have that same attitude, they’re usually afraid of having their ideas challenged because they’re insecure in their beliefs. And they’re labeled as fundamentalists. When many “liberal” scholars are just as intolerant, what should we call them?

583 Responses to “Frustrations from the Front: The Myth of Theological Liberalism”

  1. Bravo Dr. Wallace for this expose. As a ThM student at DTS who is interested in the secular academic arena, I find the reality you paint quite disheartening. I was told by my faculty adviser that the only way I could have any hopes of doctoral studies in mainstream academics was to get another masters first. But even that is a long shot because of the attitudes you present here.

    Morever, this attitude is just as myopic as that which they claim conservatives have. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. I can only hope that you and your distinguished colleagues can dispel the myth that DTS offers only banal education built on narrow presuppositions.

  2. I would just like to protest the prejudice against Neanderthals. All we know about them really is that they liked to paint and hunt.

    Seriously though… I don’t think that classical liberalism (liberality?) has existed for a very long time.

  3. When many “liberal” scholars are just as intolerant, what should we call them?

    I’d just call them fundamentalists … and I call myself a liberal.

    My experience of DTS grads, though admittedly only of a small number, has been extremely positive.

  4. Truth Unites... and Divides November 27, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Dan Wallace asks: “When many “liberal” scholars are just as intolerant, what should we call them?”

    How about Liberal Fundamentalists.

  5. Dr. Wallace,

    I appreciate your post. Much of this hit home with my own experiences here at Yale Divinity School. It’s really funny (sad? unfair?) to see how a place like Yale Divinity encourages radical inclusivity and enforces an “open table policy,” where all faith views and religious stances are welcomed, while at the same time the evangelical students here are marginalized. They break their own “open table policy” by ignoring the evangelical students, yet no one ever cares to fix the problem. If the voice of an atheist, Hindu, Catholic, Muslim, or Jew etc. were to be ignored like the evangelical students are at this school, there would be some sort of administrative action taken. It is a rather hurtful and unfair bias.

    BCJ

  6. As always, Jesus is “a stumbling-stone” and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” 1 Peter 2:8 NET
    Godless men and women veer from the light. The truth is, a brilliant Bible scholar is one who is not only knowledgeable and intelligent, but more importantly, wise. How do the godless influence positively when they know not the heart of God?
    A sad state of affairs, but while they marginalize Christians now, they will face a doom much worse. It’s they who are to be pitied.

  7. “As remarkable as it may sound, most biblical scholars are not Christians.” That phrase, and the underlying definition of what counts as “christian” is remarkable. Perhaps it risks confirming the unjust prejudices held by those “liberal fundamentalists”.

  8. Daniel B. Wallace November 27, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Susan, I appreciate your comments, but I think I should clarify: I believe that evangelicals can learn a great deal from ‘liberal’ scholars. It comes down to how we think about 1 Cor 2.14: “The natural person does not welcome the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Many Christians think that this verse means that unbelievers can’t understand anything about the Bible. That’s not what the verse is saying, however. Instead, it is saying that unbelievers do not *welcome* the things of the Spirit of God. He understands the Bible well enough to know that he wants to reject its redemptive message. But some of the best commentaries are written by non-evangelicals (whether they are ‘liberal’ or not may be a different matter; in any event, it is often hard to tell). I have learned much from Bart Ehrman, J. K. Elliott, And David Parker, for example. And I recommend my students to study under them for their doctorates. Some of the best lexical, grammatical, historical, and even theological work has been done by unbelievers. But it always needs to be filtered through a christocentric grid. ‘Liberals’ have a lot to teach us, and we have some things to teach them, too–if they would only listen.

  9. That is a generous and open-minded perspective, which is very graciously and sincerely stated. Do you know some unconverted scholars who are equally receptive to your writings…and those of other evangelical scholars?

  10. Perhaps what needs to happen is something like what happens in the world of integrative medicine. A person that gets a D.O. , or N.D. is not taken seriously no matter how brilliant or effective his research or treatment may be. There are underlying currents why this is so – having to do with the pharmaceutical industry, AMA and etc. (follow the money…)

    It seems it has to be someone who goes the accepted route, achieves his M.D., arrives at the pinnacle of his career, and doesn’t mind risking FDA pursuit, that can be effective in putting forth a new thought relating to “un”conventional treatment and have it proliferate through the medical industry…slowly.

