Bill Mounce runs a Christian blog, Koinonia, and happened to mention that:
ETS is now over and many of the people have move on to Boston to attend IBR (Institute of Biblical Research) and SBL (Society of Biblical Literature), which is the largest of the three organizations. SBL is the least friendly of the organizations toward evangelicals and therefore perhaps our greatest opportunity for engagement in a non-evangelical theological culture.
For some reason Jim West decided to ridicule him for this, surely fairly banal comment:
So -what can SBL do to be ‘friendly’ to the poor, benighted, oppressed inerrantists? Formulate a statement of faith asserting biblical inerrancy and force members to sign it or be denied membership? Deny membership to anyone with a different point of view? (etc)
Phew! This is the language of hate, not reasoned discourse. Or is the SBL something Holy That Must Not Be Criticised?
James McGrath noted this exchange, and it was his comment that I found most interesting:
That post helps clarify what the issue is: at SBL we study the Bible, have to face critical scrutiny of our arguments from others, and cannot get away with simply imposing our presuppositions on the text. So indeed, those who want that should look elsewhere, but the irony is that those who do go elsewhere form sectarian groups that manage to persuade themselves that they are the ones who are treating the Bible with respect by shielding it from the honest critical investigation of mainstream Biblical scholarship.
Those of us with a habit of looking at arguments from all sides will recognise that this is open to the objection that he is merely saying that the views he agrees with are objective, “honest”, “critical”, it seems; those of others are not. But asserting it does not make it so; indeed usually indicates the reverse.
Isn’t treating the bible as NOT inspired just as much a religious position as treating it as inspired? Is there any practical difference between treating the bible like this, and treating the bible as uninspired? The latter is emphatically NOT a value-neutral position, after all. To say that “we cannot get away with simply imposing our presuppositions on the text” is the problem; that is precisely what any such gathering must do, once it decides to reject the Christian perspective as a “presupposition”.
The tendency for those who study the bible from the non-Christian point of view to treat this as if it was objective has gone on for at least a century. Christians naturally demur, and quite rightly. It’s time to recognise that, on issues of politics and religion, there is no neutrality. We Christians notice the animosity — and Jim West will help any who don’t! Instead, wouldn’t it be more constructive to manage the various biases, rather than blandly claiming objectivity for one side?
Postscript: Jim West did not comment on this post. James McGrath posted three comments, all essentially the same, attacking the ETS instead of addressing the post or engaging in dialogue. When he posted yet another, I was forced to moderate it, as he knew I would have to – brinking me, in effect (I explain this version of trolling in the comments). Then he posted a further FOUR diatribes; eight in total. He then scampered back to his own blog and attacked me personally for being “intolerant” in a further three posts. I admit to being mildly amused at provoking such a vicious rage for merely querying whether the SBL was doing the right thing!
I’m not a member of either the ETS or the SBL. But the original query was whether the SBL was as welcoming as it might be to Christians. The response of its defenders was to viciously attack the Christians in a frankly hysterical manner. Still, this indicates just why the Christians feel hostility – because, indeed, there is hostility.