Saturday, November 26, 2005



After a long three days in Valley Forge under the oppressive force which is 'Scanticon', we piled into a friends van and made the trek to Downtown Philly. Moving from ETS to SBL/AAR is helped by the annual IBR meeting, which conveniently lies between the two, both theological and sequentially. IBR was really really long, and I am sure the paper read by Gordon Wenham was good, but could have and should have been cut by thirty minutes. I arrived at IBR about twenty minutes late, hoping to avoid a long lecture, twenty minutes proved too early, and I had to endure a long lecture nonetheless. I do like IBR because they always give a free book out after the lecture, kind of like a prize for endurance.

Then it was off to eat, sleep, and prepare for the first full day of SBL. I woke up early on day two, and walked Philly. It was cold but I enjoy watching cities wake up, and being Saturday Philly woke up a little late. I took my new camera and scouted for some good pictures. I hope some day to get up enough nerve to ask people if it is ok to snap some shots of them, until then it is just buildings and scenery.

I only remember going to one session, it was the Wright/Crossan/Ehrman/Martin symposium on the authority of Scriptures. A few comments: Wright is a smart man, but when is he going to wise up to post-modernity, and the postmodern project? His comment to Martin about authorial intention seemed a wee bit shallow for Wright. The least he could do is read A.K.M. Adam's little intro to postmodern theology. Besides that it was a good session, and all of the respondents did well. Of course I resonated with Martin the most, but little surprise there, huh. Needless to say I will look up Ehrman's book, if only to learn about his journey from Moody to Yale and beyond, sounds most interesting.

Here are some more Pics from Philly;


TheBlueRaja said...

I'd love for you to post a brief review of A.K.M. Adam's book. As for Wright's comment, I think his criticism goes beyond the smarmy remark he made. He wants to preserve the public nature of knowledge that authorizes meaningful mutual criticism. Regarding Dale's comments, I thought Wright's remarks revealed places in which he wasn't postmodern ENOUGH. The idea that theology should be divorced from historical investigation seems like a thoroughly modernistic notion to me, and seems to selectively buy into the myth of detached empirical objectivity.

metalepsis said...

I don’t own A.K.M. Adam’s book, I read it while at USF, but I will look for a cheap copy online. The lengths I go for my loving audience!

As far as your criticisms of Dale, I think you are off. He was not proposing that history and theology be separated, rather he was saying that history proper has to be done by the rules of history proper, and likewise that theology has to be done by her own rules. Here he betrays the influence of Frei, and allows for a healthy postmodern critique of history proper’s reliance upon its modernistic foundations. The problem with Wright is that he tries to make a historical case for the resurrection. This is doomed to failure because it doesn’t play by the rules of history, whether you agree with those rules or not is not the issue, they are the ‘established’ rules. There have been attempts to expose these rules, I think of Hayden White as an example, but by and large the guild has rejected these critiques.

I think Dale would have much more sympathy for a theologian like Barth who denied these historical rules, and thought theology triumphed over every other category real or false. So I think Dale rightly sees Wright’s task as a theological task, which Wright himself seems to weaken by playing the historian.

At least that is how I read the conversation.


TheBlueRaja said...

You're probably right, Bryan. But somethings strikes me as wrong about the idea that someone can (or should) investigate matters of history according to "rules" isolated from theology. I can't see why Martin wouldn't want to affirm that ALL history is gives an interpreted (i.e. theological) account of the world such that one can't separate faith and history.

I guess I could agree with Dale's criticisms if Wright was claiming to work from some neutrally objective vantage point; but he's not. He's simply saying that because knowledge is a public affair, his historical endeavors can and should be held up for public scrutiny from both those within and those outside his community/tradition. By interacting with and engaging these criticisms one grows in their understanding and appreciation for the subject under study (such as the resurrection). The arguments he puts forth for his own interpretation of the events, etc. are open to mutual critique from other vantage points. How that is "doomed to failure" escapes me.

metalepsis said...

Well that is fine if you don’t agree with the ‘rules’ of history, and perhaps in a manner like Barth you give a sure ‘NO’ to history, and I like that. But for history to ‘mean’ anything it has to be agreed upon by at least some community, and the community that gives the term history meaning, are the historians.

Your second point is that everybody interprets through a worldview or ‘standard story’, and as such is filtering in their own belief, so why can not the Christian/theologian play this game. Well fair enough, but the things we want to claim for history don’t follow the said rules, so we are still in a bind. The simple fact is, you can’t have the resurrection in history, it is not allowed by the rule makers, does this mean it did not happen then? No, it just means you can’t use history to corroborate it.

History as we know it is a product of the enlightenment, and I am not well enough read in history to know if the guild is changing. But as long as the enlightenment reigns supreme then to claim to write a history of the resurrection is doomed to fail, by histories standards. History must be reformed or we should just do theology. I don’t really know why we need history anyway; I think it is just another product of the enlightenment that can go the way of the dustbin. We all know that history is just ideological at its worst and interpretation at its best, why should we privilege it above literature, theology, or philosophy?

TheBlueRaja said...

I think this gets boiled down to our frequently-visited core disagreement - and that is, of course, the role of the object under consideration. You seem to want to hold to an anti-realism that denies genuine contact with a mind independent object, and I believe that there are mind-independent objects that we come into contact with; I hold that though objects are linguistically mediated, they can be adequately represented in an analogous way. That's something which you'd like to deny, even though I'd argue that you (in practice, anyway) don't really eschew.

The simple reason history will never be completely discarded as useless is because, for all of the importance of ideological criticism, it puts us into (limited) contact with events and people of days past by way of monuments, artifacts, inscriptions and texts. These sorts of materials set limits for historical reconstruction. There is of course ever present and varying degrees of indeterminacy and inconclusiveness about these sorts of materials; but I don't think that you'd say they are radically indeterminate or universally inconclusive.

