22 November 2006

gimme that ol' time partisanship

At ETS last week, there were at least two papers that were overtly political and partisan in character: Wayne Grudem's paper on the Bush presidency and Denny Burk's on the "fresh perspective" on Paul (pdf).

Grudem's paper largely appears as a paean to how, in his considered opinion, the current Bush administration is so manifestly "biblical" in its policies, both domestic and foreign. I would suspect, however, that most of those who differ with Grudem's perspective would find a number of his "facts" highly debatable (e.g., international freedom to spread the Gospel has increased during Bush's tenure) and many of his arguments question-begging (e.g., that the Iraq war has been executed in accordance with biblical principles).

Burk's paper is an attack upon the kind of New Testament exegesis that sees Paul's writings as containing a polemic against the pretensions of the Roman empire and the imperial cult. As far as I can see, Burk's argument is motivated not so much by exegesis (he seems to ignore the largely grammatico-historical nature of arguments such as Horsley's) as it is by the possibly anti-American implications of such exegesis (implications that don't necessarily follow, whatever you may think of Paul). In his gestures towards E.D. Hirsch, Burk seems unwilling to admit that interpretation involves a hermeneutical circle, an unwillingness that perhaps blinds him to how his own argument will appear to many as the same sort of eisegetical partisanship that he imputes to others.

More interesting to me is the question of why we are seeing papers such as these being presented in forums such as ETS at this time. Grudem and Burk can hardly be unaware that a younger generation of evangelicals doesn't necessarily (and certainly does not monolithically) embrace the kind of right-wing politics characteristic of an older generation of evangelical leaders. Is the point of these papers to defend a crumbling conservativism against a variety of newer evangelical politics?

And, if so, what does that tell us about the ways in which conservative evangelicalism has enmeshed itself with the success and fortunes of a particular sort of American political identity and, in doing so, has muted the church's prophetic stance? Moreover, doesn't the evidence embodied in Grudem and Burk's papers tend to validate the very criticism that many younger evangelicals have voiced?