Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

More Heresy Hunting

Posted by NT Wrong on November 8, 2008

servetusTony Burke’s ‘Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium’, on the Aug 2008 SBL Forum, has certainly lit a fire under the Defenders of Orthodoxy. And you thought it was only the Heretics that got burnt at the stake!

In the November 2008 SBL Forum, Darrell L. Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary has written what on the face of it appears to be a point-by-point rejoinder to Burke. Yes, I said “on the face of it”, because — while Darrell Bock was only one of the modern ‘heresy hunters’ discussed by Tony Burke (along with Ben Witherington, Timothy Paul Jones, J. Ed Komoszewski, Philip Jenkins, Stanley Porter, Gordon L. Heath, Craig Evans, and Bishop N.T. Wright) — Bock replies to every point made only in respect of himself. That is, even when Burke’s point was about completely different scholars, Bock only adduces evidence from his own books in reply. Bock goes so far as to pronounce that Tony Burke’s point is simply “wrong” (which is the entire content of Bock’s first sentence of rejoinder) based only on his own books — even when the point concerned completely different scholars. So, what at first glance appears to be a point-by-point rejoinder is in fact a rather strange claim of “not me!”

Yet where Darrell Bock does actually recognize that Tony Burke’s points concern quite different writings by quite different scholars, he tends to agree with Tony Burke! As the only example where Bock discusses one of the other alleged ‘heresy hunters’ (Ben Witherington), Bock agrees that Ben Witherington does in fact go “over the line” in impugning the motives of Christian Apocrypha scholars, and that Witherington is “condescending” and “judgmental”. This doesn’t stop Darrell Bock from going on, in the very next sentence, to make the same insinuation about their motives, however. After all, why waste a chance to make an apologetic point against Christian Apocrypha scholars?

So, it’s a disappointing (non-)response — failing to address the specific charges levelled by Tony Burke, missing the point by limiting himself to a defence of his own books. It doesn’t matter that this is what Darrell Bock announces he will do, because in pursuing such an inappropriate method, his attempted response simply fails to address the specific points made in Tony Burke’s original article.

See now: Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed

19 Responses to “More Heresy Hunting”

  1. It’s odd that you would misunderstand Bock’s motives, being that he explicitly states up front (e.m.): “I evaluate his claims, cited verbatim, in a counter point mode. Then I respond. I will focus on my own work because I can speak to my own motives.” For a broader response to Burke you might take a look at the back-and-forth between Burke and Bowman (which thus far seems to have escaped your notice).

  2. ntwrong said

    Tim – Surely you ‘misunderstand’. (Is ‘misunderstand’ some sort of code word for ‘what you say is so obviously incorrect, I will simply ignore it’?)

    I quite understand that Bock explicitly said he would only refer to his own work. If you see my last paragraph, you will see that I noted the very fact.

    My criticism is with the substantial matter of Bock’s method of response itself. How can you possibly reply to what was written about the approaches of nine apologetic scholars, by discussing your own books for every point made, and only your own books? Although it has the appearance of a point-by-point response, Bock’s approach was completely compromised by his method.

    What’s more, Bock would do better to talk about texts than ethereal ‘motives’.

    I see you added to your rhetorical ‘misunderstand’ the dismissive phrase, ‘escaped your notice’. What’s with this dismissive attittude? You’re not one of those modern heresy hunters I’ve been hearing about, are you? I had a look at Bowman’s rant last time you referred to it, and saw only a further example of what Burke was complaining about in the first place.

  3. Jim said

    the problem with hunting heretics is that 1) everyone is one and 2) it’s never ‘me’!

  4. Jim said

    oh, and besides, these guys are pale and limp sad examples of real heretic hunters. they should take a lesson from the office of the holy inquisition. those guys were heresy hunters. no one else since really deserves the title.

  5. You’re right, my use of the term “misunderstand” was unclear. What I should have said is, “it’s odd that would off-handedly refer in your final paragraph to something Bock was quite clear of from the beginning.” And in terms of “escaped your notice” I wasn’t attempting to be dismissive. I actually thought that was the nicest way to note that Bowman had attempted to draw your attention to his broader response (that Burke himself has interacted with, and not uncharitably) but it didn’t seem to have registered (inasmuch as you neither posted about it nor commented on it in the original post). That it came across as dismissive is a deficiency of my rhetoric, not a feature.

    In terms of the substance of Bock’s response, fair enough, his methodology was not ideal. I would question whether or not it’s a reasonable expectation to have Bock take up for other writers mentioned explicitly in Burke’s original article (particularly when, as you point out, Bock agrees in at least one case with Burke) or for him to intuit which criticisms were meant of him and which are not, but I suppose that would be quibbling.

  6. As an academic point, I am not (I hope) a heresy hunter, and in fact agree for the most part with Burke.

  7. N. T. Wrong said

    Bock’s response might have been written as a counter-example (his own writings). But then, I don’t see how Bock can refer to Burke’s points as simply ‘wrong’ or ‘not true’. At most they don’t apply to Bock, but as they were made about other ‘heresy hunters’, they aren’t ‘wrong’ or’not true’.

