Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On the Opprobrium of Apologetics

Craig Blomberg, being a biblical scholar, has some insightful observations about biblical scholars:
In my thirty years of membership in the Society of Biblical Literature, the world's largest scholarly organization of professors of the Bible from just about any tertiary-level institution, whether confessional or nonconfessional in its perspective, there are two words that I have heard more than any others used as conversation stoppers. If a speaker wants to dismiss a more conservative scholarly perspective on an issue, all that is needed is to say something like "Well, that's just apologetics" or "That's a harmonizing approach." To actually mount a theological argument for a historic Christian position is enough to merit severe censure, never mind that members regularly argue for countless unorthodox Christian views. And to claim to be a responsible biblical historian while harmonizing seemingly discordant data in Scriptures, or between the Bible and the extracanonical information, dooms one to rejection and ridicule.
(Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2014], 136-37.)
Calling something apologetics is supposed to (a) alleviate the speaker of any obligation to mount a counter-argument, and (b) shut the other person up. Instead of an argument, Blomberg notes that those who use this approach simply resort to name-calling. What triggers this opprobrium, according to Blomberg, is mounting an argument for an orthodox position. Nothing, apparently, could be worse than having orthodox beliefs and arguing for them.
The irony is that such charges are almost never pressed by scholars with firsthand experience in classical historiography.
(Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? 137.)
So the scholars who dismiss arguments by claiming that something is apologetics often have too narrow a focus. If they surveyed a wider scholarly terrain, they might recognize their special pleading.

Blomberg bemoans that fact that "even fellow evangelicals sometimes resort to inflated condemnation" (Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? 253 n. 67). He notes that some evangelicals "referred to such scholars [biblical scholars], including me [Blomberg], as experiencing a 'satanic blindness'" (Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? 142).

Blomberg notes other points of interest:
It is curious how emotionally charged the attacks . . . can become. Maybe this is because various scholars are unwilling to seriously countenance the possibility that one of their cherished contradictions in Scripture might actually be resolved.
(Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? 139.)
If Blomberg is right, then one should expect that accusations of apologetics are simply a means of calling others names in order to evade actually engaging their arguments.