Your own opinions on 2nd Temple Judaism, for example, argues for a more faithful reading Jewish literature than the one given by Reformation scholarship. While we'd agree that you could never hope to give a detailed sketch of daily life or a genuine simulation of "the Jewish mind" from such study, you would at least form some fuzzy parameters for what actually constituted 2nd Temple Judaism(s) and what should be deemed an anachronism.

As for your invocation of Barth, I'm certainly not a Barthian scholar (hell, I'm not ANY kind of scholar), but I'm not sure that the radical divorce between history and revelation as characterized in this discussion would find him on your side of the aisle.

While it's of course well-known that he rejected the apologetic value of historical criticism and drew upon his theologically Calvinistic resources (depravity, finiteness, total dependence, etc.) to reject the presuppositions of such critics, it's clear (to me, at least) that he viewed the Biblical writers as witnesses of revelation in space and time. His view that the Bible continues to function deciticly in relationship to God is predicated upon the biblical witnesses' historically rooted responses to revelation. In book IV section one of the dogmatics he says, "The atonement is history. To know it, we must know it as such. To think of it, we must think of it as such. To speak of it, we must tell it as history. To try to grasp it as supra-historical or non-historical truth is not to grasp it at all." By rebuking the historical critic's failure to see the Bible as a personal address by God, Barth saw their explanations not just as theologically inaccurate, but as HISTORICALLY inadequate - the "history of religions" trajectory just doesn't do justice to what it is, historically. But recognizing this isn't a function unaided reason; it's a function of revelation, God's personal address. Thus I think Barth would give priority to theology, but in so doing he wouldn't toss the notion of history "into the dustbin" as you are recommending.

TheBlueRaja said...

By the way, Bryan, even if it is argued that narrative theology doesn't always require historical factuality, it's certainly true that it's not opposed to it. Moreover, in some places in the biblical story the two may even necessarily intersect, such as the death and resurrection of Jesus. The priority of faith in understanding and the self-authenticating nature/internal logic of the Biblical narrative don't categorically eradicate "historical factuality". Even though Barth thought that the Word of God wasn't an object to be mastered but a direct address of God which lays claim on us, the fact remains that he viewed the historically grounded revelation of God as the vehicle by which this took place.

I think this reading of Barth is consistent with postliberal appropriations of him, as is the chastened realism I mentioned earlier. See Garry Dorrien's The Origins of Postliberalism" and The Future of Postliberal Theology.

metalepsis said...

I am beginning to know what it must feel like to be ‘Phil Johnson,’ apart from the thousands of readers coming to my aid and reassuring me that I am right.

I reckon the miscommunication is due to my complete inability to put what I am thinking down into understandable prose, and of course rhetorically over stating my case. My intent was for you to bow down before my rhetorics and become my disciple, but things seldom go according to plan.

I don’t think our disagreement here has anything to do with either of our understandings of the ‘object under consideration’. In practice I am still greatly indebted to what we call historiography (I even have a degree in history, for what it is worth), and practice it without regret. I think our disagreement here is on what history is, and how we practice it. I think History is essentially a problem solving endeavor. You ask a question and try to solve that question, using some sort of method.

My criticism is with what is assumed to be history. History as generally conceived follows a method that does not allow for ‘miracles’ so what does one do with the resurrection. So I think, to get back to what produced this banter, Wright is wrong on trying to adduce historical evidence for the resurrection, and I believe Martin nailed him on it. So my criticism of history was narrowly geared toward this single conversation, and I should have been more clear on this.

All history is ideology, I am convinced of this, but I don’t think that is bad, and it doesn’t stop me from reading good ‘history’, or perhaps ‘good’ history. Of course in my historical reconstructions I am all for plausibility, and hope that the material I have garnered in support of such plausibility, withstands criticism.


As for Barth, I just meant that he would condemn the ‘modernist-enlightenment’ history that I loosely 'describe' above, I don’t know how Barth uses the word history to be honest,
but trust your post-liberal appropriation of him.

I found the music files you downloaded onto my HD, chilling to the Breeders right now; but what is up with Dusty Springfield?

TheBlueRaja said...


From the way you've construed "history" it sounds like what you have a problem with is evidential "apologetics" which begin from naturalistic assumptions. So do I (and so did Barth)! But even without suspending your fundamental faith commitments you can address questions which are held both by believer (who accept the biblical narrative) and unbeliever (those who don't); questions like "What sorts of factors played into the rise of and rapid spread of Christianity? What motivated Christian hope and martyrdom? Some aspects of the question may be "outside the grammar" of an unbeliever (those which give theologically rich description), other aspects may not (those which give immediately causal and theologically thin description); that would depend upon who you're talk to. But there can be a set of overlapping concerns which both parties share, even if it's not the theologically thick description.

That's not to say that the theologically thin, immediately causal description is useless for a Christian - it can help set a plausible backdrop against which the biblical narrative played out, as can the study of 2nd Temple Judaism(s)- (I did put it that way in my previous posts, didn't I?). But it is to say that both believers and unbelievers can share overlapping interests in these things, and even use shared language to describe them within their two very different linguistic frameworks. Just thinking out loud there, so feel free to hit me.

As far as Barth's use of the word history, you can check out the quote I mentioned earlier from the Dogmatics.

Yeah, the Breeders rock. Speaking of female vocalists, I also dig some of the Raveonette's stuff; have you ever heard the track titled "Love in a Trashcan"? Very cool.

TheBlueRaja said...

Is this too much like a debate? Will you hit me if I promise to hold?