Kirk, Alan and Tom Thatcher, Memory, Tradition, Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Semeia Studies; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005). (Amazon.com)
Message of the Book:
This volume applies the findings of memory studies—specifically social or group memory—to the field of biblical studies. In an effort to get past the black-and-white, either/or of form critical studies—where an event either happened as it is narrated or it is considered to be an invention of early Christianity—these authors ask if we might better understand the formation of Christian traditions if we examine the layering evolved when a group begins to “remember” events together, giving these events meaning, which in turn provides identity and a functioning social framework for the group.
Social memory exists when a group begins to define itself by telling stories about important foundational events, supplying those stories with contemporary interpretations and relevance, and then allowing those stories to create identity. There are other approaches to creating these memories as well, such as rituals (e.g., the Eucharist and Baptism), calendars with holy days, and reenactments of important events.
Kirk introduces social memory in the introductory essay “Social and Cultural Memory” which explains in detail what I summarized above. Then Kirk teams with Thatcher in the first essay titled “Jesus Tradition as Social Memory”. According to the authors the old paradigm presented the memory of Jesus as a “finite activity” limited to original disciples and associates (p. 26). The paradigm shift suggested in this book understands the Gospel traditions to evolve, beginning with events, factoring in the oral tradition and the contemporary challenges faced by the community that give these memories new meaning.
There are a couple more essays that attempt to apply the social memory approach to the broader Jesus tradition including Barry Schwartz’s “Social Memory and Christian Origins: Prospects and Obstacles” and Richard A. Horsley’s “Prominent Patterns in the Social Memory of Jesus and Friends”.
Most of the essays examine a smaller piece of the puzzle. Thatcher’s “Why John Wrote a Gospel: Memory and History in an Early Christian Community” examines an early community where the telling of Jesus stories became a complicated matter as competing narratives arose. The Fourth Gospel was written in order to “freeze” the tradition giving an authoritative version by which others must be compared.
Holly Hearon’s “The Story of ‘the Women Who Anointed Jesus’ as Social Memory: A Methodological Proposal for the Study of Tradition as Memory” is a fascinating juxtaposition of the variegated “woman anointing Jesus” story and its three versions in the Gospels. Hearon examines where the tradition remains constant, where it differs, and what the differences tell us about interpreting the tradition, e.g., to anoint someone’s head is to act like a prophet, but to anoint feet is to act as a slave.
Arthur J. Dewey’s essay “The Locus of Death: Social Memory and the Passion Narratives” and Kirk’s “The Memory of Violence and the Death of Jesus in Q” examine how the earliest Jesus traditions don’t say much about the details of Jesus’ Passion, e.g., the hypothetical Q, the Pauline Epistles, the Gospel of Mark. Yet this doesn’t mean the memory of Jesus’ death wasn’t prominent whether it be memory by means of rituals like the Eucharist or how “Q” seems to tie Jesus’ death into the tradition of rejected prophets indicating that the earliest Christians seemed to give “meaning” to Jesus’ death in line with this tradition.
Georgia Masters Keightley dives deeply how ritual preserves memory in “Christian Collective Memory and Paul’s Knowledge of Jesus” indicating that while Paul did to know Jesus in Jesus’ life he did share in the community memory through the rituals and traditions passed along to him.
Philip F. Esler’s “Collective Memory and Hebrews 11: Outlining a New Investigative Framework” challenges simplistic ideas about “intertextuality” asking us to factor in oral traditions and shared cultural narratives about figures that we find in the Hebrew Bible like Abel and others. This Christian text creates a “rival memory” to that of Israel making these ancients people who stand in the stream that leads to Christ (p. 161).
Antoinette Clark Wire’s “Early Jewish Birth Prophecy Stories and Women’s Social Memory” compares the many miraculous birth narratives of the Hebrew Bible, and their function as stories told to women about to give birth, with the Gospels and their portrayal of Christ’s birth and its meaning.
