Modernity and Religion: A Clash of Worldviews

May 25, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

arm-wrestlingThe clash between modernist thought and Judeo-Christianity has produced more than a century of accusation, rebuttal and counter-accusation, with religion forced into a mostly defensive position. Modernity has asserted that religious belief is irrelevant because it is based on an outmoded and unscientific worldview. Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976) the famed critic and de-mythologizer of the Bible put it this way, “It is impossible to use electric (devices) and take advantage of modern medical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.” This modern worldview spoken of by Bultmann and others has been responsible for a significant decline in religious belief in Western culture. Modernity’s claim that religious faith (specifically Judeo-Christianity) is no longer relevant is based on the following arguments:

1. Religion is invalid because of the vastness of the Cosmos. In other words, if a Creator exists, why would he be concerned about such an insignificant place such as earth? It is unrealistic to think that a Being of such immensity would pour so much of himself into this tiny speck in the hugeness of the universe. Modernity would say that if religion has any value, it is in its expression of the human aspiration for meaning and belonging in the larger scheme of Cosmic reality.

2. Science has demonstrated that religion is an inadequate explanation for the reality of nature. Natural phenomena, which less advanced people explained in a religious way are now known to be caused by natural forces. For example, thunder was seen by primitive people as God expressing his displeasure or showing his power, but the scientific method shows that it is caused by complex electrical processes in the atmosphere. So science and technology have replaced the need for supernatural explanations, making religion a much less necessary part of human life.

3. Human beings ought to be allowed the freedom to search for whatever personal fulfillment each may find to his or her sensibility. Religion has often been a hindrance to the quest for personal fulfillment, and should be abolished or modified so that it no longer obstructs that freedom. Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed that religion was simply a tool of oppression used by the upper classes to maintain their control. He once called religion “the opiate of the people.”

4. Religion is simply a protective framework constructed to deal with the fear and uncertainty which naturally result from an unpredictable and dangerous universe. In his book, The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) argued that religion could be explained as a psychological response to the human inability to control nature. Because they feel helpless and frustrated, people need a sense of security provided by a theoretical Protector. In other words, Freud saw religion as a form of neurosis. Freud did see belief in God as providing some social and psychological benefits, but he felt that the downside of religion was to leave people in an infantile state. Mature people, freed from neurosis, would have no need for God.

5. The best that can be said for religion is that it is a useful social “glue”. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) saw religion as a necessary institution which enabled society to function harmoniously. In the West, Judeo-Christianity has provided a certain stability by teaching and enforcing a definite moral code, which, over time, became formalized into law. It has also validated authority structures and discouraged anti-social behavior.

Let us think through each of these main objections to religious belief posed by Modernity. Do modernistic explanations really disprove religious belief?

Response 1: If a Creator exists, it would seem rather rash for human beings to attempt to predict what the Supreme Being would be likely to do. As a part of God’s creation ourselves, it would be foolish to say dogmatically that he would have little or no interest in one particular planet in his universe or about human life on that planet. So, simply because the universe is a very large place, doesn’t disprove the Judeo-Christian assertion that the Creator is profoundly interested in us.

Response 2: It is the function of science to provide technically correct explanations for natural phenomena. What may seem like mythological views of God’s activities and character in the Bible may be understood as complementary to science rather than in contradiction of it. A careful study of the Bible as ancient literature shows that biblical descriptions of God are not so much mythological as they are poetic. When God is spoken of as riding on thunder clouds, it is a picture of God’s majesty and power, rather than a technical description of the hydrological cycle. In other words, religion offers valid explanations of realities which lie beyond the physical properties of natural phenomena. Science can describe and (sometimes) predict the way in which nature is structured. It cannot evaluate the origins of nature, nor is it always in a position to answer questions about why it functions as it does. Furthermore, science cannot predict whether the laws of nature may be temporarily set aside should the Creator think fit to do so.