    Perhaps an extraordinary and “open” fundamental (rather than closed fundamental) student should have the end in mind when contemplating the means. Go to an accepted scholarly institution, get those credentials, make a name for themselves and have some influence from that vantage point.

    How did we get in this shape anyway?

  11. Daniel B. Wallace November 28, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Jan, can you clarify your comment? You said that my definitions were ‘remarkable,’ but that’s a neutral term.

  12. Wondering if Scott Hahn was present. He brings a unique perspective to theology given his past Protestant faith and subsequent conversion to Catholocism. A brilliant mind.

  13. Reading this post brought back a lot of memories. My own experience suggests that the SBL is rather more conservative than progressive, but maybe that’s against the backdrop of the AAR.

    The Society of Biblical Literature, whatever else it is, is an academic – and therefore secular – society. Someone who studies bible could be Jewish or Muslim – all people of the book – or even atheist. Why not? I recall all sorts of perspectives and disciplines, including things like archeology. Why should someone studying the text in itself be christocentric? It’s one hermenutic, a faith-based one – and fine, good – but in Hebrew bible? Torah? Kabbalah?

    A reader would have to assent to your narrow definition of Christianity before your claims about membership could even be assessed. My own definition has very little to do with any church doctrine per se. Personally, I don’t think it’s a matter of assent to beliefs at all, but of faith, commitment, ethics, kindness, forgiveness… By the way, I’m really enjoying Karen Armstrong’s new book – The Case for God – on that very topic.

    I can appreciate someone’s frustration if an evangelical or pastoral-based program sometimes isn’t taken as seriously, but some of that is, I think, part of the long fight to establish departments of religion in academic, not just seminary settings. It’s not been easy, and is probably even harder today. Isn’t an academic study inherently less restricted by certain required lenses? Maybe not… and of course there is no lens-free study… but there are also some institutions that can’t be taken seriously by academics. Liberty comes to mind.

    Open- versus closed-mindedness is a value judgment, not a method or hermeneutic. The evangelical or faith-based methods of interpretation can automatically close off readings that would run counter to the scholar’s belief-system. I can empathize with feelings of feeling like an outsider somehow, and defending what may be a perfectly good institution, but you’re creating a dividing line here that comes uncomfortably close to a good versus evil judgment and I sense a little bit of a familiar thread of persecution. This creates what is to me a very unchristian dividing line.

    The way to address these issues in an academic setting – one that is more conservative and faith-based in its membership than most – is to make a convincing and intellectually sound argument. Present a paper, and encourage others at your institution to do the same. Raising the level of respect is easily done – produce good work that meets academic standards of excellence. An academic society is not a congregation – you have to earn the respect of your peers.

  14. Rev. Bryan Johnson November 28, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for writing this article! You should try being a Pentecostal/Evangelical and pursing an “academic” career! I have been working on my MA in Religious Studies at a Catholic University, and I’ve found the ultimate impediment for Evangelical scholarship (as you have mentioned) is the historical-critical method. Most like myself went to a “Bible College” learning the historical-grammatical method, and did not have to engage the critical view. But now, I have had to learn to “listen” to critical method, break down the argument, and then engage it logically in my papers and classroom discussions. Many times, my discussions turn into mini debates, and I’m thankful that most of my professors are open to debate. One other note, it is my experience that most historical-critical students and professors do not know their Bible! In fact, one professor admitted that (to me) in front of the whole class! The most frustrating thing about this subject is that the historical-critical method was birthed in doubt and atheism i.e. Spinoza and Simon. These men rejected the supernatural, and their mentors were atheists! God help us all!
    Keep the faith my friends- God Bless!

  15. Rev. Johnson, I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment. I think many are afraid to study divergent opinions with concerns that it might undermine their beliefs. However, I have found it fascinating to study divergent views to understand where the points of departure are. This not only has tremendous apologetic value, but has the affect of deepening one’s commitment to Christ. It also helps in critical self-examination of why we believe what we believe. Or at least it does for me, anyway.

  16. Heidi, I think the point that Dr. Wallace is trying to make is that there is an inherent prejudice in secular academics that automatically precludes any earned respectability. The prejudice is that conservative evangelicalism has such a commitment to a Christocentric hermeneutic that its adherents cannot appreciate the value of secular academics nor contribute anything worthwhile, especially at the same level of academic scholarship. But by imposing that prejudice upon this group as a whole is in fact guilty of doing the same thing.