In “Reading the Gospel Of Thomas as a Repository of Early Christian Communal Memory” April DeConick has written a very insightful essay reexamining the community that created the Gospel of Thomas asking what the disciple’s questions in the narratives tell us about the concerns of this group. In short, the imminent return of Christ did not happen so this community has begun to reinterpret their apocalyptic eschatology as a more mystical experience with Christ who is present.
The book ends with two response essays: Wener H. Kelber’s “The Works of Memory: Christian Origins as MnemoHistory” and Schwartz’s “Christian Origins as Memory-Work”.
For me, this was one of those books that shifted my paradigm for historical studies. While the events “behind the text” remain important we cannot access those events without asking how the relaying community’s social memory informs these narratives. For many critical scholars the use of the Hebrew Bible to give meaning to Jesus’ life has convinced them of complete fabrication, but might it be easier to understand Jesus’ life as being interpreted through the framework of the stories known to Jesus’ people, whether that be miraculous birth narratives to explain unique and important people or Jesus’ message reinterpreted by communities like the Johannine and Thomistic communities who faced diverse challenges tower the end of the first and into the early second centuries? Likewise, confessional scholars might be forced to rethink their apologetic desire to prove that certain events happened just as they are recorded as if the Gospels, Paul, and others provide us with something like modern news reporting and historiography (which may have higher standards, but are often as apt to misinterpret events as the ancients).
I appreciate this excellent summary/review, Brian. Also some of your “Concluding Thoughts” comments. I’ve only glanced over this book, it having gotten my attention when time was short. I can access it at the nearby Westminster Sem. and probably WILL read at least some of it.
I concur that if we are going to get any decent understanding of the NT (or whole Bible, similarly), we MUST pay the best attention we can to things like social memory and the situation, needs, purposes of not just the individual authors, but their communities (or broader audiences) of the texts… and the non-canonical as well as canonical ones, as with “Thomas” of the same general period, or the no-longer-extant “Q”, etc.
This may be repetitious for you but not for other readers: I don’t yet know how much this book builds upon or specifically references the work of J.Z. Smith and Burton Mack, but particularly the body of work of Mack (mostly after his “Lost Gospel” book and another one about Q) is important and highly relevant. In a nutshell, between the historical/anthropological work of Smith and Mack himself, coupled with other related scholarship also, there are pretty well defined sets of principles (within an articulated theory in one of Mack’s later, or perhaps latest, works — his “social interest theory”). These both grow out of their X’n origins studies and also inform it, help flesh it out. Yes, Mack is “speculative” without always labeling it thus. But I’ve always found it reasoned and well-informed speculation that either IS valid (if we could know for sure) or is at least of heuristic value and is educational… not stuff out of “thin air”. The man exhibits extraordinary depth of knowledge and organization of thought.
I don’t recall that Mack goes into detail on social memory processes themselves as much as the theological and literary-creation angles as they relate to social dynamics and needs in a developmental (or evolving) way. Much of the more detailed social memory work, such as in your reviewed book, have come after most of his major books and papers, such as the 1995 book, “Who Wrote the NT?” But it is all interwoven. I haven’t yet dug much into the work of the “Mackian” scholars following him, but heard a couple of them speaking the other month on gender roles, social structure and such in early Xn’ty, examining biblical texts vis-a-vis the Greco-Roman “household codes” mainly (the session I attended). One was Milton C. Moreland, teaching at Rhodes Col. in Memphis and the other, Ruben Rene Dupertuis of Trinity U. in San Antonio (apparently involved in SBL among other things)…. The latter maybe someone to interact with personally, geographically close, if you find common interest areas and such… and he is fairly young, by appearance and referring to fairly young children.
There is a great deal of assumption and speculation that stands back of such statements as:
“A group begins to define itself by telling stories about important foundational events, supplying those stories with contemporary interpretations and relevance, and then allowing those stories to create identity.”
“There are pretty well defined sets of principles (within an articulated theory in one of Mack’s later, or perhaps latest, works — his “social interest theory”).
