Biblical Studies course material: “Homiletical schizophrenia: A case study” by Robert Young (1982).
1. On Homiletical Schizophrenia?
Young elucidates “Homiletical schizophrenia” to be a sort of chasm that exerts influence, often negative in form, on the Christian thinker’s life. For instance, Young’s says that there is a pulling between two points with one of these being what preachers preach in sermons and the other in what the scholars write in journal articles. It is being pulled between the “bible I preach” and what “biblical scholarship” says (p. 273). This is because there is a perceived conflict between the two, namely, “the critical and the devotional” (p. 273). This is what Young’s means by homiletical schizophrenia.
Negatively this influences the way Christian thinkers and leaders, such as Young and co., interact with others of the same faith. For example, Young’s finds that what Christian scholars learn in the academic field, which is often unsympathetic towards Christianity, is often not conveyed to the congregation. The reason being is that many within the church, specifically the leaders, are closed off from new discoveries and theories when it comes to biblical interpretation and biblical authority. Therefore, explains Young, Christians who learn of these new theories do not wish “to rock the boat” within the church (p. 276). This is the chasm that is experienced by Christian scholars who, like Young, become aware and deal with new theories and ideas. Some, as Young rightly realises, are uncritical by nature and find that this is not necessary a cause for concern (p. 279). However, not so for the critical Christian thinkers who spend thousands of hours and lots of spilt ink in grappling with objections and hypotheses.
Young also notes that this has manifested tension for many within the church when it comes to scholarship (p. 279). Because many have become closed minded in certain ways they feel threatened when new academic theories confront their long held interpretations (p. 277). Thus, many within the church are suspicious and defensive against contemporary biblical scholarship. But rather than simply lying down, or fearing scholarship, Young wishes to use this to come to a “more mature faith” in Jesus (p. 279) and urges us to likewise do so.
2. On My Personal Experience of Homiletical schizophrenia.
Yes, many times. I often describe myself as a theological rationalist [my website is called ‘James Bishop’s Theological Rationalism,’ for example]. This is, in many ways, similar to being a Christian apologist, one who defends the Christian faith and gives cogent arguments and reasons for affirming its truth. I have been writing on this at my website for over four years now and in these years I have progressed in many ways.
But intellectual progression is far from easy and is very often massively uncomfortable. Progress means changing ideas when one doesn’t want to and often doing so quite radically. A lot of my ideas of biblical authority, for example, have been influenced far more by scholarship than what I’ve heard the preacher say in the sermon (usually what the preacher says is something of the likes of, “The Bible says it and that settles it!”; and being a critical thinker myself that doesn’t sit well with me). And, as Young very rightly realizes, this results in a tension between “the critical and the devotional” (p. 273).
This has been evident in many places within my journey but perhaps the most practical example I can give concerns a sermon at a local church on “Paul’s” letter of 1 Timothy. The preacher went on and preached on the assumption that Paul penned this letter but, having engaged the subject of New Testament scholarship for some years now, I was well aware that most scholars do not actually believe Paul penned 1 Timothy. So, I brought this up with the pastor via email. He responded in a way strikingly similar to “The Bible says it and that settles it!” That, combined with two or three other reasons, is why I no longer attend that church.
And on a final note I find myself particularly agreeing with Young when he says that this is a “process” that may continue for the rest of his life (p. 277). So it seems to be with me too! For example, to name but a few, things like biblical genocide, historical & scientific myths, and other moral atrocities found within the Bible have led me to seek after a model of biblical authority and inspiration. This has been the subject of many of my writings over the years and a topic I see myself pursuing for many, many more years to come.
So, have I experienced what Young terms “Homoletical Schizophrenia”? Absolutely.