  17. Considering that there are quite a few conservative evangelicals in the SBL – and even more scholars with a Christocentric hermenutic that wouldn’t meet the stated definition here, I don’t think that’s the problem.

    The problem is that there are many ways to study the biblical texts. There are stronger and weaker readings. However, when someone dismisses good research based only on belief, that’s a breach of intellectual integrity. I am not saying that Dan is one of these, but it’s a very common thread among those who seem to think that there is one “right” interpretation and all others are “wrong.” The attempted academic study of bible – and the study religious movements and ideas and histories – cannot be based on membership loyalties. The perception – not prejudice – is that intellectual integrity is so often compromised by pre-determined beliefs that dialogue and exchange among respected equals cannot happen. The rules about the open table prohibit the demonization of others at the table – and the only ones that seem to have trouble are ones that do so. Reversing that to feel persecuted is a little bizzare to me. Oh – you can either call Dan “Dan” or you can call me “Dr. Nordberg.” Your choice.

  18. A longer quote then: “As remarkable as it may sound, most biblical scholars are not Christians. I don’t know the exact numbers, but my guess is that between 60% and 80% of the members of SBL do not believe that Jesus’ death paid for our sins, or that he was bodily raised from the dead.”
    To me, these lines sound as if a certain group of “christians” unilaterally decides not to consider “christian” another group of “christians” who do not stick to the same set of debatable doctrines. I hope it was just as slip of the pen (parchment can be slippery after all).

  19. I just wanted to weigh in on this from a different perspective. First, great work, Dr. Wallace. I’m glad you wrote this.

    Over the last year I have had a LOT of interaction with profs at top programs in the states from scholars at a host of mainline schools from the US. While I have at times needed to clarify things about DTS, that explanation was always welcome.

    When I set up meetings I send one, lengthy email that details my interests, qualifications, and stresses my work with certain members of the NT department. With only one exception, my emails have been received warmly. I have also made an effort to, whenever possible, visit the campus in person.

  20. Dr. Wallace

    As an agnostic who enjoys debating with evangelicals, I would say that I have noticed the difference in Dallas Theological Seminary. One of my favorite evangelical bloggers is a student of yours who shows a capacity for critically examining his own positions that is rare in the blogosphere.

    I have also been impressed by my exposure to DTS faculty scholarship, limited though it may be. I looked through Darrell Bock’s Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and I was very impressed by the way that he fairly confronted competing perspectives that might normally be classified as liberal rather than ignoring them or cavalierly dismissing them. Moreover, I found him was circumspect in his conclusions, claiming neither greater breadth nor certainty than warranted by the evidence he presented. Although I have not read any of your works, I did listen to the 2008 Greer-Heard Forums, and I thought you engaged the liberal scholars on the program with a similar attitude.

    On the other hand, I think there are many evangelicals who do not appreciate the subtleties of the DTS approach. The reason I got hold of Bock’s book in the first place was because I had been discussing Mark’s Christology with an evangelical blogger who seemed to think it had conclusively established several important points. My impression is that Dr. Bock would have seen his work as contributing to the discussion rather than settling it once and for all. By the same token, if I simply went by some of the Christian apologists who have cited your works, I might think that Bart Ehrman was an intellect charlatan whose writings you have conclusively debunked and refuted, claims I suspect you would be reluctant to make. My point is that the inability to appreciate nuance within evangelical scholarship often seems to pose as big a problem for other evangelicals as for liberals.

    I am curious whether you have discussed this issue with your liberal peers. It may be that they have had encounters with DTS students who did not learn to engage with secular scholarship as well as you would have liked. It is also possible that they have based their opinion on DTS faculty scholarship on students who have miscited it.

  21. A longer quote then: “As remarkable as it may sound, most biblical scholars are not Christians. I don’t know the exact numbers, but my guess is that between 60% and 80% of the members of SBL do not believe that Jesus’ death paid for our sins, or that he was bodily raised from the dead.”
    To me, these lines sound as if a certain group of “christians” unilaterally decides not to consider “christian” another group of “christians” who do not stick to the same set of debatable doctrines. I hope it was just as slip of the pen (parchment can be slippery after all).

