Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Theologian admits archaic methods used

This is one of those lovely pieces that can be so misreported by journalists, I'm tempted to do it myself. I'll try not to.

Bradley McLean of Knox College at the University of Toronto in Canada has admitted that theologians and biblical scholars are stuck in the 19th century, so far as methods go. This admission is driven by funding concerns, which drive all scholars, but I wonder what he is going to suggest.

The scholarship of the 19th century (sometimes referred to by fundamentalists as "modernism", which indicates their perspectives) was document based, and used largely critical linguistic tools to uncover the meaning and authorship of the classical and biblical texts. In the time, this was as much as could be done, and nobody should criticise them any more than one should criticise 19th century biologists for not knowing molecular biology.

But what methods can a theologian replace these with? I certainly hope it is not with the outgrowth of biblical hermeneutics that made its way into literary studies, sometimes known as "critical method", for that is not an advance, that is a regression. Archeology, on which much of biblical studies relies, has its own methods, largely a mix of geological and anthropological methods and supporting techniques. How can one find out, though, the theological message of an ancient text?

In short, does theology even have a method? I think it doesn't, because theology is not a discovery discipline. When it needs to use discovery methods, it borrows them from history, sociology, anthropology, and archeology. But how it arrives at its conclusions is another matter, and not a matter either of science or scholarship in general. It is more akin to basic philosophy - the formulating of arguments and the shifts in critical opinion of the players of that game.

In my opinion...