Theoretical reconstructing is necessarily involved when a researcher begins explaining how any particular group has expressed its own past . (It is “theoretical” because the researcher was not there, through the generations, with a certain knowledge of how things started and then progressed.)
So we do not want to forget that social memory theory is, after all — theory — based on a varying set of presuppositions (from scholar to scholar) and fleshed out on the basis of selective parsing of data, first of all, and then mere possibilities that go beyond the data.
We cannot, therefore, establish beyond reasonable doubt how social memory works in a general way; and then turn round and apply the generality to a specific case.
As for Burton Mack, his speculations and stated certainty about the existence of precisely named early Christian communities (that produced varies layers that were incorporated into the Gospels) goes — far beyond — the data.
So it is not as if social memory theory gives us a purely objective standard, established beforehand, that can then clarify the origin and content of the Gospels. It is not a settled matter that such a theory even applies to these documents.
If I remember correctly one essayist does interact with Mack, but I’d have to revisit that section because I don’t remember the context. It is possible that Mack’s material doesn’t interact with this paradigm since it is only recently gaining an audience among biblical studies scholars.
It’s funny that you mention Ruben Dupertuis. We just have coffee a week ago. He’s a great person and scholar and I’m glad he is in SA.
You know the old saying, “You don’t really understand it until you can explain it to others”? Well, this may be an example of that. While I find these essays and others like them are altering how I think about what we can know about early Christianity it would be unfair of me to say that my summary here is a solid representation of the book. It’s an effort, but I’m not an expert here, merely someone venturing into newer territory, testing the waters. I don’t think I presented social memory theory as an “objective standard”. I hope I didn’t. That wasn’t my aim. I do think it may very well be a useful lens through which we can reexamine the Gospels though, getting past some impasses related to the various criteria used in historical Jesus and Christian origins studies.
If you’re familiar w. social memory studies and how they relate to biblical studies then you may notice that I’m a novice still. If not, then don’t let the shortcomings of this review speak for these authors. In this volume Kirk’s introduction, Schwartz’s first essay, and Hearon’s tackling of the “woman anointing Jesus” tradition are a great way to sample to rest of the book. Also, I’d recommend Anthony Le Donne’s Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It? which is an accessible entry point into this discussion.
Reblogged this on Sunday School on Steroids-The Seminary Experience.
Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.
I also greatly appreciate this review Brian, but for the opportunity of critiquing social memory theory.
For the sake of argument – let’s assume that these ‘memory studies’ are able to successfully construct valid theories of “social memory”. Let’s also assume that these theories themselves are reasonably good, believable, and not likely or easily subject to scientific correction (though nothing in science actually is). Let’s finally suppose that there is such a thing as a social collective memory, a historical consciousness, which does not beg the genetic fallacy. (These assumptions, incidentally, are generous, for the sake of discussion.)
Memory studies focus on representations of specific events within some chronological, media, or propagatory setting. Yet methodologically they refuse to reflect upon the audience that holds the particular representation in question. This methodology trades one wealth of insights (insights into past and present historical culture) for another (meaning memory). In this process, insights about representations are conclusively detached from specific collective and historical contexts which shape social and historical thinking. This may free the historian from knowing the audience but the use of psychological and neurological terminology misrepresents the historical dynamics of collective memory as an effect and extension of individual autobiographical memory. Does anyone not question this?
The issue here is methodological, we have no way to compare apples to oranges to determine which is the better fruit. Because this methodology cites the subversive interests of memory consumers, it critiques the use of other interpretive frameworks such as ones which use cultural traditions to explain historical narratives, for example, and yet its solution does nothing more than introduce a competing framework (build upon an, as of yet, unaccepted theory of memory reception). How do we know that we are not simply exchanging one interpretive framework for another? Or perhaps that’s not the issue. How do we know this is a better interpretive framework compared to others, by which to read scriptures? Even in deciding to choose some particular interpretive framework over another is itself acting as part of interpretive framework yet again, is it not?