    Since Christianity is a system of orthodoxy, and the bodily resurrection is the evidential cornerstone of orthodoxy, then by definition someone who denies the bodily resurrection cannot be a Christian.

    It is not a debatable doctrine, it’s a foundational doctrine.

    Group A accepts proposition X
    Group B does not accept proposition X
    Group B is not Group A

  22. I can’t speak for Jan Krans, of course, only for myself—but I had a similar reaction. The bulk of the original post is a lengthy complaint about liberal scholars having a bias against students trained in evangelical seminaries. But the same post dismisses anyone who does not hold a particular view of atonement (“Jesus paid for our sins”) as a non-Christian! Even your (Dan Wallace’s) comment #8 is sharply prejudicial against “liberals” beneath its irenic veneer (“Some of my best friends are …”).

  23. Christopher,

    I must admit that I’m not following you here. I could count the number of evangelical scholars on one hand who would write a post like this and a response like Dan’s in #8. In fact, he could very well catch some flak for this at his institution. As for his atonement comment, I didn’t interpret it as him saying anybody who does not believe that (i.e. penal substitution) is a non-Christian, only that most at SBL don’t believe it, whereas most evangelicals do. I can see how it’s easy to interpret it otherwise, and maybe that’s what Dan meant, it’s just not how I read it. I could be totally wrong but I’m just basing my judgments on what he has said in the past

    As far as comment #8 being prejudiced against liberals, I’m totally not following you here. I think it firmly upholds “liberals” and gives them dignity because he’s basically saying they’re better at scholarship than all the evangelicals!

  24. Daniel B. Wallace November 28, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Excellent interactions, friends! In this comment, I’d like to address Heidi. My statement, “Some of the best lexical, grammatical, historical, and even theological work has been done by unbelievers. But it always needs to be filtered through a christocentric grid” seems to have troubled you. I think you interpreted that to mean that I expected all scholars–Christian and otherwise–to embrace a christocentric hermeneutic or else they would be condemned. No, that’s not what I meant at all. I meant rather that anyone committed to evangelical theology should not simply accept all that they read uncritically. Of course there will be lively debate!

    You also equated academic with secular, as though someone who had a faith-commitment could not be academic. I think that’s a bit naïve. Now, you concede that “of course there is no lens-free study.” But you quickly move on to view only evangelicals as biased. Everyone has a faith-commitment in that they all have a viewpoint shaped by beliefs, non-beliefs, or anti-beliefs. No one is unprejudiced. The notion that we could examine these materials in a fully objective way went out with historical positivism, which was in vogue a century ago.

    Further, you imply that our prejudices are unshakeable: “The evangelical or faith-based methods of interpretation can automatically close off readings that would run counter to the scholar’s belief-system.” It’s precisely that attitude that I’m fighting against. It in itself is a closed-minded viewpoint, hardly recognizing that evangelicals have wrestled with things, modified their views, and contributed significantly to biblical studies.

    Finally, you said: “The way to address these issues in an academic setting–one that is more conservative and faith-based in its membership than most–is to make a convincing and intellectually sound argument. Present a paper, and encourage others at your institution to do the same. Raising the level of respect is easily done–produce good work that meets academic standards of excellence. An academic society is not a congregation–you have to earn the respect of your peers.” This again reveals some naïveté on your part. Are you not aware of the incredible work that evangelical scholarship has done—reading papers at SBL (yes, I’ve read several), publishing in prestigious monograph series & academic journals? Yet, paper proposals by evangelicals routinely get rejected if they are too evangelical—even if well supported. Talk about closed-minded.

    Raising the level of respect is NOT easily done: regardless of how much we publish, there are still those who view DTS and other evangelical institutes as backwards, closed-minded, neanderthals with miniscule brains. Remarkably, this is not the case in the UK: at one time, half of the NT doctoral students at Cambridge University were Dallas Seminary graduates. I’m asking for a model in which the old modernist-fundamentalist battle lines are forgotten, &…

  25. It seems that there could be many reasons why a conservative evangelical would be a problematic student. For example, what if the student felt compelled to walk out of class if a female student were teaching authoritatively? Is it remotely possible that gender views are a hindrance to full acceptablility?

