That’s easy. Plantinga has a *balanced take* on historical biblical criticism (relevant cites below), whereas Scott has become a defensive and unilateral proponent of historical biblical criticism. Plantinga is grateful for the accomplishments of historical biblical criticism, but is not enthralled by them. Scott on his part brandishes Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis as if it were a sword capable of slaying dragons – the dragons who breathe the fire of a full-bodied Jewish or Christian faith. Nothing could be further from the truth: the sword of Wellhausen, and the others Scott tries to wield, are made of papier-mâché. More on why Scott is wrong and Alvin is right below the fold.
What Scott fails to note is that the DH as formulated by Wellhausen has been shown to be tinged with anti-Semitic animus, his understanding of the history of the religion of Israel in need of radical reconstruction. The fact that the earliest attestation of biblical text we now possess, the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets (ca. 600 BCE), is mostly “P,” is merely emblematic of the degree to which Wellhausen got the evolution of the religion of Israel terribly wrong. The proposition that the Hebrew Bible is a document many of whose parts are best dated to the 8th-6th centuries BCE, meanwhile, is something that is taught by and for people of faith in a wide spectrum of Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant contexts today. Fewer and fewer believers are scandalized by it, or see it as a threat to their basic convictions. The DH, in the form it is taught today, carries no sting for the believer.
The case of Bultmann is no different. The trite understanding of cosmology and eschatology Bultmann attributed to the Old Testament, "Spätjudentum," and the Rabbis is best understood to be a function of the limitations of the existentialist and rationalist Tendenzen of Bultmann’s own mid-20th century worldview. Further, Bultmann’s unconcern for, and radical doubt about, the Jesus of history have run into very stiff headwinds in the last few decades, among his own students to begin with, and more widely now, among unbelievers no less than believers. Meanwhile, the specifically historical-critical opinions Bultmann espoused, when and by whom this or that NT writing was composed, are of little more than antiquarian interest. For these and other reasons, Scott’s choice to compare R. C. Sproul and Rudolf Bultmann is whimsical. Put another way: Sproul and Bultmann deserve each other. Neither has proven himself capable of thinking through the issues outside of the distorting prism of a one-sided and uncritical Enlightenment mindset. The proper antidote to Bultmann is not Sproul, but one of Bultmann’s own students, Ernst Käsemann. The whole idea of a God who intervenes in history - the natural/supernatural binary - is not biblical to begin with. God is in the ductwork of history according to Scripture; he doesn't have to enter the natural from the outside. More recent known antivenoms to Bultmann: N. T. Wright, Joseph Ratzinger, even Marcus Borg for goodness’ sake. A first-class evangelical antivenom: Michael Bird. Sproul on the other hand is a ridiculously easy target.
I could be wrong, but I wonder: perhaps Scott has become a post-Christian. A fashionable club these days. If so, I wish him well with it. Regardless, I think a balanced take on historical biblical criticism, like that of Plantinga, is more salutary than the one the Scotteriologist espouses.
Here is Plantinga:
For at least the last couple of hundred years, there has also been a quite different kind of Scripture scholarship: historical biblical criticism (HBC). There is much to be grateful for with respect to HBC; it has enabled us to learn a great deal about the Bible we otherwise might not have known… However, HBC is fundamentally an Enlightenment project… [It] eschews the authority and guidance of tradition, magisterium, creed, or any kind of ecclesial or ‘external’ epistemic authority. The idea is to see what can be established using only the light of what we would call ‘natural, empirical reason’… [It] is often thought of as part and parcel of the development of modern empirical science, and indeed practitioners of HBC like to drape about their shoulders the mantle of modern science. The attraction is not just that HBC can perhaps share in the prestige of modern science, but also that it can share in the obvious epistemic power and excellence of the latter. [Pages 386 and following of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief; I lift the citation directly from Bob Thune’s insightful post on the topic; if anyone wants the cites without omissions, I will provide them; Plantinga’s book is on my Kindle].
Plantinga is right. For example, Wellhausen’s Prolegemona to the History of Israel and Bultmann’s New Testament and Mythology are *not* examples of modern, empirical science even if they appeal, however (in)appropriately, to data construed by W and B to be empirical.
Scott misleads his readers by not contextualizing the quote of Plantinga he provides – see below- in light of the above and in terms of P’s larger argument. Further, he fails to note that Plantinga is doing little more than echo the sentiments of scholars as various as David Steinmetz, Brevard Childs, and Michael Fishbane (background here, here, and here), all of whom have argued for a re-appropriation of the insights of traditional exegesis *without* jettisoning the insights of historical biblical criticism.
Here is the [unsourced] quote Scott provides:
There is no compelling or even reasonably decent argument for supposing the procedures and assumptions of historical biblical criticism are to be preferred to those of traditional biblical commentary. [Page 412 of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.]
Little will Scott’s readers suspect that his unsourced quote is part of a larger argument which Plantinga introduces further with the following words:
A little epistemological reflection enables us to see something further: the traditional Christian (whether in the pew or not) has good reason to reject the skeptical claims of HBC [emphasis mine, JFH] and continue to hold traditional Christian belief despite the allegedly corrosive acids of HBC. [Page 412 of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.]
Plantinga goes on to demonstrate that the skeptical claims made by a subset of historical biblical critics do not stand up to patient scrutiny.
It is *not* historical biblical criticism per se that is at issue. Rather, it is the skeptical claims unjustifiably read off from HBC that are at issue. The situation is symmetrical to evolutionary biology, which *was not* (from Charles Kingsley to early fundamentalists like B. B. Warfield) and *is not* a problem for Bible-believing, creed-affirming Christians. At issue, rather, are the unwarranted claims a PZ Myers or a Richard Dawkins make on the basis of evolutionary biology (go here for background).
Note to Scott: I expect better from you. I don’t care what you believe or disbelieve. You have overlooked the degree to which the issues taken up by Wellhausen and Bultmann remain unresolved; you treat them as oracles rather than as trailblazers as limited in their perspectives as the next person; and you caricature the positions of Plantinga.
Background to This Post
Scott Bailey: The Great Utility of the Documentary Hypothesis; R. C. Sproul vs. Rudolf Bultmann; contra Alvin Plantinga; My Response to John Hobbins
Alvin Plantinga: Two Kinds of Scripture Scholarship
Michael Bird on Bultmann: Rudolf Bultmann evaluated; Bultmann the Marcionite
A recent essay by Reinhard Kratz puts the best possible face on Wellhausen’s [as Kratz puts it] “extremely ambivalent attitude to ancient Judaism”: “Eyes and spectacles: Wellhausen's Method of Higher Criticism,” JTS 60 (2009) 381-402. The essay suffers however from a lack of interaction with the response to Wellhausen’s positions from Solomon Schecter to Moshe Weinfeld and beyond on the side of those who see themselves as the spiritual and intellectual heirs of Torah-centric ancient Judaism. Another missed Auseinandersetzung: interaction with Daniel Weidner's “'Geschichte gegen den Strich bürsten': Julius Wellhausen und die jüdische 'Gegengeschichte,'” Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 54 (2002) 32-61