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C. Historical Biblical Criticism More Inclusive?

John Collins recognizes that Troeltschian scholarship involves theological assumptions not nearly universally shared. He doesn’t argue for the truth of these assumptions, but recommends them on a quite different basis. Criticizing Brevard Childs’s proposal for a ‘canonical’ approach to scripture scholarship,518518   See, e.g., Childs’s The New Testament as Canon, pp. 3–53. he claims that the problem is that Childs’s approach doesn’t provide an inclusive context for the latter:

If biblical theology is to retain a place in serious scholarship, it must be . . . conceived broadly enough to provide a context for debate between different viewpoints. Otherwise it is likely to become a sectarian reservation, of interest only to those who hold certain confessional tenets that are not shared by the discipline at large. Childs’s dogmatic conception of the canon provides no basis for advancing dialogue. In my opinion historical criticism still provides the most satisfactory framework for discussion.519519   “Is a Critical Biblical Theology Possible?” in The Hebrew Bible and Its Interpreters, pp. 6–7. Collins speaks here not of Troeltschian HBC but of HBC simpliciter; just a couple of pages earlier, however, he identifies HBC with Troeltschian HBC.

He adds that

One criterion for the adequacy of presuppositions is the degree to which they allow dialogue between differing viewpoints and accommodate new insights. . . . Perhaps the outstanding achievement of historical criticism in this century is that it has provided a framework within which scholars of different prejudices and commitments have been able to debate in a constructive manner.520520   Ibid., p. 8.

So why should we prefer Troeltschian scripture scholarship over traditional Bible commentary? Because it offers a wider context, one in which people with conflicting theological opinions can all take part. We may be conservative Christians, theological liberals, or people with no theological views whatever: we can all take part in Troeltschian scripture scholarship, provided we acquiesce in its fundamental assumptions. This is why it is to be preferred to the more traditional sort.

Now this would perhaps be a reason for practicing Duhemian scripture scholarship, but of course Troeltschian scripture scholarship is not Duhemian: the principles on which it proceeds are not accepted by nearly everyone. They would be accepted by only a tiny minority of contemporary Christians, for example. And this shows a fundamental confusion, so it seems to me, in Collins’s defense of 412Troeltschian scholarship. The defense he offers is appropriate for Duhemian scholarship; it isn’t at all appropriate for Troeltschian scholarship. The principles of Troeltschian historical scholarship, so interpreted as to preclude miracle, direct divine action, and special divine inspiration of the Bible, are extremely controversial philosophical and theological assumptions. Those who do not accept these controversial assumptions will not be inclined to take part in Troeltschian HBC, just as those who don’t accept traditional Christian philosophical and theological views will not be likely to engage in traditional biblical commentary. (If you don’t think the Lord speaks in Scripture, you will be unlikely to spend a great deal of your time trying to figure out what it is he says there.) As Jon Levenson puts it, historical criticism “does not facilitate communication with those outside its boundaries: it requires fundamentalists, for example, to be born again as liberals—or to stay out of the conversation altogether.”521521   The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism, p. 120. He adds that “if inclusiveness is to be gauged quantitatively, then [Brevard] Childs would win the match hands down, for far more people with biblical interests share Christian faith than a thoroughgoing historicism. Were we historical critics to be classed as a religious body we should have to be judged a most minuscule sect indeed—and one with a pronounced difficulty relating to groups that do not accept our beliefs.”


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