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Not sure to be offended or not, John.

As a recovering fundamentalist, I consider a broad range of evidence in measuring my understanding of Scripture against that of others. Am I right? Can I place myself in a historical line?

I try to consider Traditional, Context, etc... and I cannot measure up, then I abandon it. Perhaps I do start with a position - a doctrine which I inherited - and then see what support there is.

Circular or not, I like it.


Hi Joel,

Just trying to draw you out a bit. There is no way to avoid the circularity of interpretation. But if your goal is to start with an inherited position and see what support there is, I submit that you predetermine the result.

For comparison's sake, my goal is the historical-critical one: that of defending the biblical text from anachronistic misinterpretations thereof.

It sounded to me as if you are happy to put the Quran through that acid bath, but wish to protect your Bible from it. Is that intellectually honest?

Still, my discovery, so far may not differ much from yours. My discovery: traditional interpretations of the Bible are less anachronistic and less violent in their reading of the text than modern ideological readings, of the fundamentalist or anti-fundamentalist variety.

So I end up disagreeing with fellow historical critics on account of their ridiculous criterion of dissimilarity, which also predetermines results, but also, with ex-fundamentalists who have an axe to grind.

I detect a strong strain of anti-intellectualism in your method which seems to be at odds with "evangelical" anti-intellectualism of the kind Paul and Luther are famous for, with their theologia crucis. But perhaps I'm misreading you.

Jason Staples

I couldn't agree with your post more, John. If there's one thing I've tried to make the foundation of my own work, it's been the attempt to throw every outside filter out the window and hear the various voices represented in the texts of scripture. Sometimes I wind up agreeing with an established reading but often do not. Often I find that I had presuppositions that I didn't even know about, as the text undermines these assumptions and forces me to read differently. It's a far more rewarding way to read the text, but it is demanding.


Then I am offended John.

You wholly, and I would hope not purposely, misunderstand me. I readily admit, I have preconceived notions of doctrine and biblical approaches - but I search them out to see if they are correct. For instance, fundamentalism. History of Christian doctrine stands against this. So, finding no support for a continued use of this belied, I abandon it. I have done so with the KJVO myth, and a particular view on the Godhead. Further, on matters of inspiration and inerrancy as well.

While it seems you assume I seek evidence to support my belief - you are wrong. I seen evidence to measure it. I seek to disprove it.

So in the end, I and attempting to rid myself of any "anachronistic misinterpretations thereof." Like Jason, I attempt to remove filters - and I have plenty of them - so that I can get to the 'meat' of the text itself.

Perhaps you could point out that 'anti-intellectualism' which is humorous as my previous fellowship circle began to exclude me exactly for my attempts to be more 'intellectual' and to safe guard against 'violent' interpretations of Scriptures, such as the KJVO, etc...

While my distaste for the Qu'ran would allow me to easily see it examined in such a way as the Scriptures have been, frankly, I could careless - as my goal is only the security of the Scriptures.

John, I believe that you are misreading me, and unjustly so.


Hi Joel,

I aim to please! Joking aside, I'm probably not at all the kind of person you are writing for. So I may very well mistake your words.

Your story is new to me, and it is a compelling one.

I was going on the things I read and that I quoted or referenced. I think you expressed yourself in a way that made it seem that you seek evidence to support preconceived beliefs. I now understand you better.

However, I'm not sure that you have backpedaled from your statement of opposition to the historical method. Properly applied to the Qur'an, it will help us understand it better, not debunk it. If Islam has any substance at all, the Quran will pass through the refining fire of historical criticism with flying colors, as, I think, the Bible has.

John, I do not intend to back peddle from my stance against the historical critical method. While I believe that context is important in understanding the bible, I cannot support a method of criticism which seeks to rid the Bible of inspiration, miracles, etc...

I am glad you understand me better - that is my intention, and along the way, understand myself better.


Very fine, Joel.

It is course possible to fearlessly take up all the questions that historical criticism does, without presupposing that miracles (however defined) do not happen, that the text is not verbally inspired, and so on. Indeed, I think that such a task is of the essence of what is means to be an evangelical intellectual in our age.

So, then, I must meet your standards of 'evangelical intellectual' or else be considered an anti-intellectual?


Not at all, Joel. However, rightly or wrongly, I fear that the subtext of your slam of historical criticism is an avoidance of the questions historical criticism asks. That would be an anti-intellectual move.

My problem is this: the only people I know in the field of biblical studies who nix historical criticism in no uncertain terms as you do sidestep the questions historical criticism addresses.

Perhaps you have role models in the world of scholarship I am overlooking. Feel free to point them out. Do they also declare blanket opposition to historical criticism?

If instead you wish to think of yourself as a maverick, that's fine, too. Just trying to understand.

John, I am wholly unsure as to your intentions.