Response 3: Probably no informed person would want to argue the point that religion has often been used to prevent people from pursuing certain avenues of self-expression. Certainly people have used the Bible and religious tradition to deter people from all sorts of activities. Most people who have been involved in a religious community have either personally experienced or at least witnessed the harmful and manipulative use of power by religiously motivated people. For many, one such experience is more than enough to convince them that all religious warnings and moral statements are simply a type of power-play.

The true question is whether religion is serving its proper function when it attempts to use various forms of persuasion to affect people’s thinking and behavior. To answer this, we must discuss the issue of assumptions. Either God exists as Judeo-Christianity depicts him or he does not. If the Judeo-Christian view of God is not accurate, then the argument might be made that religious moralizing is an improper hindrance to human self-expression. However, even assuming that God does not exist, religion might still serve a useful function in deterring people from behaviors and activities which generations of human experience have shown to be either harmful or unproductive. On the other hand, if Judeo-Christianity gives an essentially accurate picture of God’s character and will, then a major task of religion would be to help people understand and conform to those ideals.

Response 4: It is undeniable that religion meets some very basic psychological needs. Like most other religions, Judeo-Christianity deals with fear of the future and offers a sense of peace amid life’s calamities. The fact that it does so is no argument against its validity. The truth is that if Judeo-Christianity did nothing to address those very common human experiences, it would argue strongly against its validity. Simply because religion effectively addresses deep-seated human fears and insecurities, does not mean that this is its sole function. Nor does it mean that religion is somehow false because fearful people find refuge it its assurances.

Response 5: It is also true that religion performs the function of binding people together in community. Communities teach social values, enforce a minimum standard of adherence to those values and demand respect for approved leadership. The result is a fairly stable social structure. In doing all of these things, religion plays a crucial role in society. Perhaps in non-Western cultures religion plays such a dominating role in people’s lives that its value as a social glue is outweighed by its oppressive effects. For the most part, Western societies are in no imminent danger of that scenario. Given the fragmentation of Western culture, religion’s stabilizing effects may prove of even greater value in the future (provided we don’t fall into religious conflict). Once again, the fact that religion plays such a role, is no argument against its validity.

Conclusion: While making major inroads into the influence of religion in society, Modernity has failed to convince a significant portion of Westerners to abandon religious belief and practice and its arguments have fallen short of proving religion to be either false or unnecessary. To the contrary, Judeo-Christianity has benefited from the modernist critique in that it has been forced to re-evaluate its premises and function, resulting in a renewed confidence and in a needed overhaul of its approach to society.

Michael Bogart

Why Questioning the Bible Is Fashionable

May 15, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

old-bibleBackground of and Reaction to Higher Criticism.

The philosophical movements of the Enlightenment (roughly the 1700s) focused on a fundamental questioning of the certainties of the Middle Ages and a reaction to the clashes over truth during the Protestant Reformation. Traditional views of religion and culture came under severe inquiry and even open attack.

For example, Rene Descartes began his philosophic inquiry by questioning everything, except his own existence. He then built the philosophy of Rationalism from one presupposition. “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am).

Enlightenment thinkers reasoned that unless something made rational sense (Rationalism) or could be tested and proved to the senses (Empiricism), it should not be accepted. The Cosmos was seen as merely “the product of cause and effect in a closed system.” Enlightenment thinking obviously had a dramatic impact on religion, excluding the supernatural as a factor in real human experience. Religious dogma and doctrine were questioned and discarded, not only by those of marginal religious commitment, but by some within Judeo-Christianity.

In the early 1800s the philosophy of George Hegel took the next logical step. Hegel began by asking certain basic questions: If the supernatural is not a factor in the routine workings of the Cosmos, how did things arrive at their present state? Are things moving in the direction of progress? If so, what mechanism causes things to progress?

