Lydia McGrew on Credentials and New Testament Scholarship

Lydia McGrewLydia McGrew is a scholar trained in the study of literature (her Ph.D. was in English literature), an accomplished author of peer-reviewed publications in philosophy (including epistemology and philosophy of religion) including some directly relevant to Gospel scholarship, and recently the author of an excellent book (which I endorsed) entitled Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts. Her dual expertise in literature and analytic philosophy equips her handily to engage critical issues in the study of the biblical texts.

Lydia should not need to defend her qualifications to write on the academic study of the Gospels. Unfortunately, some people whose views on the Gospels that Lydia critiques (and these include some friends of mine) have dismissed her work on the grounds that she is unqualified to address the issues. On more than one occasion I have explained to some of these individuals why I think their dismissiveness toward her is a mistake. Now Lydia has written a lengthy apologia for her contributions to this field of study, “On Credentials, Philosophy, and NT Studies.” My only regret in this regard is that I didn’t write it for her. I know from my own personal experience that it is difficult to defend one’s qualifications without coming across as self-serving. I hope those who are dubious about Lydia’s professional qualifications will look past any such superficial impression and seriously consider what she says.

More important still, I would very much like to see respectful dialogue among evangelicals on the controversial subjects at issue. I have great admiration for all of the major players in the recent controversies, including Michael Licona, Craig Evans, and Lydia McGrew, and I greatly appreciate the contributions that these and other Christian scholars have made to the study and defense of the Gospels. I have learned from all of them and I want to continue learning from them, even from their disagreements. I am not looking for more agreement, but I am looking for more argumentation and less ad hominem, more light and less heat, more collegiality and less partisanship, more bridge-building and less demolition. (Please note that I think both sides in the recent controversies can improve in these areas.) We can, should, and must learn from those with whom we disagree. Our focus should be on defending the faith, not defending our turf.

I welcome comments on what I have said here.


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19 Responses to Lydia McGrew on Credentials and New Testament Scholarship

  1. I agree with you Rob and Lydia should have the right to interact with biblical scholars. A PhD is more than just a list of knowledge memorized, but an indication of the ability to research and sift through data. Having said that, I wonder if Lydia would raise an eyebrow if someone without any advanced degree in English Lit attempted to overturn theories by people recognized in the area. That is not meant to say a degree is necessary to have access to the conversation, but proven scholarly work in an area does carry weight. Does that make sense?

    • robbowman says:

      Stephen, the point is that Lydia does have scholarly work in the area in question.

      I feel confident that Lydia would not take offense if someone not trained in English literature, but demonstrating relevant intellectual skills, challenged conventional wisdom in the halls of English departments. She might even cheer.

      • I hope she would. And I acknowledge that she has written in the area. I also support her right to interact with scholars and to highlight where she sees problems. However, the reality of the scholarly world is that they often seek to keep things pretty closed. I’m glad both Lydia and yourself are bringing this out into the open.

    • Lydia McGrew says:

      ” I wonder if Lydia would raise an eyebrow if someone without any advanced degree in English Lit attempted to overturn theories by people recognized in the area.”

      Oh, no, I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow except to be (if anything) maybe somewhat biased in favor of such a person!

      You have never heard me talk about the parlous state of English literature scholarship. And it’s probably worse now than it was when I took my PhD.

      If anything, a study of English literature at least as much as or more than NT studies requires an eye for the obvious and a refusal to be captivated by theory, much less Theory with a capital T. I would evaluate any such argument entirely on its merits.

  2. Timothy Knowlton says:

    Thank you for this Rob. Well said.

    “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” Ephesians 4:2-3

  3. Frank says:

    Recently I heard a debate between Lydia McGrew and Craig Evans on the Unbelievable Podcast concerning the historicity of John’s Gospel. I found Dr McGrew to be very polemical in tone from the outset. Craig Evans on the other hand maintained a scholarly calm throughout. I was really surprised that Dr McGrew found it necessary to as polemical as she was against a fellow brother in Christ. I don’t disagree with her being able to contribute to the debate, however, I think she should be more humble and respectful towards people who are specialists in the field of biblical scholarship.