    A conservative may draw certain lines which overtly or covertly exclude women, homosexuals, those of other religions or denominations from reciprocal and positive relations.

    While a conservative does not have to be conservative, a female has little that she can do about her condition. If the women are to be made welcome, then they must be made to understand that viewing women as “receivers and responders” is not an opinion to be voiced in their institution. A discussion of female submission also can trigger trauma in victims of male violence, recalling porn scenarios and other situations. This kind of talk is best made unacceptable.

    While no environment can be made absolutely safe, women would like to feel that certain opinions are not acceptable. Ascribing these opinions to God is not going to fly in a secular and academic venue, thank goodness. Just my thoughts.

  26. Sue,

    While I understand you going on another pro-woman tirade and jumping on your soapbox whenever you get the chance, the very fact that you say what you do indicates that you suffer from the same discriminatory complex that the professors at the divinity schools and universities do.

    First off, “conservatives” are not monolithic. Conservatives at one institution may think another institution is liberal, while the “liberals” consider both flaming fundamentalists.

    Second, what if, for instance, a person who was educated at a DTS, Trinity, Southern, Gordon-Conwell, Westminster, etc. were not “conservative” by the standards of most conservatives? I attend a conservative institution and would be considered a flaming liberal by most here! I’m not alone either, the vast majority of my friends are the exact same way. We’re all being educated at a conservative institution and don’t care much about some of the things conservatives care about, and on some things we downright disagree with them.

    You’re assuming from the outset that a person who was educated at a conservative school shares the EXACT same beliefs and values that traditionally most conservatives do (e.g. male dominance, republican politics, inerrancy, strict penal substitution view of atonement, sectarian exclusivity, etc.). You’re also assuming that a person who is educated at a certain conservative institution doctrinally believes exactly what that institution believes.

    What if this is not the case? What if a student at DTS thinks dispensationalism is dead wrong? What if a student at Southern thinks Calvinism is evil and is a flaming egalitarian? This happens more than you think, and I would be willing to bet a significant percentage of students at these institutions do not share these same beliefs.

    Is it right to discriminate against a student for the sheer fact that he got his masters of PhD at what is known by the outside world as a “conservative” institution? Is that right? Or should he/she be judged based upon the work they do, their intelligence, their research skill, and their willingness to change their mind when the evidence goes a different direction?

    That’s the issue Sue.

  27. You’re barking up the wrong tree, Sue. Dan holds women in high regard, both as students, grad students and scholars (as do other DTS profs). Of the many scholars and grad students he has to choose from he selected a female Greek scholar to accompany him on several of his expeditions with CSNTM (photographing Greek manuscripts). Dan and his wife also attended an egalitarian church for awhile. It seems to me that Dan is far more open-minded than you. Save your persecution speech for someone else.

  28. Dan –

    I don’t think any academic should accept all that they read uncritically, evangelical or otherwise.

    There are of course lots of people who have a faith-commitment who are academics, but membership is not an academic criterion of excellence. Everyone is biased by their worldview, but there is an especial authoritarian stamp on evangelicals, I think. I would not argue for objectivism, not at all, but I would argue for stong readings as opposed to weak readings. Weak readings have to mold themselves to predetermined outcomes.

    Be fair. What I said, and I think you’ve seen this yourself, it that evangelical or faith-based methods of interpretation *can* (and I would say *are seriously encouraged to*) close off readings that would run counter to the belief-system. There are some evangelicals that have wrestled and modified their views, but does it significantly change the evangelical churches? Look at our political landscape to see the answer to that. There are those who have regressed enough to want to bring back stoning, and they aren’t considered a cult but rather run major programs, including home schooling.

    If you want to level a charge against me, I would suggest some other than naïveté. You don’t know me, but I can assure you that it would not be in the first twenty or so things that would stick. I am aware of the prejudice from the other side – against progressive compassion. Perhaps your papers need a peer review to determine if what you think is well-supported (according to the community interpretation) is actually well-supported by the text itself. I’ve seen this from all sides, having been a very fringe orthodox evangelical myself. And – I would reiterate – the SBL is very conservative. If it doesn’t fly there, there’s something very wrong.

    I simply disagree with you. Raising the level of respect is indeed very easily done. You just haven’t done it. You’re focusing on persecution, when you yourself are on a boundary line. Think less about institutions and more about readings that contribute to the dialogue. Demonize others less, and work more. Think harder, and write more persuasively. Think less of ego and standing and more of service. That’s all I can recommend to you. Blessings.

