by Etta Linneman
"One breathes in an atmosphere as deadly as that polluted with carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas difficult to detect. No less difficult to detect are the harmful effects of critical theological study."
(Editor's preface: How have conservatives and liberals come to be so far apart? Etta Linnemann has seen both sides, for she was first a student of Rudolph Bultmann and Ernst Fuchs and later a professor of theology at Braunschweig Technical University-until the Lord showed her the falsity of the historical-critical system. ("My ‘no' to historical-critical theology stems from my ‘yes!' to my wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….") This series is taken from Chapter Six of her now-out-print book, Historical Criticism of the Bible-Methodology or Ideology? [Baker Books,c. 1990].) In it Ms. Linnemann reveals not only the false assumptions of historical criticism but also how students are caught up in the system and turned into reproductions of their liberal professors.
"Taken on Faith"
Nowhere is so much "taken on faith" as in theological study. There are, of course, arguments to support the individual hypotheses. But the average, indeed even the careful student accepts 80-90 percent of the hypotheses without being in any position to evaluate the arguments. He accepts 40-50 percent of them, perhaps even more, without even knowing what the arguments are.
A series of basic assumptions having the character of a consensus communis, in that they are generally endorsed among the guild of scientists, form a grid without which it is simply impossible to grasp or process the information presented in lectures and seminars.
These basic assumptions are placed on the same level as fact-not in theory, of course, but certainly in practical application. That is, one makes use of them as if they were facts. Anyone who incorporates these basic assumptions into his thinking is influenced and ultimately changed by them.
The risk involved in critical theological study is so great because such change takes place inexorably and imperceptibly. One breathes in an atmosphere as deadly as that polluted with carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas difficult to detect. No less difficult to detect are the harmful effects of critical theological study. The only hope is for God's grace to intervene in a distinct way.
The objectivity of scientific work is to a large extent illusion. In practice, extra-scientific elements play a considerable role. Examples of these elements are: the personality and public relations skill of the person advocating a given idea; the "name" of a scientist (which can have varying significance in different theological camps); whether someone holds a key position such as a professorship or is the head of an institute and, most important, whether one is an editor of a journal or the advisor to publishers regarding what gets published in monograph series.
Ostensibly, the student is in a position to form an objective opinion. In reality the intake of information is screened in advance. This screen, or filter, is formed…
• through teachers. The student's choice of college, often based on totally different criteria than those upheld by the college chosen, can be decisive for the theological orientation he receives.
• through the limitation of possibilities to study the whole range of relevant books. The student can only work through a selection and therefore holds primarily to that which is recommended in the lectures and seminars. Even the student who makes independent choices catches a glimpse of only a small part of what is available. The literature in the departmental and university libraries is screened in advance. Christian literature from Bible-believing authors is practically taboo. The productions of some publishers are not taken seriously and cannot be listed in the bibliography of a formal term paper, unless one is prepared to get a lower grade for doing so. The professor is not really familiar with these works either and feels under pressure when the student quotes them in his writing. The professor would have to get hold of, read, and interact with them. Already pressed for time and convinced from the start of the dubiousness of these publications, the professor will usually reject them.
• through the student's own academic involvement . Students are offered the opportunity to "take part in scientific inquiry." A closer look, however, reveals that this involves either the taking on of time-consuming routine tasks, which the professor would like to have done in preparation for a project he is contemplating, or a study of prepackaged material. The study proceeds, then, the same way that children put together a certain house or vehicle with Lego parts. Through the material, the expected result is guaranteed; nevertheless, the student has ostensibly "convinced himself." In this fashion rebels are tamed so they fit into the system. The honor of being taken seriously as a researcher adds its weight to the attractiveness of all this.
(to be continued)