Hegel’s answer was his Dialectic Process, which stated that the Cosmos is a closed system of cause and effect, driven by the conflict of the principles of thesis with its opposite, antithesis.  In other words, the Universe is propelled in the direction of progress by a clash of opposing forces or ideas. The interaction of these opposite forces produces a blending of the two, which Hegel called synthesis. Hegel saw this process as a manifestation of Absolute Mind, which was the term he used for the source of reality (similar to the concept of Brahman in Hinduism).

This dialectical philosophy quickly became the dominant theory in Western intellectual and academic circles. Variations of the Hegelian dialectic were quickly adapted to other disciplines by those eager for an explanation of reality which did not need a Creator. For example:

Biological diversity and environmental suitability were explained by Charles Darwin as the survival of the fittest. The clash of species and the resulting adaptations and genetic mutations used Hegel’s dialectic in the Theory of Evolution (Origin of Species, 1858).

Politics was seen by Karl Marx as a violent conflict between social classes, ultimately resulting in a redistribution of wealth and a communist utopia (The Communist Manifesto, 1848).

Bible scholarship also took a page from Hegel in the Higher Critical Movement, which began in the late 1700s, and became academically dominant in the second half of the 1800s. The Bible was seen as merely a collection of folklore, religious codes of behavior, political propaganda and even downright forgery edited late in biblical history.

Higher Criticism. The Higher Critics were led by German scholars such as K.H. Graf and Julius Wellhausen, who studied the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) using a theory called the Documentary Hypothesis. The premise of the Documentary Hypothesis was that the Pentateuch couldn’t possibly have been written in the form in which we now know it. Therefore, the documents must have “evolved” over time through a process similar to Hegel’s dialectic, from primitive religious ideas and practices, ancient oral stories, legends and early written fragments of questionable historical value.

These sources were then woven together over time by various editors, who blended and changed them into distinct religious documentary traditions within Israelite tribal groups (Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist and Priestly). Finally, these four documents were further edited and combined into their current form in the Pentateuch. The Documentary Hypothesis opened the door to other critical approaches to studying and understanding the biblical documents of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

The basic flaw of the Critical Approach is in making certain arbitrary assumptions:

1. History and religion should be understood as fundamentally naturalistic. True to its Enlightenment roots the Critical View explains reality in purely naturalistic terms, dismissing the possibility of the supernatural. Miraculous accounts in the Bible are seen as embellishments made to gain credibility by certain groups and individuals, or merely as legends perpetuated by simple tribal people.

2. Critical methodology is always assumed to be superior to other approaches. Wellhausen and other early critics took almost no notice of archeological discoveries in their day, which sometimes disproved their assertions. Since then, the basic gist of Higher Criticism has never been revised despite a wealth of new information and findings, many of which have tended to support the accuracy of the biblical accounts.

3. The ancient Israelite peoples were ignorant nomads. For instance, the early Critics asserted that writing was extremely rare in ancient times and unknown to ancient Israelites. Yet ancient writing and documents are routinely uncovered by archeologists. Egypt, Sumer, Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Meso-America all had writing early in their histories. It was expedient for the Critics, however, to take the position that ancient Hebrews had little or no access to writing so that they could argue that, if figures like Moses and the other greats of the scriptures existed at all, they couldn’t possibly have written a document of the stature of the Pentateuch.

4. The Patriarchs are essentially legendary figures. Critics see Abraham, Jacob, Moses and the others as Paul Bunyan-like heroes developed by people who needed to see their founding fathers as larger-than-life. Critics believe that the biblical stories of the Patriarchs actually tell us nothing about the Patriarchs themselves. All that can be learned from the biblical accounts is what the times may have been like when the stories were first told, and what the composers of those stories thought life may have been like in earlier times.

Traditionalist Reactions to Higher Criticism. Traditionalists were initially caught unprepared by the critical onslaught of the late 1800s. At first, those loyal to the inspiration of scripture simply responded with vehement opposition to Higher Critical views and with indignant denouncements of these new theories. This initial emotional reaction was followed in the mid and late Twentieth Century by more thoughtful scholarship, factual defense of the Bible and interaction with the views of critically-oriented academia.

