Tuesday, November 24, 2009

American Evangelicalism and Old Testament Scholarship

[T]he evangelical position is pledged to a scientific scholarship operating within the circle of Christian faith. No obscurantist methodology is available to the evangelical to enable him to interpret Scripture. . . . Evangelicals may be flayed for not facing up to modern criticism [i.e., modern analysis of the Bible] or for not making a significant contribution to it. They may be accused of harboring too large a population of obscurantists. But the thesis here propounded is undamaged: The pattern of the Reformers states that when divine certainties end, the only safe guide is the finest of scientific scholarship exercised in humility before God.

Bernard Ramm, "Are We Obscurantists?" Christianity Today 1 (February 18, 1957), p. 15.

No, it's not exactly an epigram. But the foregoing is my lead in, let's call it, for a paper that I'm planning to publish in segments here at Frankly Speaking. My working title at this point is (drum roll, please), . . . "American Evangelicalism and Old Testament Scholarship, 1956-2006."

The project goes back to a good bit of research I did just a few years ago. I've had some more time to think about it since then, and I'm ready now to pick up where I left off.

I may wind up submitting this work to a refereed journal. (Always think of men wearing striped shirts when I say that). Or I may hold on to it and save it for a future dissertation or book or all of the above. So I'll be glad to hear anything constructive you might have to say about its content, style, significance, whatever. One reason I've chosen to blog this material first is so that I can receive helpful feedback before going to press rather than after.

My plan is to follow three steps: First, I want to describe the influences, events, and personalities that led to the establishment of Christianity Today magazine.

Second, I'll overview the contents of the magazine from its inception until 2006, especially as it takes up and deals with contemporary Old Testament scholarship.

Third, I will offer a couple of provisional conclusions regarding the identity of, and apparent changes within, American evangelical scholarship (and evangelicalism in general) during that period of time.

One of my main conclusions will be that, during the last half century, what I've decided to call the "intellectual middle class" of American evangelicalism, which was once quite strong, has all but vanished. Ironically, this has happened during the same era when the academic achievements of the best American evangelical scholars have grown more and more impressive.

It might even be possible to identify lines between what I'm describing and the apparent loss of vitality within evangelical circles coming into the twenty-first century. At any rate, I want the study to do more than simply offer description. I want it to also provide some analysis, and to show how the recent past has shaped the current scene. It might even provide at least part of the map that would indicate where the American evangelical movement should go from where it is now.

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