Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Old Testament Scholarship and Christianity Today Magazine: Getting Started

In three recent posts, I traced out the early history of evangelical Christianity in the United States:

The first post describes The Beginning and Rise of the American Fundamentalist Movement. Fundamentalism was partly a reaction. It was opposed to the advance of theological liberalism in the U.S. during the decades following the Civil War. (To get a taste of popular liberalism at the beginning of the 20th century, see this short article on how the book of Genesis should be taught in Sunday school. Note especially the last sentence). Another way of looking at Fundamentalism sees it as an effort to maintain the tenets and culture of early nineteenth-century conservative Protestantism.

The second post tells the story of Fundamentalist Defeat and Reaction. The 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee was a terrible blow to the public image of Fundamentalism. In the years following the trial, conservatives in America reacted in three distinct ways. The most progressive response (and, in time, the most successful) was what came to be known as evangelical Christianity.

The third post spotlights The Beginnings of American Evangelicalism, represented by what turned out to be two very effective institutions: Fuller Theological Seminary and Christianity Today magazine.

So that's where we've been. Going forward, I want to use Christianity Today (sometimes abbreviated CT) as a scope through which we can view evangelical response to scholarship in general and especially to the field of Old Testament studies. The goal is to arrive at a better understanding of what is distinctive about American Evangelicalism, especially its attitudes toward the Bible and modern scholarship.

At the outset, it is important to note that from the earliest times of their discernible identity, American evangelicals have held to the traditional understandings of Scripture which they had inherited from their fundamentalist forebears. This is not to say that the evangelical view was pre-critical. In other words, fundamentalist biblical scholarship never attempted to retreat to the time before the Enlightenment. Even a fundamentalist text like Gleason L. Archer’s, Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), is a completely modern piece of work. So it is not the case that these “anti-modernists” called fundamentalists were not themselves modern. Rather, within the huge circle of modernity, both fundamentalists and their liberal or modernist counterparts had different sets of values. And those differents sets of values sent them down different pathways.

To someone who knows a bit about modern Old Testament scholarship, it comes as no surprise that the O.T. question taken up most often in the pages of CT centers on the unity, authorship, and date of the Torah, or Pentateuch. The second most-common question is the unity and date of the book of Isaiah. Running a distant third is the question of the date and interpretation of the book of Daniel. So, in the observations that follow, most of the material reviewed will deal with the Pentateuch. Questions regarding Isaiah will also get some attention.

My guess is that most of the people who frequent this blog cut their higher-critical teeth studying the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and the unity of the book of Isaiah. These were considered to be big issues, questions that were raised by modern Old Testament scholarship, and that had to be answered. Such were the beliefs of early neo-evangelicals.

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