Table of Contents
Part VIII: Christian Scholarship
. . . . and A Plea
world tends to look down on Christian Scholarship. This is particularly
true of the scientific community. There are several reasons for
this, not the least of which is the low standard of literary
achievement we Christians seem prepared to accept.
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But more fundamental, perhaps,
is the fact that the Christian accepts certain standards of judgment
by which to gauge whether a particular piece of information or
a particular kind of explanation is allowable -- and these standards
are unacceptable to the scientist.
Fundamental to Christian Faith
is a belief in the reality of the Super-natural and of Revelation.
Science positively denies both and in so doing deprives itself
of an essential part of Truth -- with very serious consequences.
The denial forms, in fact, an absolutely basic premise of all
scientific reasoning; the thought superstructure erected upon
this base by the strictest adherence to the laws of logical reasoning
gives rise automatically to the "scientific philosophy"
of modern man which reduces him to mere physics and chemistry,
a bundle of sticks and strings, a mere puppet which has no more
transcendental value than a screwdriver. Purpose in the Universe
is categorically denied since it implies a Purposer. This accounts
for scientists' comparative indifference to spiritual things
and their often hostile attitude toward Christian Faith. Not
infrequently, deploring this hostility or indifference, Christian
scholars are tempted to seek secular approval by adopting some
of these alien premises, including a reluctance to admit the
operation of super-natural forces.
this unfortunate consequence of scientific reasoning results,
not because of any fault in the logical structure of the philosophy
itself, but because the premises are at fault. The point is an
important one in the context of this paper, for we may conclude
from it that the significance of any basic assumption (scientific
or Christian) becomes fully apparent only when the assumption
is logically extended to its conclusion.
Thus the safest way to test any
such premise is to extend it logically as far as it will
go. If this is done, and if the final conclusion turns out to
be contrary to the Truth, then the premise is in error.
So, if a man holds certain ideas
(for example, that Homo sapiens evolved), these ideas may be
harmless enough until one begins to build logically upon them.
Then the real significance of such ideas becomes apparent; what
was implicit becomes explicit. This is why I think it ought to
be the duty of every Christian scholar and editor to make a serious
attempt to examine what would be the consequences of the logical
extension of the basic ideas he is presenting, vis-a-vis the
fabric of Christian Faith as a whole. Were this to be done, many
apparently innocent observations would appear in their true light
as anything but harmless. Moreover, if a Christian writer does
this, he may very well uncover for himself implications he might
never have suspected. If the implications are clearly destructive
or antagonistic to the articles of our Faith which are basic
to it, then either the information about to be presented as fact
is not fact or else the articles of Faith are in error.
It may be added, surprisingly enough,
that such a logical extension could be undertaken by any man
who has a fairly clear idea of what the Christian Faith means
as an organic whole, even if he doesn't actually accept it,
so that there is no inherent reason why anyone at all with
a sense of Christian responsibility may not fulfill these conditions
at least in part. As a simple illustration of this, H. G. Wells
saw clearly that if man was evolved, there could never really
have been a Fall; and if no Fall, no need for a Redeemer. More
recently, Kirtley F. Mather of Harvard University observed: "When
a theologian accepts evolution as the process used by the Creator,
he must be willing to go all the way with it." If such implications
can be clearly recognized by men who, to all intents and purposes
anti-christian, there is all the more reason why a Christian
should recognize and state clearly the logical implications of
what he is saying. All he needs is a logical mind and courage.
short, the best possible safeguard against making statements,
which have all the earmarks of established fact but nevertheless
must be false if the Christian Faith is true, is to extend logically
the consequences of accepting these initial statements. If this
logical extension leads one inevitably to a denial of some essential
part of Christian Faith, and if at no point can one discern an
error in the logic of the extension, then one must assume that
the original foundation statements are false. The only alternative
is that the Christian Faith is false.
We have, then, singled out what
appears to be a most important aspect of scholarship that is
to be called Christian Scholarship, namely, proper recognition
of the implications of the subject matter with respect to the
Christian Faith as a whole. The problem now is, How can we ourselves
fulfill this requirement and how can we help others to do the
same? Scientific literature has secured the respect it enjoys
because men were willing to put time and effort into critically
reviewing the writings of their contemporaries, and publishers
or publishing societies were unwilling to accept for publication
anything which did not meet these same critical standards. But
in the Household of Faith we simply do not have these safeguards.
Publishers are often willing to accept work that is anything
but scholarly, either because the author's name will ensure a
reasonable sale (and profit) or their readers prefer "this
kind of thing" or they are desperate to fill out the current
issue and lack other material.