I have no real interest in debunking historical criticism, finding inspiration instead on a recent printing of TF Torrance's lectures. While some are given to this field - fine, it depends up the calling - I have little to no use in seeking to use my time on such an endeavor. I know the issues, I feel, and rather try to understand them, reviewing the evidence from time to time. Yet, for me, it serves little to no purpose to actually spend my time answering objections raised by historical criticism.

You do, and that's fine, John, but for me, I'll stick with studying the things which I need at the moment - remembering, 30 years under reinforcement of fundamentalism is not something to shake off over night - to solidify myself.

Nope - no maverick intended.


Thanks, Joel, for suggesting that the work of historical criticism, the specific questions it raises, its contribution to understanding what biblical passages mean, though it is not an endeavor you wish to pursue first-hand, is not for that reason to be rejected.

Now I don't feel quite so rejected as before. My intentions were to get you to think twice about nixing historical criticism.

It's important to distinguish between (1) questions that are addressed; (2) the approach taken to address the questions; (3) the provisional answers to the questions addressed.

(1) The questions that historical criticism addresses are genuine, and a person of faith seeking understanding will by definition be interested in pursuing them, or paying attention to those who do.

(2) The methodology used may nonetheless be flawed - I've already given the example of the criterion of dissimilarity. In that case, it is worth refining the methodology.

(3) Reasonable people are bound to differ about what answers to specific questions best fit the data.

TF Torrance is a great read. Enjoy.


Then, John, I assume you better understand me. Do you still consider me among the 'anti-intellectual?'


I'll be honest and say I have difficulties with any approach to the faith that is anti-creedal.

Perhaps I am mistaken, even if you are reading Torrance, but I see you as taking an anti-creedal stance, as if a rule of faith with strong theological content was something safely left to the Orthodox, the Catholics, and old-fashioned Protestants.

Yes, I'm aware that the Stone-Campbell movement includes people of great intellect, but it still seems to promote a sort of disrespect for the history of theology and the importance of dogma (an old-fashioned word, to be sure). It's as if you want to do away with the subtleties of big words. I would point out that the Bible contains a lot of highly specialized vocabulary which cannot be understood without a great deal of study. Nor is there any indication whatsoever that we are to limit ourselves to that specific set of vocabulary in theological discussion.

Of course the gospel itself is so simple that a child can understand it.

In short, I'm not arguing about the importance of intellectual knowledge for salvation. It has no importance. Yet faith still seeks understanding, as an added blessing so to speak. It's there that I make very different choices than you do, though once again, if you keep reading Torrance, you may yet change your mind.


John, I am not part of the S-C movement (which again, is an misunderstanding of my position which leads you in a different direction than I actually am), although I have found a few good things about it. In my doctrinal statement, I note that I am anti-creedal, but give my doctrine in a clearly creedal form. I will change that shortly.

Anyone given to an honest reading of the Bible, can see clear creeds in the text itself - whether through primitive hymns or simple statements - Jesus is Lord. Of course, fundamentalists deny this, associating all creeds with Rome (somehow denying the East, the Copts, the Reformers, and those that predate the Reformers, such as the Waldensians.)

As I move from from fundamentalism, I come to understand the depth of the Gospel and the words of the New Testament - I am not saying that I understand all the deep words, just that indeed, they are their.

As my motto suggests, I am in the process of seeking understanding for my faith, something I do not think you understand. Would you rather have me in your box, or instead, would you allow me explain myself without you assuming things about me, such as the Stone-Campbellite thing. We might not always agree in the end, but it seems you have preconceived notions about it.

With that said, I much rather be called a member of S-C than my usual association with the Mormons or Oneness-Pentecostals.


Hi Joel,

I wonder where I got the notion that the Stone-Campbell movement was a point of reference for you. I thought there was something to that effect on your blog.

I consider the conversation we've had worth it if it has contributed to a disassociation on your part from anti-creedalism.

For the rest, I consider you a fellow journeyman in the faith, and for that very reason, will not be averse to disagreeing with you at times, in the future hopefully with less misunderstanding mixed in.

No one understands all the deep words in scripture. It is likely that the exact significance of some of the technical vocabulary in the Bible is lost forever.

What I reject is the tendency to dumb down the contents of the Bible, to make it read more smoothly and more harmoniously than it does in the originals, to transform it into a homogenized food you can demolish like a Mac and fries without even thinking about it. This is my beef with NLT, (T)NIV, and the forthcoming Common English Bible.


John! You dare attack the only word of God, the NLTse 2007?

I like the NLT for reading and discussion, depending upon the audience, but I do try to remain as literal as possible - finding the NASB more suitable to this - if I am attempting to establish something, or deconstruct it.

As far as the anti-creedal thing, I was being sarcastic on my doctrinal page - and indeed, I was once anti-creedal for a long time - but I am changed it to reflect my true intentions.

I am glad you understand me better, John.

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