(Sorry, Bryan… this is pretty long. I hope that you’ll forgive me and read it all anyway. ;-))
A number of other bloggers, including Doug Chaplin, Peter Lopez, and Scott Bailey, have offered their thoughts regarding the ongoing discussion of the nature and role of credentials. I’m grateful for each of these more extensive opinions—as well as the many brief comments submitted by readers to the various related posts—as they’ve allowed me to consider the issue in new and personally helpful ways, and to continue to develop my own perspective. If there’s one lesson to be learned from all this, it’s that Jim West is unrivaled in his ability to initiate rich, thought-provoking conversation throughout biblioblogdom. 😉 While I feel that I’ve expressed the essence of my views on credentials in my previous posts, it seems that they have been slightly misunderstood or misrepresented on some occasions. Therefore I hope that you’ll indulge me as I attempt to offer a few clarifications.
- I don’t feel that my views stand in absolute contrast to those of Jim; I certainly do not disregard the indispensable, primary role of highly trained and accredited interpreters of the biblical text.
A few bloggers have used language suggesting a more polarized exchange between Jim and myself (e.g., terms such as “argument” and “debate”), with Jim advocating the restriction of authoritative biblical interpretation to recognized specialists against my arguments for some form of radical exegetical equality among all readers. Unfortunately, these characterizations do not accurately reflect the content of my opinions nor the context in which they were originally offered. As I indicated in my initial response to Jim’s condemnation of the online work of Robert Oerter, “[T]hose wishing to obtain the most thorough and most profiting grasp of biblical and early Christian studies must avail themselves of the work of the highly trained professionals who have devoted their careers to the illumination of these disciplines.” Near the conclusion of the same paragraph, I stated that regardless of their independent training, “[N]onspecialists need not, and almost certainly should not, be regarded as authorities in the field…” Indeed, in light of my own academic background (I hold a masters degree in biblical studies and will soon begin my second year of doctoral coursework), my current teaching responsibilities at my institution and my church, and my ultimate desire to remain in higher education as a professor, the idea that I would endorse a position eliminating the standing of professionals in my own field makes little sense.
Rather, my intent was to utilize Jim’s reactions to Robert’s website to raise questions which I feel to be essential to the continued relevance and expansion of biblical studies, especially with regard to the ways in which its products are received (or not received) by the greater public and vice versa. Some provocative and promising answers to these questions lead us away from the familiar hermeneutical model in which experts speak and everyone else merely listens. This does not mean that dedicated and proven experts should stop speaking—that is, abdicate their leadership in church and academy to anyone who feels inclined to take on the role. They should speak, as strongly and clearly as ever. It means that such experts should fully recognize that the Bible is a unique object in its reception, scope, and status. These factors have often left problematic or incomplete impressions in the minds of many nonspecialists which cannot be overcome unless those who are so used to speaking also take steps to improve their listening. If the sole purpose of the critical study of the Bible is the perpetuation of its own existence amongst the members of the academic guild, then the poor exegesis of the average congregant is of little import. If, however, it lives not only to offer insight into the broader course of human history, literature and culture but also to provide invaluable context and support capable of transforming the minds and spirits of scholars and laypeople alike—which I believe it to be capable of doing—then these deficiencies must be addressed.
More to come.