Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Scholarship and Faith

There is an interesting article in Biblical Archaeology Review titled "Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars". It's an interview in which the editor Hershel Shanks interviews two scholars whose studies led to abandoning their faith and two who remain believers. What struck me most was the claim from James F. Strange, an archaeologist and Baptist minister, who suggests that his scholarship has not affected his faith, although he no longer believes in Biblical inerrancy and yet admits that Christianity makes historical claims.

Yes, I can understand the existentialist emphasis on experience mentioned by Strange, and yes I can understand Lawrence Schiffman's claims that Judaism has never been about biblical literalism. But how can one make sense of a faith whose foundation is a historical claim by ignoring the historicity of that claim? One way is to radically alter the nature of traditional Christianity or even revive a faith which institutional Christianity snuffed out in earlier centuries. But is it still Christianity?

This is the nature of my discomfort with liberal, mainline Christianity and even progressive faith communities like Faith Futures Foundation. Inevitably, the actual congregations or churches that are representative of such communities share almost nothing in common with traditional, institutional Christianity except recitation of the foundational stories. If these communities could readily acknowledge that there is no more historical validity to these foundational stories than, say, the stories of Tolkien's tales of middle earth, well, then I guess I would have no problems.

But it seems to me that despite the claims of such groups, there is too much fence straddling. Someone else has called this liturgical fundamentalism. But I just think they lack internal clarity and appear to those outside as virtually indistinguishable from traditional forms of Christianity. There is too much nostalgia and too little courage to affirm their differences from the faith of their fathers.

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