I made an offhand comment on how I was glad that Hideyo was talking about JEPD. Let me explain why.
As you may or may not know, I went to a Catholic high school. Jesuit. I’m extremely grateful that I did; it really widened my horizons.
That said, there were some really difficult aspects to it. (Surprisingly, being all-male was not one of them. I actually highly encourage people to go to single-gender high schools. It’s an experience you can never recreate.) One of those was the theology I was taught.
I won’t pretend to be an expert – or even that familiar – with Catholic or Jesuit theology. I just know what I was taught. And what I was taught was.. odd. In certain religious studies classes, they basically espoused universalism, that there are many paths to the truth, and that Christianity was just one of them. I never understood that. Not necessarily the teaching. But in light of the teaching, why would anyone choose to be Catholic, much less a priest? If many paths lead to the truth, why not choose a different one? Say, one that didn’t require celibacy?
In any case, like I said, I know very little about Catholic theology, but given what I was taught in school, to me, it was no wonder why few of my classmates were really devoted to the faith. When you’re taught that there are many paths to truth, it seems arbitrary, even unnecessary, to really follow a particular one.
Beyond being universalist, the theology was pretty liberal. I learned all these ways of looking at Scripture that I had never encountered before. Including the Documentary Hypothesis. And when I did, I was shaken. Because it made a lot of sense. It was honest about the inconsistencies in the Old Testament, as well as the different writing styles and language, and it seemed to explain them well. I felt like it really thought about Scripture, instead of working from assumptions, and because of that, it felt like it had more depth.
The problem is, to me, the framework in which it was presented robbed Scripture of its divine inspiration. It turned it into a historical, human-created document. And coming from an evangelical background where the infallibility of Scripture was unquestioned and not even really examined, it was a huge shock. It made me question a lot of the assumptions I had been taught in church. And made me even question the quality of my faith.
I resolved these questions, at least to my own satisfaction, and I think my faith was made stranger in the end. But I was forced to go through that process on my own, and that didn’t feel right to me. I tentatively raised the subject with some people at church at the time and no one was familiar with it. My dad was, but he was too dismissive of it in a way that doesn’t jive with the way teenage minds work with ideas. I realized that in my evangelical upbringing, we studied the Bible a ton, but to a certain extent, we kept our study at a superficial level. And it thus left me open to being blindsided when I encountered a different way of looking at things.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I once read a biography of Billy Graham and it mentioned a close friend of his, a fellow evangelist, who as he started looking at Scripture critically in his graduate studies found that he could no longer in good intellectual faith accept it as infallible and true. Billy Graham shared some of the same questions, but he decided to take a stand on the truth of Scripture based on faith.
In my heart, I can’t accept that what Graham and his friend chose are the only options possible – to take a stand on faith and, in some sense, turn off your head, or to use your head and reject the truth of Scripture. I have to believe there’s a place for both. And to do that one has to be willing to address different ideas that are out there.
And that’s why I feel like it’s useful for evangelical churches to deal with JEPD. Honestly, I have no idea what the evangelical stance is on the Documentary Hypothesis, because, as I’ve said, I’ve never really seen it discussed in any sort of detail. But whatever it is, I think it should be discussed, because if we don’t hear about it framed in an evangelical context, we’ll hear about it in a different, likely academic and critical one. And at least for me, that experience was not good for my faith, even if the outcome was.
To me, it’s kind of like really talking to your kids about sex. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s easier to just say don’t do it. But if you don’t frame sex for your kids in the right way, other things will, and that won’t necessarily be good.
So talking about JEPD in evangelical churches: I’m all for it.