  29. In response to Luke’s rant against Sue’s concerns. Where is the need to be so mean? Are you so threatened by a statement like “A conservative may draw certain lines which overtly or covertly exclude women, homosexuals, those of other religions or denominations from reciprocal and positive relations”? Sheesh. That seemed like a rather mild observation to me, and I didn’t see any attack there against Dan. This is precisely the kind of knee-jerk response that doesn’t fly in an academic setting.

    While there are always diverse views within any institution, I think it’s fair to say that when someone choses to go to a seminary rather than a university, to Liberty rather than Harvard, there is a judgment there of preference. The institution you choose does say something about who you are, and what you believe, like it or not.

  30. Certainly, Sue, those are concerns relating to peace and having a wholesome, uplifting academic community. However, preemptive exclusion cannot be considered a valid approach to maintaining a diplomatically neutral community.

    Are there genuine scholars who would argue rather modernly from the perspective that pragmatism is not a first principle? What I mean is, are there any scholars of respectable merit and academic prowess who believe that even though women can engage in ministry, that it does not accurately reflect scripture?

    Even if you find all their arguments on that particular issue unpersuasive — indeed, if you think those arguments far-fetched! — are there not some who do generally have scholarly merit and should be given academic license instead of suppression?

    If I understand you correctly, your concern is maintaining a good academic environment, while acknowledging that an academic paradise is out of reach. I don’t think you were making statements about “fairness” one way or the other, so I would definitely not accuse you of being “unfair.”

    It does indeed seem that conservative (read: complementarian) and liberal (read: egalitarian) views are mutually exclusive and cannot easily coexist. But preemptive exclusion of conservative males’ legitimate [by virtue of education] scholarship simply won’t do. Everybody agrees that males can teach, so prejudice against males who are generally legitimate but have certain iffy views is prejudiced, too.

    Now, this is not a polemical against you, Sue. Your concerns (academic harmony and the humane treatment of women) are valid.

    As for traumatic recollections, the solution does not lie in avoiding certain topics, but in addressing them. Counseling is the answer, not circumlocution. Places, words, ideas, and objects do not permanently cause traumatic recollections, if one faces the obstacle through counseling.

    Personal preferences about what opinions others may hold and even assert have no place in a setting of genuine academic harmony, though. Enforcing a view of God that undeniably affirms or excludes any mindset, whether egalitarian or complementarian, does not have a place in SBL.

  31. Daniel B. Wallace November 28, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Heidi, you said, “Raising the level of respect is indeed very easily done. You just haven’t done it.” This shows that you don’t know me. I don’t know a thing you’ve written, although I’m sure it’s extensive. How many books? Peer-reviewed journal articles? it seems that you are judging me without having a clue. I continue to regard that as naive.

    I admit that evangelicals often—too often—lead with their theological chins. But have you not read any of the comments on this blog? Several evangelicals, especially emerging scholars, are tired of being branded as narrow-minded bigots who are closed to evidence. In my experience, it has been just the opposite: liberal scholars tend to be more closed minded than evangelicals. And if you think that SBL is conservative, then your definition of liberal is so far to the left that it’s not on the horizon. Again, I would say that a Christian is, by definition, conservative. And that means that he or she believes in the atoning work of Christ, the God-man, and in his bodily resurrection. Jan thought that I was defining things awfully narrowly, but this is the historic position of all three branches of Christendom. In light of that definition, I would say that SBL is overall not conservative, not Christian. That doesn’t mean that it’s not an important society! I’m simply defining things historically.

  32. I think that Jesus would take issue with that. To the Pharisees, he wasn’t conservative at all.

  33. Heidi, first of all, Sue has a bit of a history here at Parchment and Pen. If you read certain threads of the past you would understand Luke’s and my responses.
    Secondly, it is clear that you are not familiar with who Dan is, nor his work, when you say: ” Raising the level of respect is indeed very easily done. You just haven’t done it. You’re focusing on persecution, when you yourself are on a boundary line. Think less about institutions and more about readings that contribute to the dialogue. Demonize others less, and work more. Think harder, and write more persuasively. Think less of ego and standing and more of service. That’s all I can recommend to you.”
    You might want to research Dan’s work, and read some of his papers before you give him such advise. He’s considered by many to be one of the top five NT scholars in the world.

