After reading the long post and many responses over at Parchment and Pen
and after yesterday’s post, I have this response:
Much of what Dan Wallace says is true and many “liberal” institutions are not all that “liberal” in that they make sure to admit students with a variety of beliefs, and it is also true that many want only their kind (of liberalism), but I tend to see this issue differently. Please understand that this response is not really a critique of Dan Wallace, whom I respect greatly, but my own thoughts on this issue that have formed over the last 25 years.
I have to begin with this: American evangelicals have an identity problem. Too many think acceptance at the University proves they are legitimate scholars; too many strive to be approved by the American University so they can consider themselves real scholars. Many evangelicals go to Universities in order to gain a scholarly reputation (“I studied at Yale” sort of thing) and demonstrate that they can work at the highest levels and not lose their faith. Gaining one’s chops by proving oneself at an American university is greatly overrated. If you want to teach at an evangelical college or seminary, prepare yourself for that. If you want to teach at an American university, prepare yourself for that. “Get into the system” is my advice.
Second, and this should be obvious and not a source of complaint: The bias is there and it has to be: evangelical scholars, when acting evangelically, are not unbiased, dispassionate, modernist scholars but passionate, believing scholars who think the NT is the Word of God and that God does miracles in this world. That is a constraint. We need to admit it. Most university professors are not orthodox believers and so they treat the Bible with modernist approaches and often don’t give a rip if it collides dramatically with orthodoxy — sometimes the more the better! That, too, is a constraint on what is possible. Therefore, the conflict between the two is unavoidable and will remain so long as American universities continue to be places marked by science and modernity. If an evangelical wants to study at an American university, especially one clearly marked by this conflict, then the evangelical should “fit in” or go elsewhere. To attend such a program is to assume its basic premises. (I’ve got a couple book recommendations below.)
Evangelical seminaries need to work at preparing students for such institutions by (1) offering a wide range of readings that permit the student to know the field from all angles and (2) giving students the freedom to come to critical conclusions in a way that is not punitive. When I was in seminary, for example, I heard that a person could not be evangelical and believe in multiple authorship of Isaiah or Daniel or that words in red in the Gospels were inauthentic or that Paul did not write the Pastorals. Well, it didn’t take long into my own studies to learn of many who were evangelicals who did think this way. It would be good for seminaries of an evangelical orientation to hire professors who don’t completely fit into the mold. Resistance to such proves, in my view, that the given school doesn’t think the ideas are legitimate.
Furthermore, and this one is not as central to me: The reports of bias are often greatly exaggerated and some people are prone to play the “victim card.” Some evangelicals are not admitted because they are not as good, or they are not the right person at the right time, or the school already has enough evangelicals, or … it goes on and on. It is easy at times for evangelicals to say “I’m a victim.” There are all sorts of reasons why someone might not be admitted. Sometimes there is blatant bias but it’s pretty hard to prove.
In line with the second point above, Evangelicals too often fight for positions and postures that (1) are difficult to prove and (2) that should not matter enough to get into an argument about. But these positions are for many liberals the way to judge if one is a critical scholar or not. To argue, for instance, that Paul wrote the Pastorals is unkosher in most academic settings; for an evangelical to fight for that is to fight for something many academic settings don’t want to fight about.
Two personal stories: when I was applying for a PhD, one of the American schools I applied to wrote me a letter of rejection so I called and talked to them. Simple and true: I was told they didn’t want any more students with evangelical backgrounds because former evangelical students had caused too many problems. Case closed. Would you call that bias?
I did my doctoral work under James Dunn, whom some consider evangelical while others don’t, but the only grief I ever got from Jimmy during my doctoral work was on a paper where he pushed me hard to anchor my historical conclusions on good methods (he was already using “remembered Jesus” in the early 80s) and on solid evidence. I grew immensely — and it was an opportunity for me to come of age. I never sensed a whiff of bias at the University of Nottingham.