    • Lydia McGrew says:

      Frank, I think one thing that might help to explain the “set-up” on Unbelievable is this: Justin Brierley, the host of Unbelievable, likes debates. More than a year ago (I believe it was) he gave me a fifteen-minute segment on the Unbelievable show to discuss my book, Hidden in Plain View. At that time he told me that I would be allowed to have an hour on the show *only* if I agreed to a debate with someone. He would from time to time suggest that I debate a non-Christian, but that isn’t an aspect of ministry on which I intend to focus. Since the literary device views have been a very important recent focus of my research and writing, I suggested instead to Justin that I debate Mike Licona on his recent book. Mike refused that suggestion. I next suggested that I debate Craig Evans on the historicity of John’s Gospel, based on Evans’s remarks in 2012. (Again, remember, Justin would not give me an hour-long appearance on the show unless someone would agree to debate me.) Justin liked that idea and suggested it to Dr. Evans, who agreed.

      At that point, the entire set-up, from Justin’s perspective, was that Evans’s remarks in 2012 had been criticized (by me) and that we were going to debate this matter of the historicity of John. As you may have noticed, he introduced every segment of the show both at the beginning and after commercial breaks in that fashion.

      It was also difficult to get Dr. Evans’s views clear, and indeed I do not think that he gave a clear statement of his views. His remarks were convoluted, time-consuming (during the first portion of the show his time use was at about a 2 to 1 ratio to mine), and unclear concerning his position, especially taken in conjunction with his remarks in 2012, which were quite full, lengthy, and much clearer.

      What I would have preferred would have been either a full show in an interview format to give positive evidence for the Gospel of John or, failing that, a quick and clear statement by Dr. Evans of his views early in the debate which would have permitted us each to state our case for our perspective. But neither of those was offered me.

      Needless to say, I don’t think this made me either arrogant or disrespectful. Dr. Evans and I have quite strong disagreements (especially when his views are clarified), and there isn’t (in my opinion) anything at all wrong with being polemical, even in debating a fellow believer. That is to say, polemical is not inconsistent with respectful or properly humble.

      You and I may also disagree about that. In fact, I think we probably do.

      As far as humility *per se* toward specialists, there I’m afraid we just disagree and will have to agree to disagree. I do not consider that I need (or that anyone else needs) to have any *special* humility *toward* someone just because he is a designated specialist, when I have examined his position and found it wanting. At that point, as I have said in my main post, the arguments are the thing and we should focus on them.

      • Lydia McGrew says:

        One more thing, Frank: The time element was also rather important to the sheer *speed* of my speech. Again and again Dr. Evans would talk for a very long time, while I would have only (perhaps) half that much time to respond or to move the conversation forward. I had to pack everything I said into a shorter time frame for that reason. During the latter part of the show I began to be allowed a little more time to speak, but I never did “catch up” and had a lot more material, esp. positive material for the gospel of John, that I wished I could have presented. So that may also have affected your perception of my speech.

      • Frank says:

        Dear Dr. McGrew thanks for your response. I really appreciate you explaining the wider context. I was fascinated by your description of the set up of the program as I’m a regular listener to Unbelievable. It seems that you have been hardly done by to some extent. I did get the strong sense that you had a lot more to say to make your case, and I agree that Dr Evans was not always as clear as he could have been. However, I did, and still feel, that you kind of came out “all guns blazing” and perhaps that is something you can think about in future debates you have.
        I have no problem with being polemical, but it just appeared you were polemical before the debate had really started – however, knowing the context now, it might explain your approach.
        I have watched talks from your husband on undesigned coincidences and found them helpful in strengthening the case for the reliability of the gospels – so I do think there is merit in your argument. However as a layman, I do also have to give heed to the views of evangelical Christian scholars who have devoted much of their careers to their work and are specialists in their fields. That does not mean that they can’t be wrong or should not be challenged however, so it was good to hear you do that and that particular episode has given me much to think about.
        Thanks again for your explanation, and I apologise if I made you feel bad.

