Scholarship as Meritocracy

Larry Hurtado reflects on ill-supported views that sometimes get bandied about, not least on the Internet. In contrast, Hurtado comments:

In the world of scholarship, your opinion gets as much respect and attention as it deserves, based on your having demonstrated your knowledge of the data and ability to analyze and construct cogent inferences and interpretations–“demonstrated” in the judgment of other scholars competent to judge.  Scholarship isn’t a townhall meeting.  It’s a meritocracy in which opinions suffer informed critique, and those views that get accepted are the ones that are seen to be worthwhile by those competent to judge, who have themselves had to develop and demonstrate the “goods.”

Whether scholarship “is” or “should be” a meritocracy could perhaps be discussed, as well as what meritocracy might practically entail. But, even if and when scholarship falls short of meritocratic interaction, it would still seem beneficial to act as though it is a meritocracy and to remember that no one scholar has the ability to define where scholarship finds merit.

That is, if one’s views do not find a careful hearing, there remains work to be done to demonstrate why that hearing should be given. To play up the instances in which scholarship falls short of even-handed interaction with various positions would appear to allow space for an academic “victim mentality” to set in (Woe is me! Why are my arguments not heard?). George Ladd is perhaps a good example of what can happen as a result of one or the other view taking hold (though with excesses even on the better side; see John D’Elia, A Place at the Table).

In another light, to call scholarship, or the academy, a “meritocracy” highlights its status (although under another name) as a marketplace for ideas. Even in capitalist markets, some goods may be over- or under-valued, but the responsibility for showing the value of those goods still lies with the merchants, even when the market environment might be less than fully favorable toward them.

For the balance of Hurtado’s reflections, see his original blog post.

Theology’s Hermeneutic Interest

Photograph of H. G. GadamerH.-G. Gadamer concludes his essay on “The Universality of the Hermeneutical Problem” by commenting on the importance of language, with an interestingly theological turn. Gadamer suggests,

The … building up of our own world in language persists whenever we want to say something to each other. The result is the actual relationship of men to each other…. Genuine speaking, which has something to say and hence does not give prearranged signals, but rather seeks words through which one reaches the other person, is the universal human task – but it is a special task for the theologian, to whom is commissioned the saying-further (Weitersagen) of a message that stands written. (Philosophical Hermeneutics, 17)

To be sure, Christian Scripture and the broader Christian tradition can and do speak for themselves. But, it is doubtless specially incumbent upon those with vocations in theology, biblical studies, preaching, and other Christian education areas to see to the passing on of this testimony and to its interpretation in various contemporary milieux.

For other reflections by and on Gadamer, see also previous posts on his thought.

The Hermeneutic Productivity of the Familiar

Photograph of H. G. GadamerIn his essay on “The Universality of the Hermeneutical Problem,” H.-G. Gadamer draws upon Aristotle’s analogy between an army halting its retreat and the experience of coming to understanding. The halt may be so gradual that an observer can say when individuals within the army stop fleeing, but it’s more difficulty to say when the army as a whole has stopped its flight (Philosophical Hermeneutics, 14).

This situation Gadamer likens to the acquisition of language by children and comments,

In the utilization of the linguistic interpretation of the world that finally comes about [for adults], something of the productivity of our beginnings remains alive. We are all acquainted with this, for instance, in the attempt to translate … that is, we are familiar with the strange, uncomfortable, and tortuous feeling we have so long as we do not have the right word. When we have found the right expression … when we are certain that we have it … then something has come to a “stand” [as the army in Aristotle’s analogy]. Once again we have a halt in the midst of the rush of the foreign language…. What I am describing is the mode of the whole human experience of the world…. There is always a world already interpreted, already organized in its basic relations, into which experience steps as something new, upsetting what has led our expectations and undergoing reorganization itself in the upheaval. Misunderstanding and strangeness are not the first factors, so that avoiding misunderstanding can be regarded as the specific task of hermeneutics. Just the reverse is the case. Only the support of familiar and common understanding makes possible the venture into the alien, the lifting up of something out of the alien, and thus the broadening and enriching of our own experience in the world. (Philosophical Hermeneutics, 15)

From the morass of the unfamiliar and strange, humans seem to acquire language or other forms of understanding—to the extent that we do—by means of what are or come to be known quantities, whether as a parent or caregiver, or based on other accumulated prior experience. Our efforts to cope with a “surging sea of stimuli” halt their flight, they come to a stand, once that sea finds its own place—and itself comes to stand—within our understanding of the world, which has quite possibly been broadened for the experience (Philosophical Hermeneutics, 14).

For other reflections by and on Gadamer, see also previous posts on his thought.

Price and House, “Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology”

Price and House, "Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology" coverDue out this November is Randall Price and Wayne House’s Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology. According to the book’s blurb,

The Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology includes an introduction to the field of archaeology for readers who might not be familiar with the methods, practices, and importance of this area of study. Included in this section is an annotated bibliography of important biblical archaeological reports, books, and journal articles for further study. The rest of the handbook is devoted to a book-by-book (Genesis through Revelation) presentation of the most significant archaeological discoveries that enhance our understanding of the biblical text, including a section on the intertestamental period.

For more information or to pre-order, see Zondervan’s website, Amazon, or other booksellers.

