Proper Context For Religious Study

Discussion in 'Baptist Colleges / Seminaries' started by Martin, Apr 19, 2006.

  1. Martin

    Martin
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    This is sort of a "poll without a poll" post.

    I am currently reading a book called, "The Real Jesus", by Luke Timothy Johnson. In this book Johnson argues that the Jesus Seminar's members (John Crossan, Borg, Funk, etc) and other high profile people (Spong, etc) have had a negative impact on the study of the historical Jesus. In fact the sub-title to Mr Johnson's book is, "The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels". While Johnson has no problem (per say) with the study of the Biblical/Historical Jesus he does have a problem with modern "quest" methods.

    He blames this, in part, on "secular" (non-seminary) religion programs/departments. He says that these programs have created an environment where "scholars would now be answerable only to the criteria of scholarship rather than to church tradition. The study of religion could be carried out in the value-free and neutral enviornment of the other human sciences, having as its conversation partners not only (or even especially) theology, but disciplines such as philosophy, history, classsics, linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology" (pg71-72). Johnson goes on to claim that, "Biblical scholarship in America increasingly found its home to be secular universities and schools of theology related to such universities" (pg72). He claims that graduates of such programs "were...trained in contexts that had little allegiance to theology in any sense, certainly not to Christian tradition or the institutional church" (pg72).

    The results?

    Johnson states that, "more scholarship is written than can seriously be read or responsibly reviewed. Disturbing amounts of inferior work are produced" (pg73).

    So my question is this:

    Do you believe that secular religion programs are harmful or helpful?

    Personally I only had bad experiences in secular "religion" courses. While I was in college (at a secular university) I took an "Old Testament Introduction" course. The professor was not a Christian, did not believe in inspiration, and claimed (among other things) that David and Johnathan were homosexual lovers. Of course the class, by a large majority, strongly took issue with his claim (and he did not strongly defend his claim either). So I can see how careless "scholarship" is allowed and even promoted at secular (state) universities and community colleges (where no controls are in place). However I have often seen how church connected Divinity schools and seminaries have suffered the same problems (Duke Divinity School, etc). So I am not sure that Johnson's theory works (all the time).

    For me the answer is not found in the nature of the program but the quality of the program. Secular or religious, a quality program will have quality teachers who will exercise academic control. Thus students (and parents) must examine a college's (or seminary's) program before entering the program. That way they will know to avoid certain schools, programs, teachers, or courses. Secular programs are not "bad" in my view but they are not going to be as theological as a seminary would be. That, in my view, is not always a bad thing (if one is not going into "offical" ministry...pastor, etc). However if a person wants to be a pastor they should attend a Theological Seminary. Also Bible believing Christians should seek out Bible believing universities where they can take religion courses. Schools such as Liberty University, Luther Rice University, Piedmont Baptist College, and Moody Bible Institute come to mind. In general I would not advise a young Christian (in age and/or maturity) to take religion courses at a secular school unless the program is conservative.

    Has secular programs damaged the study of the historical Jesus? In my view the answer is yes and no.

    (1) Yes. I agree with Johnson that there is way too much "inferior scholarship" on this subject out there and much of that comes from secular campuses. However there are secular teachers who support the Bible (Dr Paul Maier, etc) who teach in secular schools. So not all the scholarship is bad or inferior.

    (2) No. Groups like the Jesus Seminar do serve a purpose. What is that? To show how silly and bankrupt critical scholarship really is.

    What do you think?

    Martin.
     
  2. Dave G.

    Dave G.
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    Martin,

    I went to a state university for undergrad. One of my humanities professors in Latin Classics was bragging about his membership in the Jesus Seminar, and going on about how they sought the real Jesus of history, not the fake of the Bible. As an ardent and arrogant non-believer, I asked him what question he would put to the Bible-thumpers to show them the Bible wasn't true. He flailed about, and finally said, "uh, I would ask, them, uh, why John needed to baptise Jesus."

    I was dumbstruck. That's it, I thought? His lack of a case for atheism planted the first seeds of doubt that I now recognize as God's calling me to Him. It took some considerable time, but I finally recognized my own sin and need for a savior, thanks in part to a godless and intellectually flabby professor of religion at a secular university. :)
     
  3. paidagogos

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    Great job! You went directly to the heart of the matter. Too often, Christians are trying to answer questions and defend their beliefs so much that they never get around to putting the burden of proof on the critics. As you have heard it say many times, "A good offense is the best defense." :cool:
     
  4. Plain Old Bill

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    PBS likes to have professors from secular and very liberal colleges and seminaries on thier prograns as do the major networks when discussing the Bible or Jesus. These ladies and gentlemen couch thier unbelief in academic language and certainly sound authoritive to the unknowing and uneducated.Most of the secular college professors I have taken courses from did not like to be challenged.

    As far as taking courses on the Bible or courses related to anything Christian in a secular or liberal school of any kind ,I would get as far away as possible.If someone does take a course of study from one of these clowns bone up on your apologetics ,challenge the instructor and be prepared to fail the class or at minimum be ridiculed and not given a chance to rebut.These guys typically do not play fair.
     
  5. JamesBell

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    Personally, I am quite thankful for the secular religion courses. It allowed me to enroll in a couple of courses that taught me more about the Bible (just had to ignore some of the material that clearly wasn't in line with Christian belief), and convinced me that seminary is really something I would like to do in the future.

