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Warranted Christian Belief
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A. Troeltschian Historical Biblical Criticism Again

As we have seen, there are substantially three types of HBC. For present purposes, however, we can consider Duhemian and Spinozistic HBC together. Let’s say, therefore, that we have both Troeltschian and non-Troeltschian HBC. Consider the first. The Troeltschian scripture scholar accepts Troeltsch’s principles for historical research, under an interpretation according to which they rule out the occurrence of miracles and the divine inspiration of the Bible (along with the corollary that the latter enjoys the sort of unity accruing to a book that has one principal author). But then it is not at all surprising that the Troeltschian tends to come up with conclusions wildly at variance with those accepted by the traditional Christian. As Gilkey says, “Suddenly a vast panoply of divine deeds and events recorded in scripture are no longer regarded as having actually happened.” Now if (instead of tendentious claims about our inability to do otherwise) the Troeltschian offered some good reasons to think that, in fact, these Troeltschian principles are true, then traditional Christians would have to pay attention; then they might be obliged to take the skeptical claims of historical critics seriously. Troeltschians, however, apparently don’t offer any such good reasons. They simply declare that nowadays we can’t think in any other way, or (following Harvey) that it is immoral to believe in, for example, Christ’s resurrection on other than historical grounds.

Neither of these is remotely persuasive as a reason for modifying traditional Christian belief in the light of Troeltschian results. As for the first, of course, the traditional Christian knows that it is quite false: she herself and many of her friends nowadays (and hundreds of millions of others) do think in precisely that proscribed way. And as far as the implicit claims for the superiority of these Troeltschian ways of thinking go, she won’t be impressed by them unless some decent arguments of one sort or another are forthcoming, or some other good reason for adopting that opinion is presented. The mere claim that this is what many contemporary experts think will not and should not intimidate her. And the second proposed reason (Harvey’s reason) seems to be itself dependent on the very claim at issue. Why does the critic think it immoral to form beliefs about historical facts on grounds other than historical research? Because he believes that the only reliable ground for beliefs of the former type is research of the latter type. Again, however, he offers no argument for this assumption, merely announcing it as what those in the know believe, and perhaps also adopting an air of injured puzzlement about the fact that people in the pews don’t seem to pay much attention.

To see the point here, consider an analogy: suppose your friend is accused and convicted of stealing an ancient and valuable Frisian vase from the museum in Franeker. As it happens, you remember clearly that at the time this vase was stolen, your friend was in your office, defending his eccentric views about the Gospel of John. You have testified to this in court, but to no avail. I come along and offer to do a really scientific investigation to see whether your view here is, in fact, correct. You are delighted, knowing as you think you do that your friend is innocent. When I explain my methods to you, however, your delight turns to dismay. I refuse to accept the testimony of memory; I propose to ignore completely the fact that you remember your friend’s being in your office. Further, my method precludes from the start the conclusion that your friend is innocent, even if he is innocent. Could I blame you for losing interest in my ‘scientific’ investigation? I think the traditional Christian ought to view Troeltschian HBC with the same suspicion: it refuses to admit a source of warranted belief (faith and divine revelation, both of which the traditional Christian takes to be sources of warrant) the traditional Christian accepts, and it is precluded in advance from coming to such conclusions as that Jesus really did arise from the dead and really is the divine son of God.

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