Baker Academic

Was Billy Graham's Public Influence Generally Positive?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Conversation about Academic Freedom Continues—Chris Keith

This is an interesting take on academic freedom.  It is an interview that Christopher M. Hays did in promotion of his forthcoming book (co-edited with Christopher Ansberry) called Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism (SPCK).  Let me cite some of the last statements Hays makes:

But in the final analysis the controversy shows, I think, that this book really needs to happen, because we've got to stop firing critical Christian scholars from their evangelical institutions, and we've got to stop telling keen and curious students that critical scholarship is simply a fad or a pagan self-delusion...because when the bright and inquiring student realizes that the critical scholars have a point, they wonder if their own faith was a sham.

Clearly, this strikes a chord with Anthony and me in light of the travesty at our former employer where those in decision-making positions dismissed Anthony (after looking him square in the eye and saying his position was safe, I should add).  It's worth mentioning here, though, because of Hays's emphasis on the impact on students, which is often ignored in these controversies despite the fact that their voices are sometimes parroted by the angry party.  (More than once I heard the ludicrous accusation that I was trying to destroy my students' faith.  I wish the accusers had actually spoken to my students.)  One of our admirable colleagues at that former institution once said that if you think we should not discuss critical issues in a context of theological education, you had best hope that those issues never catch the student later on, because you have left him or her completely unprepared for how to deal with them.  I agree entirely and encourage readers of this blog who care about such matters to read the whole interview with Hays, as he discusses the anger that resulted from just such a lack of preparation.  I think the pastoral responsibility of teachers toward students in this regard is often neglected in favor of talk that stokes the controversy.


  1. I would venture a guess that administrators of Christian colleges are more worried about losing generous donors than they are about losing an untenured instructor or two.

  2. In such a situation, you have not only left such students unprepared to answer hard questions, you have left them in a situation where given that they received what they think is a solid college-level education in the Bible (more than most of the people they'll ever meet) they can reasonably surmise that there are no good answers to these hard questions. It's hard to think of a more thoroughgoing way of undermining the faith of intelligent students.

  3. Why is this shocking? It seems this is societal. It appears throughout history in so many contexts. Don't question the accepted/those in position of authority because it makes us uncomfortable. Pre-reformation people were heretics. Today I see it played out politically. If you are argue with the establishment point of view then you are a trouble maker. But be careful. Don't create controversy for controversy sake. Not everyone is at a maturity level to discuss difficult thought processes without pushing them to anger and even sin. We like the comfort of scripture and our understanding of it. It should drive others to a saving belief. In context it can as you combat complacency and religious relativism.

  4. If it were me on one of the boards, with no favoritism toward donors and a simple desire to educate young men and women toward Christian leadership, I would fire people. I would fire uncritical scholars and critical scholars alike. If I felt like those scholars were not themselves following Jesus with their whole lives, and my intention was to push and prod students toward Jesus critically, contemplatively, actively, an instructor who wasn't doing so would be gone. That obviously involves critical scholarship, but critical scholarship outside of a life with Jesus ought not be practiced at a confessional institution. And if a critical scholar wants to do so, he or she ought not teach at a confessional institution. If you want students to "be exposed" to all sorts of different teaching, then send them to a public Liberal Arts school not a Bible school. Personally I don't think undergraduate bible schools are appropriate for anyone, unless they are mature enough to make a personal decision in that direction. Your standard 18yo is not. Go to a real college, and then if you want to be a Christian leader, do some vocational training or seminary. Otherwise, if you graduate from a Christian undergrad school without the desire for ministry, you'll regret not going to a real school. My rant is over.

  5. from a former student of both Chris & Anthony, I know your absence has been mourned by both myself and the student body!

  6. As another former student of the two, Neither did anything to hurt my faith, but rather expanded it beyond what my previous thought pattern could have achieved. If we are afraid of teaching hard things, students wont be ready to answer hard questions.

  7. Chris, there are a hundred follow-up questions I might ask you, but they all orbit a central question, which is the relationship between our engagement in critical studies and our religious/spiritual faith/belief/practice. My sense is that this relationship exists for each of us who have made critical HJ studies a part of our lives, and that this relationship is an important (likely the single most important) reason for our engagement, but we don't TALK much about this.

    And ... we don't TALK much about this for good reason. I might say that I am engaged in this topic out of my concern for positive Jewish-Christian relations. Someone might respond that my concerns are ecumenical and not critical, so my opinions on HJ are suspect. Catch me in the right mood, and I'd agree. Of course, it would be worse for anyone who said that they study HJ because it serves to strengthen their faith. For what it's worth, that's the other main reason why I'm here.

    So, we understandably take the position that there's no one here but us historians. That's an honest stance, and perhaps for some it is the complete truth. I'll speak only for me. I'm not trying to inoculate the faith of my readers against some future confrontation with critical history. Putting aside any question of whether it's possible to be a neutral observer ... I'm not a neutral observer. I'm part of the story I'm trying to tell.

  8. I didn't realize posting Dr. Hays's reply would generate as much discussion as it has. I'd badly underestimated the level of concern about this issue and given that it's brought some more light to it, I'm really glad I posted it now :)


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