Theological Scholarship in Fundamentalism

Mark Ward

Kevin Bauder recently wrote a series of articles for his “In the Nick of Time” column “Fundamentalism and Scholarship.”

This paragraph stood out to me as one of the key areas of my own weakness:

If we want to produce theological scholars, then we must provide training in the skills that scholars require. This is the role of academic institutions and Ph.D. programs. During graduate and especially postgraduate education, would-be scholars must learn to navigate the literature within their disciplines, master the skills required for scholarly research, and develop those powers of presentation that will be essential for functioning in the scholarly community. During the years of preparation, future scholars must also make their first forays into the academic arena, attending and offering presentations for the learned societies that service their disciplines. Simultaneously, they will begin to develop the networks of relationships that will lead to publishing opportunities. Most importantly, future scholars must begin to focus attention upon the areas of specialization in which they hope to advance the scholarly conversation and thereby to expand the scope of human knowledge.

Fundamentalism has not always been comfortable with such prescriptions. For most of our history, it hasn’t been on our radar screens. But that reticence has been eroding, as evidenced by the new writing and publishing program going on now at my own Bob Jones Seminary.

May the Lord help us to go far and high in scholarship but not in our own estimation of it. May our scholarship instead be a means of increasing our understanding and admiration of the Lord.

Join the Conversation

All Things to All People

Mark Ward

The largest Anglican church in Canada has pulled out of the national church and put itself under the authority of a parallel conservative body. The “tipping point” was their diocese’s support of same-sex blessings, but I was very pleased with this National Post article for letting the putative dissidents explain their rationale: they left because of their view of Scripture and not because of homophobia.

In that light, this quotation from a liberal partisan really struck me:

Paul Feheley, principal secretary to Archbishop Fred Hiltz, head of the Canadian Church, said Anglicanism has always contained wide areas of opinion and there is no reason for anyone to leave.

“We’re not holding our noses and pretending this is not happening, but at some point we can’t be all things to all people.”

Someone who persists in such a laissez faire attitude toward Bible doctrine is the appropriate object of the kind of separation Paul calls for in 2 Thessalonians 3:

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us….
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

St. John’s has done right in pulling out, and according to the article, they did it soberly without glee. That’s quite a feat. I applaud them.

Join the Conversation

Textual Optimism

Mark Ward

In my previous post on Textual Optimism: A Critique of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament by Kent W. Clarke (part of the JSNT monograph series now edited by Stanley Porter), I summarized some of Clarke’s statistics on the general upgrade from D to C, C to B, and B to A in the variant rating system.

In my subsequent reading, Clarke has charged that the overall upgrade in textual quality is made even more stark because the letter rating definitions themselves were upgraded from the-glass-is-half-empty to the-glass-is-half-full.

Here are the UBS3 definitions:

  • {A} The text is virtually certain.
  • {B} There is some degree of doubt.
  • {C} There is a considerable degree of doubt.
  • {D} There is a very high degree of doubt.

Here are the UBS4 definitions:

  • {A} The text is certain.
  • {B} The text is almost certain.
  • {C} The editors had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text.
  • {D} The editors had great difficulty arriving at a decision.

Note that the majority of the UBS1-3 rating definitions were related to doubt while the UBS4 definitions are related to certainty. So you would actually expect some A’s in USB3 to go to B’s in UBS4, some B’s to C’s, and so on. Instead, you see the opposite. It’s almost as if the certainty of the editors’ choices got a double upgrade from UBS3 to UBS4.

Clarke is not saying we should ditch the UBS, or even the UBS4. He’s simply warning that the letter ratings should be used with caution and full knowledge—and he’s implicitly asking the committee in charge of the UBS to give a fuller explanation for their choices.

Join the Conversation

Avery Cardinal Dulles

Mark Ward

What is the Catholic view of salvation? Not all Catholics agree, and, sadly, the great majority of Catholics I have met simply do not know what their church’s (official) view is. But Avery Dulles, S.J., a cardinal and a professor of religion at (Jesuit) Fordham University, is as authoritative a voice as any but the pope, I would think.

Dulles has this to say about salvation in a recent First Things article:

“Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted.”

Dulles’ article is mainly about how Christians over the centuries have viewed the fate of the unevangelized. He’s glad that he need not be limited by the NT when theologizing on this topic (emphasis mine):

“We seem to have come full circle from the teaching of Paul and the New Testament that belief in the message of Christ is the source of salvation. Reflecting on this development, one can see certain gains and certain losses. The New Testament and the theology of the first millennium give little hope for the salvation of those who, since the time of Christ, have had no chance of hearing the gospel. If God has a serious salvific will for all, this lacuna needed to be filled, as it has been by theological speculation and church teaching since the sixteenth century. Modern theology, preoccupied with the salvation of non-Christians, has tended to neglect the importance of explicit belief in Christ, so strongly emphasized in the first centuries. It should not be impossible, however, to reconcile the two perspectives.”

Join the Conversation

Luke Timothy Johnson in a Fairminded Quotation

Mark Ward

One of the most memorable and important quotations in the debates over homosexuality in the church:

Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament professor at Emory University, has openly admitted what few liberal Christian defenders of homosexuality will: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.”

Commonweal, June 11, 2007

Join the Conversation

Planet Narnia

Mark Ward


“Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis” (Michael Ward)

I’m still skeptical. A secret thematic organizing principle for the Chronicles of Narnia?

But I’m open, and I’m listening.

Michael Ward’s opening arguments can be summarized as follows:

  1. I know that charlatans, ne’er-do-wells, and cranks love to write about Lewis, but I promise I’m not one of them! (His careful style and broad footnoting have persuaded me that he’s telling the truth.)
  2. Many other sound literary critics have proposed different underlying themes for the Narniad, including Christology and the seven deadly sins. Perhaps they’re on to something.
  3. Lewis was known to be secretive and even playfully misleading. It should be no surprise, then, that he might hide a major theme in the Narniad. Per George MacDonald, an artist who has to write, “THIS IS A HORSE” underneath a picture he’s drawn is no artist.

Ward spends a lot of time on number three, and interestingly, his first chapter is called “Silence.” Indeed, his argument is partly, by necessity, one from silence. For example, Ward (no relation) must deal with one of the most famous quotations Lewis gave about Narnia, namely that it all started with an image of a faun in a wood (and, ergo, not as a planned septet). Several times I found myself reacting to a claim by Ward with, “Hmm… That could go either way.”

I plan to read the rest of his book to see whether or not it will indeed go his way.

Join the Conversation