(Or, as E.F. Hills has said: Believing Bible study vs. Unbelieving Bible study.)
“The major division lies between those who tie the belief in biblical inspiration tightly to traditional interpretations and those for whom this bond is somewhat less secure. For the first, more traditionalist scholars, research is primarily useful as a way of protecting Scripture. It is necessary to carry on academic work because erroneous critical opinions must be rebutted and correct views of Scripture reinforced. This stance may be called ‘critical anti-criticism.’ It only superficially resembles what could be called ‘popular anti-criticism,’ or the anti-intellectual rejection of scholarship as inherently corrupting. Critical anti-critics make a commitment to scholarship, they sometimes achieve widespread recognition for linguistic or historical competence, and they are concerned about academic certification.
“Critical anti-criticism as practiced by evangelicals depends upon the belief that the infallibility, or inerrancy, of the Bible is the epistemological keystone of Christianity itself. Should one aspect of Scripture come under suspicion, the whole Bible, along with its message of salvation, would be irreparably compromised. This belief in Scripture as the infallible Word of God, moreover, is considered the basis for traditional evangelical convictions about authorship, dating, literary transmission, and other critical questions. It is, in principle, conceivable that the results of sound research might overturn these convictions, but such research would have to be massively persuasive, and such a reversal would grievously damage the credibility of the Bible as a whole…
“Critical anti-critics divide among themselves not so much in principle as in practice. Some find their convictions a goad to active participation in the broader world of biblical scholarship. The inappropriate or prejudicial use of scholarship needs to be refuted, and so it is necessary to engage wholeheartedly in professional biblical work where so many false conclusions have been drawn on the basis of insubstantial or tainted evidence. Other critical anti-critics find the conventions of professional biblical scholarship too hostile. They turn instead to friendlier audiences. If prodigious labors and argumentation of recondite complexity are required to overturn even the smallest errors of the academic community, then it is better to point one’s efforts toward evangelicals. The later turn, therefore, to the journals of their own seminaries or denominations and to publishers who provide books for these constituencies. If the work which appears in such outlets does not sweep the academic world by storm, at least it provides evangelicals with secure and edifying conclusions. Nonevangelicals, as well as evangelicals, sometimes underestimate the quality of sturdy scholarship which appears as critical anti-criticism. It is often learned, careful, and forcefully logical within the boundaries set by conservative views of the Bible. Few, even evangelicals, would deny, however, that such work can also be parochial, selective, and question-begging. The best of this scholarship, as indeed much scholarship from before the rise of criticism, deserves a recognition it rarely receives.
“The second major division of evangelical scholarship may be called ‘believing criticism.’ Individuals holding this position affirm that historical, textual, literary, and other forms of research (if they are not predicated on the denial of the supernatural) may legitimately produce conclusions that overturn traditional evangelical beliefs about the Bible. Moreover, such reversals need not necessarily undermine beliefs in the inspired or inerrant character of Scripture’s revelatory truthfulness. It should be noted that evangelicals who practice this kind of ‘believing criticism’ often engage in critical anti-criticism. Like critical anti-critics they regularly put scholarship to use in defending traditional evangelical beliefs and in attacking the nontraditional conclusions of other scholars. But unlike critical anti-critics, believing critics find insight as well as error in the larger world of biblical scholarship. They have benefitted in numerous ways—not merely in textual or ancillary studies—-from the scholarship of those who are not evangelicals. As a result they conclude that evangelical interpretations are, in principle, reformable. For these scholars the possibility exists that biblical inspiration is compatible with reinterpretations of venerable positions.
“It is important to recognize that believing criticism also appears in several varieties, ranging from expressions resembling critical anti-criticism to those resembling views of Christians who are not evangelicals. In the first instance, a believing critic may affirm that reversals of traditional views are possible, but in fact find that evidence does not require them. Several of the widely used evangelical Introductions adopt this stance, and it is a position argued cogently in many other places. This style of academic work differs from critical anti-criticism mostly by the sense that ultimate matters are not at stake in any particular question of research.
“A second kind of believing criticism accepts the possibility of reversing traditional views and indeed argues that such reversals are justified by evidence from research… Academic proposals of this sort are often confusing to the evangelical community, especially for critical anti-critics, as the bare conclusions may not be different from the sort of reversal proposed by a non-evangelical. Believing critics of this second sort, however, regularly take pains to point out that the innovation is not intended as a detraction from high views of biblical infallibility, but rather as a better understanding of biblical intent.
“A third type of believing critic concedes that reversals are possible, that they have indeed occurred, and that they may reveal minor mistakes in the biblical materials. Alternatively, such critics may defend critical conventions of academic community that contradict evangelical traditions, but suggest that such matters are irrelevant to considerations of biblical interpretation… Evangelicals accept this or that critical conclusion and suggest that traditional evangelical reasons for rejecting that conclusion were inappropriate. Evangelical critics of this type regularly reflect some influence from neo-orthodox theologians or biblical scholars, and they may call certain evangelical formulations of inerrancy into question. They may even contest the whole evangelical concern for the question of error in the Bible. But on other important matters—belief in the truth-telling character of Scripture, its realistic interpretation, its substantial history, its ultimate authority—these critics align themselves with the evangelicals who are more conservative on critical matters…”
Mark A. Noll, “Between Criticism and Faith: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America” (New York: Harper and Row, 1986) pp. 156-160