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Q&A #126 - What theology does BibleTexts.com endorse?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
I love your site. I think it's great. Some people on my apologetics list are upset about it, because you link to a site about Mary Baker Eddy. I would like to ask if you are endorsing her views?
I really love your pages on egalitarian and women's issues.
Thanks for your comments and questions.
As to my theological endorsements, my only unequivocal commitment is to Jesus' teachings of God and His Kingdom -- as presented by Jesus via prayers, parables, sayings, sermons, healings -- teachings of the Kingdom of God "within" and without exclusion, teachings that bless all, teachings predating any written gospel, teachings that many of us are still striving to rediscover and articulate in their earliest, purest, most authentic form.
My only unequivocal ecclesiastical commitment is to the entire church body of Christ, with a genuine spirit of fellowship toward the diverse denominations/sects that constitute that entire church body, which has been developing ever since the 1st century. (Until Constantine co-opted the Christian community of the 4th century, there was considerable diversity and toleration in early Christianity. For more details, see http://www.bibletexts.com/topical.htm#constantine.) All members and/or congregants of past and present denominations/sects deserve our agape-inspired prayers and blessings, as do all people.
Regarding Mary Baker Eddy, I do not take a position of wholesale endorsement or wholesale rejection of her views, any more than I would any other writer on biblical or early Christian issues. In her endeavor to "reinstate primitive Christianity" (her Church Manual, page 17), I do believe that she has provided some very genuine -- and largely unrecognized -- insights regarding early Christian theology and practices. In fact some conclusions of modern scholars are quite in synch with Eddy's conclusions. Still, even Eddy repeatedly said that she should be followed only to the extent that she follows Christ. (See Message for 1901, page 34:20-26; Message for 1902, page 4:3-4) There are many others' honest writings that I also very much appreciate, including those of G.B. Caird, Bruce Metzger, Elaine Pagels, Marcus Borg, Joachim Jeremias, Carol Meyers, F.F. Bruce, Hans Conzelmann, Rudolf Schnackenburg, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Carla Ricci, Helmut Koester, Everett Ferguson, Eugene Nida, John Shelby Spong, Elsa Tamez, Bart Ehrman, and many, many others.
On the other hand, some of Eddy's statements regarding biblical historicity and regarding the authorship of the biblical writings are not accurate in light of modern critical scholarship. (Her most reliable biographer, Robert Peel, also pointed out some autobiographical inaccuracies in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and another of her writings. For details see http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/biblical-criticism.htm#historicity1.) She was, however, more progressive in her application of the then current critical biblical scholarship than most of her American theological contemporaries, almost all of whom were men.
There are many areas of our current biblical and theological conclusions that need to be reexamined and revised. For example, our biblical vocabulary is still stuck in William Tyndale's 16th century limited understanding of that vocabulary. Oxford University's yet-to-be-unveiled New Testament Language Project is very promising in its potential for massively reexamining the 1st century usage, meaning, and significance of New Testament Greek vocabulary. Similar advances have been made with Greek grammar, as a better understanding of 1st century culture and language-uses has emerged. In some cases when freshly applying such advances to exegesis, some very different insights have been gained. Critical scholarship has also enabled us to revise our understanding of the status and active roles of women in the early church. (For more details, see http://www.bibletexts.com/women.htm.)
In similar ways, Native American, black, women, and other non-white-male writers were routinely scathingly criticized in the racist and male-dominated days of the late 19th century and early 20th century. In that context, even though many current Christian practices and theologies have borrowed extensively from Eddy's teachings (and very rarely providing any attribution), current criticisms of Eddy for the most part are still citing the male-written histories of that period -- histories that were entrenched in the new phenomenon of fundamentalism (some American Protestants' reaction to biblical criticism) and in the intellectual and theological subservience of women. Some massively circulated but intellectually dishonest authors of today have still regurgitated as "facts" definitively disproved allegations of bad journalism of Eddy's day and afterward.
As an example, Walter M. Haushalter's 1936 book, Mrs. Eddy Purloins from Hegel, was used in a yearly case-study in the classes of Dr. Conrad Henry Moehlman, the James B. Colgate Professor of the History of Christianity at Colgate-Rochester Seminary -- to show that the so-called Lieber-Hegel document was plagiarized from Mrs. Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and not vice versa, as Haushalter's book had alleged. For more details on this, see Robert Peel's Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery 1821-1875, NY: Holt Reinhart Winston, 1966, pages 305-307; and Thomas C. Johnsen's "Historical Consensus and Christian Science, the Career of a Manuscript Controversy," New England Quarterly, March, 1980.
In all biblical, historical, and theological discussions today, one of our greatest needs is for us all to honestly explore the facts and then let the honest facts lead us to conclusions. Instead, we still tend to select the facts that support our positions, filter out all others, and draw our conclusions based upon our selective "facts." This is intellectually and ethically dishonest.
On the BibleTexts.com website I have frequently stated the following:
If you have historical information or insights that shed further light on any of the above descriptions, either in agreement with or contrary to what has been stated above, please email me at or click on email@example.com. The BibleTexts editor's desire is to arrive at honest conclusions that are consistent with all available facts. He deeply respects all who honestly arrive at genuine conclusions, even if those conclusions differ from his own conclusions. It is not the intent of the BibleTexts editor to prop up any opinions, which are often the result of one's selectively using only those facts that support such opinions -- and conveniently disregarding facts that undermine such opinions. The BibleTexts editor does not want to have any personal opinions. He only wants to develop faith-inspiring, honest conclusions that lead to being "filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." (Col 1:9, NRSV) So please feel free to share with this website editor any facts that may help lead to even better or further refined conclusions.
To further explore issues mentioned above, see the resources below, especially those in bold type:
Women Preachers and Prophets Through Two Millennia of Christianity, edited by Beverly Mayne Kienzle & Pamela J. Walker (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998)
Review of her major work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, at http://www.bibletexts.com/reviews/other/sh.htm.
Your comments, questions, and insights are always welcome.
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer