Lordship Over Scholarship

What is the real relationship between Lordship and Scholarship? Let’s find out as we dive into Deeper Waters.

In the whole Geisler controversy, one statement that has been repeated, and I understand is repeated in the book Geisler just released with Bill Roach, “Defending Inerrancy” is the idea that there must be times that we put Lordship over scholarship. This saying sounds oh so good. It sounds really spiritual. Still, we must ask if this is really a good statement to use?

Let’s clear something up. If something is really true, scholarship can never change that. Scholarship can never disprove it. It might raise at times some arguments that are somewhat persuasive and may seem to have the evidence on their side, but there are a number of times that such arguments have been overturned in the history of thought. If we believe something is true then, we should have no fear of following the evidence where it leads.

In one way, Lordship is always over scholarship in that Christ is Lord of all in the sense that He is the supreme ruler of the universe, whether or not people recognize His Lordship. There are unbelieving scholars and Christ is Lord over them in that He is sovereign over them, but He is not Lord in the sense that He has a salvific relationship with them.

Having said that, the Lordship over scholarship does not work if we mean instead that spirituality goes over scholarship. A good argument should never be replaced with personal piety. Don’t get me wrong in this. I do think being holy is very important for people and we should all seek to be holy, but we should not say “X is a really holy person, so therefore X is right in his opinion on Y.”

Unfortunately, this is what it usually comes down to. Are you really going to disagree with brother X? Do you know how much that man prays? Do you know about all the time he spends at the homeless shelter caring for people down there? Do you know how much of his money he gives to the poor? Do you know how much time he spends every day in Bible reading? Look at the devotion he has to his wife. Are you saying that he’s wrong?

All of those questions could have excellent answers, and brother X could still be wrong. Only one is infallible and that is God Himself. We dare not give infallibility to anyone else.

So when Geisler says this in response to Licona, what are we to say? Well let’s look further at what is said.

“we do not wish to stifle scholarship but only to reject bad scholarship.”

For this first part, there can be no disagreement. In fact, to be clear, we should not stifle bad scholarship per se. If someone wants to research something, if we’re convinced it’s going to be shown to be completely ridiculous, then we should be able to say “By all means go ahead.” We should be eager to help them in their search because we know in the end, that their view will show itself to be false by their own study. If it doesn’t, then we might actually have to consider that we dismissed it too quickly.

Should we reject bad scholarship? Yes, but I do not think we reject bad scholarship because it reaches conclusions we don’t like. We should reject bad scholarship because it is bad scholarship. It is bad scholarship because it does not reason through the evidence properly and/or research it properly.

“Further, as Evangelicals we must beware of desiring a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship, which is riddled with presuppositions that are antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity.”

On the contrary, I think we should eagerly be desiring this! How are we supposed to make an impact on the world of scholarship if we don’t want to seat at the table. Imagine what it could mean for Christianity if Christians were seen as trusted authorities in each field.

C.S. Lewis once talked about what it would mean if Christians were so up on their game in the world of ideas that whenever an unbeliever got a textbook for a class that was written by the best in the field, that that person was a Christian. This isn’t just in the area of religion! What if the best astronomer was a Christian? What if the best heart surgeon was? What if the best psychologist was? What if the best lawyer was?

If we run from interaction with the scholars, then who is going to be the influence on them? Are we going to wind up saying that Christianity has nothing to offer in the marketplace of ideas and that it cannot compete when contemporary scholarship shows up? Are we to say Christianity should be afraid of scholarship?

In saying all of this, I do not think Mike holds the position he does because he wants to be recognized at the table. Quite the contrary. I think he holds the position he does because that is where the evidence leads, and that is what we want in scholarship. We want scholars who will approach the data as fairly as they can and reach the conclusion of truth. We often say we want atheists and agnostics and others to put aside their presuppositions and study Christianity. Should we not do the same?

After all, if we tell them that if you just study it objectively without a naturalistic presupposition, then you will realize Christianity is true, then we should certainly have no qualms about those of us who are Christians being willing to do the same thing. If Christianity is true, then Christians should be able to say “If I approached this issue without my Christian presuppositions, would I reach the same conclusion?”

The reason we could be against such a thing could be that we don’t think the evidence is as strong as it could be. If so, then are we really believing in Christianity the way we should? Are we believing in it because of the evidence or in ignorance of the evidence?

“Indeed, when necessary, we must place Lordship over scholarship (2 Cor. 10:5).”

What does this really mean? How do we place Lordship over scholarship? Is this saying that regardless of what scholarship says, we must remember that unless it agrees with the Lord, it is wrong? Now of course, that is true. If God is the God of all truth and if scholarship disagrees with God, then scholarship is wrong.

The problem is we could be dependent on our presuppositions at that point and not really examining the case. It’s an event where we say that all evidence is admissible into the courtroom, but only on the grounds that the evidence agrees with the conclusion that we’ve already reached.

This is a more fideistic position where we wind up saying “You can keep all your data over there. I’ll have my faith in Jesus Christ over here.” We must not ever divorce the truth of the gospel of Christ from the truth of reality. The gospel is just as real as this keyboard I am using is. That being the case, we should again be willing to look at any “evidence” that comes against it.

When we deal with scholarship, upon what grounds do we do so? We don’t do so in saying something like “I know you have scholarship over there that presents arguments that seem to indicate the Bible is wrong on X, but the Bible is the Word of God and therefore your scholarship is wrong.” This is arguing from the conclusion alone. We must show why the conclusion reached is invalid and we do this by showing that the data is either wrong and/or it is being misunderstood or misinterpreted in some way.

“We do not oppose scholarship, but only scholarship whose presuppositions and methodological procedures are opposed to the Faith once for all committed to the saints.”

But why? I want atheist scholarship to be the best scholarship it can be. I want Muslim scholars to be the best scholars they can be. I want the same for Jewish and Agnostic scholars. I don’t care about their worldview. This is what I care about. What is the argument? What is the data for the argument?

If we say that good scholarship is only scholarship that agrees with Christianity, then we are stacking the deck in our favor. “We will only accept good scholarship and good scholarship is that which already agrees with us.” How can this be seen as an honest interpretation of the data?

When we give our atheist friend a book that reflects Christian scholarship, we again want them to be willing to case aside their presuppositions and just honestly examine the argument and see what is thought of it. Do we wish to be hypocrites when our atheist friends give us books that reflect atheist scholarship? He is to be open-minded with the evidence, but we are to study it from our own presuppositions.

What is to be afraid of? If Christianity is true, it will stand the test of time. It will hold up to any argument against it. It could be at times that we don’t have all the data we need, but we can then show the data is incomplete or poor reasoning. If we think we have enough positive data on our side, I think it’s quite alright to look at a case that seems negative and say “You do have a good argument here, but I have several good arguments here as well. For this negative case, let me just wait a little while and see what new data shows up.” I would not have a problem with an atheist doing the same.

So is Lordship over scholarship? In the sense I mentioned earlier of Christ being Lord of all, yes. In the sense that spirituality wins, no. Let us freely approach the table of academia because we are sure that the Christ who was strong enough to conquer the Roman Empire is also strong enough to handle scholarship.