Questions as the Core of Scholarship

Photograph of H. G. GadamerIn his essay on “The Universality of the Hermeneutical Problem,” H.-G. Gadamer reflects,

It is imagination … that is the decisive function of the scholar. Imagination naturally has a hermeneutical function and serves the sense for what is questionable. It serves the ability to expose real, productive questions, something in which, generally speaking, only he who masters all the methods of his science achieves.

As a student of Plato, I particularly love scenes in which Socrates gets into a dispute with the Sophist virtuosi and drives them to despair by his questions. Eventually they can endure his questions no longer and claim for themselves the apparently preferable role of the questioner. And what happens? They can think of nothing at all to ask. Nothing at all occurs to them that is worth while going into and trying to answer.

I draw the following inference from this observation. The real power of hermeneutical consciousness is our ability to see what is questionable. (Philosophical Hermeneutics, 12–13).

Without the ability to “see what is questionable,” there is also little chance of breaking “the spell of our own fore-meanings” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 281), or the assumptions about the reality we encounter that, at first brush, seem as naturally indubitable as anything could be.

For other reflections by and on Gadamer, see also previous posts on his thought.

Garland, “Mark”

The free book of the month from Logos Bible Software is David Garland’s commentary on Mark in the NIV Application Commentary series. The NIVAC series takes as its point of departure the observation that

most Bible commentaries take us on a one-way trip from the twentieth century to the first century. But they leave us there, assuming that we can somehow make the return journey on our own. In other words, they focus on the original meaning of the passage but don’t discuss its contemporary application. The information they offer is valuable — but the job is only half done! The NIV Application Commentary Series helps us with both halves of the interpretive task. This new and unique series shows readers how to bring an ancient message into a modern context. It explains not only what the Bible means but also how it can speak powerfully today.

Companion discounts include additional NIVAC volumes by John Walton (Job) and Scot McKnight (1 Peter). For additional information or to order, see the Logos website.

Levy, “Medieval Biblical Interpretation”

Levy, "Medieval Biblical Interpretation" coverDue out from Baker Academic in February 2018 is Ian Levy’s Introducing Medieval Biblical Interpretation: The Senses of Scripture in Premodern Exegesis. According to the book’s blub,

Does medieval hermeneutics have continuing relevance in an age dominated by the historical-critical method? Ian Christopher Levy asserts that it does. Levy shows that we must affirm both the irreversible advances made by the historical-critical method and the church’s lasting commitment to the deeper spiritual senses beyond the immediate historical circumstances of the text.

In Introducing Medieval Biblical Interpretation, Levy explains that medieval exegetes, like modern practitioners of the historical-critical method, were attuned to the nuances of ancient languages, textual variations, and cultural contexts in which the biblical books were produced. Yet these early interpreters did not stop after establishing the literal, historical sense of the text. Presupposing as they did the divine authorship of Holy Scripture, medieval exegetes maintained that the God of history imbued events, places, and people with spiritual significance so that they could point beyond themselves to deeper salvific realities. There is much meaning to be discovered through the techniques of medieval hermeneutics.

For more information or to pre-order, see Baker Academic, Amazon, or other book sellers.

Moberly, “The Bible in a Disenchanted Age”

Moberly, "The Bible in a Disenchanted Age" coverDue out from Baker Academic in January 2018 is R. W. L. Moberly’s The Bible in a Disenchanted Age: The Enduring Possibility of Christian Faith. According to the book’s blub,

In our increasingly disenchanted age, can we still regard the Bible as God’s Word? Why should we consider the Bible trustworthy and dare to believe what it says? In this creative, accessible, and provocative book, leading Old Testament theologian R. W. L. Moberly sets forth his case for regarding the Bible as unlike any other book (and the Bible’s Deity as unlike any other deity) by exploring the differences between the Bible and other ancient writings. He explains how and why it makes sense to turn to the Bible with the expectation of finding ultimate truth in it, offering a robust apology for faith in the God of the Bible that’s fully engaged with critical scholarship and compatible with modern knowledge.

For additional information or to pre-order, see Baker Academic, Amazon, or other book sellers.

Veeneman, “Theological Method”

Veeneman, "Introducing Theological Method" coverForthcoming this November from Baker Academic is Mary Veeneman’s Introducing theological Method: A Survey of Contemporary Theologians and Approaches. According to the book’s blub,

Sound theological method is a necessary prerequisite for good theological work. This accessible introduction surveys contemporary theological methodology by presenting leading thinkers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as models. Figures covered include Karl Barth, Frank Clooney, James Cone, Avery Dulles, Millard Erickson, Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Hans Frei, Stanley Grenz, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Stanley Hauerwas, Elizabeth Johnson, Paul Knitter, George Lindbeck, Bernard Lonergan, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Clark Pinnock, Karl Rahner, John Thatanamil, Paul Tillich, Hans urs Von Balthasar, Kevin Vanhoozer, Delores Williams, and John Howard Yoder. Introducing Theological Method presents the strengths and weaknesses in each of the major options. Rather than favoring one specific position, it helps students of theology think critically so they can understand and develop their own theological method.

For more information or to pre-order, see the Baker Academic, Amazon, or other book sellers.