Friday, November 23, 2007

J.P. Moreland: Evangelicals' Over-Commitment to the Bible

J.P. Moreland:
Recovering the Christian Mind

In my post of two days ago, on "J.P. Moreland: 'Fighting "Bibliolatry" at the Evangelical Theological Society'", I reported on Ted Olsen's summary of Moreland's paper criticizing Evangelicals for limiting themselves to the Bible for knowledge of spiritual things.

About Olsen's report, I concluded that it was:
Interesting, at least for me. Too bad that Moreland's paper isn't (yet?) online.
An anonymous reader from La Miranda, California, left the following message:
J.P. Moreland's paper is actually now online along with some of his comments at [Kingdom Triangle Discussion Forum].

I'm curious to hear more people's reactions to it and discuss.
That led me to the nine-page paper itself, "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It" (pdf), which individuals interested can now read on their own but about which I'll say a few (inadequate) things.

Moreland begins by emphasizing his own belief in biblical inerrancy, which he does not define in this article but which he has defined elsewhere ("The Rationality of Belief in Inerrancy," Trinity Journal NS 7, Spring 1986, 75-86), then proceeds to his critique of a type of 'bibliolatry' that he calls "Evangelical Over-commitment to the Bible":
The sense that I have in mind is the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice. (page 1)
Moreland's basic point is that the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura does not entail a rejection of extrabiblical sources of knowledge. By "sola" is not meant "only" in the sense that no other source is allowed but in the sense of "ultimate" in the sense that other sources cannot contradict scriptural authority though they can add to the Christian's knowledge of spiritual things about which the Bible does not speak comprehensively.

Moreland speculates that the Protestant reluctance to draw upon the "general revelation" available to "right reason" might stem either from "an aversion to anything that smacks of Catholicism ... [or from] a commitment to a certain view of human depravity" (page 2).

In short -- if I may interpret here -- Moreland is allowing that Evangelicals might be too averse to Catholic views on the prominent role for reason in understanding spiritual things or too radical in their hypercalvinist emphasis upon human depravity's impairment of reason (or, obviously, both). This has also been my impression in my time spent among Evangelicals, but Moreland goes on to argue that the Bible itself appeals to natural moral law and that the Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) tradition has also always appealed to natural moral law despite its commitment to a strong view of human depravity.

Moreland therefore turns to historical and sociological explanations for Evangelical 'bibliolatry' that have to do with the fragmentation of knowledge consonant with the emphasis upon research in universities rather than teaching, the shift at universities from teaching wisdom to training students in critical thinking, the rise of scientism as an unreflective philosophical commitment, and the general increase in secularism as a means of dealing in the world, among other things.

In response to these developments, Moreland thinks, Evangelicals have retreated from reason into a sort of fideism (unreasoning and even irrational belief) -- if I may again interpret and briefly state his point.

In concluding, Moreland calls for more Evangelicals to give more attention to "extra-biblical knowledge" and to develop "biblical, theological, and philosophical justifications for such knowledge along with guidance for its use" (page 8).

I realize that I haven't done Moreland's paper justice, but as I told the anonymous commentor, "the essay-grading that I'm currently doing" might get in the way of any in-depth blogging for several days.

Therefore, go and read for thyself.

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At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Moreland, but I don't think it is anti-Catholicism that makes Evangelicals distrust the highly rational view of man. That view is a traditionally Western one of course. I think it is a romantic anti-rationalism that Evangelicals are buying into along with much of the rest of the culture.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

By "rest of the culture," I infer that you mean American culture.

Romanticism may account for some of the anti-rationalism - Evangelicalism has long been a religion of the heart - but suspicion of modernity and science might also be lurking.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not knowledeable enough to know if the rest of the world is really different in that regard, so I guess I should have said "American culture." But I didn't want to say that because I suspected the American culture might not be so different. It would be interesting to know what others would say about this.

I could be wrong, but my observations lead me to think that suspicion of modernity among Evangelicals tends to be highly romantic in nature so I was assuming they were two sides of the same coin. And it also seems to me, though I'd love to hear critical comment on this too, that suspicion of science isn't incompatible with the rise of what might be called the soft sciences within Evangelicalism. The Christian evangelical psychologists and sociologists I know seem to have highly romantic understandings of things. This is purely anecdotal, and perhaps I'm using the term too broadly too. But it seems to me that generally it isn't hard to find critics of the Enlightenment, yet acceptance of romantic arguments seem a given. And pointing this out only gets you a blank look as if no one had ever pointed this out before, as I suppose no one ever has. Like a fish in water.

At 7:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think Romanticism lies behind a lot of Evangelicalism. I agree that suspicion of modernity and science are bound up with the Romantic revolt. Still, anti-modernity and anti-science have taken on a life of their own.

The odd thing about bibliolatry is that many contemporary Evangelicals don't really know the Bible very well. Their religion is actually experiential, not biblical. But they appeal to scripture as though it were their authority.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I myself take it that scientism is a very bad thing, but my anecdotal experience (I am an Evangelical) is that they aren't worried about that at all. It seems to me they define themselves as not fundamentalists, who might be guilty of the charge of suspicious of science. I think Evangelicals almost completely do accept the claims of science, so much so that they'll strenuously argue its claims.

The common link it seems to me is science to them is an honorific, much as it is to the scientific community. If you don't believe in biological causes for complex moral behavior you're thought to be a rube. Many I know see Thomism as absorbing any modern scientific view whatever. Others are so committed to popular scientific ideas that they're driven to ascriptivism and fideism, which I find ghastly and anti-rational. I can't think of few things that aren't commonly thrown overboard to chase compatibility with the claims of science.

I can't say for sure that my anecdotal experience is typical, but it seems to me that suspicion of science is a time gone by. It seems to me that compatibility with science is an extremely strong desire among Evangelicals, and it is quite naive. Or maybe I'm one of those you'd call suspicious of science? I'm a philosopher, so my opposition is principled or so I think.

At 3:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm getting old and probably see old battles as recent.

I'm certainly no fan of scientism, but I do take science seriously in its sphere of competence.

I was starting to think you might be a philosopher. I like philosophy, but more for sustenance already prepared. I'm not much of a cook.

I have a friend who's a first-rate philosopher.

You might take a look at his site.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>> I'm certainly no fan of scientism, but I do take science seriously in its sphere of competence.

Oh absolutely. But my problem is that I think people tend to equate "science" with whatever the scientific community is exploring at the moment, and don't appreciate the transient nature of it. Take the supposed genetic causes of alcoholism. The AMA declared it to be so in the 70's. Does that make it so? I say no, especially since I don't believe there is any actual evidence for it, and a great deal of evidence against it. I think there are theological problems with it as well. The answer is always that they're getting real close to proving it but need more money for research. Without generous federal grants many supposed scientific understandings would have been no more interesting than guesses. But most people don't want to swim against the stream and will accept something just because most people do. They wouldn't accept immoral behavior based on its acceptance, but they will abstract ideas. So at the end of the day many have an immoderate position because it seems socially moderate, and may be.

Some wiseacre once said that the problem with philosophers is you can never know when they're gainfully employed. :) I'll check out the maverick.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The Maverick is worth checking out. (You might also check out my novella . . . which is sort of about 'alcoholism.')

Thanks for the comments!

Jeffery Hodges

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