Ultimately, the insights of social memory theorists are really not so different from that of the form critics:
1. Memory is both re-constructive and retentive
2. Memory is as shaped by narrative convention as it is by the arena of memory politics
3. Just as Memory is selected by specific (social) context, so it is shaped by historical, geographic, and political contexts
So I’m clearly not suggesting that memory studies are not bona fide intellectual exercises or that they should not inform our own views of textual interpretation. What I am questioning is the nuanced supremacy contained in comparisons with other approaches. Notwithstanding Le Donne’s claim that this is somewhat new and emergent appraoch, this methodology appears to be becoming something of a stick with which post-modernists beat their critics into submission, to get them concede intellectual and explanatory ground about the power and theory of representation. I can live with that as part of the polemic but I’m finding the idea that other older interpretive frameworks are less valid than the newer ones (call it social theory relativism or the prejudice of modernism) – without some objective litmus marker showing this, to be objectionable. Any approach that employs zeal in highlighting its own short-comings would be welcomed to use that same same zeal to expose the defects of other approaches, but these frameworks must not exclude themselves in their critique. That appears to be the most bothersome thing about this post-modern nonsense.
If at the heart of this trend (and I’m not saying that it is) is a desire to undermine exegesis methodologies thought to be conservative, because of a perceived conservative association, that would truly be disappointing.
Nice to hear you and Dr. Dupertuis have already met and talked! After I wrote about him, I thought maybe you HAD met.
As to issues from the book: It appears that at least a couple of the essays (Dewey’s and Kirk’s on the passion and death of Jesus) may deal directly with issues of what appears to have been written when, including what was NOT written early (and thus may not have even been a part of oral tradition or “social memory” already existing before a given piece of literature).
Of course, we can’t know for sure when given info first was communicated or existed within a certain group. But from all that we do have or can clearly infer from the NT texts (plus probably at least Q as it appears to have existed… we can probably get most of it “right”), we seem to have nothing that was written by a direct disciple of Jesus. The main possible exception I see is James, leader of the Jeru. group. I consider it much more likely “James” was written after his death. But even if it is taken as by THE James, brother of Jesus/leader of the apostolic group, we see almost nothing in any written source clearly pre-dating the destruction of Jerusalem that is concerned to convey specifics of Jesus’ life, final conflict with authorities in Jeru., arrest, trial, death or even BODILY resurrection and/or “empty tomb”.
How this relates to issues of social memory and what we find in the NT and other lit of the general era: It certainly seems clear that 70 AD is the watershed point. Mark may have been written that very year, or at least soon after it… I see no substantive evidence it was written much earlier, before the war was in progress and it’s outcome nearly certain. So, so much changed, violently and rapidly in the last year of the war and just after. Talk about religious, social, economic upheaval of truly epic proportions for Jeru. and Judea, and nearly as much so for regions a bit further away, including Galilee. Talk about the need to re-think and revise theologies!
It sure seems to me that perhaps all, or at least most of the passion narrative stuff was introduced by Mark, including the nature of the conflict with authorities in Jeru., etc. Along with that, the rest of a “life of” structure, along the lines of that genre of the day. Of course, Matt. and Luke take that basic structure and add add’l material from an apparent “Q” (written source without such “passion/death” material, composed pre-war), plus details of their own. The main point is this: From the written data we have to go on, we know little of what the immediate disciples of Jesus “remembered” either individually or as a group. But it is at least curious that neither they nor more literary associates who likely WERE attracted to the group from among the Jeru. Pharisees or diaspora educated Jews visiting Jeru. wrote anything down, at least that survived. SOOO…
The “social memory” examinations we can make for the first 40 yrs or so (to 70) have to rely almost fully on Paul and Q.
And there we find almost no historical specifics. Once we get to 70 and Mark and the other Gospels, epistles, Revelation (allowing it COULD be pre-70), we have the introduction of LITERARY efforts which I think we have to separate and treat quite differently than oral “social memory” or its mere recording (which we sometimes do now with interviews and audio/video recording but doesn’t seem to have been a used approach in the 1st century). So I guess I’d appreciate any comment you might have, Brian, as to how the authors treat, if they do, the important distinction of narrative likely created TO ILLUSTRATE OR “PROVE” the truth about Jesus that a given author or group held, and social memory that already seemed to have existed from the original time period and was then written down.