Jewish Reaction. The more conservative groups within Judaism either defended the divine origins of scripture or took the approach that the origins of Scripture were irrelevant because the traditions have become a time-tested glue holding Jews together. The more liberal elements of Judaism have been influenced to large degree by Critical thought. Hence, they are freer to redefine traditional observance of the Torah (Moses’ Law) and blend with the society around them.

Roman Catholic / Eastern Orthodox Reactions. The Vatican and the various Eastern Orthodox bodies have maintained their longstanding positions on the divine inspiration of scripture, though there is much internal debate on unofficial levels. The issue has not been quite as major among Roman Catholics or Orthodox as for Protestants, because both of these groups have other sources of divine authority besides the Bible. For example, both groups also accept the decisions of various ecumenical church councils on a par with the teachings of the Bible. Roman Catholics further accept the pronouncements of popes as binding.

Protestant Reactions. Protestant Christianity has been deeply divided on the issues raised by Higher Criticism and related movements of modernist theology. Fundamentalist groups have flatly denied the arguments of the Critics, refusing to become involved in academic debate and increasingly retreating into cultural isolation. Evangelicals have been more willing to dialog with the larger culture. They have attempted to defend scriptural inspiration and reliability based on the disciplines of textual criticism and manuscript study. Since the mid Twentieth Century, Evangelicals have entered the debate over the reliability of scripture with growing confidence. However, the ascendancy of Post-modern thought in the years just prior to the dawn of the Twenty-first Century has changed the focus of the debate away from the factually-based defense Evangelicals have labored so hard to assemble, toward a larger debate over the nature and meaning of reality itself.

Modernist Protestants have attempted to accommodate Christian faith and doctrine to the viewpoints of academia and of the larger society. In doing so, they have become culturally mainstream, but have arguably tended to lose much of their Christian distinctiveness. This trend is attested to by their dramatic losses in church membership, as people have either ceased to think of themselves are particularly Christian, or have migrated to churches which emphasize distinctive Christian teachings.

Michael Bogart

Pluralism and the Gospel

May 2, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps

world-religionDuring the second half of the Twentieth Century, society and culture in North America and Europe made a dramatic ideological shift in the direction from which it considered religion and religious expression. This shift involved a movement away from a Christian consensus to make room for a spectrum of religious practices and viewpoints. This change in perspective developed out of a growing religious tolerance, which began with the skeptical and often anti-religious Eighteenth Century Enlightenment. The trend resulted in a culture-wide suspicion of religious devotion and a desire to make equalize the religious playing field so that all religions could compete for followers without society showing favoritism. This concept would come to be known as religious pluralism.

As time went on, the commitment to pluralism raised a very practical question: How can society allow for a wide variety of competing religions without becoming fragmented or degenerating into religious warfare? Western Culture answered that question by using a combination of the following approaches:

Secularization of Society. This is the idea that religion should remain a private and individualistic affair within a non-religious culture. Secularism is the position that public life must be as free as possible from dominance (or even significant input) by religious ideologies or groups. In a secular society, people may practice religion as long as it does not significantly impact others or the culture as a whole. A secular culture, therefore, will be driven by humanistic ideals as defined by whatever group happens to gain power.

Celebration of Diversity. All religions are seen as more or less equal in essence and value, differing only in points of theology and philosophy. The thinking goes that since the main value of religion lies, not in providing eternal truth, but in keeping citizens moral and cooperative, religion can be used by the reigning culture to achieve its greater purposes of progress and order. The diverse elements within the various religious traditions are celebrated much as ethnic cultural differences are celebrated within the larger culture.

Enculturalization of Religion. Traditional religious beliefs and practices are modified or discarded in an effort to conform to and harmonize with the overall values of society. Whereas religion has often taken a prophetic role in critiquing culture, enculturated religion tends to affirm and offer spiritual explanations for the values of society. Much of the “modernizing” movement in religion during the past century has taken this position.