    There are plenty of flaws, but no more than any other course. In humanities courses (and even an English course) it became quite common to attack Christianity. The fact that one class uses the Bible as a text doesn't seem to make a difference. In fact, I would say the consequences were somewhat less, simple because most of the members of the class were well grounded Christians.
     
  6. paidagogos

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    There are exceptions to every trend and you may be the exception but liberal/unbelieving schools do turn out liberal/unbelieving students.
     
  7. StefanM

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    As one of my comrades from my Greek class has said, these "experts" are usually from "Montreal Community College" or the like. I thought that was quite funny.
     
  8. Humblesmith

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    Secular religion courses are tremendously damaging to Christianity. In Vol. 1 of Geisler's Systematic Theology, he traces the history of how heretical liberalism crept into Christian seminaries, finally resulting in such things as the Jesus Seminar. It did not start with a study of the scriptures or of history, but in philosophy from non-believers. Because the Christian scholars didn't want to be ridiculed by their non-believing collegues, they began to incorporate these philosophies into their seminaries. Things such as the Graf-Wellhousen school were the result, finally resulting in the likes of John Spong and the Jesus Seminar.

    In a book by Spong that I have, he claims to be Christian, then denies that God is a being, the resurrection, death on a cross, etc. Dr. Geisler approached one of the Jesus Seminar members and asked if he had read Colin Hemer's landmark book, and he had never heard of it. Some scholar, who had never read the most scholarly book on the history of Acts in the last generation.

    While I agree that the list of sciences in the OP should be studied, taught, and incorporated into Christian education, including philosophy, we should not allow non-believers to define the truth that should be taught to the next generation of believers. Secular religion classes hurt us in most every way possible.
     
  9. Martin

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    ==Dave,

    Your story just goes to show how God can use even the negative attitude of a unbelieving professor to bring people to Himself. God is far more wise, and powerful, than that professor. God is also Holy and Good.

    It has been my experience with those writers/professors who are associated with the Jesus Seminar (and the like) that their views are based more on assumption and presupposition than on solid history and/or theology.

    Martin.
     
  10. Dave G.

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    Martin,

    Yes, God did use my situation, but for every believer produced in that fashion, there were likely dozens who emerged with their beliefs crippled. I realized looking back over the thread that my story could be misunderstood as an endorsement of the secular university to study religion. I would not recommend to anyone that they study their faith at such an institution. If a believer wants to study electrical engineering or something there, that's perhaps different.

    Some have opined elsewhere that such an experience at a secular institution can be good as it strengthens your faith to be put through the fire in that fashion. Usually, that argument is made by those who are not 18, and who have experience, training, and maturity to handle such a confrontational four-year experience. One should remember that some university professors make the stripping away of young people's faith the focus of their efforts, and they have decades of practice at it. Some young people who are trained far beyond the typical high-school level can handle it. Most can't.
     
  11. Dave G.

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    Humblesmith,

    Gesiler has a great full-length article on that subject you might find interesting. It's his Presidential Address of 1998 to the Evangelical Theological Society entitled, "Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars." While there are plenty of things I disagree with Geisler about, this article is extremely perceptive.

    He later had the guts to pull out from the ETS over its lack of response to members' endorsement of Open Theism.
     
  12. Dave G.

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    Probably because those church-connected denominational seminaries began hiring graduates of the secular institutions. The sea change in established US schools came when professors were sent over to Germany to absorb some of the latest German scholarship. Some like Hodge or Machen, resisted and maintained their faith, but many like Toy at SBTS succumbed and apostasized (and were later rewarded with Ivy League professorships).

    Secular institutions in the US became infected with such rationalistic thought, yet established seminaries still regularly sent their people to such a training ground for their doctorates. Hence, liberal places like Duke (United Methodist) which are now for all intents and purposes indistinguishable doctrinally from secular schools.

    The fruit of compromise for scholastic respectability...
     
  13. Humblesmith

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    The article you mentioned is indeed an outstanding article. Here's a link to it:
    http://www.ses.edu/journal/articles/2.1Geisler.pdf
    He summarizes the poor philosophy that has influenced the church over the centuries, many times because the church was unable to recognize pagan philosophy. He summarizes by saying that the only way to beware of philosophy is to be aware of philosophy, which the church has neglected to do.

    But to me, the most valuable part of this article is the advice to young Christian scholars toward the end of the article. Everyone on this section of the board should read the advice Geisler gives to people who want to be Christian scholars. It's very, very, very perceptive, and comes from many years of observing the steady creep of false teaching infect the church.

    If you have, or plan to get, an advanced degree, you should read that portion of this article.
     
  14. Humblesmith

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    This is a very wise statement.

    What we need are Christian professors to do just the opposite.....to challenge the beliefs of pagan college students.

    And BTW, there is an EXCELLENT program for those who are entering college, designed specifically to teach them how to protect their faith from this type of prof......I HIGHLY recommend it:
    www.summit.org

    Go to the 2-week summer program.
     
  15. Broadus

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    It's been my experience that Bible classes offered in secular colleges are taught by professors who see everything through their secular lenses. At best, the course is without value. At worst, orthodox Christianity is deemed incompatible with intelligence.

    Bill
     
  16. Plain Old Bill

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