The very nature of storytelling, except the adventure and entertainment type, is to illustrate or demonstrate a truth, and it seems to have been expected “normal” practice more broadly and within the NT for authors to use this kind of storytelling… based in something that happened but was then heavily embellished, often with supernatural events as signs or evidences that it was true and significant. And, as I approached the subj. earlier, do these essays do much with the massive and crucial change of situation and the new interpretation of predictions and events that had to be done immediately after 69-70 AD? With that, also the radical change of “authority’s” location (e.g., no more “central/mother church” in Jeru. or probably anywhere in Israel), the fast-emerging split with synagogues and WITHIN synagogues, etc.? Generally, most NT interpretation, esp. on the “traditional” side, has been done without adequate inclusion of this context and its implications, and I’m wondering if these authors, with their approach, are rectifying that somewhat.
What direct or indirect references to events of AD 70 can be found in the Gospel of Mark — that have no possible points of reference in prior events?
Why should we assume that Q — if it ever existed — had no references to Jesus’ passion? What if we have nothing like the complete content of Q in Matthew and Luke? What if Q’s references to the passion narrative were short and simple — which is what should be expected if Q is primarily a sayings-source? What if we simply decided that Q’s possible passion references did not add anything significant to what Matthew and Luke had from more extensive sources, so Q’s references were not preserved?
What if the experience of having heard, seen, and been with Jesus was so significant that the memory of him thrived and survived the changes of AD 70 and a number of other socially challenging events?
What if we concluded that the precise details of certain stories about Jesus may be colored — or even shaped — by both literary conventions and the changing circumstances of the church, qualified by the fact that the influence seems both reasonable and — in some cases — obvious, but the specifics of “when and how” are simply lost to us, so that we can never adequately sort out what is remembered and what is introduced for literary or theological purposes?
What if we assigned the sources of the Gospels to the category of generally well-remembered, trustworthy sources, In contrast with the category of generally poorly-remembered, undependable sources?
As I’m sure you’re aware, there are at least two “levels” or fairly distinct aspects of all the issues we’re discussing: the scholarly level and the “lay” level, including personal implications for scholars as well. As to your concluding question, I will answer just briefly regarding myself: What you say is how I’d “assigned the sources of the Gospels” all my life, through Talbot Seminary and while in Christian ministry until about age 45. Things were a lot simpler and, while aspects of the Bible were puzzling, at the least, things seemed overall simpler than later or currently. Theological beliefs all generally “fit” pretty neatly. But from much more than my own experience I’ll say that the “simpler” doesn’t necessarily prove more satisfying, either emotionally, spiritually, or cognitively, in the longer run. With that, I’d add, nor closer to important truths. We all have to wrestle with the fact that there just isn’t any “objective” standard by which to sort out the various approaches to what, by almost any seriously-examined perspective, was a complex and rapidly-developing situation in the first century in that region.
The scholarly opinions that are general have more appeal to me than the scholarly opinions that are specific and overly certain about their theoretical proposals — including the community configurations of Burton Mack and the selective citations of Bart Ehrman.
Bobby, taking just Mack as an example, then (who I know pretty well, even currently working my way slowly thru his “Who Wrote the NT?” gradually for the 3rd time, fully, plus some dipping into it periodically as well): One could discuss the “general” Mack and the “specific” Mack, tho the two ARE inextricably interwoven. The “general” Mack I think would be pretty well in line with numerous “higher critical” scholars, who I hesitate to name because of the many variations in their views. However, one of the better sources, that I’ve found and drawn from heavily…. “better” for its format as akin to a readable textbook as well as the level of scholarship and restraint, is L. Michael White’s “From Jesus to Christianity”. I could well be missing or forgetting things, but I’m not aware of any direct conflict or disagreement between Mack and White on the general picture and dynamic of developments in the 1st century Jesus-following and Christ-centered groups and backgrnd issues of the NT texts.
