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I'm on my phone so the cutting and pasting is too onerous but I saw in the review queue that a post was edited for reopening given the scope of Critical Scholars. Now, I know who these guys are, and I agree that they deserve their own branch of Christianity (next to the Big Head Puppet Liturgists'), but is that an accepted scope. That is to say, all thing being equal, should I have clicked reopen?

I think we've already anathematized atheist Christianity. Is this different?

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My answer is in general agreement with Curiousdannii's answer, but I disagree on some particulars. It also has some overlap with Dick Harfield's and Fredsbend's, but I think it stakes out an ultimately different approach from all of the other answers.


As with many (or even all?) scopes, it depends on the context. Some questions can be scoped to a particular group, others can't be scoped to the same group. The following should be taken, not necessarily as hard and fast rules, but as guidelines.

Here's why it may make sense to ask for the opinions of critical scholars on questions on dating particular books, passages, etc., of the Bible or other works, or on the origin or textual history of a particular story or fragment:

  • While in some cases it may make more sense to scope the question even more tightly, or to ask for an overview of critical scholars' views, I see no reason to rule out critical scholarship as a scope here.
  • In many cases, "academia" would be a much more slippery scope, and "critical scholars" or "evangelical scholars," etc., would be much more appropriate.

Here's why such a scope is not always appropriate:

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No, critical scholarship is just too broad and heterogeneous a group to work as a scoping for this site. (It's really only marginally less broad than scholarship generally.)

There are occasional questions for which the scope seems like it could work (Dick Harfield brought up the question of Markan priority/the Synoptic problem below), but for many of them it would probably be fair to just ask for the consensus of academia generally - when there's such a strong consensus both critical and "conservative"/evangelical/whatever are all united in their position.

I'm just having a hard time thinking of questions for which the stereotypical "critical scholars" are so united in opposition to evangelical/traditionalist scholars that it would make sense to use them as a question scope here. For questions of dating, even if almost all evangelicals would say that the Pentateuch has its origins with Moses and almost all critical scholars would say it dates from long after him, there are still so many sub-positions on each side.

So rather than scoping a question to "critical scholars" it would be better to ask an overview question scoped to the particular broad category (ex. "those who says the Pentateuch has a first millennium BC origin").

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Any group with a consistent position should be in scope. For example, "Catholic teaching" is certainly in scope. "Catholic position" is not necessarily so since this can encourage answers from Catholics who hold a range of personal views on the subject, even though as a group they are nominally homogeneous.

Similarly with critical scholars1: there are many issues on which critical scholars are in broad agreement, because they are looking at the same data and generally using the same hermeneutic methods. As a clear example, there is no doubt that Markan priority is a view held more tightly among critical scholars than almost any doctrine is held among, for example, evangelical churches.

Subsets of critical scholars can be even more homogeneous in their views. Members of the Acts Seminar voted on a number of questions about Acts of the Apostles and, by their voting statistics, demonstrated an internal consistency of views.

Not all critical scholars will agree on all questions, but neither will all Baptist churches. On some issues - of which ordination is just one example - the Anglican Community is deeply divided, but no one would propose excluding Anglican/Episcopal views from the site. Even the Vatican sometimes provides ambiguous positions that some Catholic clergy will nuance one way, while other clergy will see things differently.

Christianity.SE is "for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more." More than most, critical scholars are experts in Christianity.


Definition

In context, Critical Scholars are experts who undertake biblical criticism, which is defined by Wikipedia:

Biblical criticism is the scholarly "study and investigation of biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings".1 Viewing biblical texts as being ordinary pieces of literature, rather than set apart from other literature, as in the traditional view, it asks when and where a particular text originated; how, why, by whom, for whom, and in what circumstances it was produced; what influences were at work in its production; what sources were used in its composition; and what message it was intended to convey.

Biblical criticism is not anti-Christian, in spite of frequent misunderstandings on this. Scholars simply attempt to understand the text, using linguistic tools, hermeneutic methods and even archaeology, where this is appropriate. It is a misuse of "biblical criticism" to attempt to undermine religion, and the inherent bias of such attempts will probably result in false conclusions.

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    Since it seems you have something particular in mind with the phrase "critical scholarship", can you please have a look at my answer and try and illuminate what you mean by it? What is/are the "marks" of a critical scholar? – 3961 Jan 25 '17 at 3:58
  • Is this similar to what a person going to a state school to receive a degree in religious studies with an emphasis on Christianity would be an expert in? – Peter Turner Jan 25 '17 at 4:00
  • @PeterTurner I'm thinking the difference between a master's in divinity and a master's in theology. – 3961 Jan 25 '17 at 4:03
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    @PeterTurner I think a majority of serious critical scholars have a PhD, but I also know many who do not - but they will certainly have relevant university qualifications. I don't know if"state schools" issue degrees (they don't in Australia) but that sounds far too elementary to be useful for serious Bible study. – Dick Harfield Jan 25 '17 at 4:14
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    @dick, yes state colleges in the US offer bachelor degrees in Religious Studies. It's an unusually a broad minded syllabus from what I've read; one where The DaVinci Code was required reading - hence the skepticism. – Peter Turner Jan 25 '17 at 4:25
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    @PeterTurner It's only a slight exaggeration to say that any critical scholar who even knows about the Da Vinci Code is not a critical scholar. It's a different universe. – Dick Harfield Jan 25 '17 at 4:27
  • OK, well this rabbit hole leads straight to questions being migrated to Biblical Hermeneutics – Peter Turner Jan 25 '17 at 4:29
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    @PeterTurner Not always. BH requires a focus on a specific text, whereas the question that started all this (not necessarily a good question for critical scholars, but that's a different matter) asked what the consensus of critical scholars is on a particular Christian doctrine. – Dick Harfield Jan 25 '17 at 4:31
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I don't see how the phrase improves over "overview". Asking for an overview is allowed, and works for many topics, maybe even most.

Now, if by "critical scholars" one means the likes of John Dominic, Marcus Borg, and the other members of the Jesus Seminar, then the I'm fine with it as a scope. Make a tag and make it clear that this is a skeptical kind of scholarship, not a faith-based one, that typically results in a loss of faith, or even sets out to dismantle it. It's an important distinction. I think I might prefer "secular scholarship".

Not sure how well such questions will be received. Allowing the scope to be basically, "what's wrong with this", then tying their hands from rebuttal or defence (i.e. answers must fit the scope), will likely annoy the faith-holding members of the site.

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    I acknowledge your definition of the likes of John Dominic, Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar as being "critical scholars", with them in scope. Semantically, however, we can't just change the meaning of words - "secular scholarship" can imply that the scholars are not Christians, and many of them will object to this characterisation. They are called critical scholars because what they do is criticise (not in the pejorative sense). – Dick Harfield Jan 25 '17 at 5:00

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