Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When the Media Became a Nuisance: Darrell Bock's Proposal for Restructuring Theological Schools

Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament at Dallas Seminary, has a piece in Christianity Today explaining "How to respond to the next blockbuster book/documentary/movie that questions traditional Christianity."

In brief, Bock explains that there is a "growing public interest in Jesus and the early church," the media has caught on, and that has changed how information gets disseminated. Press conferences now take precedence over the give-and-take of academic discourse when it comes to the latest theories. Instead of getting annoyed, Bock says Christians should get informed and take advantage of the opportunity to explain "the historic Christian view." To help the church get informed pastors and theological schools must change how they do things:
"Church leaders need to do a better job of teaching not only what is in the Bible, but what is going on around the Bible....Our theological schools need to restructure the way they teach Bible courses. They need to move from a Sergeant Friday "just the facts" approach on authorship and dating of biblical and extra-biblical books to one that puts these issues in historical context and lays them against the backdrop of competing theories. In a day when many schools are neglecting these types of courses, there is an even greater need for church leaders to know the background of each scriptural book, because masses of people are engaging Christianity at this point. It's not only senior pastors who need this training, but youth leaders, as well. How many high school students are prepared for what they will hear about Christianity and the Bible in college classrooms?"
  • I confess I react negatively to Bock's apologetic tone. Granted there is a lot of rubbish out there, but I don't regard the practice of early Christian history as a safe enterprise. How is it that we can be so certain in advance that we have the right answers? Is such an assumption--I am right, you are wrong--an honest position for dialogue? I am not suggesting there is no basis for confidence, just that true dialogue implies a willingness to question one's own positions. For an alternative to Bock's apologetic scholarship, see F. F. Bruce's comments in the previous post. (Bruce, I should add, is well known for his books that defend traditional Christian views.)
  • I tend to avoid discussing traditional questions about authorship, at least in lower level classes, because in my experience students are not much interested in them. Perhaps that's because I haven't bothered to make it relevant by sketching debated options in detail.
  • Again in my experience, it is tiresome to survey issues of dating and authorship when everyone knows what the "right" answer is. A classic example is Carson and Moo's popular evangelical Introduction to the New Testament.
  • I have found that students get excited about textual criticism in my Greek Exegesis classes--no doubt because of the success of books like Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus.

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