Authors, on the other hand, find
themselves without the kind of critical reviewers who would safeguard
them against their own errors or illogic. Not infrequently they
are tempted in a subtle way to write something that is only half-scholarly
because (1) the publisher will accept it anyway, and (2) their
potential reading audience is quite accustomed to the lower standard.
Upon several occasions in the past,
Christian organizations have been created with a view to providing
just that kind of "support" for a Christian scholar
which the secular world provides for its scholars. But it seems
that such organizations have failed as a rule. This failure is
the result of a complex series of circumstances, compounded out
of such factors as the load already carried by most Christian
scholars which does not leave them sufficient energy to do a
thorough critical review of a manuscript which has been submitted
to them for an opinion; uncertainty in the mind of the reviewer
as to the exact position of his own faith in certain critical
areas of theology; and a not unnatural reluctance to be associated
by mention as approving any article containing
ideas or statements which
are likely to be viewed by a segment of the readership as
indicating "membership" in some particular sect or
body of believers whose views are considered undignified.
Where a particular Christian publication
has an editorial staff which reviews all papers submitted in
order to judge their appropriateness in the publication, it may
seem that we have this kind of service. But in my experience
this is really not the case. If the paper is accepted, it is
rare indeed for the editors to return it with suggested additions
or modifications which would make it more worthwhile -- with
the assurance that it is accepted meanwhile in principle. And
I cannot recall any such group of editors who rejected a submission
ever specifically telling me why it was rejected.
I have submitted stories, books,
and scientific papers to secular publishers, and in each case
they have extended the courtesy of telling me exactly why the
work was being refused or what they would like to see
done to it before it is accepted. Three I could mention have
always followed this pattern with respect to book manuscripts,
even going so far as to send me copies of reviewers' remarks
(unidentified, of course) to guide me for the future. Articles
submitted to scientific journals have always received the same
treatment, reviewers' suggestions often proving most valuable
indeed. Going one step further, I have found that writers of
feature articles in newspapers, where the article concerned my
own particular efforts, have always been careful to go over the
final copy with me personally. I have yet to have this kind of
experience with any publisher of a Christian magazine. It is
a great pity and a loss to the author, the publisher, and the
is, Can anything be done about this? Certainly Bible schools
and Christian colleges might take a leaf from the book of some
university graduate schools and give required courses in the
methodology of literary research and presentation, including
how to set up tables properly, how to present information graphically
in a valid way, how to document, and how to structure the argument
logically. Authors might try to raise the standard of Christian
Scholarship in a practical way by agreeing to an exchange of
review services among themselves, and take these things seriously.
More publishers might make some attempt to enlist the services
scholars who would be
willing to review manuscripts submitted to them within a reasonable
length of time and comment upon their suitability, not in broad
generalities but in concrete ways.
These three tentative steps might
serve to raise the standard of Christian Scholarship, though
the total output of papers might well be drastically reduced
in the process and for the time being. If this program is too
elaborate, then perhaps at least some central pool of scholars
might allow themselves to be called together to form an Association
of Christian Reviewers. Each invited member would pledge himself
to do his utmost within the range of his own competence to review
seriously any paper submitted to him via some central distribution
secretariat -- within a reasonably short space of time.
Meanwhile, there seems to me to
be a clear responsibility upon the Christian writer to be at
least as concerned with achieving a measure of objectivity and
accuracy as the secular scholar is required to be. But in addition,
just as the secular scholar ought to recognize a responsibility
for the social and moral implications of what he writes, so the
Christian should add to these a responsibility for the
theological implications of what he writes. This, it seems to
me, is the essential difference between the two fields of scholarly
endeavor. This difference is crucial: but it has been largely
ignored by many who otherwise strive to fulfill the demands of
"scholarship" per se.
The following was appended to this
Paper in the 1979 Zondervan publication.
I SHOULD LIKE
to add a word to what has been said in this Doorway Paper written
and published privately long before finding its way into this
set of volumes.
Were it to be written today, I
would have modified my criticisms and made it a little less sweeping.
My experience with Zondervan Publishing House, especially with
the editorial staff, has proved over a period of years that concern
for an author's own development as an author can be demonstrated
by a publisher in a genuine spirit of helpfulness and understanding.
I want to express my gratefulness
to the Lord and to the publisher of this work for their patience
and sense of balance and good humour in this regard.
It has been a pleasant surprise
to find that a very large company can still deal in a personal
way with a very small cog in one of its many wheels. I count
myself exceptionally fortunate.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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