Using a combination of these approaches, Western culture has been able to replace the influence of traditional Christianity in society and accommodate religious pluralism. The challenge for the traditional element of the Christian Church is to remain distinctively Christian and biblical, while engaging culture in meaningful dialog and relevant ministry.

Given this position, two obvious errors present themselves.

The first is to remain so committed to tradition (sometimes under the guise of biblical truth) that any possibility of meaningful interaction with society is forfeited. Some would argue that the Amish have taken this road. The second possible error is to attempt to stay relevant to the evolving culture and slowly (and perhaps with the intention of gaining a hearing within the culture) to sacrifice vital truths and compromise on key issues. One could cite numerous examples of this fallacy.

Perhaps this is the key issue of the Christian Church of our age (or any age): To remain faithful to Jesus Christ and his gospel of grace, while at the same time being relevantly prophetic. May God grant us wisdom to see the opportunities he sends our way and the courage to face our times!

Michael Bogart

A Synopsis of Religious Modernism

May 1, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

modernismModernism is the term often used for the Twentieth-Century movement, which sought a break with the traditional ideas, norms and styles of Western Civilization, and adopted innovative ways for understanding the world and human living. The term “modernism” had its specific connotations for art, music and the general world-view of the times, but in the area of religion, modernism has attempted to examine and re-define traditional belief-systems in light of contemporary values and trends. Modernism’s view of traditional religion (including the traditional understanding of Christianity) is that it is incompatible with the modern age for the following reasons:

The Vastness of the Cosmos. Argument: If a personal God exists, why would that God be concerned about a single, rather insignificant planet, such as earth? Religion, therefore, is only the human aspiration for meaning and infinity in the desperate hope that we are more than organisms on a speck in the hugeness of the universe.

Many who raise this objection probably take an atheistic or agnostic religious position, though some might opt for Deism or Pantheism.

Science has Discredited Religion. Argument: Scientific methodology offers explanations for natural phenomena which primitive people explained religiously. For example, thunder was seen by early humans as a deity beating lightning bolts his hammer, but science shows that it is caused by complex electrical processes in the atmosphere. Early man saw the harvest cycle as being related to the sexual relations of the gods. Now we know about rainfall, soil chemistry, and modern agricultural methods.

Therefore, science and technology have replaced the need for supernatural explanations. Assuming that the Cosmos is essentially a product of natural generation, nature is therefore a vast machine. Human beings are a part of that machinery, having been produced by it.

Religion can be explained psychologically. Modernism tended to explain the human religious impulse in light of naturalistic causes. Some possible modernistic explanations for the universal human religious impulse included:

Religion as a social glue. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) saw religion as a tool, which enabled society to function harmoniously. In his view, religion provides stability through a definite moral code, which becomes formalized into law. Religion also validates authority structures, which can discourage anti-social behavior.

Religion as a tool of oppression. Karl Marx (1818-1883) called religion “the opiate of the people.” He saw it as keeping people relatively content in their place (or at least afraid to rock the boat), keeping them pacified with promises of a better life hereafter and the threats of judgment. In this view, the upper classes use religion to maintain their control and manipulate the masses.

Religion as neurosis. In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) argued that religion could be explained psychologically. Freud believed that religious belief is an expression of certain deep psychological needs, such as the fear resulting from not being able to control nature. Religion assures people that someone is in control and might be persuaded to protect and guide through the uncertainties of existence. Freud saw belief in God as providing some social and psychological benefits, but felt that its downside was to keep people in an infantile state. Mature, well-adjusted people should have no need for God or religion.

Religion as a remedy for social frustration. In society, biological urges must be limited in order to achieve stability. But the repression of natural drives causes mental and emotional distress, so religion serves the function of lending authority social norms which impose morality, promising rewards to the compliant and punishments for the non-compliant.

