Thoughts on Bloggers and Scholarship

There has been a lot of chatter about blogging and the internet. The internet has changed things quite a bit. I love the anonymity of the internet due to my Asperger’s, but I also love that you never know who is on the other end. I have had scholars, professors, graduate students and also lay people come and leave comments on my blog. I appreciate all of them very much, whether you have agreed or disagreed. That is one of the things I like about blogging; you don’t have to let anyone know who you are, and you can still interact with people who may like or even disagree with what you are saying. It also means that you have to be careful what you say, because you never know who will come and leave a comment on your blog!

However, many people have noticed a danger, and that is that, when you get on the internet, often times people don’t know how to distinguish between the good material and the bad material. Let’s face it, “someone is wrong on the internet” is all too true. There is a lot of garbage on the internet. I will be more specific, and say that there is a lot of garbage about Biblical Hebrew on the internet. Mystical garbage, fallacious word studies, and misunderstandings of the background and culture of the Ancient Near East in general litter the internet proving all kinds of weird doctrines and teachings. One of the sheep from the church can get hold of that, and all of the sudden he is lead astray. Or, worst case scenario, the one sheep that was lead astray then leads other people astray, and soon you have a little cult.

Yet, I believe that not everyone who blogs is like that. One of the fallacies that often saturates discussions like these is the ad hominem fallacy. The actual definition of an ad hominem fallacy is when a person attacks the man rather than his argument. Someone makes an argument from the Bible, and the reply is “Well, that can’t be right, because he struggles with sexual sin!” However, the ad hominem that is often used at this point is “Well, he can’t be right because he’s just an internet blogger!” Aside from falling badly into the ad hominem fallacy, this also falls badly into the hasty generalization fallacy. “There is a lot of garbage on the internet, therefore this must be garbage too.” Well, I suppose I might as well say that, since part of my body is fingers, that therefore all of my body is fingers! These are known logical fallacies that have been documented in the logic books for quite some time. Yet, these fallacies are used to dismiss arguments that are found on blogs all of the time.

I would say that there is some good, and some bad on the internet. Some of the blogs I frequent are that of TurretinFan, who does a lot of work in Roman Catholicism, Amir Larijani who, although he can sometimes let out an expletive, is very good in economics and culture, and Karen Campbell, who has done a lot of work in the Christian Patriarchy Movement. I trust these folks, even though they are bloggers on the internet, as they have shown themselves to have academic integrity. However, I have found other websites completely useless, laden with conspiracy theories about translators and fallacious views of language.

Carl Trueman addresses this problem in this article. I do disagree with Trueman on some things. For example, I don’t think that a Phd is having a “basic academic union card.” Some master’s programs are harder than many Phd programs. I remember some of my fellow students who went to SBL said that many of the Phd students there from other schools couldn’t believe how rigorous our program was, and that was just for a MA! However, there are harder MA programs than the one I was involved in, and there are some simply brutal Phd programs as well. Now, obviously, in this field, a Phd is almost a necessity to find a job, so it is not wise to stop at a MA. Still, the point is that the letters in front of your name don’t necessarily mean anything in terms of your skill level. Programs vary, and depending upon which schools you attend for your MA and Phd, you may have it harder in the MA program than the Phd, and it may be the case that your Phd work will be far harder than your MA work.

Also, as far as “refereed publications which then enjoy currency among qualified peers outside the person’s immediate circle of epigonous friends,” there is a lot of garbage in scholarly journals as well. I will never forget one of my friends returning from SBL, and telling me a story about a paper she went to hear. It was simply titled “A Literary Critical Look at the David/Jonathan Narrative.” She said that the whole thing was nothing more than a deconstruction of the David/Jonathan narrative to try to say that David and Jonathan were homosexuals. She even said that the room was full of homosexuals and lesbians, and that one girl from the audience of that reading was making eyes with her all weekend.

I also have personal experience with this. I remember when I took apart an article for Advanced Hebrew Grammar, and the whole article was terrible. All of the arguments from Semitic languages were completely wrong, and I took the Hittite portions to Dr. Younger who has studied Hittite, and he started laughing when I was presenting the arguments to him! The guy missed page numbers, and even missed the title of one of the entries he was citing, confusing Tarsus and Tarshish! What a mess it was. Yet, almost every popular book now on end times cites this academic journal article as if it were credible. Also, of the three blogs I linked to above, none of them have these qualifications, and yet, I still trust them, and still listen to what they have to say. You can be faithful and honest with the information you present even though you are not published in journals and don’t have a Phd.

Other than that, however, Trueman is right about the distinction between the right to speak and the right to be heard. I approach it a little different. I am willing to hear what someone else is saying until they show that they have not done the work necessary to understand the issue. Give people a chance to categorize their writing into something worthwhile, or something incompetent. I think that he is also right that we should not take upon ourselves the word “scholar” or anything of the sort. Self-publicity in that sense is dangerous, although it may be very tempting when you are talking to someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. We should be people who love the truth, and the reason we do scholarship should never be for self-promotion, but it should be to edify the body of Christ with his truth. Now, as someone with Asperger’s I can sometimes go to the other extreme, but that is another story for another day. However, for now, suffice it to say that we need to have the truth in view when we blog, or when we write in scholarly journals.

More than that, I would simply point out to scholars something that James White has said many times, and that is that scholarship is not something you buy; it is something you do. When you do scholarship, whether it is at the level of writing a blog, or whether it is at the level of an academic journal, we should not ever think that we have a free pass because of who we are. We should always be open to criticism, and open to interacting with antagonistic argumentation. Our goal should be to seek truth in whatever we write, speak, or tape. One must simply present the truth. Now, that is easier said than done, as it can require quite a bit of research. However, that is what scholarship is all about.

Now, what about people who are reading things on the internet? I think the problem is that we have a church that is not discerning. Not only do we have a celebrity culture where men are exalted to the point where questioning them is a mortal sin, but we also have people who don’t know the basics of how to do proper hermeneutics. First of all, we need to realize some things. Men like John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, John MacArthur, etc. make mistakes. I have caught them making certain mistakes. Now, does that mean that everything they write is trash, therefore? Of course not. It does mean that we cannot exalt these men to the position of infallibility, and then wonder why someone can refute us later on down the road. Also, we can’t exalt these men to the position of celebrity because they are fallible human beings. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to maintain that critical attitude I spoke of above when you have hundreds of followers who will believe whatever you have to say. They are human beings too, and not only do they make errors, but they can fall into this trap as well. We can unknowingly lead them into this kind of sin when we treat them like celebrities.

What needs to be done instead is that people need to learn to properly interpret the Bible. I would say that the blogosphere would produce much better quality if they were critical of their own writings and the writings of their celebrities using proper hermeneutics. I only half exaggerate when I say, if there is one piece of advice I would give to people who are concerned about this it is: “Sell all you have, and buy a hermeneutics textbook.” A church that can’t listen to God speak is a church that will keep falling into these traps. Unfortunately, I don’t see a revival of interest in hermeneutics in the church anytime soon.

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