    But as Bock wrote his piece with the stated aim of providing a point-by-point evaluation of Burke’s claims (about a whole group of ‘heresy hunters’), his stated method could never achieve his conclusions.

    That’s what I found to be unusual about his piece – the methodology. His conclusions – except where the points concerned him alone – cannot follow from his counter-examples.

  8. Darrell Bock said

    I think I should respond to the claim the response is off mark, although Tim’s response travels much of the ground well. Well, let’s note that many of the points I respond to included me directly when made — and they are wrong (eg, note the claim that the best translations were not used). Might not such questioning, then, at least raise a question about whether Burke has been accurate with others? If he cannot be trusted with me, what about the others? I did not respond for them because I cannot speak to their motives, which is what Burke’s piece claimed to understand As to my agreement with Burke over Witherington, an important point was missed. In principle, I agree with Burke, but in this case, as Evans documents in his book as I noted, Witherington’s claim has some truth. In these discussions, getting the nuances is important.

  9. James C said

    Very nicely argued.

    I have a question. On Bock’s blog it seems as if Bock implies he has responded to you (I think) but I can’t find it anywhere. Can you help?


  10. steph said

    I got to Bock’s blog from Tilling’s feeder thingy but Bock has dropped off the bottom of the list now. He just referred to his own response but a comment linked to Wrong’s response asking Bock if he had seen it.

    Needless to say Tintin is leaping up and down with glee at Bock’s response but seems oblivious to everything else as usual.

  11. James C said

    Oh yes but he seems to respond to the comment saying he responded (to…?). Or have I missed something?

  12. steph said

    Oh bugger. He had three comments when I saw but none said he responded.

  13. steph said

    Sorry I’m wrong – he’s responded on the SBL site.

  14. steph said

    …although it doesn’t appear to be on the site so I’ve asked him on his blog for the link

  15. N. T. Wrong said

    Darrell – In theory, I agree with the logic of the approach you laid out in your comments to this post. You’re right — if your counter-points are correct when they respond to Tony Burke’s points about your own work, then that would bring into question Burke’s original piece as a whole.

    While that may be an effect of your response (if your counter-points were correct), your response wasn’t written this way. It was a response to Burke’s summary of rather diverse points-of-view, using only your own works — even where Burke’s points didn’t concern your own works. As such, the methodology is questionable.

    Your logical options were to either:
    1. – not respond point-by-point, but only respond to those points directly addressing your own work.
    2. – respond point-by-point, and therefore address all the works addressed by Burke.

    Either of these methods could have been successful in terms of the validity of the argument. But in purporting to address all of Burke’s points, but by only citing your own work whether directly relevant or not, you excluded any possibility of a logically valid argument. As already agreed, your response might have had the incidental effect of tainting Burke (if what you counter is correct), but this effect should have been central to your main argument itself. The problem with arguments getting into trouble is that the discussion starts to get confused before even getting to the substance.

    Also, I don’t think there was anything limiting you to your own works. All you have as public evidence of ‘motive’ is the content of the works themselves. There is no cogency in any argument from ethereal, undocumented ‘motive’.

    (All of this concerns method. I haven’t commented hereto on the substantial issue of ‘heresy hunting’ content.)

  16. ntwrong said

    James C – Darrell Bock’s comment went into my filter at first. I ‘approved’ it, so now it appears before your own comments.

  17. Darrell Bock said

    I will not belabor this, but at the point of the Witherington example, already noted above, I proceeded exactly as you suggested, including giving data. I understand your claim here. I am simply noting that Burke failed in his complaint at this point to actually show Witherington’s claim was false and that evidence to the contrary did exist. So we are left with Burke either lumping together work that should not have been lumped together (a problem for him) or his being wrong in general. At the least he should have distinguished between works. By not doing so, he at the least made a sweeping claim about these works as a class where one was not justified. This shows his approach to be flawed. Thus emerges the support for my claim that his claims were wrong.

  18. N. T. Wrong said

    As I already noted, the Witherington example was quite exceptional. That is, it is the only case in which you addressed points that Burke made about other scholars, and referred to other scholars. The fact that it was an exception, when it should have been the rule, is reflective of the basic methodological flaw of your response.

    I agree that Burke’s article did generalize in his summary of complaints. But he also provided a large number of specific examples to back up his points. The resulting balance of specifics and generalization is the sort of thing one would expect from such a format as the SBL Forum. I don’t think it detracts from Burke’s article that it was written with the necessary amount of summarization for the context of the SBL Forum.

  19. Rob Bowman said

    I find it ironic that you would complain about someone’s comment as “dismissive” and then justify ignoring my response to Burke (which has grown to several posts that carefully engage his arguments) by referring to it as a “rant.” Now, that’s “dismissive”!

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