New Theologians

These top scholars are believers who want to speak to the church.

Richard Hays hardly seems like a daredevil. He is a quiet, bearded professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, the very picture of a measured personality. While still young and relatively unknown, Hays took on Yale University's John Boswell, famous for his scholarly vindication of homosexuality in Scripture. Hays politely demolished Boswell's pro-gay interpretation of Romans 1 as a textbook example of bad exegesis. The late Doctor Boswell huffily refused to respond, refused even to speak to Hays.

Hays was perhaps even more audacious in a paper he presented at the 1996 conference of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in New Orleans, for it took on one of the darlings of modern academia, the "hermeneutic of suspicion." The hermeneutic of suspicion is the cornerstone of much modern scholarship in that it suggests that nothing can be taken at face value. It follows the "masters of suspicion"—Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and more recent French postmodernists like Foucault—in seeking to unmask the strategy of power that allegedly lies behind every text. The Bible, for example, offers itself as a divine message of liberating love, but a suspicious reading might discover that the Bible's talk of a supernatural realm actually masks a desire to pacify or distract people so that they can be more easily oppressed.

In his paper, later published in the Christian Century, Hays admitted that suspicion is a useful tool. He wondered, however, why scholars had come to be endlessly suspicious of the text and not at all suspicious of themselves. Why were they so "remarkably credulous about the claims of [their own] experience"? He cited feminist critic Elisabeth SchŸssler Fiorenza, who seeks to use "women's own experience ...

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