    • Lydia McGrew says:

      Thanks, Frank! In the coming months I hope to be posting more content on the fully historical nature of John and talking about the “Jesus of John” and the “Jesus of the synoptics,” showing that they are not “very different” as Dr. Evans mentioned he believes toward the end of the debate. Feel free to keep an eye open for that (you can follow my public content on Facebook, though I don’t accept a lot of new “friend” requests for private content), and see what you think! I’m all about just wanting people to look at the Bible and see what views make the most sense and are best support by what we find there.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Humility and respect are exactly what Rob is calling for here. Some NT scholars.have taken a surprisingly disrespectful, even ad hominem, stance toward Lydia, dismissing her critiques because she isn’t one of them. Needless to say, that’s also not much of a display of humility.

    What she modeled in that debate wasn’t so much humility and respect herself, I’ll grant you that. But she did model the virtues of knowledge and tenacity. Tenacity, because in spite of being disrespected and ignored for months, she has stuck with what she knows.

    She opened her remarks as if she was in the middle of a debate instead of the beginning. It would have been a lot better, in my view, if she had remembered that the audience didn’t know the whole history. But for those who do know it, the fact is, she really was in the middle of a debate. And at last, she was finally getting a chance to carry it out where someone might not simply shut his ears and say, “I’m not listening.” Imagine yourself in that setting, and you might understand why she made that mistake.

    • Frank says:

      Thanks for providing some context Tom which helps explain (but not justify) Dr. McGrew’s tone from the outset of the discussion with Dr. Evans. It’s disappointing that any Christian, especially scholars, would use ad hominems rather than address the points they’ve been challenged with.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    I misspoke earlier. My second paragraph makes it look as though I thought she modeled no humility or respect. That was not my intention; rather I intended to say that what stood out was her knowledge and tenacity. And I intended to emphasize the point that they, too are virtues.

    What you see in my comment above is the unfortunate result of a technical glitch, at least in part. I wrote a full comment here on my iPhone, and when I went to log in to WordPress, all of it was lost. Disappeared. That’s upsetting anywhere, but especially on a mobile device. So I re-wrote what i remembered saying the first time, and I frankly got some of it wrong in my carelessness the second time around. Therefore I do not stand by all that I wrote in the earlier comment.

    I know Lydia well, and she is tenacious, knowledgeable, and dedicated to the truth. She practices humility and respect, without any doubt. What I wrote about the context of this debate is still true: She was in the middle of a long, long period of not being treated with humility and respect. I suspect that history had an influence on how she opened up this conversation. It would be very unusual if it hadn’t.

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  7. Tony Costa says:

    Hi Rob. Thanks for sharing this. Totally agree with you. It is the very essence of academic research to be open to new ideas and challenges even if it makes us feel uncomfortable with our views. That of course cuts both ways. I respect both Drs. Lydia McGrew and Craig Evans. Dr. Michael Licona is also a personal friend. We both did our doctoral work under the same doktorvater. I am admittedly concerned that Dr. Evans has given assent to Dr. Ehrman’s arguments regarding the sayings of Jesus in the gospel of John especially when it came to the I am statements of Jesus as redactions. I have never been persuaded by such arguments. I do hope my good Dr. Licona engages with Dr. McGrew at some point in the near future. These are weighty matters.

  8. Gary says:

    There are many well-read amateur apologists who could do a very good job defending Christianity, but should we give the amateur the same respect and authority as we would a scholar in that particular field? I don’t think so. I value education and expertise. I believe that a society functions best when people trust the majority consensus of experts in each field of expertise. A society in which the experts are distrusted and every citizen considers him or herself an “expert on everything” is a society in chaos.

    I might find my well-read plumber’s views on electrical grids interesting, but I certainly would not build a new house following my plumber’s electrical advice.

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