Conclusion and Application: The adoption of a modernistic viewpoint in Western Civilization during the early Twentieth Century had the effect of forcing a choice upon most religious groups to either hold fast to traditional ways of understanding faith or adapting religion to the new point of view. In Christianity, Modernism brought about splits in almost all groups of Protestants and serious strains in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Issues such as the nature and role of the Bible, the authority of the Church and its traditions, the role of science in determining truth and the relationship of believers with culture were major battlegrounds in the conflict.

In the Twenty-first Century, Modernism is increasingly being supplanted by Postmodern views of reality and culture. Though its views of truth are at significant odds with developing Postmodern concepts, Modernism played a decisive role in the departure from centuries of tradition which had engendered and nourished the West. With the ascendancy of the Postmodern focus on relativity and individuality, the Modernist confidence in science, technology, education and mass society seem to be on the decline. The challenge for the church is to shift the focus of its apologetics and theology from countering modernism’s critique of Christianity and its alternative worldview to understanding and interacting with the new and largely unexplored challenge of Postmodern thought and culture.

Michael Bogart

A Brief Sketch of the Biblical Inspiration Controversy

April 4, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

brown-bible

The philosophical movements of the Enlightenment (roughly the 1700s) were a fundamental questioning of the certainties of the Middle Ages and a reaction to the clashes over truth during the Protestant Reformation. Traditional views in religion and culture came under severe inquiry and even open attack.  For example, Rene Descartes questioned everything, except his own existence, then built the philosophy of Rationalism from one presupposition. “I think, therefore I am.”

Enlightenment thinkers reasoned that unless something made rational sense (rationalism) or can be tested and proved to the senses (empiricism), it should not be accepted. The Cosmos was seen as merely “the product of cause and effect in a closed system.” Enlightenment thinking obviously had a dramatic impact on religion, excluding the supernatural as a factor in real human experience. Religious dogma and doctrine were often questioned and discarded, not only by those of marginal religious commitment, but by some in both Christianity and Judaism.

In the early 1800s the philosophy of George Hegel took the next logical step. Hegel asked some basic questions: If the supernatural is not a factor in the routine workings of the Cosmos, how did things arrive in their present state? Are things moving in the direction of progress? If so, what mechanism causes things to progress?

Hegel’s answer was his dialectic process, which stated that the Cosmos is a closed system of cause and effect, driven by the conflict of thesis with antithesis (opposite forces, ideas, etc.). The interaction of these forces produces a blending of the two, which Hegel called synthesis. This process was thought of as a manifestation of Absolute Mind, which was thought to be the source of reality (similar to Brahman of Hinduism). Hegel’s basic philosophy quickly became the dominant theory in Western intellectual and academic circles. Variations of the Hegelian Dialectic were adapted to other disciplines, such as:

  • Politics, in which Karl Marx preached the Communist theory of history and social change (1848).
  • Biology, in which Charles Darwin posed the theory of Evolution as the explanation of life in its diversity (1858).
  • The study of the Bible as a document in the Higher Critical Movement (beginning in the late 1700s).

Higher Criticism.  The Higher Critics were led by German scholars such as K.H. Graf and Julius Wellhausen, who studied the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) using a theory called the Documentary Hypothesis, which was based on Hegel’s basic theory of progress and development. The premise of the Documentary Hypothesis was that the Pentateuch couldn’t possibly have been written in the form in which we now know it. The documents must have “evolved” over time into their present form, through a process similar to Hegel’s Dialectic, from primitive religious ideas and practices, ancient oral stories and legends and early written fragments of questionable historical value.

These diverse sources were then woven together over time by various editors, who blended and changed them into distinct religious documentary traditions (Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist and Priestly) within Israelite tribal groups. Finally, these four documents were further edited and combined into the current form of the Pentateuch. The Documentary Hypothesis opened the door to other Critical approaches to studying and understanding the biblical documents of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

The basic flaw of the whole Critical approach is in making certain arbitrary assumptions:

1. History and religion should be understood as fundamentally naturalistic. True to its Enlightenment roots, the Critical view explains reality in purely naturalistic terms, dismissing the possibility of the supernatural. Miraculous accounts in the Bible are seen as embellishments made to gain credibility and power by certain groups and individuals, or merely legends perpetuated by simple tribal people.