  34. In terms of history, maybe a persusal of the award-winning books in the SBL would give you a flavor for what constitutes solid academic work.

    “And if you think that SBL is conservative, then your definition of liberal is so far to the left that it’s not on the horizon.” That’s hilarious. Thanks for the giggle.

  35. Susan – My comments were directed at the people who he claims aren’t taken seriously by the SBL because of their institution, not Dan himself. What I’ve seen here is actually quite reasonable except for his narrow definition of a Christian in terms of assent to a charged historical doctrine.

  36. Top scholar, huh? Curious – who would be the others in your judgment?

  37. You don’t need to go all ad hominem, Dan. I know you’re a perfectly good scholar of biblical Greek. And I’m still going to hold the same line – ultimately, it doesn’t matter where real intellectuals are, what institution they belong to. It only matters what they produce. You know this yourself.

  38. First off, no more women posting here (unless their husbands type).

    Second (and seriously), don’t let this thread go in THAT direction…And you know the direction I am talking about.

    Other than that…very much enjoying this post.

    It is getting a LOT of hits (especially for a holiday weekend).

  39. BTW: I suppose that there will be some here who think I was not kidding about the “first off.” There…

  40. My husband would be vicious. I’m trying to understand the feeling of persecution from someone who seems to be a pretty successful scholar.

  41. I went to DTS, earned two degrees (one of which was a ThM), and went on to earn an MTS at Duke. My time at Duke was a direct consequence of my having been turned down flat from the PhD programs to which I applied after Dallas. And, though I hate to say it, I think much of the prejudice against DTS grads, while often not rooted in educated opinion on the part of the particular people who harbor said prejudice, is nevertheless frequently on target.

    For while I’m no fan of Protestant theological liberalism, it is certainly remarkable that a person can graduate from DTS with an academic emphasis in systematic theology and yet never once seriously read, say, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Schleiermacher, Barth, or Lindbeck. Moreover, biblical criticism is (at least as far as my experience went) often dismissed or downplayed at DTS with an embarrassing quickness, one somehow thought justified by the crippling modernist, hermeneutical straitjacket of inerrancy (at least insofar as inerrancy is seen through the lens of the Chicago Statement or its doctrinal analogs). And both theological method and biblical hermeneutics are taught with the most philosophically and historically shocking lack of self-awareness one might dare to think possible of a place boasting the production of “masters” of theology. In short, speaking from my own experience at DTS, there are huge gaps in the curriculum on matters theological, historical, philosophical, and critical (curiously, ones of which I would assume Dr. Wallace is largely well aware). And, in fact, professors interested in pursuing the rectification of those deficiencies, even to some small degree, have often found themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs (occasionally to become pastors in Pennsylvania, for those who catch my drift).

    At any rate, thanks to my time at Duke, I’ve currently been accepted to two highly prestigious doctoral programs in the US for theological studies. And, frankly, I’m glad I didn’t get into a reputable US PhD program prior to my time at Duke because, as I know now from the other side, I would have had no business being there. Don’t get me wrong; I love DTS and am grateful to have spent so much time there. But let’s not kid ourselves to think that, while perhaps methodologically dubious in terms of how obtained, the prejudice against DTS’s theological education at the Master’s level is not entirely without merit.

  42. I don’t think that conservative candidates should not be accepted into secular programs. In fact, one of my profs in Toronto, a close friend and mentor, was the thesis supervisor for Wilbur Pickering. I don’t think there was anything wrong with that.

    But I do appreciate TAVW’s point. Perhaps it really is the academics which hold back these students.

  43. I guess I would have to ask if DTS prepares students in Latin, French and German, as well as Greek and Hebrew. Perhaps that is a difficulty.

  44. TAVW,

    Theological studies is really such a difficult issue since it is second level academics, especially when the institution promotes biblical exegetical theology.

    With DTS, it is not simply an academic institution preparing people for a career in academics, but an institution preparing people for ministry.

    It is much easier for, say, a New Testament department to demand an unbiased approach. However, when it comes to theology, especially systematic theology, then your bents are going to be more evident as exegetical commitments and hermeneutical presuppositions will come into bear. (To say nothing of philosophical and epistemological standings).