As I at least touched on earlier, I believe Mack to be particularly valuable and someone who should be “heard” and/or modeled after more than he is, even in the higher critical “community”. That is not so much for his specifics but for his consciously inter-disciplinary approach, and particularly the more sophisticated aspects of application of timeless cultural and social processes to analysis of the 1st century situation and its texts. And one has to add in, as he does, the nature and role of literature and the literary-creation process as it interfaces with teasing out pertinent history (challenging in itself) and the conceptual-social “real life” situations, etc.
A mostly-insular “biblical studies” approach, which has become increasingly specialized over the last century plus, keeps both scholarship and the educational process going largely in circles. On the other hand, a deliberately inter-disciplinary approach, including humble, eager-to-learn dialog with (or hearing of) specialists from relevant disciplines outside biblical scholarship can move us further and faster ahead, collectively. Individually, almost none of us can personally do this, even if we’re full-time students or professionals in academia. So the next-best, in my view, is to interact with the relatively few scholars who DO purposely focus on inter-disciplinary work or at least pay it some attention. (I do think that is increasing in popularity and practice, the little I know.) Another “next-best” would be to purposely read the views of mainly-literary critics, for example, Harold Bloom or maybe John Carroll, sociologist/cultural critic (“The Existential Jesus”); read the Jewish scholars who enjoy and do in-depth work on early Christianity; read J.Z. Smith and related anthropological/historical work; read archaeologists like Michael Dever (neither a “minimalist” or “maximulist”).
Of course the avg. lay person will lack one or more of these: time, interest, background or intelligence to explore this range of material to inform their reading of Scripture. That’s why I consider it the responsibility of those who teach the Bible to do it. (While I don’t condone it, I understand at least part of why the RC Church so long didn’t want lay people to read the Bible.) At least some of the time, pastor-teachers do have all of those factors going, although I know in the case of most pastors, their attention is widely spread and time in high demand…. So it is NOT easy, I’m sure, let alone the difficulty conveying much of the challenging insights they may discover to a less-sophisticated laity… Similarly for professors.
To back up and summarize a point re. my interdisciplinary emphasis, here are at least some of the key “disciplines” (without knowing which would technically be defined that way) that I think need to be involved in pursuing an understanding of Scripture and of Christian origins: biblical scholarship (OT and NT specializations, etc.); textual criticism (often assumed within the former); history (esp. of ANE and Greco-Roman world); history of religions and of theology; theology; comparative religions (including esoteric traditions and practices); philosophy; archaeology; anthropology (esp. cultural); sociology; social psych and psych of religion; literary criticism. I’m probably forgetting or leaving out at least a couple, and this is a major list already!
You just listed 16 different fields of study and allowed for at least 2 more as vital to really understanding Christian origins.
There is no one on earth who could master all these in several lifetimes — and then figure how data gathered from all them render material that is relevant to the origin of Christianity. (One scholar indicated in a recent publication that it is impossible to keep up with the varieties of research projects and publications in the one field that he specializes in — Jesus studies.)
You have already made up your mind about the essentials of how Christ was originally experienced and then how his story came to be told — and you’ve done so without an adequate grasp of the numerous fields you’ve listed. (By “adequate” I mean that you could not publish primary research in all these fields in a way that would deserve scholarly recognition.)
I don’t think we need to tell either pastors or teachers that they cannot have an objectively justifiable view of Jesus and Christian faith unless they have mastered nearly 20 disciplines. And I don’t think we need to tell them that, because a number of well-trained scholars have abandoned confessional faith, we must — necessarily — follow their lead.
I read as much as I can of the writings of — primarily biblical — scholars, including Mack’s “Who Wrote the New Testament?”, numerous books by Ehrman, and books and articles of various scholars on both sides of the ocean and on both sides of the conservative-liberal theological spectrum; and I feel fairly confident that I can understand what these scholars have to say and can sniff out some of there flaws as well as useful insights.
I think you could profit from reading some less left-leaning scholars.