2. Critical methodology is assumed to always be superior to other approaches. Wellhausen and other early critics took almost no notice of archaeological discoveries in their day, which sometimes disproved their assertions. Since then, the basic gist of Higher Criticism has never been revised despite a wealth of new information and findings, many of which have tended to support the accuracy of the biblical accounts.

3. The ancient Israelite peoples were ignorant nomads. For instance, the early Critics asserted that writing was extremely rare in ancient times and unknown to ancient Israelites. Yet ancient writing and documents are routinely uncovered by archaeologists. Egypt, Sumer, the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Meso-America all had writing early in their histories. However it was expedient for the Critics to take the position that ancient Hebrews had little or no access to writing so that they could argue that, if figures like Moses and the other greats of the Scriptures existed at all, they couldn’t possibly have written a document of the stature of the Bible.

4. The Patriarchs are essentially legendary figures. Critics see Abraham, Jacob, Moses and the others as folk heroes, developed by people who needed to see their founding fathers as larger-than-life. Critics believe that the biblical stories of the Patriarchs actually tell us nothing about the Patriarchs themselves (including whether they actually existed). All that can be learned from the biblical accounts is what the times may have been like when the stories were first told, and what the composers of those stories thought life may have been like in earlier times.

Traditionalist Reactions to Higher Criticism. Traditionalists were initially caught unprepared by the critical onslaught of the late 1800s. At first, those loyal to the inspiration of scripture simply responded with vehement opposition to Critical views and denouncements of these new theories. This initial emotional reaction was followed in the mid and late Twentieth Century by more thoughtful scholarship, factual defense of the Bible and interaction with the views of critically-oriented academia.

Jewish Reaction. The more conservative groups within Judaism either defended the divine origins of scripture or took the approach that the origins of Scripture were irrelevant because the traditions have become a time-tested glue holding Jews together. The more liberal elements of Judaism have been influenced to large degree by Critical thought. Hence, they are freer to redefine traditional observance of the Law and accomodate the society around them.

Roman Catholic / Eastern Orthodox Reactions. The Vatican and the various Eastern Orthodox bodies have maintained their longstanding positions on the divine inspiration of scripture, though there is much internal debate on unofficial levels. The issue has not been quite as major among Roman Catholics or Orthodox as for Protestants, because both of these groups have other sources of divine authority besides the Bible. For example, both groups also accept the decisions of various ecumenical church councils on a par with the teachings of the Bible. Roman Catholics further accept the pronouncements of popes as binding.

Protestants. Protestant Christianity has been deeply divided on the issues raised by Higher Criticism.

Fundamentalist groups have flatly denied the arguments of the Critics, refusing to become involved in academic debate and becoming increasingly isolated culturally.

Evangelicals have been more willing to dialog with the larger culture. They have attempted to defend scriptural inspiration and reliability based on the disciplines of textual criticism and manuscript study. Since the mid Twentieth Century, Evangelicals have entered the debate over the reliability of scripture with growing confidence. However, the ascendancy of postmodern thought in the years just prior to the dawn of the Twenty-first Century has changed the focus of the debate away from the factually-based defense which Evangelicals have labored so hard to assemble.

Modernists have attempted to accommodate Christian faith and doctrine to the viewpoints of academia and of the larger society. In doing so, they have become culturally mainstream, but have tended to lose some of their Christian distinctiveness. This trend is attested to by their dramatic losses in church membership, as people have either ceased to think of themselves as particularly Christian, or have migrated to churches which emphasize distinctive Christian teachings.

The increasing influence of Postmodernism is moving all of the parties in this  controversy toward a larger debate over the nature of reality itself.  It will be interesting to see how each of them.