    Anyway, I don’t know of any school that can be effective in producing ministers while broadening their theological brush so wide that they are seen as academically inclusive. Besides this, theology is so broad, it would be impossible.

    Having said that, I join you in one aspect of your remarks: DTS did not have a strong theology department when I graduated in 2001. But…I don’t know of many schools that do these days.

    But, the NT and OT departments can stand up to any school that I know of.

  45. Thanks, Sue. Certainly prejudice is a factor. But just because one is unethically prejudiced doesn’t necessarily mean one’s conclusions aren’t nevertheless correct. At any rate, adopting a more academically serious approach to theological studies at Dallas would certainly be the place to start (e.g., introducing and requiring at least one class in both theological ethics and philosophical theology for the academic track ThM students).

  46. TAV,

    There are several issues – first, can’t one consider what the text says without therefore saying that this is a requirement for present day Christians, ie obedience of slaves and women. And second, doctrinal commitments do change the way one views the text. The investment of a lifestyle and faith does constrain the reader and student of the text – unfortunately. Not that everyone doesn’t have some stake in the text.

    But I am curious now as to what the language requirements are for the ThM.

  47. Daniel B. Wallace November 28, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Gee, lots of things to talk about here. Too much, really. I really don’t think I’m being narrow at all if I define a Christian by what all three branches of Christendom, at a minimum, define one as.

    Heidi, as for SBL being conservative, let me ask you this. Why do you think that Harold Hoehner, a man with two doctorates (one from Cambridge), world-class scholar, author of the monograph Herod Antipas (his Cambridge doctoral thesis), and a member of the prestigious SNTS, could not get a paper proposal accepted at SBL after repeated tries? The topic was the inauthenticity of Galatians. It was actually an argument that the criteria used to determine whether Ephesians was authentic could be used with Galatians, resulting in even stronger arguments against Galatians’ authenticity. Yet, since Galatians is one of the Hauptbriefe, it has been accepted by virtually all scholars since Baur. Why would this paper proposal get rejected? Or consider the fact that I wanted to have a panel discussion on the authenticity of 2 Peter at SBL. I told a colleague (a liberal scholar who influence some of the sessions) that I thought we all needed to be open to evidence on both sides. To my plea of open-mindedness he quipped, “2 Peter doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being authentic, so there can be no discussion.” That’s open-minded for you!

    TAVW: you are partially right. Prejudice against a DTS grad is not entirely without merit. But there are DTS students who strive to get a good education, who want to grapple with the critical issues, and who are introduced to historical-critical thought. I can’t speak to the other departments, but I can say that the NT department does not clamp down on students who deviate in their opinions. The problem is that DTS students who go on for doctorates in the States are often treated as though they all went through the same cookie-cutter. The prejudice runs deep when there are way too many exceptions.

    When I was a ThM student at the seminary, at first I thought that Hoehner was joking when he spoke so positively of historical-critical examination of the NT. I didn’t realize at the time that he was really being favorable about the value of the various criticisms!

    There is robust dialogue on numerous critical issues in our department. If you know otherwise, please do let me know.

  48. Thanks for the engagement, C Michael Patton. Indeed, my comments are not about the OT or NT departments per se. However, I never recall receiving philosophical justification for or a historical accounting of the underlying assumptions that went into the hermeneutics we were taught in BS101. And yet that course is expressly intended to be foundational for everything else we took at DTS, including what was taught later in OT and NT. Insofar, then, as our education simply assumed the theological/hermeneutical tenets of that class as a given, we carried a historical and philosophical lack of awareness regarding the contingencies assumed therein into every other course we took. For me, that those contingent assumptions were never explored, challenged, or justified later (for certainly, pedagogically, one has to begin somewhere), even in our upper level courses in OT and NT, is a serious problem for which not even biblical studies’ students receive sufficient correction. But, you are right, my specific gripes are couched in my experience of the explicitly theological with respect to a DTS ThM.

  49. Daniel – I couldn’t begin to guess why these individual anecdotes might have occurred, unless possibly it has to do with politics and egos among individuals making their careers… Perhaps one might ask the people involved, or use the grievance procedures rather than generalizing out to the entire SBL?

  50. Heidi,
    I’m just curious as to how you would define “Christian”. Or is it simply undefinable in your perspective?

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