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Cliff Goldstein’s Historical-Critical Method

In defending his early dating of Daniel, Cliff dismisses the historical-critical method, which he rightly recognizes has been problematized in recent scholarship.

But he completely misses what these contemporary “text-immanent” scholars actually critique. What they now dismiss of the historical-critical method is its claim to value-neutral interpretations – the idea that we could actually ascertain what the texts meant “originally” without our piety, culture or ideology influencing our hermeneutic. And in so doing, Cliff reveals the underlying and all around discredited historical-critical philosophical frame upon which his “Daniel 2 statue foretells Europe” interpretation hangs.

“Pomo” text-immanent scholars don’t attack the dating done by their historical-critical fore-bearers. In fact, Cliff deconstructs his own “Daniel meant 1844 arguments” via his attacks on the historical-critical method and its concurrent assumption about timeless textual meaning. What the former Deist (as were many hist-crit. scholars, Wm. Miller passed on to Adventism (to which Cliff still clings) is the idea that the text contain this sort of objective meaning.

This indebtedness to historical-critical ideology should not be lost on the close observers of Adventism’s apologists, who champion their own “historical-grammatical method.” Hasel was steeped in this wissenschaftlich approach. Note how even in the titular rhetoric, not to mention their methodology, Adventist apologists are indebted to the 19th century historical critic’s belief that meaning can be objectively unlocked and transmitted if only we use the correct tools. (The day for a year principle, for instance.) They replaced metaphysical doubt with defense, but the methodology was/is essentially the same.

One will notice this anxiety in the theories some Adventist scholars spin out such as each text has an inherent meaning for the “original readers” and for us today. (Sorry 5th century Jews and Christians.) Since Cliff has already falsely questioned my belief on other matters, I’ll add that I do believe that Scripture has meanings for readers in every age, granted, in part, by the Holy Spirit, but let’s not kid ourselves about it being “inherent” and “unlockable” from the text without our own leanings playing a role.

While Cliff is making a 60s argument that he learned in the 80s and is still parroting in 2008, the rest of the Biblical studies world is having really interesting discussions as revealed in John Barton’s Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation, Walter Brueggemann’s riveting discussion of the political and poetic function of the prophets or as someone already mentioned, the ubiquitous N. T. Wright. As you state Cliff, you got it all figured out awhile back, but apparently there are some big thinkers who didn’t get the memo.

While shattering the myth that questions of dating are motivated by unbelievers, (in fact, most have been believers) Barton incisively traces that tradition of Biblical criticism to the Reformation. In rooting authority in the text vs. the Church, the Protestant principle is that believers “have the right to ask whether the Bible really means what the Church says it means. In that sentence lies the whole development of Biblical criticism in germ. Faced with an ecclesiastical interpretation of this or that text, the biblical critic does not automatically accept that the magisterium of the Church (or its “you’re not a real Adventist” defenders) guarantees that the meaning proposed is the true one, but reserves the right to apply rational principles of criticism.

This further reveals Cliff’s lack of theological understanding (and lack of wide reading in our denomination) because it’s on these imminent value and ethics points that most young Adventist Spectrum contributors have disagreed with Elaine Nelson’s popular reductionism, which is mirrored inversely by Cliff. It’s not clear that he’s read Nancey Murphy (Fuller), Lamin Sanneh (Yale), Richard Jenkins (Penn State), Bull and Lockhart (Seeking a Sanctuary) all of whom have headlined recent Adventist Forum | Spectrum conferences and have made very significant contributions to helping at least me think of my faith and religious community in antifoundational and wholistic ways.

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