I find the sentiments Mike Whitenton expresses here quite laudable, and unfortunately, unusual. And, I would carry them further.
That’s not specifically about the relevance of Second Temple Messianism to the 21st Century Church – but more generally, this:
…but sometimes questions like his are posited because of an underlying belief that the academy drains the life from church. All this heady stuff, so the argument goes, is useless if it doesn’t ‘help the church love Jesus more’. I think this is overly simplistic, drawing a false bifurcation between knowledge and love. In addition, it mistakenly assumes that ‘loving Jesus’ is the only purpose that the church serves. I would submit that, if the we don’t teach those in the church about texts like 1 Enoch 48 and their relationship to Jesus, then someone else will. And I, for one, would rather them learn it from their pastor or whoever than from the History Channel or somewhere else. The same goes for textual criticism, redaction criticism, the authenticity of the sayings of Jesus, and so on. Sticking the heads of our parishioners in the ground won’t help them ‘love Jesus more’, neither is it intellectually honest to them.
Now I understand that a somewhat antagonistic atheist like myself isn’t necessarily a credible source for advice on how to run a religion… In fact, I sometimes hesitate to say anything at all, because religious folk reading are apt to look suspiciously at anything I have to say. But I hope you’ll hear me out. Because I think you’ll find, on reflection, that Mr. Whitenton’s thinking is sound, and while carrying some risks to “the cause”, it also carries a commitment to honesty and deeper understanding – which are good things.
What if, instead of this sign, you found one that advertized a class explaining apostolic authority and the history of Revelation in the canon as relates to it?
Even if you discourage acceptance of or reliance upon the methods of redaction criticism, shouldn’t you at least foster awareness of it? Shouldn’t the lay members of the church be able to understand what those methods are and why they take the stance they do towards them?
If you teach signs to follow from the latter part of Mark 16, is it worth discussing whether the latter part of Mark 16 is properly a part of the text?
Do the words of 2 Timothy 3:16 apply to 1 John 5:7 if it is indeed an interpolation? And is the doctrine of the Trinity secure without 1 John 5:7? And, do the words of 2 Timothy 3:16 even apply to 2 Timothy 3:16, if it is indeed a pseudepigraphic epistle?
These are questions that ministers get to grapple with during seminary – and depending on their own epistemologies, and of course on the preferences of the seminary they attend – they work out at least tentative solutions to these questions while academic types continue to debate them and struggle with them. Then, the ministers bring those solutions back to their congregations and present them. Unfortunately, they do not always give their congregations credit for being able to process these types of hard questions – so they sometimes present the Gospel as though it bore within it the resolution to these questions that really is the work of the minister and his seminary instructors – resolutions that are not truly native to the scripture, but are presented as such.
One of the major themes of the Protestant reformation was the breaking of the ecclesiastical monopoly on reading of scripture. Perhaps the next logical step is the breaking of the ecclesiastical monopoly on deeply understanding scripture.
Whitenton gives us a caveat: “These comments about educating our parishioners on the finer points of biblical criticism apply for those congregations who tend to be more educated in the first place. I’m not sure that they apply [across] the board.” – I can certainly agree with this. Not everyone, and especially not the very young, can get into all these questions. However – in the interest of honesty – these folks should not be taught “truth” that is very contingent without at least letting them know that there are some contingencies involved. It can be up to each individual as to whether they wish to become better educated in the matters themselves or to trust the academic judgments of their ministers and church leaders.
This isn’t how we do it in the UU church. Instead, our leaders shy away from discussion of scripture. To an extent, I can understand this in the same terms in which I understand the approach I’ve criticized today – it is very difficult to articulate, much less to flesh out, all the issues that surround proper understanding of scripture. For the UUs, the emphasis isn’t on scripture to begin with, so it isn’t too terribly lazy for us to circumvent both the discussion and the need for it. For others, the emphasis is very much on the scripture – and, while it is understandable, I don’t think it is justifiable to short-circuit the discussion when you are focusing on subjects that create the need for it.