Bobby, sorry I left some of my point sloppy and thus misleading. I completely recognize that one can’t be expected to effectively master even more than one of the many separate fields I listed as germane to biblical studies/Chrisitan origins. My list at the end was not meant to indicate any one person should even try to interact meaningfully with them all. I certainly can’t and don’t claim to, or really try to systematically. It was more a big-picture overview of what the “field” of biblical studies has to deal with to gradually gain more specific insights, particularly about areas that remain clouded yet potentially important. I do also think that we have plenty of knowledge NOW to either guide a specific “Christian faith” or to support a less specifically “religious” understanding of wisdom found in Jesus’ teachings, in Paul, etc. People, largely through their religious communities (now as back then), will focus more on some aspects than others and interpret the complex whole in widely varying ways, regardless of all the academic stuff that is piled up, higher and higher.
While people can’t/won’t interact directly with more than an occasional “piece” or author from the many disciplines, everyone looks at their faith and Scripture with SOMETHING from most or all of those areas, though not from many of them in terms of a serious (let alone mastery) knowledge of them…. and they all are changing rapidly, as you infer. I say “everyone” in the literal sense, meaning we all have at least indirect input, from a variety of sources, from many if not most of those fields. However, it usually is not real recent or detailed information, maybe “popularized”, and thus distorted, etc. Thus the need, I believe, to at least occasionally read a well-qualified author or 2 in at least some of these areas, where they deal with religious/spiritual formation, societal dynamics, history and theology in the NT, etc.
In that vein, please note that my earlier paragraph in the last comment encourages leaders/teachers mainly to “… interact with the relatively few scholars who DO purposely focus on inter-disciplinary work or at least pay it some attention.” And I respect that you seem to be doing that. Also note I recognized above and now reiterate that it is both challenging time-wise and in terms of how to present much, if any, insights that may challenge deeply and emotionally held views in one’s community… even IF one feels some kind of “settledness” in the midst of their own growth and perhaps changing views. This whole problem, as you’re probably aware, has been much-noted and written about in many blogs, some books, and discussed across thousands of coffee tables, I’m sure.
As to myself, I certainly have little expertise in most of those fields, not even “full” academic credentials (usually taken as a PhD, minimally) in one of them. What I have done that certainly helped create my inter-disciplinary “evangelism” is 48 units of PhD work in theology, psychology and religious ed. (at Claremont Sch. of Theol), building on an M.Div. (Talbot–solidly Evangelical, if you’re not familiar), and M.A. (mar. and fam. counseling, Biola U.- parent school of Talbot). Maybe that background info at least hints that I have, overall, probably read well MORE of Evangelical/orthodox Christian material and scholarship, given I always read/heard way more than assigned during schooling, including the many years between and after formal schooling. I was about 27 adult years (from 18) an Evangelical and about 19 now as a much more progressive Christian. Incidentally, during several of the early “transitional” years, I would not have been comfortable ministering in any church of any theological “stripe”, as I had to sort out my own perspectives and beliefs within significantly changing worldviews. Fortunately, I did not have to face that nor resign a position.
As to your “…could profit from reading some less left-leaning scholars”, I do read them a fair amount yet. I also am pretty selective about who I spend my time on even among the “left-leaning” (and I don’t always know just how “left” or “right” a given scholar may be upon first digging into his/her work, tho often at least some “reputation” precedes them). I occasionally do profit from reading among the conservatives, even now when my perspective is much more “left” than “right”. (I’ll note I am NOT accepting of some of the core concepts generally labeled “postmodern”, particularly the sloppy relativism). However, in dipping into a number of the top orthodox scholars, I find that seldom do I encounter much of interpretive nature that I’ve not become familiar with in my own Evangelical days or since. NT Wright would be the main exception here, and I surmise he’s way too “liberal” for many. I also note that there are many discussions among the basically orthodox these days that are more open and exploring than anything I was aware of around 20-40 years ago, especially in blogs but also a number of books. I find this a welcome and encouraging trend.
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